Colombo, Sri Lanka – Hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankan employees held a nationwide general strike on Thursday to demand the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the federal government managed by his highly effective household amid the island’s worst financial disaster in historical past.
Banks had been closed, companies shut, and public transportation halted as almost 1,000 commerce unions throughout the island nation organised the strike, with employees from each private and non-private sectors attending.
In capital Colombo, hundreds of commerce union members joined protesters already camping in entrance of the president’s workplace for almost three weeks, demanding the federal government’s elimination.
However the normal strike on Thursday was the primary time the nation of twenty-two million residents was dropped at a standstill since mass protests erupted late final month.
“Life has develop into arduous on this financial disaster. Fuel, electrical energy, meals and bus fares are all overpriced in the meanwhile,” a authorities employee who needed to remain nameless instructed Al Jazeera.
She mentioned there are 5 members in her household and he or she finds it arduous to supply for them along with her wage which has stayed the identical regardless of a steep hike in costs of meals, medicines and gasoline.
“Final 12 months, the worth of rice was round 99 rupees. It’s at the moment at 215,” she mentioned.
Sri Lanka doesn’t have sufficient overseas foreign money to import important meals grains, gasoline and medicines after the coronavirus pandemic, rise in oil costs because of the Ukraine battle, tax cuts by the federal government and declining overseas foreign money reserves crippled its financial system.
Protesters additionally accuse the powerful Rajapaksa clan – which has dominated the island’s politics for almost 20 years – of mismanaging the financial system.
“We voted for Gotabaya Rajapaksa however he has destroyed our nation,” Ruchira Ashan, a 27-year-old mechanic working at Colombo’s dockyard instructed Al Jazeera.
Ashan mentioned he had taken go away from her workplace to hitch the strike, which additionally noticed docs and nurses protesting outdoors hospitals and clinics throughout their lunch break.
“Lots of people influenced me and my household to vote for the Rajapaksas. I really feel accountable,” mentioned Binali Wijekone, a 21-year-old trainee at a financial institution in Colombo.
Comparisons with 1980 strike
Political scientist Jayadeva Uyangoda mentioned Thursday’s normal strike was the primary Sri Lanka had witnessed since a authorities crackdown on the commerce union motion in 1980.
“That is the primary time in 4 many years that the Sri Lankan commerce unions have come collectively to launch a normal strike,” he instructed Al Jazeera.
Uyangoda was referring to an analogous normal strike known as by Sri Lanka’s commerce unions in 1980 to demand an all-round month-to-month pay rise of 300 rupees, restoration of meals subsidies and the withdrawal of “undemocratic and anti-trade union measures” taken by the federal government.
In response, the then President J R Jayawardene – a strongman politician who was pushing for a “liberalisation” of the island’s financial system – mobilised the armed forces, imposed a nationwide state of emergency and declared the strike unlawful, triggering violent protests.
Consultants mentioned the nation is witnessing an analogous rise in folks’s anger in opposition to the federal government.
“Jayawardene crushed the 1980 strike however as we speak the commerce unions have fastened their errors and are prepared to maneuver into the long run,” Venerable Tampitiye Sugatananda, a 32-year-old Buddhist monk and chief secretary of the Joint Well being Employees Union, instructed Al Jazeera.
“Since 1980, a number of commerce unions had been shaped by political events, however previously couple of years, this (development) has shifted. Working-class folks’s struggles have taken prominence and as we speak’s occasion has solely strengthened this development.”
The island’s commerce unions have threatened to go on an extended strike from Might 6 if the president and the federal government don’t resign.
“If the employees inform the president and the prime minister to go away, then they need to go away by all means,” Sugatananda instructed Aljazeera. “We want a response by the state to as we speak’s motion. If not, there isn’t any alternative however to proceed for months.”
As he spoke, posters saying “They Don’t Actually Care About Us” and “Cease Repression” had been seen on the march in Colombo whereas folks made speeches and raised slogans in entrance of the president’s workplace.
Sri Lankan lawyer and activist Balachandran Gowthaman mentioned he had “not seen an occasion subscribed by unions of varied persuasions and such a complementary show of drive” since 1980.
“The self-discipline with which the personal sector and the general public sector stepped out with out an excessive amount of persuasion and an excessive amount of issues indicated that every one sectors are devastated by the financial disaster and need the present administration to be held accountable,” he instructed Al Jazeera.
V T Gunatunga, a 60-year-old member of the All Island Native Authorities Labour Union, mentioned he travelled from Panadura to attend the protest in Colombo and help the younger demonstrators.
“Effectively, 6.9 million could have voted for them (president), however we’re all right here to ship (the Rajapaksas) residence,” he instructed Al Jazeera, referring to President Rajapaksa’s declare that he bought 6.9 million votes within the 2019 elections.
“I may die however there must be a rustic for future generations and that’s the reason I’m on the streets,” mentioned Gunatunga.