the old type trade unions !
REDPOWER interview with Comrade K.D Lal Kantha (National Organizer-SWC)
Q: The PA govt attempted to bait the working class with a Workers’ Charter and failed. What do you observe regarding the response of the Sri Lankan workers after these cheated 5 years ?
Comrade Lal : The PA’s victory in 1994 is caused by the working class attempt to escape the pressure during the 17 years of UNP suppression. The workers including 1980 strikers had no choice but to defeat UNP. In the course of PA coming into power many of the traditional organizations that led the working class joined the govt. Then a space for an actual leadership of working class is created. A leadership, which stands for the rights of working class, which leads the struggle of working class, naturally gets the chance to test its devotion. The SWC therefore now gets much more support from the working class of Sri lanka. The so-called progressive leaders in the SLFP(the leading party of PA) have formed a govt now. That’s why this opportunity we are given to lead the class is so important.
Q: What are the steps taken as SWC to occupy the opportunity you are given?
Comrade Lal: the govt sector unions dominated The powerful working class movements. But after 1977 as a result of ‘open economy’ reforms, the private sector working class was widened. We could establish connection with this fresh form of working class. Actually they had no job security and other safe employee conditions comparing to govt sector. This was also a good background for our organizational work among the private sector workers.
So we established a private sector workers union, Inter-company Workers’ Union and by that we have organized 90 branch unions of more than 20000 workers. Now we are continuously working with them in order to making them aware and through them making aware those who are not with us.
In the govt sector we have established 12 union bodies to lead employees within 12 govt sectors. The leading unions out of these are harbour, teachers, health services, clerical services, local council services, railway, electricity, water supply etc. Since the old type of unions have clung to the govt, the voice for workers’ rights is silent. This has made our attempts to make them aware very successful. While establishing new working class organizations, we do work within the existing unions too. The latest victory of Ampara Teachers’ struggle was a result of that continuous attempt.
Q: Most of the working class movements are accused of utilizing the working class strength for economic or welfare struggles within the limits of capitalism. How does this accusation relevant to you?
Comrade Lal: Traditionally Sri Lankan working class had the notion of being independent. But that independance was not for nothing. They were not politically aware of the independence. The need of being independent and simultaneously bound with the common struggle of a proletarian movement could be generated in our organizations. For instance, the recent health services struggle started as a doctors’ strike. We had to work hard during that strike to develop that solitary strike of doctors into a common health workers’ struggle against the privatization of health services.
Even the workers strike for the economic demands, their struggle necessarily collides with the capitalist agenda. The duty of a responsible working class organization is to provide leadership within this whole struggle. Nor it can limit the struggles within workers’ economic demands neither can it escape from the political struggles.
Having understood this reality and practically implementing that awareness, Socialist Workers’ Congress is beyond such accusations. We have in different aspects surpassed the practice of old type of working class unions.
Q: The capitalist forces have become much stronger as a result of globalization. What do you recognize as current challenges faced by the working class during present experiences in which imperialism, directly exploits poorer nations?
Comrade Lal: At present the workers have happened to struggle not for winning new demands, but for preserving what they have.
In Sri Lankan reality, postal strike, electricity strike, health strike and harbour... all these struggles were aimed at protecting the existing limited social and economic privileges. Privatization in the Sri Lankan experience has resulted welfare cuts, reduction of employees, so on and so forth.
This is not different from the experiences in other underdeveloped countries.
Nowadays the workers at the workplace struggles clash with employer. Most of the court cases regarding working conditions are based on denial of basic human rights. The workers do not recognize the employer-govt agreement to exploit their labour. They even do not understand that when the govt police are assigned to suppress workers’ struggles. Now it’s our formost duty to make these working class columns aware of the political reality under which they are suppressed and exploited.