10 August, 2020

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Can University Teachers Bend The Sri Lankan State?

By Ahilan Kadirgamar –

Dr. Ahilan Kadirgamar

The major strike launched by university teachers in Sri Lanka on July 4th is gaining momentum. Their struggles are proving to be the single most sustained and nationally organised movement in Sri Lanka’s post-war years. This strike follows previous trade union action taken last year where the Heads of Departments of state universities resigned from their positions for several months. With the Government unheeding of their demands, theFederation of University Teachers Associations (FUTA) has reinitiated a full blown strike that is national in character with state universities from all regions of the country participating.

This is not to say there have not been other formidable struggles particularly by subaltern forces in post-war Sri Lanka. There was the militant strike in the Free Trade Zones last year leading to police firing with one protester dead. There was the prison uprising against prison conditions in the Welikada Prison in January this year which was met with repression by the military. There were the fishermen’s protests following the fuel price hikes in February that brought parts of the country to a standstill, but led to police firing with one dead. There was the massive hartal organised by the Muslim community following an attempt to demolish a Mosque in Dambulla. And in recent days the protests by Tamil ex-militants in the Vavuniya Prison crushed by the military and the worrying murder of one of those prisoners who was transferred to another prison. Indeed, the Northern and Eastern Provinces continue to face militarised repression with curtailment of space for dissent and constant intimidation and violence. This has been the signature response of the Rajapaksa Regime in dealing with any kind of dissent and resistance; a response characterised by intimidation, violence and the targeting of leaders organising the struggles. Furthermore, the Regime has depended on polarising ethnic communities and singling out minorities in their attacks. And this is where the sustained all-island national struggle led by the multi-ethnic constituency of the state university system may pose a serious challenge to the Government.

In recent weeks, much to the shock of the academic community, some of the same forms of attacks and intimidation that others have faced, have been deployed against the President of FUTA, Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri. In addition to death threats over the phone, suspicious persons claiming to be from the Ministry of Defence have been lurking near his home inquiring about the movements of Dr. Dewasiri and his family. These acts of intimidation have been met with the outrage of many former academics and the public more broadly.

What is unique about the current strike, which builds on years of negotiations between the State and university teachers, is that the current campaign is framed as one much larger than the salaries of university teachers. Their demands challenge attempts to privatise higher education while undermining state education, the increasing politicisation and patronage characterising university education, the increasing militarisation of education characterised by the compulsory training by the military for new students and a call for an increase in national spending on education from a meagre 1.9% of GDP, one of the lowest in the world, to 6% of GDP. Indeed, for a society that has always found pride in education with historically high rates of literacy and free state education from elementary through higher education, this is a demand that will resonate with the public. And for the moment the university teachers seem to have won over not only teachers in schools but also their students.

Thus the university teachers strike has opened a debate about national policy on education. This debate is about the State’s contract with society on education. What does education mean for a democracy and how is education itself democratised? Even as university teachers are preparing to face the intimidation of an authoritarian State, they are also struggling with questions of hierarchy within the university space and the despicable practice of ragging by students. It is that democratic ethos engendered by meaningful struggle that is perhaps the most encouraging aspect of this strike; a movement that transforms universities. On July 6th, at a well attended press conference and meeting, preceded by numerous meetings over the last few weeks, FUTA was able to display both its strength and its organisation as it launched a new website, engagingposters and pamphlets and a call for a million citizens to sign a petition to save state education. The million dollar question is whether the increasingly neoliberal authoritarian state bent on slashing social welfare will bend in the face of this determined struggle of university teachers.

kafila.org

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    Thanks, everyone needs to support FUTA which has the potential to challenge the current development model which is increasing socioeconomic inequality and poverty, while seeing the unprecedented transfer of public wealth into private hands- the hands of the Rajapakse family and cronies via, military, sports and tourism business including land grabbing in northeast and Colombo 7.
    The regime claims that Lanka is a middle income country, so professionals, particularly knowledge producers should be paid appropriately. Today a senior lecturer Grade 1 with a PhD gets “all inclusive salary” of 350 USD when converted at current exchange rates! This is a joke if Lanka is a mid-income salary!

