May Day in Sri Lanka no more a Workers Day!

sri-lanka-tea-estateThe International Workers’ Day, called ‘May Day’ is celebrated on the first day of May in Sri Lanka. It was made a holiday to honour the workforce that toil round the year for the prosperity of the Nation.

Traditionally, on May day Workers Unions organise street parades to exhibit to the public the strength of the trade and labor organizations, ending up late in the the afternoon with public meetings. At the meeting among other things union leaders would present to their membership resolutions to  be taken up with their Employers and Rulers of the day. In the good old days these resolutions would be taken seriously and most of them get resolved by the recipients during the following year. The powerful trade unions of urban workforce would resorts to industrial actions to get the unresolved matters solved and this practice was accepted as part of life by the people and the country prospered. However it did not help the rural agricultural workers who had no union representation and caused three uprisings in the country. Then there is the underprivileged estate workers with less powerful unions, who are till today the worst off workforce in the country.

By the sixties, May Day celebrations began to get politicized with the workers unions supporting the leftist parties and the rightist parties backing the capitalist employers. These tendencies continued and by the seventies high handed actions of the state saw unions lose their positions to become supporters of the big political parties. Unfortunately, today May Day meetings put emphasis on the political agenda of the concerned party than addressing the need of the working class they are supposed to represent.

Neglected still are the thousands in employment, such as the men dominated agricultural and fisheries sectors and the women dominated estate and garments sectors. In addition the workforce in the tourist industries is not receiving a proper employment package nor is that in the retail shops and supermarkets.

Excluded are the thousands of housemaids working mostly in middle-east countries, who are exploited by their overseas employers. State is escaping by saying that they cannot challenge the law of the host country, but it could certainly put a stop to women going out of the country as housemaids. To make matters worse for the local workforce, State is employing Security personnel in many trades and labour that are bound to cause chaos in the near future to an organized society. Following end of war, State allowed foreign workers without proper planning into the country that is impacting the local workforce particularly in the construction industry. These are many of the working class not represented on this Labour Day. All this raise the question is the May Day in Sri Lanka celebrated today by or for the benefit of the Working Class or to benefit the Political parties to which the workers are affiliated?