Leaders and trade unionists from hell – The Island

Saturday, July 2, 2022

What prompted railway unions to launch a whirlwind strike yesterday that locked out hundreds of thousands of commuters? Their leaders said they were protesting the unavailability of fuel for their members to get to work. Do they think that fuel will be made available to railway workers simply because they resort to industrial action? What about other workers, especially those in the health sector, who also experience the same problem? Doctors and other health workers languish in fuel queues, but hospitals remain at least partially open to treat the sick and save their lives. True, some railway workers cannot get to and from work due to lack of fuel, but a serious effort must be made to run as many trains as possible with available workers. All other public and private institutions operate with minimal staff. A strike is certainly not the solution. What would be the situation if workers in other vital sectors such as electricity and energy, health, ports, telecommunications, etc., imitated the railway unions on strike?

Railway workers have legitimate grievances, like all other workers, and they must be redressed. Fuel must be made available as a priority to those engaged in the provision of essential services. Until the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation receives shipments of fresh oil, arrangements could be made to supply fuel to these workers with the assistance of the Lanka Indian Oil Company. But the current government is at sea, and its leaders are running around like headless chickens; they work under the illusion that their insane token system will help solve the fuel problem!

The strikes will only accelerate the country’s slide into anarchy, the signs of which are already visible. Hence the need for all unions to act responsibly and to be different from failing political leaders. The opposition also has a central role to play in preventing anarchy from descending on the country; he must go beyond the noise and do something constructive.

The government has obviously failed; it has been unable to make a dent in the crisis despite the bluster and promises of its leaders. The opposition also failed. He seems to derive some perverse pleasure from people’s suffering and make the best of the situation. Its leaders are just walking and talking, so to speak, instead of showing up to make a serious effort to form a multiparty caretaker government and implement their roadmaps, if any, for economic recovery. Protesting is the easiest thing to do during a crisis; a responsible opposition must do much more for the good of the people who are suffering immensely.

The holier-than-thou opposition politicians have declared that the government has failed – and rightly so – but, curiously, in the same breath, they are calling on the failed regime to keep its promises! The need of the hour is surgery, so to speak, in Parliament. What the opposition bigwigs should do is stop whipping a dead horse, close ranks, work out a common program with timetables for the next general and presidential elections, and demand that the reins of government be handed over to an interim government composed of all political parties represented in Parliament. However, their rapprochement will not help to resolve the crisis overnight. But such a power-sharing deal will help bring about political stability, which is a prerequisite for economic recovery, and go a long way to instilling hope in the unhappy public, rekindling investor confidence, passing progressive laws, to formulate much-needed national policies, and, above all, to convince the rest of the world that Sri Lanka is serious about resolving its crisis and therefore deserves a helping hand. If all the political parties could come together for the good of the people and prepare a five-year plan, explaining how the country will emerge from the crisis, achieve its development goals and repay its loans, it will make the task of having foreign relations debt restructured and easy access to foreign aid.

Let us repeat that the unions must act in moderation. They must be different from the undergraduates who protest in the blink of an eye. Industrial action tends to snowball, and unions that lower their tools at this stage are likely to trigger a wave of strikes, leading to coup de grace to economy on oxygen support. It’s something we need as a hole in the head.

Lynn A. Saleh