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      You are quite misinformed and you are making a bad case for FUTA. First it is not the government who claims Sri Lanka to be a middle income country, it is the World Bank that declared it. Even India is now a middle income country whose GDP per capita is half that of ours and wealth distribution is far worse than ours. So no need to get too excited about that claim. But our per capita GDP is about 4000 dollars against 40,000 in a developed country. When a developed country pays an academic 3500 US dollars (taxable), no wonder we pay a tenth of that (but tax free). What is more important is, an academic in a developed country works ten to twelve hours a day easily while our guys work only about three, that even they read an old lecture-note quite often. Of course there are genuine deserving academics with high morals but they are a minority. The loyalty to the work place, and to their students is easily missing among our lecturers. Most of them care more about their tuition class, private businesses, and other perks like sabattical, duty free cars more than anything else. Now FUTA demands special rights for their kids and also the right to decide establishment of anymore universities in the country. Local universities accomodate only 5% of any agegroup. Not a bloody stuck-up trade union but a proper national agency who should decide that.

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        Where did you get this that India is now a midde income country. ????Plese provide with respective references so that the readers can follow what you drop here properly. As I read it – they the second largest population in the world is targetiing to become a middle income nation in many years in the future. Be careful when giving misinformaton about the statistics.

        Quoting from your verbetims :What is more important is, an academic in a developed country works ten to twelve hours a day easily while our guys work only about three, that even they read an old lecture-note quite often
        This could well be true…. Smile.

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          Simon, Only FUTA misinforms the public,certainly not me. There are many references but you can find the stats from the horses mouth itself, that is the Worldbank website itself. The Middle income group is divided into lower middle and upper middle. Both our country and India belong to that lower middle income group, which is the 1026-4036 USD band.

          Away from that perhaps, the defeatpoverty website has the following to say. “Now 72% of the world’s poorest 1 billion people live in (so-called) middle income countries … a huge change from 20 years ago when > 90% of the world’s poor lived in low-income countries. Low-income countries are defined by the World Bank’s definition of < $995 per person GDP (which is itself pretty arbitrary)."

          Not sure they'll post the link but here it is,
          http://data.worldbank.org/about/country-classifications/country-and-lending-groups#Lower_middle_income

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        I QUOTE ” an academic in a developed country works ten to twelve hours a day easily while our guys work only about three, that even they read an old lecture-note quite often. Of course there are genuine deserving academics with high morals but they are a minority. The loyalty to the work place, and to their students is easily missing among our lecturers. Most of them care more about their tuition class, private businesses, and other perks like sabattical, duty free cars more than anything else.”

        CAN YOU TELL US HOW YOU CAME TO THESE CONCLUSIONS?? HOW MANY ACADEMICS HAVE TUITION CLASSES? ALSO, WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY WORK? IS IT LECTURES? IF SO, CAN YOU TELL WHERE IN THE WORLD ACADEMICS TEACH 12 HOURS? IF YOU MEAN RESEARCH, YOU WILL FIND THAT OUR PEOPLE DO AN EQUAL NUMBER OF HOURS.

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          What are you on pal? Equal number of hours?? May be you are talking about yourself but let’s not argue about the academic world, we all know enough. There are academics who run A/L tuition classes and there are several who have committed the ultimate crime by releasing the A/L paper before the exam.I also have friends who are engineering lecturers who run consultancies during the work hours. Yes they do work long hours but the bulk is their private work.I am not sure how much you rate yours and your colleagues’ research but you can do a brief search on web of science to find how many articles have been published by lecturers. There are very senior lecturers who teach 1960s syllabus and had their last and may be the only publication in 1970s. What is shocking is, while some bark on their work ethics, I have just found heads of departments who do not have published a single paper. That’s unfair on the students. That shows they are not interested in new science and no wonder their graduates are unemployable.

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      thanks futa and ct to understand gosl of educational terrorism there will be clean reply soon.get pay or get loose.

