The most spectacular struggle of the Sri Lankan people since the 1953 Hartal is presently unfolding. The power of this struggle has forced the resignation of the cabinet. The government’s allies had declared their ‘independence’ in parliament. Meanwhile, Cabraal, the governor of the central bank, has resigned.
Those groups whose “opposition” has consisted only of day-dreaming about taking the next presidency, first tried to delegitimise the struggle by raising such questions as, “Who will take the leadership? Who will take responsibility?” etc. But the strength of the movement is such that they too have had to now join the movement. Now they even appeal to the protesters not to stop!
Whatever may be its outcome, this struggle has already had a big impact on the social and political order in Sri Lanka. The racism and religiosity that many rulers have made use of to gain and maintain their power in recent decades have been utterly rejected in the course of the struggle’s development. In particular, the “Sinhala Buddhist” hoax, nakedly paraded by opportunistic and racist crooks, and nurtured by the Rajapaksas, has been exposed. The struggle has proved that the people can stand up for their demands without reference to their political parties, and that the power of the people can bring even the most powerful regime to its knees.
Notwithstanding these facts, however, It must unfortunately be noted that the Sri Lankan trade union leaders have not been able to bring themselves to call a general strike in the midst of this magnificent and powerful mass movement. Only the tremendous impact of a general strike can make the government tremble and lay the ground for its overthrow. This is the means by which the mass protests can be brought to a successful end. However, 10 days into the struggle, the failure to call a general strike, or even a token strike, has underlined the backwardness and weakness of the trade union leadership.
Contrast this to the events of 1953. At that time, the struggle began with a series of strikes. The then Ceylon Workers’ Federation played a huge role in the Hartal. The inertia of the trade union leaders today is a cause of real sadness when we consider the incredibly militant trade union history that they inherit.
The vast majority of the workers, however, express their full support and solidarity with the current struggle. This is demonstrated by the fact that tens of thousands of young workers are drawn to these protests. But the leadership that rests on the working class has prevented it from coming to the battlefield as a class movement. Only the working-class movement can give the struggle its true vigour and shape. The union leaders are well aware of this fact. But they fear mobilising that energy because they are aware of the consequences of such a mobilisation. Some unions are motivated by the fear of how calling the workers into the struggle might disrupt the agenda of those political groups now aspiring to take the presidency. They know that once workers join the path of struggle, the leaders won’t be able to control the destination that they take. Instead, the workers will move to change the system.
The government has now started organising pro-government demonstrations using hired individuals. Although the numbers involved in these activities are small, it is clear that they aim to create the background for mobilising the armed forces to suppress the ongoing struggle by artificially creating conflicts. The criminal statement made by Tissa Kuttiarachchi, a leading Rajapaksa lackey, saying that “the time has come to give the stick treatment to the protesters” should be considered in this context. Our answer to these shenanigans, which are aimed at crushing the struggle, must be to call a general strike. Mobilising the working class is the best response to any reactionary measures, and in the given circumstances it becomes a matter of urgency.
The workers’ movement must take action to join the protests through strike action, and must overcome the attempts of their leaders to prevent them from entering the battlefield. The strength and courage exists within the Sri Lankan trade union movement to take such a course.