Workers and young people explain why they are attending the online public meeting of the Sri Lankan SEP

The campaign for the online meeting of the Socialist Equality Party (SEP) and the International Youth and Students for Socialist Equality (IYSSE) on the political lessons of the popular uprising against the Rajapakse government wins strong support from the workers, young people and farmers.

Port, electricity and oil workers march to the presidential secretariat on December 8, 2021 (WSWS Media)

SEP/IYSSE members distributed thousands of copies of the SEP statement “To oppose IMF austerity, Sri Lankan workers must learn from the past two months of popular uprising”. The statement provokes important discussions amid a deepening political crisis from the ruling elite and escalating social attacks by the Rajapakse-Wickremesinghe government.

This week the government declared a virtual shutdown of the economy due to fuel shortages, even as millions of workers and the oppressed struggled to survive with soaring food prices and shortages of basic necessities. The majority of public and private sector workers have been told to stay at home.

The army oversees the distribution of fuel to essential services at the Wellawatta gas station, Colombo, July 1, 2022 [WSWS Media]

Sri Lanka’s economy, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe told parliament days ago, has “collapsed”. The government is already implementing “economic reforms” dictated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), with even tougher attacks to come. This includes the privatization and commercialization of state enterprises and massive cuts in jobs, wages and benefits and social subsidies.

While millions of workers took part in general strikes in April and May, demanding the overthrow of President Rajapakse and his government, the struggles have been betrayed by the unions, which oppose any independent movement by the working class. . All opposition parties, including the Samagi Jana Balawegaya, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and the Tamil National Alliance, support the IMF’s austerity programme.

The working class has shown enormous courage and determination, but it needs a socialist perspective, a party and organizations independent of these capitalist parties and trade unions. Tomorrow’s public meeting has been called to discuss these critical issues.

Liyanagea Colombo port worker, said millions of workers face major attacks on their jobs and wages.

“COPE President [parliamentary Committee of Public Enterprises] recently said that our overtime must be reduced, but the base salaries of certain categories of portworkers are very low. This means that any reduction in overtime will seriously affect us,” he explained.

“It will not only affect port workers, but the whole working class. As the SEP explains, the problems facing the Sri Lankan working class are the result of the crisis of global capitalism, aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the US-NATO war against Russia,” he said. -he adds.

Protest by Colombo port workers in April 2022 [WSWS Media]

Liyanage said unions continually limit workers, hijack them to pressure the government, and then betray their struggles.

“We’ve had so many experiences with that,” he added. “Several parts of Colombo Port could only have been privatized because of these betrayals,” he said, citing as examples the South Asia Gateway Terminal, the Colombo International Container Terminal and the western terminal of the Port of Colombo.

Padmasiria farmer from Tangalle in southern Sri Lanka, said farmers have been hit hard by the worsening economic crisis.

“There is no diesel for the tractors and no fertilizer. This means that farmers have been forced to abandon their crops. People’s lives have collapsed as everything has been closed, including schools,” he explained.

Padmasiri said all opposition parties including Samagi Jana Balawegaya and Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna have no solution to the burning issues facing the masses. “I agree that the working class must mobilize politically on a socialist program,” he added.

A postgraduate student at the University of Moratuwa, on the outskirts of Colombo, said there was “no future” for young people. “I intend to go abroad after my studies because it is difficult to find a job here. [Prime Minister] Wickremesinghe asks people to tighten their belts, which means no jobs for young people. This is not a solution to the crisis,” he said.

He had taken part in the protests at Galle Face Green in Colombo, the main site of anti-government protest, but now realized it was pointless.

“The Interuniversity Student Federation protests every day but nothing is done. I agree that the unions have given up the fight and are working with the government. As you said, the working class must take the fight into their own hands.

Commenting on the government-ordered closure of schools and universities due to the severe fuel crisis, he said: “The economic process has collapsed. What good are governments like this? The WSWS analysis of this situation is correct and there is potential to attract many readers. I will join the meeting and read the WSWS.

Roshana railway worker from the Ratmalana workshop, said he had read the SEP statement and approved of it.

“I understood [the statement] when I was at the Galle Face Green protest. I was inspired by the unity between ethnicities [at the protests]. I agreed with the ousting of President Rajapakse and the government, but the so-called caretaker government proposed by this protest and the opposition parties is not the solution to this crisis,” he said. declared.

More IMF lending, Roshan continued, “is not a solution to the debt crisis and will make the situation even worse. The real solution, as explained in the SEP statement, is to reject the repayment of foreign debt and the seizure of wealth and property from capitalists.

A station master told SEP activists there was nothing to be gained by pressuring the capitalist government and complained about labor shortages on the railways, including station masters.

His station, he explained, requires a staff of seven but there are currently only three. “The recent struggle of the station masters has been betrayed by the unions in collaboration with the government,” he said.

“The program for an international alliance of action committees presented by the SEP is an important step forward. I will take the initiative to form committees among the station masters and other railway workers. I would like to speak about these political developments and I will participate in the SEP online public meeting on Sunday,” he said.

Imasha, a law student at Jaffna University, said: “The situation now is very bad. My dad drives a three-wheeler and is always stuck in lines for gas rather than doing his job. Boarding fees [for university students] have now risen to over 5,000 rupees [$US13.89] per month. Teachers have organized to provide free meals to all students, so the cost has been reduced slightly.

“We were really faced with the question, who would replace Gotabhaya [Rajapakse] but we cannot accept [SJB leader] Sajith Premadasa. I did not vote in previous elections because there was no one to vote for,” he added.

“Workers really need to break with the unions. My sister works in the district office and in her experience workers are not allowed to operate outside the unions. You are not allowed to think about anything other than what the unions say. There is no discussion with the workers. Unions call – and call off – strikes as they see fit. If the workers challenge them, they threaten the workers,” he said.

A 28-year-old Jetwing hotel employee in Sigiriya says he has never seen such a crisis in his industry. “Some 750 reservations for our hotel have been canceled this month, and now only two rooms have been booked out of 35 rooms. I cannot imagine when this crisis will end. Our salaries have been cut by around Rs 53,000 [$US147] last month,” he explained.

The hotel worker said he realized early on that the crisis was not limited to Sri Lanka, that people in many countries were facing shortages of fuel, cooking gas and of food, and rising prices.

“But no one is talking about this world situation except the WSWS,” he noted.

“The JVP, Frontline Socialist Party and the trade unions are protesting against the government, but they are defending this capitalist system. These organizations say that everyone must unite without any political difference, but there is a difference between bourgeois politics and workers’ politics. Workers must organize in an independent political perspective against capitalism, as you say. I’m okay with that,” he said.

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