Trade union actions and public protests are organized to win worker-rights or demonstrate the anger and the dissatisfaction of the working class against extreme measures adopted by the rulers.
There are enough examples in world history as well as in Sri Lanka’s contemporary history about the struggles carried out by the working class, where they had won their rights and even extended their fight to topple repressive governments.
But it seems that the recent trade union action and public demonstrations in Sri Lanka by workers, university dons, teachers etc. have further strengthened the rulers rather than winning rights of the working class or getting rid of oppressive measures and draconian laws implemented by the government.
Although the trade union leaders and the members of the opposition parties claim that the general strike action they carried out on Tuesday was a success, the bus services, hospitals, ports, airports, government offices and schools functioned as usual. The employee attendance at both public and private sector institutions remained unaffected.
Thus the general strike that was much bragged about by leaders of the opposition parties and trade unionists attached to them proved to be a flop which further reinforced the government’s hand instead of reducing the increased electricity tariffs.
Hence, the interesting question would be what made the general strike a failure? Though the opposition will try to attribute the failure to the fear tactics employed by the government, it appears that the reasons transcend beyond that.
Of course, this is not to say that the precedents set such as the dismissal of workers who participated in the infamous 1980 July strike were not employed by the government to frighten the workers.
However, it seems that the faith the Sri Lankan working class and the professional groups had on trade unions about 20 to 30 years back--shows a sharp decline today. It appears that the majority of the working class doesn't believe in trade unions to win their rights. That could have been the key reason for only 10 to 15 percent of the total public sector workforce of 1.2 million to be members of the trade unions.
On the other hand, the general strike also tested the faith the majority of Sri Lankans have in opposition political parties to fight against the despotic actions of the government.
Meanwhile, the failure of the general strike further strengthened the view point that pressure should be exerted from the rural base of the country, to prevent repressive action, reduce corruption and abuse of power that hinder the rights and liberties of all citizens.