Energy, Ports, Plantations: Flaming up of Workers’ Combativity in Sri Lanka
(«Proletarian»; Nr. 15; Winter 2018)
Sri Lanka is a small island in southern India populated by twenty million people. The country occupies a geostrategic position that concerns different imperialisms because it is at the heart of the sea routes that connect Asia to Europe, the Middle East and North America. China is particularly interested in its “new silk routes” or what the US authorities call the Chinese “pearl necklace”.
For a long time the country was ravaged by a civil war between central power and the Tamil minority of the North. This war ended in May 2009 with the victory of the central power.
This new political stability has allowed the country to experience strong economic growth (averaging more than 6% a year) and to become the most developed state in South Asia. Despite its growth, the country called for “”financial assistance” from the IMF in return for the implementation of “structural reforms” (a catalog of anti-proletarian attacks and openness to economic “reforms”).
If Sri Lanka has experienced a certain industrial and tourist development, it remains predominantly rural and poverty remains colossal. This is evidenced by the collapse of a rubbish heap on April 14, which left about 30 people dead in the Kolonnawa open-air dump, where 23 million tons of garbage are piled up in a town located at northeast of Colombo, the Sri Lankan capital. A 91-meter high pile of waste, weakened by torrential rains and a fire, collapsed, burying the homes of a shanty town.
A WAVE OF PROLETARIAN STRUGGLES
Recent years have been marked by proletarian struggles in many sectors.
Port workers fought hard last year to defend their working conditions under the privatization programs. The port of Hambantota went on strike in December 2016 to demand the permanent hiring of precarious jobs. Those in the capital, Colombo, did the same in February 2017 to request guarantees of job preservation after the transfer of 85% of the port to the China Merchants Port Holding Company. In both cases, the government’s response was repression. In Hambantota, the proletarians had to face media hysteria, judicial sanctions, the use of strikebreakers and the intervention of the army and a witch hunt against the “ringleaders”. In Colombo, the cops fired tear gas and used water cannons against labor protests.
In July, the workers of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) also went on strike against the risks on the working conditions and employment posed by the sale of certain facilities to Indian or Chinese companies but also for the renovation of the Sapugaskanda refinery. The strike hit the distribution of gasoline and diesel in the country hard. Again the government used the army to break the strike.
In February, the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) workers mobilized for the augmentation of wages which no longer make it possible to live a decent existence, particularly due to the devaluation of the currency and the increase of various taxes. These workers went on strike in September, causing power cuts. In addition to the demand for wage increases, there have been others: the end of anti-union repression and a premium for the electricians exposed to risk. The government threatened to fire the strikers.
Farm workers in tea plantations are also victims of capitalist policies that seek to reduce their personnel costs to compete in international markets. The aim of the tea bosses is to outsource the workforce: the proletarians would lose their status as wage earners (and become “self-employed”) and all the (meagre) acquisitions that go with pensions, medical care, housing assistance etc. Even before the introduction of this new system, salaries have fallen, for example from 58 to 51 rupees per kilogram of tea harvested or with deductions under the pretext of poor quality. Finally, some bosses, in order to make an immediate profit, turn plots of tea into more lucrative corn plots, all of which lead to workers’ reactions in the form of strikes and demonstrations. At the end of December 2016, a thousand or so precarious workers with Sri Lanka Telecom went on strike for their permanent hiring.
To these specifically proletarian struggles are added those of other categories of workers and poor strata. The nurses also mobilized to improve their working conditions. Students waged strike days against the privatization of the education system.
Poor peasants have struggled to obtain state aids, and fishermen against a seaport construction project that threatens fisheries resources.
TRADE UNIONS AND “FAR” LEFT: OBSTACLES TO STRUGGLES
The organization of the proletarian masses on their land and with their objectives is here, as elsewhere, an urgent need.
Unions have diverted struggles from class goals. They did not fight for the interests of the workers but (to) disorient the proletarians by denouncing the change of owners of the companies (the privatizations) or the influence of the Indian or Chinese economic interests. Neither the nationality nor the public or private character of the exploiter has any interest for the proletarians. An exploiter is an exploiter and he must be fought! The proletarians have only their interests to defend and not those of the company or the national economy!
Class organization can only mean overtly breaking with and clear opposition to “revolutionary” forces that offer only purely bourgeois perspectives. The pseudo-communists of the JVP (Popular Liberation Front) want to “protect the country and develop it”. The Maoists of the New Democratic Marxist-Leninist Party campaign for a “People’s Democratic Republic” and those of the Communist Party of Ceylon (Marxist-Leninist) put forward a “revolutionary struggle for democracy and freedom”. Their brother/enemy Trotskyists far from fighting capitalism intend to fight “neoliberal policies” (the United Socialist Party member of the Committee for a Workers’ International) or “the influence of the multinationals” (NSSP, member of the Fourth International-SU). Those of the Socialist Equality Party (member of the International Committee of the Fourth International) are the chants for a “workers’ and peasants’ government” which nationalizes “under the democratic control of the workers”. An ensemble of anti-proletarian recipes that are bourgeois goals and obstacles to class struggle.
PRIORITY OF PRIORITIES
Today, both Sri Lanka and all of South Asia are ripe for the proletarian revolution. Only this – and not a national or popular “revolution”, which mean bourgeois – can liberate the proletarian and impoverished masses from misery, exploitation and oppression.
To do this, the proletarians will have to organize their force outside the paralyzing influence of reformers of all kinds and on the terrain of the class struggle. In this way they will be able to prepare for future struggles for immediate demands on wages as well as for the overthrow of the capitalist order. In this perspective, the revolutionary vanguard party is indispensable.
It alone can connect the partial struggles of today to the general struggle of tomorrow by giving the working class in motion the unity of purpose, will and action. The bourgeoisie seeks to strengthen its power in the perspective of future clashes; it is up to the revolutionaries to work to endow the working class with its party. This is the priority of priorities.
International Communist Party