13 August, 2022


FUTA Strike And The Conspiracy Stories

By Jayadeva Uyangoda

Prof.Jayadeva Uyangoda

Some politicians and media officials linked to the government have begun to describe the FUTA strike as an attempt to overthrow the present government. Some have even come out with the fantastic idea that the FUTA is planning a ‘Suharto style’ conspiracy. I understand that my name has been linked to this imagined conspiracy, either as a co-conspirator, or even as the leading conspirator. I don’t think I deserve such an honour.

Although I am amused by these conspiracy stories, which are nothing but political mud-slinging against the FUTA, I am also concerned about them, because they are propagated in some sections of the government media, with sinister objectives.

First, for the protection of FUTA leadership, myself and our families, I strongly reject these conspiracy allegations as malicious, absurd and totally untrue.

Making allegations against trade union struggles as ‘anti-government conspiracies’ is not new. This has been a practice resorted to by all Sri Lankan governments for decades, beginning in the early 1950s. It became worse since the 1970s. But, there is a difference between then and now. If some organization or an individual is branded publicly by powerful people linked to the government as ‘conspirators’, it can lead to serious consequences for the safety and security of individuals thus targeted. The Sri Lanka in which we live today is no longer a place where the rule of law protects its citizens as a matter of course.

To return to the FUTA strike, it is not incorrect to say that the FUTA strike has political overtones. It seeks policy changes with regard to education. It challenges the government’s positions on education, allocation of public expenditure, and, the role of the state in social issues. It critiques the government’s policy priorities. It actually argues for policy reforms on education, particularly in higher education. This is an attempt for minimalist regime reform, and not in any way a project of regime change. Therefore, to construe the FUTA strike as an attempt to provoke an Indonesian style, or even Arab-Spring style, political uprising is according a totally unwarranted negative significance to a middle-class trade union action.

Interestingly, the logic of the conspiracy thesis, propagated by the government supporters, also suggests that it is based on the assessment that President Rajapakse’s UPFA government is weak, vulnerable to a strike action by just one trade union, and utterly incapable of managing the strike without allowing it to spread to other sectors. This is actually wrong logic. All in the FUTA are quite aware of the fact the UPFA is not a weak government that can fall, merely because academics are engaged in a protracted strike. They know that brining political pressure on the government is a legitimate and lawful strategy to win their trade union demands. Unions usually do such mobilization as a part of trade union politics. However, mobilization can spread to other sectors, not because of the FUTA action, but because of the way in which the government handles it. If the government resorts to outright repression, as some in the government appear to insist, then it may generate further opposition in society. Then, the government will also be compelled to be more repressive, producing a new logic of repression-resistance-repression-resistance. But, prudent governments do not usually handle trade union issues in that fashion, as Mr. Jayewardene did three decades ago, on the argument that the government should not give into demands from trade unions. Actually, the government of President Rajapakse has ample reasons to listen to FUTA demands, because many university academics, who are in the strike now, —except a very few — have been in the forefront of the campaign to elect and re-elect him in 2005 and 2010. Prudent governments also usually listen to their constituencies, instead of antagonizing them.

It appears that the government has two parallel tracks to deal with the FUTA strike. One stresses a hardline approach with no concessions to, or compromise with, the striking academics. The conspiracy story seems to emanate from the faction which advances this hardline track. The other is for a negotiated settlement though compromise. When the negotiation track has begun to show some positive directions, the other line seems to be determined to undermine the possibilities of a compromise. That is why they appear to be trying to re-define the FUTA action as a national security issue. Let us hope that leaders of the government will not make the mistake of treating trade union issues as national security issues, as being suggested by some fringe elements.

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Latest comments

  • 0

    Dear Professor Uyan,

    Except for you and few others, most academics were (and are still) silent on the war and the war crime by both the Rajapakse regime and the LTTE, In fact some of the key activists of FUTA are individuals who supported and celebrated the military victory and its repugnant ends.

    I think the way this regime treats FUTA will be an eye opener to the middle class Sinhala society about their historical silence at every key point in modern politics of Lanka, be it 1983 or 2009.

    I am only reminded of “First they came for the Communists
    And I did not speak out
    Because I was not a Communist… – Pastor Martin Niemoller

    • 0

      Actually, most of the academics involved in this struggle actively supported the president to come to power.

  • 0

    Uyangoda don’t ..
    [Edited out]

    FUTA is a younger generation of academics who know the meaning of principles, which a lot of older generation academics who use and publish their students work in their name don’t!

    Part of this comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy

  • 0

    Sri Lanka’s political culture is rotten to the core and just because the UPFA won the current PC elections due to a rotten opposition led by anti-democrat Ranil in the UNP, does not mean that the people love the Rajapakse regime of criminals, crooks, fools and dead leftists..
    This article draws a false line between movements for social change and trade union actions for policy change. Indeed, both are often simultaneous – as when Suharto fell in Indonesia.
    This technocratic “conflict resolution” approach of Uyangoda who wants to project himself as a FUTA leader is really a useless game played by “conflict specialists” who have nothing better to do.
    What seems to be the case is, that we have not yet reached the tipping point for regime change in Lanka, but the underlying causes for regime change are certainly there and will boil to the surface before too long given the massive corruption and looting by Rajapakse family of Lanka.. So FUTA stay the middle course now, work on educating the people on the issues, since the political opposition and Colombo civil society is all but dead, and be of good courage…

    • 0

      FUTA is being asked to save Lanka from the awful Rajapakse family dictatorship regime of criminals and looters, but FUTA is struggling to save itself..
      Am genuinely sorry for FUTA members who are not getting a salary and have to support their families..
      They are not getting any help from the opposition political parties who have failed to do their jobs..because that awful lout Ranil W in the UNP is a greedy power hungry election loosing moron.
      Civil society should support FUTA and ask Ranil to get out and let the younger generation leadership take over the UNP and give it time to build a viable opposition..

    • 0

      “I understand that my name has been linked to this imagined conspiracy, either as a co-conspirator, or even as the leading conspirator.”
      for the protection of FUTA leadership, myself and our families, I strongly reject these conspiracy allegations as malicious, absurd and totally untrue.

      Yes Uyangoda who …

      Part of this comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy

  • 0

    I’ve seen on news that many political parties have pledged their support to the academic strike let by FUTA.

    It is rather unfortunate that FUTA is persuing a course of action demanding Government’s attention to spend more on education, particulary on higher education, knowing the ground situation well. A professional in the business sector once said that our graduates, when they enter a university,leave both their head and the helmet at the entrance; but takes only the helmet when they leave.

    I am happy to see that FUTA is supported by its member unions comprising of a group of motivated young academics who are quite aware of academic issues concerning students and academia.

    The fact of the matter is that interference within the university system happens with the support of certain senior academics, a majority belonging to FUTA affiliated trade unions. It is also a known fact that the present system of academic administration which promotes a regimented approach will not help achieve world status. The degrees offered by us (excluding medical and engineering sciences, and a few others) aren’t recognised by the private sector, without added qualifications or training. Some still believe that we do offer world-class degrees.

    It is my view that pumping more investment to education without a business plan is not a productive thing to do. Even a people friendly socialist government may think twice before making such an investment.

    We will be completing three months of no-action shortly. It is high time that FUTA directs its efforts to improve Sri Lanka’s higher education sector since we cannot expect the government and its goons to do that for our citizens.

    Even if FUTA wins this battle (which is a remote possibility), it would never win the war unless they change their strategies.

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