May Day: The final battle fizzles out
Daily Mirror Editorial
May 1, 2012

May Day today is a shadow if not ashamewhen compared with the May Days up to 1977. For several decades after independence we saw huge processions that took several hours to pass a point and ended with rallies that went on till late at night with newspapers giving them front page splashes.

Politicians and workers today need to remember that it was the S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike Government that declared May Day as a national holiday and introduced long-term welfare measures such as the Employees' Provident Fund (EPF) which is providing immense benefits to millions of people today. The Wages Board Ordinance and the termination of Employmentact also provided regular salary increases and safeguards for workers.

In the 1960s and 70s May Day rallies of the United Front (UF) comprising the SLFP, the LSSP and the CP drew not only thousands of participants but also thousands of spectators. We still remember Dr. N.M. Perera, Pieter Keuneman, Dr. Colvin R. de Silva and other stalwarts marching like soldiers and singing out loud the song that touched millions of hearts - "Sadukin pelanavun, dan ithin nagitiyau, anthima satanata serasiyavu." "It means those oppressed by hunger and pain rise up now and prepare for a final battle."

Those were the times when priority was given to national production and there was a more equitable distribution of wealth and resources with most workers aware not only of their rights but also aware and deeply committed to their responsibilities.

The tragic change came in 1978 with the introduction of the twin evils of the executive presidency and the globalised capitalist market economic system. If that was the beginning of the end of independent trade union dynamism and workers' rights, the end itself came in 1980 when President J.R. Jayewardene brutally crushed the July strike and sacked tens of thousands of workers. Later some concessions were given, but as the late Bishop Lakshman Wickramasinghe described it, that was the point at which justice ended and charity began. Since then different governments have quietly introduced various laws to undermine workers' rights. In addition to laws which took away most of the rights of workers, the party politicisation of trade unions also contributed much to the degeneration and degradation of the once-powerful workers' movement. Thegovernment must realise that the restoration of workers' rights and privileges is an important part of the restoration of democracyandmaydayis a good day to take some steps in that direction.

Source: Daily Mirror - Sri Lanka