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    Mr Kadiaragarama are your seems to be a news reader of any television network.What do you say abouts incidents in island?
    We had been suffering terrorism under the separtism, secessinoism and myth of homeland policy by LTTE act last 30 odd yeras.Large number of right thinkng Tamils had been sacfarice thier life for cause of Myth of Tamil homeland.
    Now certain groupes of people are fighting for impoving thier living conditions in island. But all of them are not terrorist but few them are having anarchist school of thought.Is natural in Sri lanka.
    But TNA is still out of natioanl politcs,they are awating for homeland policy of surreander of soveriginity and terrotial intergrirty and indepandence our country,and seek foreign interventraion to liberated land from the people of Sri lankan.They should give up homeland policy and make all island homeland for Tamils .Tamils need to be join secular and united diversity & demcractic of Sri lankna.TNA should not diverated form this principle.

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      Pl.make certain that the KING finds a solution to the national
      problem at least now and preent the TNA/Tamils speaking about a
      Homeland. The ball is in MRs court.
      The tamils are being pushed to find a solution as much as they
      were 30 yrs. ago. Dont the Sinhala intellengisia recognize this?

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    Ahilan Kadirgamar, This FUTA fight is not a saintly fight as you portray here. The anti-privatisation propaganda and the demand for 6% of the GDP for the education are all late additions to cover up their hypocritical true demands. If they were concerned about privatisation of education, what have they been up to so far? Does the campaign only have to appear with their demands for better perks? In 1980s, International schools sprung up where most academics send their kids to now. That is not privatising education in their view? (On another note, it is disgusting that kids who school at international schools are not allowed to enter local universities. Every kid born in the country, regardless of their parents’ wealth should have the same rights. Academics who benefit from these private schemes keep quiet until it bites them.) When the private medical college was established, the academics were not bothered, in fact some of them offered their services to the college, until the GMOA and the Medical students union began protesting. In 1980s again, several private institutes began to offer degrees but where was my-FUTA? Instead of protesting, they taught at these institutes while being a member of FUTA. Because they work only three hours a day at the university, they have plenty of time during the day. How criminal is that! Then when the new SAITM medical school was established recently, these lecturers offered their services in that too. Recently the Colombo University where the FUTA has its foot firmly on the ceiling, declared they would construct a multi-storey building using the money they earned from postgrad courses. Is earning for courses not privatisation? Why didn’t they offer scholarships to students or reduce course fee than building a new building with that money? Infrastructure is a state’s responsibility for a state university. But this is fun isn’t it? Education for all is not their theme, but dosh for us. As long as they earn a bit of extra cash, while calling it a ‘state-university’ they are happy. In short, privatisation of education is not their concern at all. They would be concerned if the privatisation of universities would cost their jobs or the income.

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      I DO THINK PRIVATE EDUCATION IS OK. WHEN THE POPULACE WERE AT A STAGE WHERE MANY COULD NOT AFFORD A GOOD EDUCATION, IT WOULD BE LOGICAL FOR THE GOVT TO PROVIDE EDUCATION. BUT THE NEXT STAGE SHOULD BE TO WIDEN THE RANGE OF OPPORTUNITIES AVAILABLE.

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      ACTUALLY, EARNING FROM COURSES IS NOT PRIVATISATION. NOR IS STARTING A PRIVATE UNIVERSITY PRIVATISATION. PRIVATISATION REFERS TO TRANSFORMING THE CURRENT EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS WHERE EDUCATION IS OFFERED FREE OF CHARGE INTO FEE-LEVYING ORGANISATIONS. I WOULD OBJECT TO THE LATTER BUT NOT TO THE FORMER.

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        This is shocking again. You can define anything else the way you want but this free education is not for you to define, it has already been defined long time ago, I am afraid. If your understanding says the free education is the current free universities only, it is shocking again. So according to your definition, except the 5% who study (only the basic degree) free of charge at state universities, it is OK to charge fees for the rest of the population for basic or higher degrees?? All we have to fight in the name of free education is to protect the 5% from being charged for the basic degree and prevent lecturers from losing jobs in the current state universities? Amazing! Hope you are not a FUTA member because with your arguement, FUTA would have already lost their marbles.
        Anyway my previous reply to Ahilan concerned only the FUTA’s absolutely fake-fight against the privatisation of free-education. I am sure they don’t mean what you mean, but because they are disingenuous, we cannot take them seriously.

