Sri Lankan trade unions stage fake campaign against state repression
Sri Lanka’s Trade Union and Mass Organization (TUMO) invited opposition political parties and key diplomats, including from the UK, Canada and Australia, to a seminar in Colombo last month to pressure on the government of President Ranil Wickremesinghe to end its repressive actions.
The TUMO is a front of about three dozen unions, including the Ceylon Teachers Union (CTU), Ceylon Mercantile and General Workers Union and Ceylon Bank Employees Union, as well as the workers of the pseudo-left Frontline Socialist Party (FSP ). “Wrestling Center. A group of fishermen and some non-governmental organizations are also part of the alliance.
The immediate reason for the August 24 seminar, titled “Popular Movement Against Repression”, was the detention of Inter-University Student Front (IUSF) leader Wasantha Mudalige, fellow IUSF leader Galwawa Siridhamma and student activist Hashan Gunatilake. On August 22, Wickremesinghe signed a 90-day detention order for their incarceration under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).
Labeling the anti-government protests as “terrorism” is a warning to the working class that the Wickremesinghe government will use all of its sweeping powers against the protests and mass strikes that have erupted over the past four months over the deep economic and social crisis in the country. . The government has just struck a deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for an emergency loan that requires even deeper attacks on living conditions and will provoke far greater opposition.
The mass movement forced former President Gotabhaya Rajapakse to flee the country and resign. As he fled, he installed Wickremesinghe as interim president, acknowledging his long track record as the IMF’s austerity enforcer. Wickremesinghe, who is deeply despised, was then undemocratically installed as president by a vote in parliament.
The TUMO seminar, far from fighting against state repression, aimed to cement a bloc with the opposition capitalist parties, supported by the major imperialist powers, aiming to divert this opposition towards the impasse of parliamentary politics. All opposition parties support IMF austerity measures and those in power are said to be equally ruthless in suppressing protests and strikes.
Parties present included the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) and its allies, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and the Tamil Progressive Alliance, as well as the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP).
The SJB, the largest parliamentary opposition party, is a spin-off from Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP). Its leaders have no fundamental differences with Wickremesinghe and share political responsibility for the UNP’s long history of brutal repression against the working class. The UNP was directly responsible for the 1983 anti-Tamil pogroms that sparked the brutal communal war that devastated the country.
In the late 1980s, the UNP government of President Ranasinghe Premadasa carried out a bloody crackdown involving the mass slaughter of rural youths in the south of the island. The army and its associated death squads killed an estimated 60,000 young people. Many others were imprisoned and tortured.
Yet TUMO and FSP promote the SJB, which only broke with the UNP in 2020, as a champion of democratic rights.
CTU General Secretary and TUMO official Joseph Stalin told the seminar that “a serious repression is taking place in the country. It is time to act against this repression. No one can overcome this repression by acting alone. For this reason, let us come together and pursue these actions with firmness.
Such a pro-capitalist formation, however, aims above all to block the independent action of workers and the poor which threatens bourgeois rule and the profit system. It is to cripple the working class as the Wickremesinghe government expands its attacks on democratic rights.
SJB leader Sajith Premadasa, the former president’s son, told the meeting, “To pull the country out of the precipice, a united program from all parties is needed.” Blaming Gotabhaya Rajapakse for repression and “far-right neoliberal policies and tax concessions to wealthy billionaires”, he called for the rejection of “right-wing policies and ultra-leftism” and a shift towards a “path social-democratic median”.
No one in the seminary disputed this concoction of lies and misrepresentations. The “social democratic middle road” is nothing but the tough IMF program implemented. In fact, the SJB called for talks with the IMF even before Rajapakse adopted such a strategy, well aware of the popular opposition it would inevitably generate. As for repression, Sajith Premadasa never denied his father’s bloody methods and would be equally willing to use them.
The JVP was the immediate target of UNP repression in the late 1980s. It had mounted a reactionary, chauvinistic campaign against the 1987 Indo-Lankan accord that brought Indian troops to northern island to disarm and suppress Tamil armed groups. JVP gunmen killed hundreds of workers, union leaders and politicians who opposed their campaign. The JVP has, however, long since ended its “armed struggle” and socialist demagoguery, and operates within the framework of the capitalist political establishment in Colombo.
At the seminar, JVP leader Sunil Handuneththi presented himself as an opponent of the Wickremesinghe government and its repression, but he works hand in hand with the SJB and supports IMF austerity demands. The JVP promotes the lie that a general election will end the hardships facing working people. In reality, the JVP’s plea for “legitimate government” is to better enforce the brutal measures imposed by the current regime.
The seminar was a damning condemnation of the pseudo-left FSP, a dissent from the JVP, which enthusiastically supported a front with these pro-capitalist parties and political thugs. PSF Education Secretary Pubudu Jayagoda jubilantly said, “Let us join forces beyond holding seminars and issuing statements… PSF promises that we will give our maximum support to bring together all the forces against this repression in a common platform.
The working class and the poor must be given a warning. During the protests and strikes of millions of workers and poor since April, the TUMO, together with the JVP-led Trade Union Coordination Center, played a treacherous role. With the support of the opposition parties and the FSP, they did everything to limit and derail the mass movement.
Millions of workers took part in one-day general strikes on April 28 and May 6. The unions’ political perspective, however, was the same as that of the opposition parties – the call for a multi-party caretaker government to better prosecute the attacks. on the workers.
By limiting strikes, politically and organizationally, the unions paved the way for Wickremesinghe’s installation as president and are therefore politically responsible for his new round of attacks on democratic rights. Now unions and false lefts are seeking alliances with opposition parties to prepare another political trap for workers.
The defense of democratic rights can only progress through the independent mobilization of the working class with the support of the rural poor in the struggle for socialism. This requires a political offensive against the Wickremesinghe government, as well as all the capitalist parties that defend the profit system.
Workers should demand the repeal of the PTA, all emergency laws and the Essential Public Services Act, the immediate release of all detainees and the abolition of the autocratic executive presidency.
Such a political struggle will only take place if the workers take matters into their own hands. The Socialist Equality Party (SEP) calls for the creation of action committees in every workplace and neighborhood, independent of all capitalist parties, unions and their kin like the FSP. Action committees should also be set up in rural areas to fight for the interests of rural workers, who face a similar social crisis.
The ally of the Sri Lankan workers is the international working class. Action committees must look to workers in Sri Lanka and workers around the world who are increasingly engaged in a struggle against similar attacks on democratic and social rights.
The repression and attacks on living conditions of the Wickremesinghe regime are rooted in the capitalist system. The defense of democratic rights is therefore linked to the struggle against this system on the basis of a socialist programme.
The SEP called for a Democratic and Socialist Congress of Workers and Rural Poor based on delegates from Action Committees to advance a political agenda to defend their interests and lay the foundations for a workers and peasants government to implement socialist policies.
We urge workers and young people to join the SEP in fighting for this agenda.