Palestine activists score big win as Veolia pulls out of St. Louis

A Dump Veolia Coalition graphic celebrates victory.

St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee

Palestine solidarity activists in St. Louis, Missouri are celebrating victory after Veolia Water North America withdrew from a $250,000 contract to consult with the city’s water division.

Chicago-based Veolia Water North America is a subsidiary of the French municipal services multinational Veolia which has been a target of global protests and boycott calls because of its participation and profiteering in Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands.

“Major victory”

Veolia’s withdrawal was the “dramatic conclusion” to a one-year activist effort to defeat the contract, the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) said in a 31 October statement.

The company’s pullout “was a major victory for a group called the Dump Veolia Coalition, which has protested the contract throughout the year,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch acknowledged.

PSC was in the forefront of the campaign and helped form the Dump Veolia Coalition.

As well as PSC, the Dump Veolia Coalition includes St. Louis Jewish Voice for Peace, Organization for Black Struggle, Missouri Muslims for Civic Engagement, US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice and several environmental organizations such as Sierra Club, Eastern Missouri Group and Missouri Coalition for the Environment.

Elected representatives listened

“For more than three years, Veolia attempted to secure a contract with St. Louis, defying the will of the local community through aggressive lobbying, bullying, political interference, back-door deals and outright contempt for democratic involvement,” the Dump Veolia Coalition said in a 29 October statement.

“When public opposition denied Veolia the necessary votes to pass the contract through normal channels, the mayor attempted to circumvent the democratic checks and balances by claiming the contract did not need approval through traditional means and threatened to sue the city comptroller if she did not sign it.”

The coalition thanked city councillors “for listening to constituents’ concerns and standing up for transparency, accountability, democratic processes and the will of the people by introducing a resolution to remove funds allocated for Veolia in the city’s budget, the straw that finally broke the camel’s back, prompting Veolia to withdraw.”

“Not worth it”

In a statement announcing Veolia’s withdrawal, Mary Ellen Ponder, deputy chief of staff to St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, all but admitted the company had pulled out as a direct result of the stiff opposition:

Unfortunately, the passage of a year has had a greater impact than just lost time. Veolia Water, the firm that was legitimately selected per ordinance, to help improve the Water Division’s level of efficiency, has decided our business is not worth it. It is not worth the damage to their business. Veolia will not go forward with the contract they were legitimately awarded. Frankly, they can’t be blamed.

In another recent sign that Veolia is feeling the grassroots pressure, Alan Moldawer, executive vice-president of its subsidiary Veolia Transportation, US recently lashed out at the growing boycott, divestment and sanctions movement with a number of false accusations.

Moldawer was reacting to a campaign to exclude his company from a public transit contract in Sonoma County, California.

Election issue

PSC said that activists had successfully turned the Veolia contract into an election issue for the mayor earlier this year.

The video above shows the mayor during an election event as PSC members press him over Veolia’s abuses.

“While Mayor Slay handily won the mayoral election, the Dump Veolia campaign put his office and Veolia on the defensive and forced both to expend considerable political clout and resources,” PSC said in its statement.

Fruits of coalition work

PSC stresses that the victory in St. Louis was the result of working in a coalition that addressed local environmental and social justice concerns as well as Veolia’s appalling human rights record in Palestine.

Its statement details many of the milestones in its extraordinary campaign and concludes:

As the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee celebrates this victory over occupation profiteer Veolia, we wish to thank the many coalition partners and St. Louis citizens who supported the Dump Veolia campaign. While we came to this issue because of Palestine, we soon learned of the many troubling aspects of Veolia’s business practices including privatization of public resources, labor abuses, corruption, environmental degradation and interference in democratic processes. This is a huge win for BDS in North America and a triumph for the people of St. Louis.