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          Read my comment again, buddy. I am not saying Privatise the existing free educational institutions, but that is OK to have private institutions, as well. I would understand the word Privatisation to mean transforming an existing free education institution into one that charges money. If you cant undertand that, well, its not my problem.

          Also, a remark about your response to my previous comment. Maybe the university types you hang out with may be crooks who only teach a couple of hours a day, I suggest you alter your social life.

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      Hey Rupert Van Man are you paid by the white van man – gota? in any case, get a life, don’t spend all your time writing silly comment of CT!

  • 0
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    Kadir got his tongue in cheek when it comes to FUTA

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    Cannot it be presumed that this Regime wishes to under-cut the
    Education Sector to establish a fully-fledged Dictactorship. This
    Sector has been therefore purposely under-budgeted and inroads
    made by the MOD into the Education sector, with an agenda rigged
    towards Dictatorship, centreing round 4 brothers and their clan!

    Only the FTUA can bring about a bloodless Regime change, to save
    SL for our children.

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    The bottom line is GOSL is utilizing all it’s resources, time and money for their own long term survival neglecting all other priorities burden in the country.Who said we need election in north east now. I still wonder what the sudden decision to open fifteen embassies in Africa taking into account where the valuable foreign exchange going to be spent. The recent increase in murder, child abuse, rape by children are all due to breakdown of lack of discipline and education. The priority should be an education based on innovations to develop our agriculture resources, research based engineering and hi tech. to sustain with the developing world etc. and not more prisons.

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    Looking down upon Sri Lankan university lecturers is a third class tactic to face their struggle. None of them returned to Sri Lanka to do consultancy during working hours or to start a private tuition class. All young lecturers I knew returned to the country with grand goals such as starting a laboratory to do research, to assist National projects etc. They win their first National Science Foundation research grant to realize that even to buy a simple electronic circuit above Rs. 3000, they have to obtain three quotation, when it could be ordered online easily. They have to fill lengthy forms to provide specifications, and then wait for about four months till the component arrives. I went through this back in 2003, when I tried to make some scientific contribution to the humanitarian defining program. There is so much pressure to deliver tangible results quickly (almost like research in private companies), that prevent people from addressing deep scientific questions leading to good publications. Finally, the researcher may make a contribution to find that his monthly salary is not enough to sustain a family. Then they decide to spend some time on private consultancy hoping to return to research once the income is enough to live a month with a decent quality of life. This spirals them away from research. Of course few manage to publish. Take for example, the former vice chancellor of university of moratuwa, prof. Malik Ranasinghe. His h-index is above 11. So, some survive the swirl. Others may either leave Sri Lanka, or choose to survive in Sri Lanka within models that work for them.

    What FUTA seems to address is the big contextual problem behind the deterioration of the whole education sector. What Ahilan is trying t point out is proven by some of the comments above. The combined effort of all academics from all ethnicities will be countered by the Government using dirty tactics including defaming the academics, threatening them, or polarizing them. What will make FUTA survive is their own deeper reflection on what needs to be done to revive a vibrant academic environment in Sri Lanka.

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      Hello Thrishantha, Don’t get these comments too personal and with that too emotional. Because I know you have tried, and there are a few others who are genuinely trying to do something good as well. But the vast majority is not. Behind your campus in London, there are our professors on sabbatical, working for petrol stations. One of your own seniors in Canada now is a good example for you. No publication, worked at shops for seven years or so while doing a shoddy PhD, did an even shoddier job at the university for a few years, earned his bucks through consultacy and migrated to Canada. You are hardly an independent commentator either,let’s be honest, considering your past complaints, quite possibly those threats are true, that’s the society we live in. But FUTA is not concerned about education. When the education faced serious problems they never stepped forward. This time, they are throwing everything into the basket to make their selfish claim look reasonable. Education and free education are issues with significant national interest, which need to be looked at by independent bodies, not trade unions.

