In the municipality of Jamundí, Colombia, local politicians were pushing to privatize the water service provided by public utility ACUAVALLE by waging a media campaign to discredit it. If successful, this would have seriously affected access to water for local people, 94% of whom are on low-incomes. However led by the utility’s union, Sintracuavalle, pressure from local people led to a shelving of a public-private water partnership that would have turned water into a commodity.

For nearly 20 years, Sintracuavalle (the Acuavalle workers union) has not only defended its workers’ rights, it has also become a fierce defender of water as a fundamental human right. Since 2009, it has successfully helped set up four community water systems based on the principles of the Platform for Public Partnerships of the Americas, and pushed the Municipal Council to shelve proposals for a public-private partnership to manage water in the municipality.

The union has achieved political and social standing as a result of its fight against privatization, and is now part of the political decision-making process. The union promotes improvements and investments in the supply of water, which have suffered from cuts, and has encouraged different social actors to join together to organize and actively defend water as a fundamental human right.

The campaign has organized community workshops, discussions with the Municipal Council and lobbied individual council members. This has raised community awareness of the importance of keeping water under public management and inspired other public sector workers worldwide.

This growing network to defend access to good quality public services is being taken forward through a Plan of Action for 2018-2022 with Public Services International (a global trade union in which Sintracuavalle is a member of its executive council) and led by Sintracuavalle and CUPE, the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

“What inspired me most is that this is a success story of a public service union that managed to (re)gain a positive image of its role by embracing the vision of water as a common good and by focusing on building strong partnerships with communities and civil society organizations.”

– Lorena Zarate

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