The year 2021 begins with a number of new developments in the political arena in Sri Lanka. The deepening crisis in the economy is exacerbated and the government will have to rely on debt to solve it. Emergence of internal conflicts within the ruling class is visible. It is also important to note that the struggles of the working class, which has been silent for many years, emerges from two main areas. The protest by port workers against the sale of the eastern jetty of the port to an Indian company and the plantation workers’ agitation to win Rs.1000.00 per day. Another outstanding struggle is the mass march from Pothuvil to Polikandy for 5 days by civil society organizations and political parties on issues related to the national question of the Tamil people. This was very successful.
Estate worker’s struggle to win Rs. 1000.00
A massive strike and protest campaign has begun across the plantation sector to win daily wage of Rs. 1,000 per day. Plantation workers went on a token strike on 5th February in Hatton, Kotagala, Talawakele and businessmen extended their support by closing their shops, Private bus owners refrained from operating buses. Teachers went on strike and the entire plantation sector took the form of a general hartal (uprising).
The current daily wage of Rs. 750 for plantation workers is by no means sufficient, and requests have been made for about five years to increase it to Rs. 1,000. The “Thousand Movement” was a massive protest by young plantation workers’ and urban working class organizations, leftist political organizations and intellectuals throughout Colombo and across the plantation sector. This did not initially have the support of the traditional major trade unions, but they could not ignore it as the plantation workers agitation aggravated. Later, in the run-up to the general election, the unions went on strike demanding 1,000 rupees. Accordingly, the leaders who were expecting the plantation workers’ ballot, promised to pay the plantation workers Rs. 1000 as soon as they came to power.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s vision of prosperity also contained this promise. From then on, the theme of all his speeches in the election campaign was that plantation workers were given thousand rupees. This is what Mahinda Rajapaksa said during the general election. They have announced various dates for this, but it didn’t work. The last budget proposed to increase the daily wage of all estate workers to Rs. 1000 from January 2021. Due to the continuous agitation of the plantation workers, the Minister of Labour intervened and the Wages Board which met on February 08 decided with majority vote to increase the daily wage of the plantation workers by 900 rupees and a budgetary relief allowance of Rs.100.00, totalling to 1000 rupees. This is a grand victory for the working class.
Tamil people returned to battle ground
A massive march by Tamils & Muslims was held from Ampara to Jaffna to protest against the mock Independence Day on February 4th and demanding the release of all political prisoners, resettlement of people displaced by the war in the North and East, force the Government to search for missing persons, and to punish war criminals. Although the government has obtained court warrants in several places to stop this march, the protesters ignored those and moved forward successfully amidst clashes with the police. The march was organized by Tamil and Muslim civil society organizations and was attended by almost all the major Tamil political parties. But the remarkable thing was that a large number of Muslims also joined the protest. This feature shows a very positive step in resolving the national question in Sri Lanka. Independence Day was clearly an occasion to demonstrate the power of Sinhala nationalists. The theme of the President’s speech was that he should be recognized as a leader who fulfils the aspirations of the Sinhalese. Therefore, all leftists and working people must unconditionally support this movement, which is emerging on the part of the Tamil and Muslim masses, especially to defeat the discrimination faced by Tamils and Muslims in this country for decades.
Provincial Councils abolished?
This campaign of the Tamil people has arisen at a time where Sinhala Buddhist racists strongly suggest to abolish the provincial councils implemented under the 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord, in the proposed new constitution. There is a possibility that the Gotabaya regime is likely to listen to this Sinhala-Buddhist racist influence. Such a move would be a blatant violation of the democratic rights of the Tamil people to self-administration. Therefore, the voice of the Tamil and Muslim community to protect the fundamental rights of the Tamil people and against the cynical dictatorship of the Sinhala Buddhist racists should be considered as our own voice.
Human Rights Commission
The UN Human Rights Commission has already issued a resolution sharply criticizing the government’s racist program. According to the report submitted by UNHRC, there have been sharp criticism against the Government’s non-punishment of alleged war criminals and its military-style rule. Under these circumstances, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has re-appointed a commission to look into the events of the war. Such commissions are proposed to deceive the world and the people without heeding any of the recommendations made by number of commissions previously. Therefore, we strongly urge that all war crimes committed during the war should be punished. All political prisoners detained on war grounds must be released unconditionally. The government must pay compensation for those killed and displaced by the war. At the same time, they must be given a regime that decentralizes broader powers to protect the rights of Tamils and Muslims. We do not believe that there will be another alternative to the problems of Tamils and Muslims.