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        Mr Vanderkoon,

        It seems that you are researching a lot about academia. However, you are not critically analyzing the whole downfall of the country including all the malpractices in administration. The whole world knows that Sri Lanka is a country without law and order. All government workers should go on strike to enlighten these idiotic politicians.

        p.s- writing comments for money is better job than lecturing in SL uni’s.

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          If writing comments pays you, good on ye. However, if you are an academic who is writing comments while on strike, that’s wrong pal!
          There is nothing to research about SL academics. This is all common knowledge. We all know hundreds of fellow academics in and out. Unfortunately, these militant minded academics never do anything right. For example, in a recent letter, Sumanasiri Liyanage was proposing to include IUSF kids in the decision making processes in higher education. Just imagine, IUSF making decisions for us!!! IUSF are a misguided lot that needs help, not crowns.
          Critically analysing the total structure isn’t important to talk about these FUTA demands.

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    The University teachers have taken on more than they can chew, hoping that in the process they can get the Public to warm to them and hence they can at the same time win their concessions through the back door. They obviously do not want to sound like other trade unions fighting for a bigger paycheck as that in essence is what it all boils down to!

    They are simply opportunists no more no less. First let me state I am completely anti-government and against this shameless dictatorship style of regime that rules this country. So to allay any fears that I am a govt. stooge putting their point of view, it could not be further from the truth.

    I am a product of an overseas education, and degree and professional qualifications, dedicating my life for the betterment of education and vocation and employment of youth in Sri Lanka. I am therefore all too aware of the raw material reflecting the sorry state of education, knowing what I have to deal with in empowering youth, training future leaders, giving them life skills, and generally attempting to give self confidence in being able to get ahead in Sri Lanka, by their OWN steam and not be beholden to others to place them or otherwise employ them through contacts or as a favor!

    The University teachers have legitimate grounds to use whatever means to achieve their objectives, but encompassing the demand to improve education into it is a whole different kettle of fish. Their demands debase the completely different but even more important need for a clear education policy that covers the whole gamut of education from Montessori! So my appeal is to uncouple this from their agitation, petition and stick to their basic demands.

    They have as it were stolen our main concern about our country not doing justice to its young citizens by providing them with the armor to survive, progress and hopefully excel in whatever field they lay their hands on. If we permit the University teachers to fight that battle, it belittles and weakens the war, as they are mere aspects of the whole problem, a sub species as it were.

    So going back to the theme above, yes they can attempt to bend the state, but in so doing they will destroy the chances of a better education policy for the country a wholly different and more important fight ahead.
    Let the trade union action they are involved be just that and not muddle it up in mist and fog. Do the country a favor and decide what your real beef is. How much of the state resources will you be happy with? Why 6% for the State? How about 4% for the state and 10% by and for private education? then it works at 14% of GNP being spent on Education. Then we go into the question of is it wasted or spent productively. You just get into a whole can or worms. How about the fact that there are more teachers in the private tertiary sector in Sri Lanka today, who do not belong to FUTA? Are you an exclusive club of only Academics of the 15 State Universities?

    When the public are included, they must be shown the whole picture, otherwise you are as bad as the government trying to deceive people with the perpetual smoke and mirrors tricks. Do not fall into the same trap.

    So who owns the right to fight for Education in Sri Lanka. Certainly not FUTA. As I understand it FUTA stands for the Federation of University Teachers Associations. So all the teacher associations of each University belong to the Federation! I hope that is the case. Then they only represent Teachers of the 15 State Universities and not the Semi State institutions such as NIBM and its off shoot, NSBM. Whatever the acronym, FUTA fighting the Education battle alone is nonsense. They just do not know how big a subject it is and if FUTA are seen to fight it, there are many parties who do not agree with the FUTA line as they are merely a trade union of some teachers. A trade union fights for their rights first, and only later thinks of others and that only if they see a benefit for themselves from it.

    Education is one of the biggest issues in Sri Lanka today, after freedom of speech, from fear and expression, and so it requires marshalling of all the constituent interested parties including FUTA as but one to fight the battle. To make a stand they must be powerful, otherwise no one will take note. It is important that once this battle starts the whole country must have the chance to involve themselves with it, petitions or not.

