The right to strike and motivated strikes


For over the past 35 days, the non-academic staff of government universities in the country has been on strike. There is no doubt that the working class of this country is burdened with low salaries. In some instances, workers’ wages were reduced during the economic melt-down.
On June 6 the Locomotive Operating Engineers’ Union of Sri Lanka Railways suddenly decided to go on strike. The trade union action according to the Union is being carried out over delays in second-class promotions of locomotive drivers and several other issues.


With the present cost of living far beyond the reach of a majority of workers, something needs to be done to correct the situation. Yet the country too is going through unprecedentedly bad economic times. 
While most of the demands of the strikers are understandable, what the public find  difficult to agree with is the manner in which these strikes are called. Trade union action most always, inconveniences the public. 
These trade union decisions rarely affect the ruling elites who use private transport. Their sons and daughters attend universities abroad paying exorbitant fees or attend local institutes which offer overseas-based university degrees locally.
The economic meltdown led to bankruptcy. One of the main architects of the economic bankruptcy was our past president Gotabaya Rajapaksa. But did not these very same trade unions back and promote his candidature?
Should these bodies not take some responsibility for the present problems; rather than call for strikes which disrupt the lives of an already harassed citizenry?
The main reason for parents joining any workforce is to advance the prospects of their children. Securing a good education is first among their priorities. The ongoing strike of nonacademic staff of the universities has, as the Co-Chairman Dhammika S. Priyantha of the University Trade Union Joint Committee (UTUJC) blithely states ‘crippled the entire state-run university system’.
Approximately 50,000 students are awaiting the start of their academic programmes. The strike will also adversely affect graduation timelines and academic progress. The strike has forced the cancellation of all lectures on campus with universities. Exams too are likely to be postponed. 
The fact of the matter is that neither a majority of the non-academic staff of the universities nor the members of the Locomotive Operating Engineers’ Union (LOEU) are among the less privileged sections of our society.
For instance the lowest level of (non-academic) employees at state universities or members now striking receive approximately Rs. 50,000 as a monthly salary. They provide support to the academic staff of those institutes.
One rarely hears these worthies supporting the demand of tea and rubber plantation workers (whose labour brings in a huge percentage of foreign exchange into the country) for a daily wage of Rs. 1,000 per day.
Trade unions also oppose the opening up of private universities based on so-called concern for students from the poorer sections of our country. But even today, around 50,000 students are unable to take the next step of their academic career due to the ongoing dispute. 
Nearly all students vying to enter state universities come from deprived sections of our country. It is for these reasons parents are forced to mortgage their homes and assets to send their children to private educational institutes here and abroad.


We do not condemn strikes, but trade unions need to explore all avenues of settling disputes before calling for strikes which should be a last resort. Are we of so little imagination that we cannot think of any other way to settle disputes other than to rush into strike action?
Not very long ago, in 2018, in the city of Okayama in Japan, bus drivers took to the streets in an unusual form of protest. While technically on strike, they continued plying their routes. But they did not collect fares from commuters.
The problem the drivers had was with their bosses -not the commuters. By continuing to provide the service passengers were not harassed. But the bosses lost out...
Let’s try not to harass an already stressed-out public but look for other means to confront those who cause the problem. 



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