Saturday, April 29, 2017

Alternate May Day


Those who woe in hunger – rise now
Those suffering on earth - awake!

“Saadukin pelenavun – den ithin nagitiyav
Mihithale asaranun – pibidiyav”

‘Saadukin Pelenavun" was the opening line of the anthem of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party, and was also very much the theme song of May Day in the past, when the left parties and trade union movement at that time celebrated the International Day of the working people.

May Day is now taken away from the working people, to be the most significant demonstration of rivalry among political parties, with the Red Flag and Hammer & Sickle of the working class replaced by the colours and symbols of political parties. As the political parties put all their strength, in funds and organizing ability, as well as official support by those in government, to the May Day celebrations each year; there is hardly any response to the call by some trade unions and civil society organizations interested in the rights of worker, to make May Day once again a day of the working people in Sri Lanka.

The Vikalpa Satankaami – Alternate Activists – who have emerged to bring about a change in May Day celebrations, recognizing the impact of politicians and political parties on the trend and tide of May Day events, have made arrangements for the Vikalpa Mai Dinaya, which will be launched on May 1. We are told the venue will be a place already chosen to dump urban garbage, but has not been made public so far to prevent public protests. The Vikalpa organizers think the venue where garbage will gather very soon is an ideal place for politicians, and will be very popular with them, because of their now known affinity for dirt of every type.

I was able to see the rehearsals for this novel May Day event, which is a huge departure from what takes place at the political May Day events today. The stage was decked with red flags, but what stood out were some of the symbols of the political class of today. There were large banners displaying vehicles – cars, jeeps, SUVs, and luxury limousines. The topic of the first speaker was all about vehicles, especially their importance for the politics and politicians of today. No doubt the importers and marketers of these vehicles had supported this Vikalpa event, because of the promise it held for vehicle sales to politicians, through government, in the future.

A large number of politicians had said they would be present at this event, despite political party differences, because of their common interest in vehicles. The speaker would remind them to keep vehicles on top of their political agenda. They would be urged to have a Bill passed in parliament to ensure that politicians, despite party differences or groups, get new vehicles every year, at government expense; to be sold in the free market whenever they wished. There should be a clause in the law, to ensure that any politicians having one model of vehicle will get the new model of that brand the moment the new model comes to the market. Nothing less than luxury was the theme of that speech. There was also an important suggestion that politicians be given protective vehicles to enable them to go near places where a garbage mounts had crashed.

The second speaker on this Vikalpa May Day event would speak on Contracts and Commissions. The organizers told me this was the stuff of politics today. The posters around the stage would show various government and private-public projects – from highways, railways, town and city building and expansion, high rises, a port city and landfills. These had been put up by the many contractors involved in such work, with a good profit to the organizers. The speaker would call on the political audience to keep demanding for their Contract Commissions – from nothing less than 10 percent to even 50 and 75 percent. Profitable contracts with good commissions were the groundwork of political development in the country, the speaker said. The laws of this country should n be changed make the earning of such commissions by politicians wholly legal. Politicians must be entitled to hand over contracts to family, friends, and relations, without any fear of probes by the FCID or CID. Supporters of some politicians who had dropped in at this rehearsal of the Vikalpa event were thrilled at the ideas that were promoted. "This is the way to strengthen politics in the country", one of them told me.

The theme of another speaker was Travel Abroad. Of course, there was much décor with flags, banners, and posters given by airlines and travel agents, all promoting outbound tourism of the political class. The speaker on this was quick to remind the political audience of the moves by the President and Prime Minister to restrict the travel abroad opportunities for lesser politicians. "You must never give into such oppression," he said. "Travel Abroad at state expense is what politics is all about. The whole idea of being elected to parliament is to get a free passport, with DPL visas, and a free ride abroad. No one must be allowed to stop this right. If you allow this, you will be frogs in a well. This is another new law that we need in this country," he said,

The organizer of this Vikalpa event told me this was the new way to give May Day back to the working people.

"But what you are doing is to promote the politicians."

"You are right. It is the politicians who can take us back to the workers. You must remember, it was the politicians who snatched this day from us. The only way back is through them."

Well, well. The politician is certainly the master. They are taking May Day more and more it into the rivalry of the crooked. We will have to wait for more alternate thinking to see if May Day will ever get back to being the workers’ day in this country. Meanwhile, let’s just keep remembering and humming "Saadukin Pelanavun".