Ruth Rikowski and Anneliese Dodds at GLOBALISATION, LIBRARIES, INFORMATION AND EDUCATION, a Career Development Group Wales and Information for Social Change event, Swansea University, 02/12/05.
By Paul Catherall
This event was a mini-conference held at Swansea University and was jointly organised by the Career Development Group Wales and the activist e-journal Information for Social Change.
The conference was introduced by Neil Smyth (CDG Wales). Two speakers gave presentations at the event. Firstly, Ruth Rikowski (Visiting Lecturer at London South Bank University, Co-editor of the e-journal Information for Social Change and author of many articles and several books dealing with Globalisation). Secondly, Anneliese Dodds, who is currently completing a PhD concerning ‘Liberalization and the public sector’ at the Department of Government at the London School of Economics, and the Centre for the Analysis of Risk and Regulation.
The day began with an introduction by Ruth on the political background to Globalisation, including the role of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) as a mediator of international financial policy intended to ‘liberalise’ or open up many service industries to private sector competition.
Ruth emphasised that the WTO, as an organisation, is engaged in establishing mechanisms and agreements to promote trade on a global basis, and that it now has some 150 members. There are many agreements being developed at the WTO in regard to this, and in her published works, Ruth focuses on two of these agreements in particular – the GATS and TRIPS, as these are the agreements that are likely to have significant implications for libraries and information.
Ruth introduced one of the WTO’s key agreements, the GATs (General Agreement on Trade in Services) which includes many services traditionally associated with the Public Sector, including health, education, libraries and social services.
All the different services in the agreement are listed in the GATS Schedule of Commitments, and members have to decide which of their services they want to commit to this schedule. The UK is a member of the WTO under the EU – i.e. it is not a member in its own right. There are currently 18 countries that have committed their Library Services to the GATS (and this includes the United States of America and Japan), but the EU has not, as yet, committed its Library Service to the GATS. However, Ruth makes clear that this is no reason for complacency, because developments that have been taking place in the UK and Europe in general over the last few years will make it easier to introduce the GATS in these European countries. Indeed, she argues that these changes are paving the way for the GATS, as the commercialisation and privatisation agenda increasingly starts to take a hold.
In particular, Ruth indicated how the UK government is driving an agenda of competition and privatisation within public services – e.g. via the ‘Best Value’ report encouraging local authorities to further open their services to the private sector. Examples of how the private sector is already involved in running public services were also cited, including outsourcing for IT facilities and other support services, and the financing of building works (e.g. the PFI – Private Finance Initiative running in Bournemouth, Brighton and Kent libraries).
Ruth asked the audience to consider the ethics and motives of private companies running public services such as schools and libraries, suggesting how companies would almost certainly be required to run services at lower cost than the price they were contracted, to ensure that a profit is made. Ruth suggested that these privately run services would be vulnerable to reduced expenditure on actual service provision and increased cost for the public.
Ruth also discussed another aspect of globalisation, the TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights), a WTO agreement intended to reduce current restrictions on intellectual property by corporations and to promote, in general, further trading of intellectual property rights. The implications for libraries were discussed, including the impact of corporate use of copyrighted material and patents, particularly in regard to the patenting of traditional knowledge in the developing world.
Ruth concluded her discussion with an Open Marxist theoretical perspective on Globalisation, including ethical objections to the transformation of public services as tradable commodities. She said that, in essence, the GATS and TRIPS were about transforming services and intellectual property rights into international tradable commodities. This extension of the commodification process becomes necessary in order to ensure the continued success of global capitalism and Ruth asked participants to consider whether they were happy about living in such a world. Her aim, she emphasised, was to alert people to the likely implications of these agreements and how they could threaten our way of life
Ruth’s discussion was followed by a presentation by Anneliese Dodds; Anneliese began by providing various definitions of the term ‘Globalisation’, including the concept of services in the international setting as tradable commodities, the development of shared international policy on services, the increasing political power of international organisations such as the WTO and the impact of these issues within the Higher Education sector.
