Public sector creates wealth, too

Originally posted on PS: Let's Talk

In this summer of job cuts in the OPS, a ‘core services review’ in Toronto, austerity riots in Britain, and a disappointing debt ceiling debate in the U.S., it’s always good to hear an advocate of unions and public services in the mainstream media.

Especially one who has been a long-standing friend to the causes and campaigns of our National Union.

There was a short interview of Dr. Elaine Bernard, Harvard professor and ardent union advocate in the Toronto Star earlier this week.

Bernard told the Star that the idea that public services are an unaffordable expense that must be cut to pay down government deficits is based on the misconception that only the private sector creates wealth.

“Clean, potable water is a form of wealth … Quality public schools are a form of wealth. It doesn’t become wealth creating only when you privatize it,” Bernard said.

She pointed out that the privatization of public services doesn’t inherently create any more wealth. Instead it shifts wealth from public to private hands.

“The public sector is creating public value and I think we’ve got to get back to that sort of language, not just that it’s an expense,” Bernard said.

She was asked for her view of buyouts and layoffs of city workers as a deficit-cutting strategy by the city of Toronto. She said “it’s short-sighted and ill-planned” and further pointed out: “…why would you undermine the infrastructure, the quality of life and the type of services that make Toronto and Ontario successful and a wonderful place to live?”

Bernard is the executive director of Harvard Law School’s Labour and Worklife Program, the oldest and most prestigious residential labour leadership program in North America. She has taught for 12 years at the National Union of Public and General Employees’ leadership school. Bernard was a panelist at the All Together Now! first-anniversary campaign meeting in Halifax in June and is a signatory to the Proclamation for Quality Public Services and Tax Fairness.


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