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Tsunami relief - the failure of capitalism
JIM HENSMAN, a long-time Socialist Party member from Coventry, was visiting family and friends in Sri Lanka when the tsunami hit.
Speaking to delegates at the party's national council meeting last weekend he described the failure of capitalism to deal with the aftermath.
"AFTER THE tsunami the relief appeal in Britain generated tremendous donations of over £300 million, mainly from individuals. But also within the affected countries there was much solidarity which crossed ethnic and religious boundaries.
This positive mood was exploited by the ruling parties who cynically argued that 'we all have to put aside out differences', 'we all have to pull together', etc. This was the case in Sri Lanka initially.
But within days the crass inefficiency and the failure of the weak capitalist class, tied in with world capitalism, to carry out even the basic tasks of relief became apparent.
'Welcome Mr Tsunami'
There is a humorous story going around villages in Sri Lanka which highlights this point.
It concerns the pacific tsunami reporting centre in Hawaii, who contacted a senior government minister in Sri Lanka immediately after the earthquake occurred.
They told him there was a tsunami from Indonesia arriving in about two hours. 'Can you take the necessary action', they asked? The government minister springs to life and two hours later he and a delegation are at Colombo airport with a placard that reads: 'Sri Lanka welcomes Mr Tsunami from Indonesia.'
What is apparent in Sri Lanka is the government's absolute failure to carry out the simple tasks of relief. A few weeks ago, a minister in charge of relief operations admitted that 70% of the people affected had not received any relief. This was six weeks after the disaster.
And what relief has occurred shows the complete bureaucratic efficiencies of the government. Where I was staying with my parents there was a large fishing community whose houses were washed away. They were rehoused in a school where they received donations of cooking pots but they had no cooking facilities and no room to store them, so they had to sell the cooking pots to buy food.
In another area, eventually, they got food relief but it was loads of tins of baked beans, a food which doesn't feature in the diet of Sri Lankans!
In this situation our [United Socialist Party] comrades' demands for democratic control of relief supplies and the demand for a national convention of working people to direct and organise relief operations, is getting more and more of a hearing...
...But what of the future for workers? A friend of mine is a garment worker who after ten years' employment gets the princely sum of £8.50 a week. The global capitalist economy and the ending of the multifibre agreement will devastate the garment industry, which employs over 300,000 workers - the largest employer in Sri Lanka.
The tsunami will be followed by an 'economic tsunami'. This double disaster can only be overcome by the sweeping aside of capitalism and imperialism by a mass movement of workers and poor, mobilised behind the banner of socialism."
In The Socialist 5 March 2005: