A pragmatic working class
The country’s working population yesterday delivered a
resounding slap to the leaders of the much hyped General Strike
by choosing not to be pawns in a political project unveiled
under the guise of winning worker demands.
That the strike was an unmitigated disaster for its
organisers was borne by the fact that none of the services
targeted were affected to any degree with workers even defying
threats and intimidation to report for their duties.
Yesterday’s flop also goes on to underline the fact that by
and large the country’s Trade Union movement has evolved into a
mature entity and that its members cannot be led by the nose any
The damp squib also more than emphasised the transformation
of the Trade Union movement from its radical days where a call
to down tools was observed with an almost religious fervour.
The trend is also an indication that Trade Unionism has
sloughed off its militant uncompromising outlook and is becoming
increasingly amenable to discourse and dialogue to resolve the
grievances of workers.
This was amply demonstrated when the bulk of the Trade Unions
in the country who met President Mahinda Rajapaksa agreed to
settle for an interim Rs.1,000 wage hike giving due
consideration to the present economic constraints rather than
take a radical approach.
Today Trade Unions have ceased to be cohesive entities any
more and there are cracks in its monolithic status enjoyed in
the past. In the grand old days when the Left parties ruled the
roost the Trade Union movement was able to bring Governments to
There was that famous saying by Prime Minister Sirimavo
Bandaranaike that it was strikes engineered by the Left parties
that administered a slow death to her husband, ‘nomara meruwa’.
That was a time when Trade Unions commanded huge clout and their
leaders almost hero worshipped by their minions.
Much water has flown under the bridge since those days and
today Trade Unions have become mere appendages of political
parties whose members are eager to do the bidding of their
political masters more than win any demands for their lot.
Yesterday’s scenario was no different which saw Trade Unions
divided on political lines and working at cross purposes with
worker demands reduced to ornamental value. It was plain to even
the ordinary man on the street that the demand of a Rs. 5,000
wage hike was untenable and that it was a deliberately ploy to
camouflage a political project.
This was also amply borne out by the alternatives offered by
the strike leaders such as calling off the upcoming Provincial
Council elections and the slashing of the Cabinet, which clearly
have no correlation to worker demands.
That the strike would end in a failure was evident from the
outset with the UNP completely off colour and lending only half
hearted support. The failure of the strike no doubt is a clear
reflection of mass mood at present when Government Forces are at
the gates of the Tiger lair with victory only a matter of time.
It would also no doubt have sent the right signal to the
Forces on the battle front. This set back for the both the UNP
and the JVP no doubt would mirror the fortunes of both parties
at the forthcoming Provincial Council elections.
The failure could not have come at a worse time for these
parties who are trying shore up mass support in the wake deep
splits within their ranks. By and large the country’s working
population has reposed trust in the Government particularly in
President Mahinda Rajapaksa who has assumed a hands-on approach
in resolving the grievances of the workers.
His recent bonanza to the working class where their minimum
wage was raised to a substantial point has buttressed this faith
in the Head of State to deal with their problems in a positive
The President’s direct approach in dealing with Trade Union
grievances has also taken the wind off the sails of the TU
leaders who are losing their grip on the membership as a result.
While the Government could be pleased with its achievement
yesterday of receiving the unqualified endorsement of the
working population it behoves on the powers that be to repay
this trust by taking steps to ameliorate their conditions in a
This way it could ensure that no worker agitation takes place
that would damage the economy.
Although wage hikes would cause a severe strain on the
economy it could prove cost beneficial in the long run since
having a happy and contended work force pays economic dividends.