By Meera Srinivasan/The Hindu
Colombo, May 4: Thousands of workers and Anglican priests of the Christian Workers’ Fellowship, on Tuesday defied an order of the Sri Lankan government postponing May Day events, by rallying in Colombo’s Fort area to mark the International Workers’ Day.
Earlier, the Cabinet decided to defer workers’ day events to May 7, citing an overlap with the Buddhist festival of Vesak or Buddha Poornima, that fell on April 29 and 30. The move, which followed a request from the influential Buddhist clergy, drew severe criticism from independent trade unions.
“We did not want to cow down to any pressure from the government. We did not want to change the International Workers’ Day. Workers have come in huge numbers today,” said Linus Jayatilleke, president of the United Federation of Labour.
Workers from free trade zones, private sector enterprises and the banking sector, many of whom took the day off to participate in the rally, marched with banners reiterating their right to eight-hour work days and fair wages. Police barricaded the road leading to the Presidential Secretariat, but workers peacefully culminated ahead of the stretch, as their leaders criticized the government for undermining workers’ rights.
The rally drew not just workers, but also farmers from as far as Anuradhapura, about 200 km north of Colombo. Terrance Gamini, from the Collective of Farmers and Environmental Cooperative Societies, said the government is no different from its predecessor. “They buy farmers’ produce at cheap prices and then sell it to workers at high prices,” he said.
The Christian Workers Fellowship held its annual workers’ mass at St. Michael’s, an old Anglican church in Colombo. A tradition that they began in 1960, the workers’ mass has since become an annual May Day feature in Colombo, with priests sporting red shawls with bold prints of the hammer and sickle. In a special ceremony, workers brought in tools of labour and laid them at the altar.
The leftist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (People’s Liberation Front), a party which mainly works among the Sinhalese working class in the south, held its May Day rally in Jaffna, the biggest city in the island’s Tamil-speaking north. Party leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake accused the government of ignoring working people’s concerns, both in the south and the north, and pushing them into a dangerous debt trap. He called for a unified force of people from the north and south to take on the government.
Participating as a special guest in the event was CPI(M) central committee member A. Soundararajan. Speaking on the assault on labor rights, he asked why the Sri Lankan government was reluctant to reopen many of the old industries in the north nine years after the war ended.
(The featured image at the top shows Anglican priests of St.Michael’s, who are dedicated to workers’ welfare, defying the Lankan government’s order to postpone May Day to May 7)