BDS campaign enters mainstream discourse as St. Louis mayoral candidates take sides over city Veolia contract

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(St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee members and civil rights activist Percy Green at St. Louis City Hall, protesting Veolia’s involvement in apartheid and segregation in Palestine. Photo: St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee)

On January 16, 2013 at City Hall in St. Louis, Missouri, a diverse group of 60 Palestinian rights organizers; environmental activists; workers; civil rights leaders; veterans; local business owners; students; members of the local Muslim, Christian, and Jewish communities; and other concerned citizens packed a meeting of the St. Louis Board of Estimate & Apportionment (E&A) to show opposition to a proposed city contract with Veolia Water.  Two mayoral candidates on the 3-person board, which considers public contracts, took opposite sides over the contract, prompting the third member to call for a public hearing for testimonies from local citizens regarding Veolia.

Contract opponents lined the halls leading to the mayor’s office, citing Veolia’s abysmal record of poor environmental standards, labor abuses and involvement in human rights abuses in Palestine.  Each held a sign stating “Say No to Veolia” followed by their personal reasons, which included: “I can’t ride their buses because I am Palestinian,” “I think all people deserve equal treatment,” “My tax dollars are not for corporate profit,” “They don’t have to drink our water,” “I love coffee.” The mayor’s office had to change the meeting venue at the last minute to accommodate the large public turnout. [Click here for photos.]

The St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) learned of the proposed $250,000 Veolia contract for a four-month consultation for the St. Louis Water Division in December 2012 after the story was leaked to the Riverfront Times.  When the contract came up for approval, PSC organized in less than 24 hours a grassroots effort to tell the E&A Board, which is comprised of St. Louis City Mayor Francis Slay, Comptroller Darlene Green and President of the Board of Aldermen Lewis Reed (running for mayor against Slay), not to approve the contract without investigating Veolia’s record.  At the December 19, 2012 meeting of the Board, the Board agreed they could not in good conscience vote to approve a contract with so many allegations outstanding.

Immediately, the PSC reached out to diverse communities to join the fight against Veolia, all under the coalition St. Louis Dump Veolia

The contract was reintroduced last-minute to the January agenda by Mayor Slay, the contract’s chief proponent.  Slay had received a trophy and award check for $15,000 from the President of Veolia Water in 2007, on behalf of the City.  Following mass mobilization by the coalition, Mayor Slay decided one day before the January meeting to remove the contract from the agenda, delaying the vote for a second month.  

In the presence of an uncharacteristically large audience and media presence, the two mayoral candidates Slay and Reed came head-to-head in tense disputes regarding agenda items, transforming the meeting into what some coined an “ad-hoc mayoral debate.”  President Reed ended by praising the public showing and affirming his opposition to the Veolia contract, while Slay stressed that the public had misconceptions about the company. 

Comptroller Green, who holds the deciding vote, said she hoped the public’s voices could be heard and asked for a public hearing.  The PSC delivered and posted letters to Comptroller Green asking her to reject Veolia from the Palestinian Freedom Riders, Boycott from Within and the Civic Coalition for Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem

Veolia has been a major focus of the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian freedom and equality.  The St. Louis campaign against Veolia may be the first time that a BDS campaign has entered mainstream political discourse and, perhaps, a mayoral race.  Media coverage in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Riverfront Times and St. Louis Public Radio acknowledge that Veolia’s contracts in Israel/Palestine have been instrumental in bringing the controversy out in the open.

The nationwide We Divest campaign targets Veolia for divestment from the holdings of financial services giant, TIAA-CREF.  St. Louis-area resident and PSC member, Steve Tamari, is the lead filer for a nationwide, broad-based shareholders’ resolution calling for divestment from Veolia and other companies that profit from Israel’s human rights abuses. Individuals holding a CREF account are encouraged to sign on to the shareholders’ resolution and to vote in support of the resolution before or at the July 2013 annual meeting.

St. Louis Dump Veolia is committed to keeping up the pressure on City Hall until the Veolia contract is rejected once and for all. The PSC will be mobilizing residents to testify at the hearing, putting the Israeli occupation, and its corporate enablers, on trial for all to see.

The next E&A meeting will occur on Wednesday, February 20 at 2pm in St. Louis City Hall.

To follow developments and action items on the campaign, join the St. Louis Dump Veolia and Palestine Solidarity Committee Facebook pages, and follow @stlpsc on Twitter.

About Saint Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee

Saint Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee (STL-PSC) is a project of the St. Louis Instead of War Coalition. We began organizing against Israeli Apartheid and the Israeli occupation in 2009 in response to the calls of Palestinian civil society for organized action against the Israeli Occupation of Palestine. Contact us here: [email protected]
Posted in Activism, BDS, Israel/Palestine, US Politics

{ 14 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. HarryLaw says:

    Here in the UK, councils have the discretion to exclude from a public contract companies where it is found that the organization has committed grave misconduct in the course of its business, Violia have been excluded from several contracts, notably some large ones in London Boroughs for these and other crimes of inter alia, being a partner in the Jerusalem light rail project. In April 2010 the UN Human Rights Council declared the tramway and its operation to be illegal (A/HRC/RES/13/7 of 14 April 2010). The resolution was passed 44 to 1, with the UK, France and all the EU members of the Council voting in favour. The operation of the tramway is precisely what Veolia has a contract to do.

    Veolia is recruiting operators for the tramway through an advertisement requiring Hebrew to mother tongue standard, no mention of Arabic, a clear indication that the tramway is expected to be used primarily by Jewish Israelis, not Palestinians. Full army or civic service is also required, i.e. no Palestinians.

