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Workers' anger at Sri Lankan government attacks
ANGER AT the Sri Lankan People's Alliance (PA) government is mounting by the day. The economic situation has become dire. Fuel prices have gone up four times in six months, bus fares have doubled in three months and water, electricity and telephone charges have increased by 25%.
The government has cut the link of the Sri Lankan currency, the rupee, with the US dollar. It had been devalued four times before that, meaning an 18% drop over six months and now there will be even more to follow. The latest move has already led to almost daily increases in the price of foods and essential goods.
As the political and economic crisis deepens, the United Socialist Party (USP) - the Sri Lankan section of the Committee for a Workers' International - has been stepping up its propaganda and campaigning offensive.
Going onto the streets in the capital, Colombo, and elsewhere with thousands of leaflets and posters, the party has found an eager response to its material.
Apart from the USP, the parties of the 'old left' have put up no real opposition. The Communist Party and the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) are still participating in the PA government that is responsible for the situation deteriorating so fast.
The main opposition party is the right wing United National Party (UNP). It is making a lot of noise and has organised a 'long march' of ten days from Kandy to the capital Colombo.
They expect 100,000 at their final rally in the capital. But, as Siritunga Jayasuriya, the secretary of the USP says: "The UNP is incapable of providing the leadership that ordinary working people need".
General strike call
In the past, under governments of the UNP, if the present level of anger and frustration had accumulated, there would have been mass actions on the streets and a 'hartal' or total stoppage in the country.
Today, it is the JVP (Janata Vimuktui Peramuna - People's Liberation Front) that is cashing in on the discontent and calling for a general strike to get wages increased to cover the rapid rise in prices.
However, with ten MPs still supporting the PA, they are not linking their campaign to a demand for the government to resign. The fear of a new UNP government still holds them back, although the mass of the population is becoming increasingly desperate.
While trying to appear radical, demanding a general strike, the JVP is still peddling its propaganda against any division of the country - ie against the right of the Tamil-speaking minority - who are a majority in the North and East of the country - to self-determination.
The USP, on the other hand, is campaigning for this basic democratic right of the oppressed Tamils along with making demands against the price rises and the widespread corruption at the top of Sri Lankan society. It argues for a general strike to be called, as in the past, by a coming together of unions in a workers' convention.
The president of Sri Lanka, Chandrika Kumaratunga, has lashed out in a scare campaign against the UNP (saying they are in league with the Tamil Tiger 'terrorists' and so on) and insisted in a TV broadcast that no wage rises must be allowed.
Only days later, one of her government's most right-wing ministers contradicted her publicly on the need for salary increases. This in itself points to the grave tensions which exist in Sri Lankan society.
Amidst this growing crisis, the USP recently held a meeting to launch a small book they have produced. It puts forward the socialist opposition to left opportunism and careerism in parliamentary politics in the country and outlines the party's own programme.
Over 50 people attended the event, including 12 new people interested in joining the USP. Hundreds of copies of the book have already been sold.
Another book-launch took place soon afterwards, at which Siritunga Jayasuriya was invited to speak from the platform. It was for a compilation of material put together by former LSSP MP, Vasudeva Nannayakara. Included in the book is an article by Peter Taaffe, general secretary of the English and Welsh Socialist Party, on the relevance of the ideas of Marx and Engels 150 years after the publication of their Communist Manifesto.
In The Socialist 23 February 2001: