The March Of The Academics: The FUTA Marches From Galle To Colombo
By Dr. Liyanage Amarakeerthi from Amabalangoda –
The Federation of University Teachers’ Associations(FUTA) is continuing its trade union action into the third month now. Though the government’s response to the strike has been rather lukewarm with no concrete offers to the strikers so far, the strength of academics is growing steadily. The government, which is still narcissistically arrogant about its own prowess, seems to think that it can ignore the academics until they starve to death after missing their third salary. Yes. They were not paid for three months. Of course some academics who are better known as pro-state ‘yes-men’ than as true academics, did get paid but not the majority of academics who are known for their publications and international standard qualifications. There is a small minority of academics regularly coming to the state-owned media to criticize the striking academics. Everyone cows that these critics are just ‘housekeepers’ of the state. If one asks for their academic credentials they will run for their life. And as usual, some ministerial thugs are beating the drum which is all-too familiar to many of us by now: All these academics are NGO-Funded conspirators!
In the mean time, the FUTA has slowly been reaching the masses with its the most-socially significant message. That is none other than the demand for 6% of GDP for education. Well, it is not everyone’s expense of education. The FUTA demands that the state expenditure on education must reach at least 6% of GDP by the year of 2015 or so. Right now, it is about 1.86% which is the lowest in the region, and almost the lowest in the world! This slogan has captivated many people already including all major political parties. Even the UNP which is traditionally believed to be the local agents of global capitalism, also has been supporting the FUTA’s slogan of 6% of GDP for education.
As a mechanism of pressurizing the government to address its demands, and as an attempt to reach out to the masses with this appealing slogan, the FUTA started a history-making march from from Galle to Colombo today (24th of September). The overnight rain had made in and around the historic Dutch Port rather gloomy by 7am on today. Only one or two organizers were seen protecting themselves from the heavy rain by 8am when the march was supposed to begin. In a magical moment of nature, the sun appeared all of a sudden and the opening ceremony of the march took place. All the religious readers of the multicultural Galle had arrived. As usual the dominance of the Buddhism in our culture was visible but it did almost no harm to the multicultural nature of the gathering. Buddhist monks, Catholic, Christian, Hindu, Muslim priests, Marxists, who are supposed to be atheists, some UNPers belonging all religions were there. The FUTA had invited everyone who supports the 6% of GDP demand regardless of their political inclinations. So, there were Sajith Premadasa, Sarath Fonseka, Mangala Samaraweera, Jayalah Jayawadane, Vijitha Herath, Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, Sirithunga Jayasuriya to name a few. The elite participants belonged to a wide spectrum political colors which no one can claim to be biased to any one party.
So the march began with a rainbow of political colors. But the actual rain returned soon. But it only highlighted the dedication of the participants. Nearly three thousand marchers defied the heavy rain and, with theirs cloths soaked, nearly all of them stayed on the course.
Even in the heavy rain, people stopped by the road to encourage the marchers. The FUTA leadership led the march while the others followed. Regardless of their own political identities, the politicians walked under the banners supporting the slogans about education putting aside their party colors.
The success of the FUTA is of course has been its unprecedented ability to get people to support a common slogan. The FUTA was able to convince a considerable number of people that the free education has been a social revolution in Sri Lanka, and the free education has been the single most important factor making Sri Lanka a success story in social-democratic programs such as free education and free health care. That is why the FUTA’s message has been dear to everyone who listens to it. This march will only gather people around this most socially significant trade union action in the recent history.
Soaking my cloths in rain, I finished the the first leg of the march from Galle to Ambalangoda with my spirited colleagues. When I finish this note, at 9pm, I am already feeling that I have been a part of a historical event.