Annelise compared the concepts of Globalisation and Internationalisation, including the perspective that Internationalisation is often considered a form of cooperation between states, whilst Globalisation represents international competition.
The impact of Globalisation on Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) was particularly discussed, including increased competition between HEIs, growth in research and teaching specialisation of institutions and the emergence of international university consortia. Anneliese also drew attention to increased pressures on HEIs as trainers and facilitators of industry and science in the context of the global economy.
Anneliese concluded her discussion with some recommendations for Higher Education staff, these included maintaining attention to core roles of teaching, learning and research and debating the consequences of globalisation.
The conference also included a period of debate where delegates (including staff from private companies and public bodies) were able to discuss the presentations. Aspects included:
- The ethics of private sector involvement in public services.
- The possible benefits and dangers of outsourcing staff and services.
- The potential impact on staffing issues under corporate control, such as pay and union rights.
- The potential benefits or risks of Public-Private Partnerships.
- The vulnerability of standards and quality issues for libraries and Information Services as a consequence of poor national regulation by statutory bodies.
To sum up, the event provided a highly informative introduction to an increasing trend in public services, an issue which deserves attention and critical reflection by all those who work in, support or otherwise value public services as they exist today.
Further information on the issues discussed in this article is provided in the references below.
CDG Wales; Advisory Board Member Information for Social Change
Author of Delivering E-Learning for Information Services in Higher Education, Chandos Publishing, ISBN: 1843340887 .
References and URLs
Key Web Sites
Information for Social Change activist Web site and e-journal.
The Flow of Ideas – Web site of Ruth and Glenn Rikowski: includes information about the Rikowskis’ various publications and talks and the events that they have been involved with. Available at: http://www.flowideas.co.uk/
The GATS and Libraries (Portal to GATs information on libr.org). Available at: http://libr.org/gats/
Progressive Librarians Guild and their journal, Progressive Librarian based in the USA but an international organization for librarians on the left. Available at: http://libr.org/PLG/
Website of Anneliese Dodds. Available at: http://personal.lse.ac.uk/dodds/
Department of Trade and Industry, EU Directive on Services – Overview. Available at: http://www.dti.gov.uk/ewt/services_directive.htm
Dodds, Anneliese (2002), GATS: Higher Education and Libraries, Information for Social Change, Issue 14, Winter 2001/02.
Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Best Value. Available at: http://www.odpm.gov.uk/index.asp?id=1153899
The Politicisation Of Trade In Health And Education Services: Black And White Divisions Over A ‘Grey Area’, Scottish Affairs, Issue No.46, Winter 2004.
Rikowski, Ruth (2001) GATS: private affluence and public squalor? Implications for libraries and information, Managing Information, Vol. 8, No 10, Dec, pp.8-10. Also available at:
Library Juice 4:46 – December 19, 2001, http://libr.org/juice/issues/vol4/LJ_4.46.html
Rikowski, Ruth (2002) The capitalisation of libraries (2002), The Commoner, a left-academic activist e-journal, May, No. 14. Available at: http://www.commoner.org.uk/04rikowski.pdf
Rikowski, Ruth (2003a) Globalisation, Libraries and Information, Information for Social Change, No. 17, Summer 2003.
Rikowski, Ruth (2003b) Library privatization: fact or fiction?, Information for Social Change, No. 17, Summer 2003.
Rikowski, Ruth (2003c) (Compiled by) Still at your service? GATS, privatization and public services in the UK: an ATTAC event held at the London School of Economics, Information for Social Change, No. 17, Summer 2003.
Rikowski, Ruth (2005a) Globalisation, Information and Libraries: the implications of the World Trade Organisation’s GATS and TRIPS Agreements, Chandos publishing: Oxford
Rikowski, Ruth (2005b) Global trading of libraries and intellectual property rights, The Hobgoblin. Available at: http://www.thehobgoblin.co.uk/books/rrikowski.htm