    Thus, through its involvement in the building and future operation of this tramway linking Israel’s illegal settlements with West Jerusalem, Veolia is facilitating Israel’s ‘grave breaches’ of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and is complicit in its perpetuation of those breaches. In other words, Veolia is involved in aiding and abetting on-going war crimes. It is also facilitating, exacerbating, aiding and abetting Israel’s breach of the Hague Regulations. I wonder if St Louis have similar provisions in their contractual relations with such organizations?

  2. MRW says:

    It’s more than just BDS that will bring them out about Veolia. Watch Blue Gold – World Water Wars. It’s amazing how many of these transnationals have taken over the the public water supplies and reservoirs of cities and municipalities here in the USA. Cities and municipalities lose valuable workers who know how to fix the problems; these private corps cut back on proper maintenance to increase their profit margins; and some are draining the watertable for bottled water that they resell to the community, and abroad:
    http://www.bluegold-worldwaterwars.com

    • Walid says:

      Veolia’s roots in water go back to 1853 when it was known as La Compagnie Générale des Eaux with a 100-year concession to supply the city of Lyons with water and a bit later a 50-year concession to supply water the city of Paris. Now it has over 300,000 employees and is the world’s largest water management company. It’s in the process of liquidating its vast transportation services (about $6 billion) to continue concentrating on water management services.

  3. Krauss says:

    And here’s the counter-point. Rapper Lupe Fiasco raps about Gaza and Obama’s silence. He gets thrown off-stage.

    link to youtube.com!

    We still got work to do. And this says a lot about the democratic impulses of Obama.

    • Citizen says:

      @ Krauss
      Yes, and let’s not forget the ignored rejection by referendum re Jerusalem amendment to the DNC platform–shown to the public on national TV.

  4. Walid says:

    One has to also wonder how while Veolia is being put through this hassle in cities in the US and the UK, it can still operate on hassle-free contracts in almost every Arab country stretching from North Africa to the Gulf states; contracts in the billions for transport systems, desalination and electricity generating plants and waste management.

    Veolia is a major polutter on the West Bank dumping there 200,000 tonnes of garbage yearly from Israel proper along with the waste from the WB settlements:

    “… Close to Jericho in the illegally occupied Jordan valley, north of Yafit settlement, by Tirza Reservoir, the Samaria Towns Environmental Association manage the 33-hectare Tovlan waste-disposal site. A Veolia Environmental Services Israel subsidiary,
    TMM Integrated Recycling Services, operate Tovlan and pay royalties to Jordan Valley Regional Council. Tovlan has operated since the 1990s as a private business, without a plan approved by the regional council, or infrastructure to prevent ground pollution
    and emission of greenhouse gases, or a rehabilitation plan. In 2004, the Towns Association upgraded Tovlan and enlarged its capacity to 1000 tons of refuse a day.

    The landfill was established in 1999 on land ethnically cleansed of Palestinians in 1967. The site is managed by the Israeli settlement regional council of Biqat Hayarden, which covers 21 illegal settlements, and the land is leased from the occupier:

    Currently, the site is used only by Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea area, large settlements such as Ari’el, and the Barkan industrial area (illegal Settlement Industrial Zone).

    Over 200,000 tonnes per annum from Israel alone is dumped along with waste from illegal settlements in the Jordan Valley. Some hazardous waste appears to arrive from hospitals inside Israel for incineration. Tovlan’s settlement sewage water plant generates electricity using extracted methane gas. The energy is used exclusively by the settlements whilst noxious smells and flies make the nearby impoverished Palestinian village of Abu Ajaj virtually uninhabitable, especially in summer. Tovlan’s Palestinian workers earn £13.35 a day, are not provided with any safety clothing or equipment but risk accidents and the dangers of gas explosions. There’s no union. Two Veolia subsidiaries, TMM – Integrated Recycling Services and YARV Sherutei Noy 1985, are amongst the companies authorised to transfer waste to Tovlan.”

    link to labournet.net

  5. Kathleen says:

    Inspiring St Louis. The movement has become far more diverse the last five years.

  6. pabelmont says:

    Apparently, the USA did not vote against Veolia in UN HRC. Perhaps we were not a member. At all events, congratulations to the activists of St. Louis who are doing, on the small, what the USA refuses to do in the large.

    Today, President Obama suggested that the USA should conduct its diplomacy more with talk than with war. However, as he did not say, some countries (Israel) are perfectly impervious to mere words. Therefore, BDS actions hurting Veolia are good, and BDS actions hurting Israeli companies (without regard to their connection to occupied territories) would be better,

  7. the work and mobilization of the Saint Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee is just incredible. huge shout out. i recommend everyone open the “photos” link..there are some great ones. way to go st. louis!

    • dbroncos says:

      St. Louis BDS! Don’t flinch, don’t fail, hit the line hard!

    • I opened up the photo link a few days ago, wanted to leave a comment, but had to register here first.
      My comment on the photos: Thanks so much to everybody who took part! Your good cheer, your diversity, your imagination in expressing your reasons for dumping Veolia, your lit-up faces… are all an inspiration! I cried while looking at the individual photos. Beautiful! Once again, thank you!

  8. Ellen says:

    I spend a good bit of time in fly over country. Not just St. Louis or Kansas City. Do not underestimate the growing sentiment that something is wrong with the milataristic unending loyalty to a foreign country.

    It is cooking in the heartland.

  9. ritzl says:

    Well done and developed, STL-PSC!!

  10. Arthur says:

    It’s good to see people compromised with Human Rights. I have hope in humanity again.
    BTW, can anyone help me where can I find an academic source for an estimate of the palestinians that have been killed since 1948?