NATIONAL TRADE UNION CONFERENCE (NTUC)

CMU STATEMENT:

Twelve trade union organizations, including our Union, have agreed to convene the NTUC for the purpose of considering appropriate joint action in relation to the main issues facing the working people of our country today, with particular reference to:

(i) Inflation and the High Cost of Living, and

(ii) The War in the North and East, and LTTE “terrorist” attacks on civilians in other parts of the country.

The rate of inflation in this country, which is the highest in Asia, is directly related to the extremely high and increasingly unbearable cost of living, for the vast majority of the working people. The first question to be considered, for this reason, is whether the rate of inflation can be reduced by the Government substantially, in order to bring down the cost of living to levels that would provide urgently necessary relief to the working people. Our Union’s view is that this can and should be done

  • by a drastic reduction of the huge expenditure of hundreds of billions of rupees that the Government claims to be necessary for “Defence and National Security”, in the context of its War in the North and East and its “Security” measures to deal with LTTE “terrorism” in other parts of the country, and
  • by drastic reduction of its expenditure of tens of billions of rupees on wasteful projects that have been assigned to the scores of Government Ministers and Deputy Ministers, from which they and their henchmen can fill their pockets by corrupt means..

The President and his Government do not deny that the huge expenditure on sustaining the ongoing offensive of the Armed Forces, in their efforts to defeat and destroy the LTTE militarily in the North, has contributed substantially to the increase in the rate of inflation and the resulting steep rise in the cost of living. They have declared that the Armed Forces will achieve their objective by the end of this year (2008), and that this would enable the Government to “restore democracy“ in the North, thereafter. They also claim to have done so already in the East, with the help of former LTTE “terrorist” leaders, like Karuna and Pillayan, under a “democratically elected” Provincial Council administration.

What the President and his Government expect people to believe is that the “Security Forces”, will be in a position to prevent the LTTE from carrying out further sporadic “terrorist” attacks on the civilian population, after it is annihilated in the North and East. Their day to day propaganda is that LTTE “terrorism” will then be “wiped out” altogether, and that this will enable the Government to fulfil the “Mahinda Chinthanaya” promises of the peaceful development of the country for the benefit of all its people.

Till then, the Government expects the masses of the people, who do not live in the War zones, to put up patiently with the high cost of living and the adverse consequences of the War on their lives and on the country’s economy. The tens of thousands of unfortunate Tamil and Muslim people living in the war zones, on the other hand, are expected to continue to live under the daily threat of death and destruction from aerial bombing and artillery bombardment, and to endure the total disruption of their way of life, till the LTTE forces in their midst are destroyed.

The State media are being used, day in and day out, to dish out the Government’s war propaganda, and to gull the people with the prospect of an early end to their hardships. The private media are, at the same time, being pressurized to do likewise. Media institutions that don’t fall in line, are subjected to arrest and detention without trial, under Emergency regulations, of their directors or journalists who work for them, or to brazen thuggery and even murders of several of them.

In this situation, it is necessary, in our view, for all genuine organizations of the working people to expose the adverse effects of the Government’s war policy on their lives and living standards, and its cruel effects on the people in the war zones . They should also oppose the violations of human and democratic rights and civil liberties under the State of Emergency in the rest of the country, in the Government’s pursuance of that policy.

Demands for wage increases could and have been made by trade unions in the public sector, to cope with the continually rising cost of living, but without any adequate response from the Government. It is significant in this connection, that the recent unsuccessful strike on 10th July last was called for by the JVP trade union leadership, with the support of the UNP, on a pay demand for public servants, the President made it quite clear to the unions in that sector that such demands could not be met, without stopping the war against the LTTE and abandoning various economic projects of his Government.

In the private sector, and in the plantations, limited wage increases have been obtained by unions having sufficient strength for collective bargaining. For the tens of millions of casual and other unorganized workers in that sector, and for workers in unions that have little or no collective bargaining power, only meager increases in minimum wages have been granted by Wages Boards.

In the circumstances, it is necessary for the organized workers and organizations of working people throughout the country to demand adequate State subsidies for essential foodstuffs and commodities, and for essential public services, to help them to cope with the high cost of living. We believe that joint action could be mobilized effectively in support of this demand, as it would serve to benefit all sections of the working people, in urban and in rural areas, as well as on the plantations.

At the same time, it would be necessary to counter the Government’s misleading propaganda that the elimination of the fighting capacity of the LTTE is imminent, and that Peace in this country can be restored thereby.

It is of the greatest importance to take note, in the above connection, of the views expressed by no less a person than the Army Commander, Lieut. General Sarath Fonseka, in an interview with foreign journalists on 30th June last, with regard to the LTTE, as reported in the “Hindustan Times” of 01 July 2008: He had said that the LTTE was “set to lose its conventional fighting capabilities in less than a year”, but had added that because of its support base among people who believe in Tamil nationalism and among the Tamil diaspora, “the LTTE might continue as an insurgency in Sri Lanka for ever”!!

The Army Commander’s view has been completely confirmed by India’s National Security Adviser, Mr. M.K.Naranayanan, in an interview published in the “Straits Times” on 12th August last. He has declared that unless the Tamils are given a feeling that they have “a right to establish their own destiny in many matters”, the Government will not succeed in eliminating the LTTE’s capacity to carry out terrorist attacks, which has “not been diminished”, even though it has been weakened, and has met with heavier casualties than previously.

We are of the view that the LTTE “insurgency” could be ended, only if the Government stops its costly and futile war to eliminate it by military means, and offers instead to negotiate with the LTTE and other representatives of the Tamil and Muslim peoples, for a political settlement of the unending conflict in the North and East, on the basis of the recognition of their democratic right to self-determination in those parts of this country where they constitute the ethnic and cultural majority of the population, within the framework of a truly democratic Constitution, embracing all the peoples of our multi-ethnic and multi-cultural country.

This, in our view, is an essential matter for discussion between the representatives of the organizations of working people who are to be invited to participate in the NTUC, in the current critical situation facing us all.

Bala Tampoe

General Secretary.

Ceylon Mercantile, Industrial & General

Workers’ Union (CMU)

Thursday, 14th August 2008

Colombo.

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