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May Day: Political Muscle Flexing, Sore Throats And Tired Feet

May Day is still one week away but in Sri Lanka preparations are on to ‘Celebrate’ May Day not as an event to mark International Workers Day as in many countries but as a demonstration of the strengths of political parties and even cabals under extremist political organisations.

May Day celebrations are the contribution of the country’s Marxist parties and were originally dedicated to win labour rights for workers at a time no other established party was concerned with the rights of workers. The one lasting contribution of these Marxist parties, particularly the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) and the Communist Party (CP) was the establishment of workers’ rights such as the eight-hour working day, the rights of workers in employment and many other labour rights at great risk to themselves.

May Day rallies of Marxist parties were not confined to calls for commitment to workers’ rights but also involved a call to the working class to rise against the capitalist class, bury them and enthrone socialism. That however did not happen. Commencing from the mid-sixties, May Day celebrations of the Marxists were polluted by the hum-drum politics of the ‘bourgeois’ UNP and the SLFP when they came took to celebrating May Day claiming themselves to be workers parties as well. Today Marxist parties have been swamped in seas of Blue and Green and only traces of red remain.

The only full red blooded demonstrations on May Day will be from the JVP, the party that staged two bloody insurrections to overthrow capitalism and establish socialism – whatever it meant to them.

Thus next Sunday’s rallies will have little to do with labour rights but be very much involved in flexing of party muscles of the UNP and SLFP to show their strengths. The SLFP has undergone binary fission and May Day threatens to tear it completely apart.

The function of the red shirted Marxists in the Joint Opposition with SLFPers will be to provide a nostalgic old Marxist flavour, if any such flavour still remains with them.

The split SLFP is likely to hold two rallies. Maithripala Sirisena as President of the party will preside over a rally scheduled to be held in Galle while the splinter group allied with the Marxist and other minor extremist parties are planning to hold a rally at Kirulapone. The SLFP faction under President Sirisena is threatening to sack those who attend the so-called Joint Opposition rally at Kirulapone but the latter group points out that a similar threat was made when they staged a rally at Hyde Park but no such sacking did occur.

News Radio has quoted a UNP spokesman Kabir Hashim saying that they expected 400,000 supporters at their Campbell Park rally and the SLFPers will try to match UNP statistics.

The ‘massive crowds’ at these May Day rallies are mostly from the provinces. It provides an outing for young men and women to get a free bus ride with food provided and even booze thrown in. The entire day is spent shouting slogans in the streets of Colombo at their political opponents, come sun or rain and enjoy the outing huddled together in buses on the return journey. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, seething in defeat, has made quite an incredible statement on how May Day should be celebrated. It should not be an occasion to be used for politics but to celebrate labour rights, he has said.

How the Rajapaksa regime exploited May Day for their political gain need hardly be stressed. A demagogue is said to be a person who makes false statements knowing they are untrue to people whom he thinks are idiots.

In this instance it would be hard to find an idiot to believe Rajapaksa’s contention that May Day should not be used for politics.

Only his ardent believers, the idiots, will think that Rajapaksa on the Kirulapone platform will be confining himself to labour rights and not politics!

UNP spokesman Kabir Hashim has said that their rally will be dedicated to the workforce of the country to pull it out of the debt trap. Indeed enthusing the workforce to commit themselves to escape the debt trap is the right thing to do but whether a massive rally of 400,000 brought together at much expense is the correct way is debatable. Hashim has some telling statistics: In 2005 when Mahinda Rajapaksa took over the reins the Per Capita Debt was Rs. 110,000 while, when Rajapaksa’s term ended in 2015, it was Rs. 452,000 while the foreign debt in the same period rose from US$ 21 billion to 44 billion. Who did better? The debate will go on.

But at the end of Workers’ Day of what benefit will it be to the workers? The UNP will tell them it had done as much as possible with increased salary hikes, reduction in prices of essential commodities despite the looming debt trap while the Rajapaksas say they left the economy in perfectly good shape with icing on the cake. A JVPer has called this icing on the cake a crumbling papadum.

What will be the workers gain on their May Day? Sore throats, aching feet and a day out in the broiling heat.

1 Comment for “May Day: Political Muscle Flexing, Sore Throats And Tired Feet”

  1. Ashad Dole

    Is the MAY DAY, a waste of time and money?

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