Sri Lankan plantation workers oppose Rajapakse government’s emergency laws
Sri Lankan workers and youth have expressed support for the Socialist Equality Party’s campaign against President Rajapakse’s August 30 declaration on a state of emergency.
The SEP is the only organization that fights to independently mobilize the working class against the emergency laws and other repressive measures of the Rajapakse government. As part of its fight against the undemocratic state of emergency, the party is holding an online meeting on Sunday, October 10 at 4 p.m. Sri Lanka time.
Earlier last month, the SEP issued a powerful statement titled “Oppose the President of Sri Lanka’s Repressive State of Emergency!” He explained that the real target of these measures is the working class and the rural poor who are now struggling against the government’s intensified attacks on social and democratic rights.
A month after declaring a state of emergency, the pretext used by the government – “to ensure public safety and well-being, and the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the life of the community” – has been widely characterized as fraud. Last week, the Rajapakse government rescinded a September 2 Gazette notification imposing a maximum price for rice.
While Rajapakse’s state of emergency is due to be extended by parliament in the coming days, the government has yet to comment publicly. Rajapakse is in desperate need of the extension in an attempt to quell the growing opposition in the working class that has escalated over the past month, as evidenced by the five-hour strike by 90,000 health workers last week.
School teachers are also continuing their more than three-month e-learning strike to demand higher salaries. Public Security Minister Sarath Weerasekara responded by threatening teachers and the rest of the working class, saying teachers’ action should be quelled, such as the government’s defeat on “terrorism” – a chilling reference to Colombo’s bloody war against the Liberation Tigers separatists. of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
The SEP’s campaign against the state of emergency receives strong support from workers in various sectors, including the education, health services and plantation action committees established under the leadership of the party.
Last week, the SEP’s statement was unanimously adopted at a meeting of the Glenugie Estate Plantation Worker Action Committee in the island’s main plantation district.
During the meeting, workers explained the harsh working conditions they now face as companies and estate managers slash workers’ wages and push daily workload targets to unbearable and grueling levels.
A worker said: “We have encountered serious difficulties during the pandemic, but the meager wages we earn are not enough to survive. Companies have continuously refused to increase our wages.
When the workers entered into a struggle with the determination to change this situation, he continued, the management, with the support of the police, unleashed a severe crackdown on us.
“The police threatened us, saying we were not allowed to demonstrate during the pandemic. This type of repression will be intensified within the framework of emergency laws. I think they already have the power to stop us now, ”he said and stressed the urgent need to fight these laws.
Another worker said the government falsely claimed that emergency laws were needed to provide essential food items to the population, many of whom face starvation during this COVID-19 pandemic and with the price of food doubling. essential products.
He also explained how the emergency laws imposed during the Colombo war against the LTTE were used to suppress Tamil plantation workers. “Many young people from the plantations were arrested in Colombo during this period. Even though they were able to show their identity cards, they were still arrested. I think this dangerous situation is coming back and we must oppose this law, ”he said.
When plantation workers called a nationwide strike and protested for higher wages, Alton Estate management responded by sacking 38 workers. Police and management trapped 24 of these workers and two youths on trumped-up charges of violence.
The layoffs and framed shots are among the witch hunts underway against militant workers by management and police in conjunction with the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC), the main plantation union. Plantation Action Committees, under the political initiative and direction of the SEP, are leading the struggle to protect plantation workers from these attacks.
Below we publish comments from workers in other sectors on SEP’s campaign against state of emergency laws by workers and youth in other sectors.
A Kandy hospital worker spoke of the divisive role of unions in covering up the dangerous implications of the government’s emergency measures.
“The unions are not ready to organize a generalized struggle of the working class against the state of emergency and the orders of essential services [banning strikes in the public sector]. They don’t even want to inform workers about these brutal laws, ”he said.
The hospital worker explained that he only found out about the state of emergency through the Health Workers Action Committee led by the SEP. He said his father worked at the Building Materials Corporation but was fired under a state of emergency during the general strike in July 1980. None of the unions, he added, fought victimizations.
A teacher from Chilaw in the North West Province said: “Various repressive measures may already be triggered under the state of emergency. This is signaled in Minister Weerasekara’s threats that the government will crush our struggle as it did against the LTTE. All over the world, the ruling classes have no solutions to the problems facing the people. Their only solution is to trigger repression.
Edwin Amarasinghe, a clerk, said the government already had laws to lower the price of essential goods. “Prices are skyrocketing every day, but the real reason for the state of emergency is to ban popular protests and strikes, arrest and fire workers, and censor freedom of writing and word of mouth, ”he said.
Police have the power to detain and question anyone for more than 24 hours and were already cracking down on protests. “The police recently intervened to stop a demonstration of independents in front of the Fort station. [under the pretext of coronavirus quarantine laws]. Nothing like this was done when the liquor bars were opened, ”Amarasinghe said.
Rajapakse has declared a state of emergency because he fears that the developing class struggles will become a larger movement against the government, he added.
“People are suffering from the impact of the pandemic on the one hand and from falling wages and rising prices. They cannot live. This will bring them to the streets and general strikes could emerge, ”Amarasinghe said.
A three-wheeler driver in Colombo said life had become extremely difficult for his family and that he would attend the SEP online meeting. The pandemic quarantine regulations meant he had no income and received no government support, he explained.
“My wife works in a tea factory and we live day to day on this income. The workers are heavily exploited in these small factories and some people in this area sometimes have no income. The government fears that slum dwellers will start demonstrating. Emergency laws are being imposed to crack down on these protests, ”he said.