    Let us hope that the FUTA high command gives up this silly notion that they can fight the education battle and trust me they will give up their demands for education once their personal goals are met. It is very disingenuous of FUTA to pretend otherwise. They are not altruistic. They believe it is their preference to put their kids into the best schools in Colombo, just because they are University Dons, above the rights of others who live in close proximity to the school. The sense of entitlement they have must be clipped.

    I wish to qualify all of the above, by saying there are a number of academics who are truly dedicated, and are struggling under the present system, so please concentrate on getting your demands on their behalf, as they can contribute more to the country if they are treated fairly, financially, promotions, facilities, and freedom to express themselves. Just don’t bring the Education debate into this as well.

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    Some blind supporters of MR and Anti LTTE coalition have started changing their views after 3 years of end of war.

    What is Ahilan´s opinion about war crimes?

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    We belive that government does not privatize state universities. State can not accomodate all qualified students to universities. Sri Lanka has many economic problems and it is difficult to increase 6% allocation of GDP for Education. Therefore, government try to get private sector investment to heigher education. Heiger Education ministry going to implement 20% scholarship for Sri Lankan Students. You all know some students in Colombo, Kandy, Gall, Matara, Kurunegala and Jaffna get heigher Z-score, but they can not entered to state universities medical faculties. Because, lack of resources. At the sametime, student entered to medical faculties with low Z-score. We understand that everyone get tution. Non-state universities can enhance the heigher education oppertunities and can earn foreign exchange. All non-state universities should be approved with minimum 3 faculties; (to encourage offer many degrees even some of degrees are not profitable) Government has responsibility ensure the quality interms of physical and human resources. These non-state universities should monitor by UGC. There should be laws and regulation for education, student intake, teacher’s qualification, parmenenet teachers-student ratio ect. Further, there should be restriction for government university lecturers to working these non-state universities. For an example, government university lecturers are allowed work only their subotical leave. There are some degree offering institutions, they do not have any resources, cheating students and parent telling them they offer degree from foreign universities. Finally, they give an on-line degree and these universities are not recognized by UGC. These degree shops can be closed after implementing proper law and regulations for non-state universities. Government can get assistance from Sri Lankan professors who work in abroad and I am sure they will give their service free of charge. We should appeal from FUTA do not be academic jelous, everyone has heigher education right wheather it is state or private. You should focus to do research and get published in reputed indexed journals. How many of you publish at least one paper per year in SCI or SSCI indexed journals. First, you look at yourself, how many of you don’t do research and do private classes and business.

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    Futa must speak to the other TUs in the country and make a common front, and forward the government a list of problems and solutions to rectify.FUTA can lead the SRi-Lankan Trade Unions for the development of people and the country

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      So when FUTA is demanding priority for their kids over other people’s kids in admission to popular schools, you think other trade unions will back them? This is a fundamental point of division of society. when CWW Kannangara introduced free education, he didn’t demand special rights for kids of his families, “but free for all”.Now these farmers’ sons and daughters who benefitted from that scheme demands to go back 70 years and restore nepotism and survival of the fittest society. But you think the poor laborours who work hard 12 hours a day to earn a pittance will help these guys win their draconian demands somehow..This is not a political issue, it is a social issue.

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        Ah ha Mr Madmax alias Rupert vanderkoon IUSF cannot take part in Decision making process, but you elites can manipulate & dominate the farmers sons, what a joke you henchmen knows the biggest threat comes from IUSF, your first job is to disintegrate & break IUSF.

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          IUSF can take part in anything else but decision making that defines the future of the university has to be done by not a bunch of thugs who hoot around for four years at the university at the expense of the poor tax payer and then get a degree as a result of standardisation (some IUSFers leave with nothing as well). These decisions have to be made by those who had a decent education and passed their exams. There are plenty of them in and around the campus.

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    Seems to be Kadiragaman of Tamil LTTE support terrorist.Cover real motive of Eelam of Tamil terrorist.

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