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May Day: Galvanising The Working Masses

by Wimalanath Weeraratne

President Maithripala Sirisena, the Chief Guest at the 2015 UPFA May Day rally

Sri Lanka is a country of spectators. Sri Lankans don’t question. We only criticise amongst friends after consuming a good shot of intoxicants. We never even attempt to experiment on how to criticise and protest constructively. It is true that we can stay without a problem for a little while if another person is facing the problem. In other words, if the question is yours, you will not be able to be patient even for a day. We need to take challenges. We need to oppose whenever needed. Need to question when it is needed. But what will be the future of a country with a society that will willingly stare at the questions without answering them?

 

May Day

May Day is the day of the working masses. But they are now insignificant on the May Day. In spite of that, only a set of small-scale unions searches for a relief for the labourers. The only thing that political parties are interested in is to exhibit their own political powers. The SLFP has turned out to be the best known example of this development.

One section, of the SLFP, those who have joined with the UNP, is celebrating the May Day at Galle. A set of main SLFPers known as the joint opposition celebrates the May Day at Kirulapona. No one among these two parties makes it a point to talk on behalf of the labourers. Thus, they exhibit their own political powers. Nevertheless, May Day is the day of labourers. It is the day that the working people gained recognition after the historical incident that took place at Chicago in 1886.

On May 4, 1886, a labour protest rally near Chicago’s Haymarket Square turned into a riot after someone threw a bomb at police. At least eight people died as a result of the violence that day. Despite lack of evidence against them, eight radical labour activists were convicted of the bombing.

The Haymarket riot was viewed a setback for the organised labour movement in America, which was fighting for such rights as the eight-hour workday. At the same time, the men convicted of the riot were viewed by many in the labour movement as martyrs. Nevertheless, neither the SLFP’s Kirulapona May Day group nor the SLFP’s Galle May Day group speaks of the great martyrs who were killed brutally.

There are no labourers in both these May Day rallies. The soul intention of the Joint Opposition is to defeat the National Government and to bring in Mahinda Rajapaksa regime. This intention is utterly feudalistic.  The main intention of those who are in the Galle May Day rally is to establish a SLFP government. Both these political groups have no interest in talking on behalf of the unity or freedom of the labourers, their salary increments, and the ways in which they could uplift their livelihood.

 

Unquestioning acceptance of political scandals

Those who act capriciously are those who appointed by the public. But the public do not question those scandals and machinations of the politicians. The reasons may be that the labourers’ day has been politicized and the entire day has been taken in to politicians’ hands. Yet, real labourers do protest against their rights. In spite of all these things, the Media, all of them, is interested in reporting the competition between the Mahinda and Maithripala parties. What the media should do is to vehemently criticise the disgraceful mechanisms that the politicians use to deceive the labourers without focusing on reporting the true incidents. There will be a great danger towards art and literature in a country where we cannot see a proper criticism. Both politics and politicians could be devastated in a country without a proper justifiable criticism. No individual in such a country dares to point out that all these political scandals are shameful.

 

Quo vadis

On the one hand, the media do clarify with the Secretary of the SLFP and report, while on the other hand, they report after contacting the Secretary of the UNP. After that, they also do not forget to quote the former President. He says, “I will attend the joint opposition May Day rally.” He further says, “There is no point in organising MayDay rallies with the government because May Day rallies are organized to oppose the government. He states that he will not attend May Day rallies with the UNP. No media will make it a point to question the politicians when they speak nothing of the May Day but of the competition between the two political parties. Therefore, what we can perceive is that not only politicians but also the Media also have forgotten the labourers whenever they report on or telecast May Day events.

