25 February, 2024


Who Truly Deserves The Asikkhitha (Uncivilized) Label: Unions, Commuters Or The Government?

By Malinda Seneviratne

Malinda Seneviratne

Striking railway workers were attacked by irate commuters, we are told. Social media is full of cheers. Minister of Project Management, Youth Affairs and Southern Development Minister Sagala Ratnayake has dubbed the action by railway employees ‘trade union terrorism’. He opined that union leaders ‘showed callous disregard for the interests of the public, particularly young students currently sitting for their A/L Examination.’ 

Ratnayake claims to ‘have the greatest respect for trade unions and their rights’ but insistes ‘it is imperative trade unions act in a civilized manner within an ethical framework.’

What’s unethical, he says, is that the action was unannounced. He adds that such action should be the last resort and not an option to be considered at any provocation.  

This is a classic ruse. It combines a half-truth with a deliberate lie, a focus on an end-point snap shot and embellishes it all with a wild reference (to terrorism: more on that later).

The union action which prompted the so-called spontaneous attack by commuters has a long history. The unions submitted proposals and cabinet approved the same. Subsequently, clarification were sought over confusing elements of that document, and these too were examined, leading to a fresh decision.  If demands are ‘unfair’ as some have claimed, sharing pictures of salary slips, then consider this: Ministers’ salaries were upped by over 200% and those of judges by 250%. And we are not even talking about perks and other institutionalized ways of fattening bank accounts. 

Ratnayake’s cabinet colleagues Sarath Amunugama and Rajitha Senaratne are privy to the entire process. The ‘uncivilized’ action began when the relevant Secretary informed the unions that the decision had been suspended. That’s where the asikkhithaness (අසික්ඛිතකම) began. The unions reciprocated likewise. Today, an irresponsible and deceitful government is calling the workers to suspend the strike action. They are not negotiating with the unions.  

Ratnayake makes no mention of all that. Neither are the cheer-leaders of this government saying anything. Those who are cheering commuter-terrorism as an appropriate response to union-terrorism are ignorant of all this and don’t seem to be interest in examining antecedents. 

Instead we have Ratnayake likening the unions to the LTTE and calls for action similar to what took to defeat separatist terrorism. He of course pretends to have supported such action (‘we, as a country, must work together to defeat this “trade union terrorism” in the same way we defeated the separatist terrorism which crippled the nation for over three decades.’). The truth is that his party was principally to blame for the rise of the LTTE: the 1983 riots, the excesses of the military in the 1980s, submitting to Indian hegemonic interests to halt decisive military action in 1987, giving arms to the LTTE to spite India, giving a cornered Prabhakaran a new lease of life through the Ceasefire Agreement of 2002 and vilifying military action post 2006.   

What’s also worrisome is the threat that he has articulated. Either the man has no sense of proportion or is downright ignorant or worse is taking a page off JR Jayewardene’s book on how to deal with unions and recoloring it with everything that took to defeat the LTTE, which we know was nothing like arresting union leaders, sacking workers, banning unions and vilifying those parties which supported the trade union action. It was about the concerted efforts of the security forces. It was about guns and grenades, air strikes and long range patrols.   

If the LTTE example had been mouthed by someone in the previous regime before 2015, I am sure the bleeding heart liberals would have had a lot to say. After all, they did make a lot of noise about a blundering journalist being named in the mildest manner by a low-ranking member of the Opposition. But no, they are silent. Says a lot about how serious they are about civil liberties, democracy and such.

Anyway, we saw a bit of how Ratnayake understands ‘defeating trade union terrorism’ is all about in the retaliation by commuters. For now. People ‘worked together’ in that instance. There’s been, as mentioned, a lot of cheers. People have wanted to extend this ‘anti-terrorism terrorism’ to deal with other unions as well, in particular the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA). Some even recommended the method to deal with politicians. 

First of all, if the government has to depends on people-terrorism to deal with terrorism, it indicates failure on the part of relevant authorities. More seriously, it points to impending anarchy of the worst kind (no insult to anarchists or anarchism intended here). Uvindu Kurukulasuriya’s comment on Facebook on the matter is worth reflection. Here’s the translation:

‘I see the attack as a case of spontaneous violence. However it is not good to justify it by taking it as a general framework (method?). It could have dire consequences. If that happens we might very well see politicians making statements off the D.B. Wijethuga type, ‘incensed public carried out the attack’.  They will however be less about spontaneity than about the work of organized thugs attacking demonstrations, strikes and other protests. It is good if my friends who are consuming kiribath over yesterday’s attacks think about this as well.’

Attacking striking working is not some new phenomenon. It’s old. Very old. Painting them with a broad brush is also an old tactic. Terrorists, after all, are not exactly the kind of people one needs to talk to. You just shoot them. When a corrupt, incompetent, confused government heavy with people who do not have eyes to see corporate excesses that are far worse than anything workers do by way of union action calls for counter-terrorism methods of dealing with workers, it’s a bad sign. It’s dangerous. The relevant Sinhala idiom would be monkeys armed with razor blades. I don’t see anything to cheer in that.

Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer. malindasenevi@gmail.com. www.malindawords.blogspot.com

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Latest comments

  • 0

    ….. or certain “journalists”?

  • 14

    Who’s being the bleeding heart liberal here? Commuters have had enough. The violence was spontaneous and there will be more to come if the anti-social trade union thugs don’t mend their ways. By bringing in GMOA, you prove you are turning into a politicized hack writer. GMOA is public enemy No.1 in the country today. Terrorism is not confined to the LTTE. What about the Sinhala racist radical group you belonged to in the 1980s?

  • 6

    Malinda Seneviratne wonders loudly as to who the most Asikkhitha (Uncivilized) of ‘Unions, Commuters or the Government’.
    The commuters generally mind their own business though some may be a bit Asikkhitha (Uncivilized)
    The most Asikkhitha (Uncivilized) is the unseen hands which controls the Unions.
    The Unions by association are a bit Asikkhitha (Uncivilized) but the they have just woken up.
    By the way Malinda, bringing LTTE here is Asikkhitha (Uncivilized) journalism.
    And who is controlling GMOA?

  • 0

    We share your concerns Malinda but how many of us bother to note how gruesome the skeletons in the SriLankan Airlines unearthed by the BoI are and how abjectly dirty the linen are. We are easily distracted!

  • 1

    No Malinda we do not shoot terrorists, we rehabilitate them, we give them vocational training and find them jobs and housing. Recently I had tea at a cafe funded by an Aid Agency on A9 in Killinocci operated by former LTTE cadre girls, you see, we forgive and forget. Until the next time it happens.
    Like the way we have forgotten the hell the commuters and the public in general went through in 87-90, if we did remember we might worry that we are approaching that kind of a situation, looming large in the horizon, so we opt for the sweetness of denial.

  • 1

    The author concentrates on the current dispute between the Government, Railway Trade Unions and subsequently the inconvenienced commuters. But, in my humble view there is a bigger picture. It is the “cost of living” that largely prompts employees to seek better conditions of work and invariably a raise in the payments to them. Politicians here, promising Good Governance, fattened their pay packet and other perks, notoriously the duty free allowances. So! Why not others? On the other hand, the new Government of Malaysia, also promising better governance, slashed the salaries of its Ministers. The level of concern and sympathy there is such that fellows wash cars and do other chores to collect money and hand them over to the state. As a government, what has Sri Lanka done to arrest the fall of the rupee in value relative to other currencies? This is the key question. Nothing is done leaving it to the “Market Forces”. In my view, that is the most “Asikkhitha” part of this exercise. Each time there is a significant impact arising of the depreciation of the value of the rupee, employees of all kinds, leave alone Railways, will come out. Finance Ministry big-wigs will have to think of new “taxes” to pinch the public. In other words a never ending spiral of misery. One nice bloke told me that he has no objections if all the workers in Sri Lanka stage a one day protest calling for proper measures to arrest the decline of the rupee.

  • 1

    Malinda MCC Gave funds to Mangala Samraweera to handle Politics, Transport and Ports. Politics they handled with the NCM to Ranil. Transport, I think it will be Railway and Sri lankan air lines which will be leased to a Vulture fund. I hears DEnamrk is going to help out ports. Why we need the help of Denmark or any other country when colombo port is doing fine. There are news reports always saying One jetty is going to be given to an international company. I think already some international company (including Indians) is working there. Sri lankan workers are highly politicizd. Trade unions should be destroyed. why there should be a trade union for each political party.

  • 0

    if transport workers and doctors get hammered ,then they deserve it.police should not arrest anybody.

    • 0

      No arrests, only a waste of public money, also when they go and sit in prison they come out as graduated drug dealers (retailers)
      Flog them

  • 2

    We can see some clear Mud work from certain Media Institutions especially from Hiru, Derana and Sirasa. Some of them are Rusiri, Shamindra, Malinda, Rajiva Tennekon all bought over by Killi Maharaja.

  • 0

    And the Total votes that could come from all these striking unions including the students, would it outvote the silent majority who are distressingly inconvenienced.
    Your guess is good as mine who will profit from all this.Maybe a good thing too.

  • 0

    LAbour unions were created in the west to coutner socialist movements. Anyway, here when the Trade unions are an headache, the employers lock out all the employees, give them a warning. thereafter they hire only efficient and most needed workers. I have seen that with the bus servive, Railway, Postal strieks, Teachers and air line employees. Sri lanka is polticians took snakes inside. Now, voters are suffering. Does any one of these ministers, president or PM do they go inside a public trqansit bus or train. IF it is too far, they use the helicopter and if it is within colombo they use their super luxury limousine. I think beating the railway workers was jusitifable and should be repeated when people can not take it any more.

  • 3

    Malinda Seneviratne:
    Another category that must be added to your Asikkhitha (Uncivilized) Label” is that of those who accuse those who disagree with them of taking money from places like Great Britain, without an ATOM of proof and attributing the information to some dead woman.. Sound familiar?
    Look forward to your response with particular reference to an accusation you have made against me.

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