Tens of thousands of working people inSri Lankaprotested almost all around the country in mid-December against the newly introduced government law making it compulsory to use plastic crates to transport vegetables and fruits.
By Keerthikan, Tamil Solidarity
Peasants are used to packing their vegetables and fruits in gunnies (sacks). Under the new law, they faced fines at short notice if they used gunnies.
The Government says that using plastic crates will stop vegetables and fruits going to waste, and save Rs20billion annually. However, farmers say that using plastic crates is three times more expensive than gunnies. If the government is serious about helping ordinary people, why didn’t it propose to use this “saving” to provide the crates for free?
As a result, farmers and traders marched on the streets against the government’s new rule which would force their lives into greater poverty. Thousands of farmers demonstrated in almost all the markets and outside state institutions. Police attacked the protests with tear gas, and in response people threw stones at the police.
Continued protests for three days meant fruit and vegetable prices went skyrocketing. Those events forced the government to postpone their new rules for a month. Then they introduced the rule again, making it compulsory to use plastic crates for 30% of the fruits and vegetables.
The government can’t defeat united action by every community. Therefore they immediately used the state forces to divide the communities. Already, for more than 30 years Sri Lankan people faced the long civil war. This is a reason the capitalist parties used nationalist and chauvinist Buddhist rhetoric to get into power. Even after the horrible long war, the capitalists didn’t change their attitude and they still divide the communities, creating communalist problems to cut across opposition to them staying in power.
The state used the police to arrest Tamil minority young people involved in these heroic workers’ struggles. Unfortunately, the trade unions didn’t organise joint struggles by Tamils and other communities against those arrests. Urgently we need a united struggle by farmers and vegetable-packers of all communities, to resist victimisation and the government’s divisive tactics.
The government is probably planning to introduce compulsory use of plastic crates for more than 30% of vegetables and fruits. The government are doing this without giving any subsidy to local farmers for the costs of the crates, because they think they have successfully divided the communities and broken up all the groups who were standing against them.
Immediately there should be organised new independent trade unions for vegetable and fruit workers. Protesters need to organise themselves towards achieving this, and build links with other genuine trade unionists. Tamil Solidarity supporters and all genuine trade unionists will be working with the people who took part in and led this heroic struggle for their rights, and build strong united unions together with them. Farmers and vegetable packers need to link up with other struggles by working people inSri Lanka– such as the plantation workers recently fighting against increased productivity targets, university students and teachers opposing privatisation, and electricity and water-service workers fighting for higher wages.
Tamil Solidarity explains that the ruling class rules this world by dividing all the communities, even though the rulers are a small number of people. To stop them attacking working class people we need to be united as fast as we can.
Government rules must be completely scrapped
No to divide-and-rule!
Release all the people who were arrested over this issue without charges
For a rise in wages/incomes at least equal to the rise in prices
For a much higher minimum wage, at a level we can actually afford to live on!
What you can do
Help us build support for workers’ struggles and organisation. Contact us at the details below
Protest to the SL government and embassy in your country:
Government: President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Presidential Secretariat,Colombo1,SRILANKA. Fax: 011 94 11 244 6657, email@example.com
Embassy: find your country here, http://lk.embassyinformation.com/
Pass a resolution in your union branch condemning the government’s actions. Send copies of resolutions and messages of support for the workers to us, we will ensure these reach the workers
Contact or join Tamil Solidarity: www.tamilsolidarity.org / firstname.lastname@example.org / +447908050217