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‘Despite different claims May 21 strike proves successful’

5 June 2013 04:08 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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By Vickremabahu Karunaratne


Still, there is a debate as to the success of the token strike initiated by the pro JVP trade union centre, on May 21. It started with the different claims within the trade union sector. The Co-ordinating Committee to unite trade unions which initiated countrywide, multi-sector strike action against the electricity tariff hike said the strike was a success.

K. D. Lal Kantha accused the government of creating fear among public servants to make them report to work despite the strike call. He said employees had been induced to come to work because their salaries had been paid on that day even though that was not the normal day for issuing government wages. Inspite of such obstacles and threats, in many places workers answered the strike call. This had been a strike where only a selected group of trade unions and organisations had been asked to join the protest. The unions had achieved their objectives, which were: to create awareness among the public, point out where the government was misleading them, and get protests started.  Linus Jayathilaka, President of the United Federation of Labour, said, “Our CIWU strike and March at Ratmalana, was 100% successful. It sent a strong message to the people. We hope this workers’ struggle will haunt the masses of people in the coming period.”

" We believe that if the parties that organised the May 21 strike waited until people received their electricity bills and saw the impact of the power price increases, there would have been a better response from each sector "

There was disagreement among trade unions about whether a strike should have been called at this stage. “This was the wrong time to go on a strike,” said convener of the Sri Lanka People’s Movement against Increasing the Electricity Bill (PMAIEB) and President of Health Service Trade Union Alliance, Saman Rathnapriya, who had initially supported a general mass protest campaign against the electricity rates. “To make a strike successful the public should feel the necessity to call a strike. We believe that if the parties that organised the May 21 strike waited until people received their electricity bills and saw the impact of the power price increases, there would have been a better response from each sector.” The Ceylon Teachers’ Union said teachers had not participated in the strike because they believe the strike should have been well organised and that the support of the general public should have been mobilised. “We do not go at once to a one day general strike but first call a one-hour token strike,” he said, adding that a protest march organised by teachers and other workers on May 15 had been successful, well mobilised and had attracted public support. Everybody agreed that the event on May 15 was a grand success, particularly the march from Borella to the Fort Railway Station.



To say the strike was incomplete was not to say it was a flop. It was not a flop because there was a good turn out by the private sector and a radicalised mass of young workers participated with enthusiasm. Even in the public sector there were pockets in which participation was good. However buses appeared to run normally. Obviously, this could have reduced the visible impact of the strike. The important thing was that the popularity of the government, which has been reducing in the last period, got a serious blow because of these two mass actions. Some argue that the JVP and other organisers unnecessarily brought in politics into a general economic issue. This was wrong; from the word go it was a political issue and unions were compelled to appeal to political leaders for help. The electricity price was not specifically a working class or trade union problem, but a mass issue. Hence the basis of action was the people’s involvement in towns and villages, with various mass action and not just trade union action.

" To say the strike was incomplete was not to say it was a flop. It was not a flop because there was a good turn out by the private sector and a radicalised mass of young workers participated with enthusiasm "

Nevertheless, the main achievement of the twin events of May 15 and 21 was that the proletariat with the support of the general public challenged the decision of the Mahinda regime. The President panicked and a modified tariff, with lowered rates was set so that households using 60 or less units a month would not face any price increase. On the other hand Buddhist monks came onto the streets under various sectarian pretexts and diverted momentarily the attention of the masses from economic and political issues.
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