 

Jokes

The UPFA Secretary has stated that they have sent an invitation via a fax to the former President informing him to attend the Galle May Day rally. He has further stated that the President will be handed over the invitation. The intention is to unite the President and the SLFP leaders – uniting them and reestablishing their regime and power. If that is the intention of the present SLFP- UPFA, then they should oppose the public who defeated the former president and the government on January 8, and August 17, 2015 respectively. Hence, the freedom that Amaraweera says was there before January 8. It is the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime in which Maithripala Sirisena was a powerful Cabinet minister. He also became the Secretary of the SLFP. The public defeated so called ‘union’ of the SLFP and the UPFA, then, should the SLFP and the UPFA celebrate the May Day against the public? It is better if SLFP could stop cracking such jokes.

 

Who was bitten?

The Prime Minister is the decision-maker on the economy. He is the one who decided whether we had to recommence the Port City project. He is the one who decided on the latest situation of the Mattala Airport and Hambantota Harbour. He is the one who presented the government’s economic policies before few days to the budget.

The Prime Minister plays the main role when taking decisions on economy. Likewise, after having discussion with experts on the government’s economy related matters, the prime Minister take relevant measures to increase VAT from 11 per cent to 15 per cent on May 2 onwards. The President stated this in Polonnaruwa, “I am telling all those economic experts who forward those economic recommendations to go home because theirs will have adverse impacts on poor people. There are people who cannot understand the plight of the people. I won’t let them to work on their own will. My intention is to uplift the economy of the poor.”

This shows that there are various contradictions within the government. There is a certain truth in what President says. The present government was appointed not to pile up burdens and further burden the people but to give them a relief. The government has to take back all the reliefs that were given to the people because of the economic crisis that the government faced in the beginning of the month.

The truth that should be understood by the economic experts is that the economy of the country cannot be improved by increasing taxes. The only way to uplift the economy is to create a production economy in the country. This problem cannot be solved just by issuing statements without developing a production economy.

The President further stressed, “This is not a monarchy. This is a people’s government. Therefore, it is highly important to work by understanding the problems of the people. The knowledge of the economic experts must enrich the people.”

Although, this statement is important, the things won’t happen as stated within the principles of the new liberal economy. There is not any clearly visible rich class but there is a long term class of smugglers who handle the economy. Rich business persons joining with rich leaders and politicians is not a bad thing for a country. But, the establishment of capitalism also can be slowdown by the classes of smugglers joining with capitalism.

Sri Lanka has faced situations like this before. In such a context, it is difficult to make Presidential wish a reality. There was room to discuss about the people’s economy and could have easily realized it before introducing the open economy. Features of the people’s economy were showcased in the period of 1970-1977 through nationalization. This centralized feature was seen till the then Finance Minister N.M. Perera resigned from the government.

 

Monetary crisis

Sri Lanka was with the concept of welfarism to date. It is true that we have to surpass that concept. Although, the present government needed to have some welfare projects, they were unable to accelerate any of those projects in a continuous basis. For instance, they hardly maintain the immediate reliefs that they bestowed to the general public. They had to change some of them.

For example, the project which was accelerated to give motorcycles to journalists failed. The relief price that the government stated at the beginning was not there since motorcycles could not be purchased at that price. The price of a motorcycle is reduced only by five thousand rupees. The government will pay seven per cent of the interest while the journalist is to pay two percent of the interest. The State bank officials stated that because of this inadequate relief price, the number of applications drastically decreased.

We should not tell the government to provide motorcycles as bestowed by the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime, but we tell them to give motorcycles for low prices for journalists who receive very minimum salaries. The reality is that although the politicians give high promises before they come into power, they face difficulties when practically initiating those promises.

 

People’s questions

People should question this situation. The media also should question. They could have commenced a discussion with the general public when the authorities announced that the constructions of the Port City came to an end while making people aware of the fact that it cannot be carried out with the available capital.

But, the Media just put a big headline closing the chapter of the Port City project forever. People have to come to a state where they could question the decisions of the politicians. Educated politicians will not avoid questions of the general public. People have to evolve themselves up to that standard. The general public should stop being mere spectators. Instead, they should be vigilant critics who actively participate in and share the politics of the country and its society.

 

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