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Plan to besiege Colombo but, what about the people?

18 March 2016 12:50 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Workers have a right to stage strikes and make protest to achieve their goals 

The trade union leader of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) K.D.Lal Kantha has been threatening the government (indirectly the people too) on various platforms to besiege Colombo city by bringing in farmers in their thousands to the city of Colombo from all over the country and making them block the six main entry points to the city, unless the government meets the farmers’ demands.


Yes, this is not something impossible for the JVP, though it is a small political party compared to the two main parties, the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), as even two to three hundred people can disrupt vehicular movement on any one of those six main roads.    
Apart from the JVP’s capacity to besiege the capital city with farmers’ demonstration or protests, the party and its trade unions seem to think they have a right to besiege Colombo since they are fighting for a just cause. The farmers are already demonstrating these days in various parts of the country demanding a proper mechanism to sell their paddy harvests at a reasonable price as well as the fertiliser subsidy that the government promised them. 


Needless to say these are just demands. As far as the market for paddy is concerned,  government ministers are openly saying they have been compelled to sell paddy as animal food since this year’s harvest is more than the requirement for human consumption. Last year the government used the excess paddy harvest to gain political mileage by storing a portion of it at the Mattala Airport premises. Farmers had to camp near purchasing centres for weeks to sell their harvest.  Still there is no solution in sight for the problem.


The lethargy and the laxity on the part of politicians and the relevant officials in this regard are vividly clear as this is a longstanding problem. During the war, one would remember  how S.B.Dissanayake, the Minister of Agriculture under President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s, government ludicrously launched a campaign to educate the Sri Lankan people about the advantages of rice consumption instead of bread, [as there was an excess of paddy]. As a large extent of paddy lands in the North and the East are being cultivated after the war only the concerned people, not the authorities, can understand the gravity of the problem. 


Hence, people in this country would not contest the demands of the JVP affiliated farmer organisations and their right to fight for solutions. Also trade union struggles are constitutionally recognised in Sri Lanka. However, what other people cannot agree with the trade unions and the student organisations in the country is the disregard shown by the protestors to the rights of ordinary people. 


When tens of thousand vehicles were trapped due to the Thotalanga squatters’ protest many people who were on their way to the Bandaranaike International Airport to travel abroad had to reschedule their trips. Thousands of people including students, women and young girls returning home had to haplessly languish in packed vehicles for nearly four hours without knowing what to do. Hundreds of patients travelling to hospitals for treatment and those returning from hospitals were also 
among those trapped. 


Each of these ‘victims’ had a painful story to tell in spite of a media blackout which reminded us of Joseph Stalin’s famous saying; “death of a million people is just statistics.” What right did the squatters have to take such a large crowd hostage irrespective of their demands being reasonable is the question that arises here.


Now Lal Kantha plans to besiege Colombo by blocking not one but all six main entry points to the city and one can imagine the pandemonium that would be created in and around the capital in such an event. It seems to think he has a moral right to do so. Unlike the tens of thousands of people trapped in and around Thotalanga on February 26, millions of people would be taken hostage by Lal Kantha and the members of his farmer organisation in such a blockade. The simple question that arises again is what right they have to take people hostage, just because their demands are reasonable.
Trade union leaders might argue that people as fellow citizens must bear such difficulties during protests and demonstrations. That might seem sound on moral grounds. However, going by the number of protests and demonstrations taking place in Colombo almost daily people might hesitate to agree with that idea. 


Trade unions always expect the people’s support for their struggles, reasonable as well as unreasonable ones. They distribute leaflets in public places such as the Fort Railway Station, as the leaders of the GMOA did recently and display placards with their demands written on them. However, at the same time, they antagonise ordinary people through their unreasonable mode of struggle such as sit-in-protests and health sector work stoppages. Hence, they cannot expect the wholehearted support of the masses. 


Besides, as far as the public sector is concerned, the relationship between the ordinary people and employees is still almost the same as that in the colonial era. Recently, the general secretary of the Government and Provincial Council Public Service Trade Union Federation Ajith. K. Thilakarathne, in a letter addressed to the President and the Prime Minister had pointed out that 60 per cent of the 1.5 million public servants were engaged in browsing the Internet, Face Book and other entertainment sites using office computers and their own smart phones for more than two hours of their daily eight-hour duty period. The total man hours robbed each day from the public sector in this way runs up to 1.8 million. 


The arrogance and the unfriendly attitude towards the ordinary people is a common trend in most government institutions. However, one should not be blind to the fact that there is a slight difference in attitude with the introduction of computers in government institutions and the entry recent entry of IT literate youngsters into the public service sector.


Trade unions seem to be of the view that unless the people are harassed through their struggles, authorities would not listen to their grievances and come forward to solve their problems. That is true and it is the reason behind the power wielded by the doctors’ union, the GMOA, that can threaten hapless patients ( as they have done before) with death through their strikes. 


The JVP which claims to follow Marxism as its guiding principle is of the opinion that mere struggles for good working conditions for workers and fair prices for farmers would not lead to the total emancipation of the working masses. Instead, they argue that only a socialist society with equal opportunities would solve economic and social problems and that they are using the current struggles for that purpose. It is not clear as to how they are going to lead the people in this direction without being conscious of each others grievances.

 

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