President Mahinda Rajapaksa has, at a discussion with a group of pro-government trade union representatives at the Temple Trees, warned of an international conspiracy to destabilise Sri Lanka. Evidently, a plot is being hatched to effect a regime change and install a puppet government so that the West would be able to turn this country into its playground again and create a situation conducive to the revival of the secessionist forces now in a state of suspended animation in the aftermath of the LTTE`s defeat.
The EU is keeping Sri Lanka in suspense over the renewal of the GSP Plus concession at a time the Rajapaksa government is expected to announce a vital election. The US makes it a point to be critical of this country at every turn and has issued an adverse report containing unsubstantiated allegations of `war crimes`. These moves smack of a concerted effort by some prominent western governments to harass Sri Lanka and give her people a choice between voting the present government out of power and facing `international isolation`.
The government`s fear of some foreign involvement in domestic politics is not unfounded, though it is yet to be established whether there is a foreign hand behind the strikes being planned. A western envoy who is still campaigning against Sri Lanka albeit in a different capacity, having left Colombo, it may be recalled, went so far as to take a tuk-tuk ride under the cover of darkness to an Opposition politician`s house on the eve of the final vote on the Budget 2007 to assist in engineering defections from the government but in vain.
The President has got it right the JVP-led trade union protests are aimed at political destabilisation and not at obtaining pay hikes for workers. If it is the economic woes of workers that the JVP is concerned about, it is not the well paid CPC, CEB and Port workers that the outfit should be fighting for but the less privileged members of the working class like clerical workers and teachers struggling to make ends meet. The mere fact that the JVP has targeted vital sectors such as power and energy, water and ports is proof that it is on a destabilisation campaign.
How does the government propose to neutralise the threat? Apprising the pro-government trade unionists of the situation is tantamount to preaching to the choir! What is needed is a specific course of action. It is being suggested in some quarters that the government resort to strong arm tactics. But, that exactly is what the JVP wants!
The government should have contingency plans ready to prevent disruptive elements from holding the public to ransom. But, at the same time, it ought to address workers` genuine grievances and wean them from the anarchists.
Callous disregard for workers` problems, sheer arrogance of power and utter inefficiency and ineptitude of most ministers and their bureaucrats have resulted in untold frustration in the State sector. Workers have been left without anyone to turn to except the anarchists. President Rajapaksa should take serious note of what happened to the Education Development Co-operative Society with a massive membership and a great deal of funds. Pro-government unionists under both UNP and SLFP regimes turned it into a den of thieves stinking to high heavens. Sick of its corrupt and inefficient administration, teachers finally voted/booted out government stooges and the JVP stood to gain.
Workers behaved during the war and defeated the JVP`s attempt to launch a general strike last year. State employees have backed the government to the hilt, as evident from the postal voting at successive elections. Therefore, the government must separate aggrieved workers from the trade union Mafiosi in countering a possible destabilisation campaign to be carried out on the pretext of a general strike. As for pay hikes and salary anomalies that characterise the State sector, the government ought to take steps to sort them out or if it is faced with actual financial constraints, workers need to be informed of them and reassured. First of all, the government has to stop the colossal waste of public funds. The allocation of whopping sums of money for the purchase of luxury vehicles for politicians in the recent past has not only left a bad taste in many a mouth but exasperated public employees who are being denied their dues. This practice has to stop.
If the government gets its act together and wins over workers by reassuring them and obviating their pent up frustration and discontentment, disruptive elements in the garb of trade unionists will find themselves in the wilderness there will be no need for strong arm tactics. And that is the challenge before the government.