Critique of the Political Economy of Water and the Collaborative Alternative

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* Article: Critique of political economy of water and the collaborative alternative


Author on the model proposed by Initiative K136 in Thessanoliki, Greece.


Kostas Nikolaou:

"The approach and recognition of the water (and in general, water supply and sanitation) as a commons, a social good and a fundamental human right or vice versa, as a commodity and / or as a means for taxing citizens determines the policy management: private, public, social, based or not on democratic participation of citizens and workers.

The results of the private management of water, which is applied worldwide, are now known: degradation of water quality, increased water loss, deterioration of infrastructure and increasing prices. The results of the public or social or public-community, based on cooperation between public and local and regional bodies, cooperatives, trade unions and other collectives of a community are also known: accomplished citizen involvement, strengthened quality water services and lower prices.

The main water management policies (and in general, water supply and sanitation) are four: 1) Private 2) State, 3) Local government (municipal or regional) and 4) Collaborative - Cooperative. There are combinations of them, but do not change the basic categorization.

In the following, brought a critique of political economy models of current water management and the collaborative management is approached as an alternative in the context of social and solidarity economy and direct democracy, which is mainly based on democratic participation of citizens and at the same time can ensure the participation of workers and local government."

Characteristics of Cooperative Water Provision

Kostas Nikolaou:

"Basic points of collaborative / cooperative alternative proposal

  • Creation of non-profit water cooperatives per municipality and per community with members all citizens of the municipality or community
  • Creation of the secondary union of all non-profit water cooperatives
  • Collective ownership of the water and sanitation entity by the cooperatives
  • People hold cooperative share (to which they belong) and not shares of water and sanitation entity (this would mean privatization like “Thatcher form” and it is a "popular capitalism")
  • The cooperative shares can not be sold in general, because they accompany and correspond to hydrometers. Thus, no one and no company can never control the cooperatives and consequently, the water and sanitation entity
  • Non-profit management of water supply and sanitation. There can be no profit in such cooperatives. Besides, it makes no sense the existence of profit – tax – surplus value after owners, managers and consumers are all citizens and they do not sell water to someone else. The water prices cover its cost.
  • In cooperatives it is valid the principle: one person - one vote regardless of the number of cooperative shares, which everyone is holding
  • The cooperatives are operating in the context of social and solidarity economy. Benefit all citizens-members (social economy) and simultaneously supported financially weak and guarantee access to water-sanitation for all citizens (solidarity economy)
  • The cooperatives are operating in the context of direct democracy. The decisions are taken by the assemblies of cooperatives and not by the Governing Council (GC) of cooperatives or by the GC of water and sanitation entity
  • Representatives of cooperatives transfer decisions of citizens' assemblies in the assembly of the Union of Cooperatives and the GC of water and sanitation entity and perform, they do not decide
  • Management with aware of the relationship of water and sanitation to protect the environment and avoid the risk of climate change
  • Non-alienation of the worker from the product of his work."



"Historical successful examples of water cooperatives

Collaborative water management is not new. There are many historical examples. Examples include the following.

  • Spain: Cooperative water management in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War. The company Agbar, which took over the operation after the defeat of the democrats featured incredible reforms achieved by the water cooperative water.
  • Bolivia: The World Bank recognized that the water cooperative in Santa Cruz was the only in the country that managed to give water to all the citizens of the city.
  • Argentina: In Buenos Aires after the departure of the company Enron, the consumer and workers cooperative successfully manages the water supply.
  • Mexico: In Chiapas, cooperatives are the economic pillar of the Zapatistas. All is cooperative with policy based on direct democracy, education on solidarity economy and collective ownership, active participation of many in the life of the community"


More Information

[1] Nikolaou K., "Water in the World: Social good or commodity?" For Environmental Education, 3 (48), 2013 Also in Dialektika, 22.3.2012, (in Greek)

[2] Food and Water Europe, "Public-public partnerships. An alternative model to leverage the capacity of municipal water utilities", 2012

[3] Public Services International and Transnational Institute, "Public-public partnerships (PUPs) in water", March 2009

[4] Nikolaou K., "Science and crisis: Approaching socially equitable exit", Proceedings of 21th Panhellenic Conference on Chemistry, Thessaloniki, 9-12.12.2011. Also in Dialektika, 10.12.2011, (in Greek)

[5] Nikolaou K., "The possibility of cooperative management of water supply and sanitation. The case of Thessaloniki" For Environmental Education, 3 (48), 2013 (in Greek)