In his message to mark May Day - the International Workers' Day - earlier this week, President Mahinda Rajapaksa gave a timely and necessary warning to the working people of Sri Lanka about current conspiracies to disrupt the workforce of the country, and of his confidence that our workers will safeguard the workers' rights and unitedly defeat such conspiracies.
Later in his address at the massive May Day Rally at Campbell Park, the President reiterated that the government will not bow down to any pressure and is not prepared to reverse the ongoing efforts to build the country under any circumstances.
"We will never bow down and no one can make us bow down", he said.
There is no doubt that these words of caution in his message were both about the political opposition in the country that is lacking in broad popular appeal, but often try to mislead the working people into political action against the government, based on issues that do not obtain the wide support of workers, and the local and foreign forces that are ranged against Sri Lanka, and are bringing about external pressure on an agenda of "regime change".
It was a significant coincidence that there was even more relevance given to these words of warning from the President, from the US State Department, through the news published on May 1 that Sri Lanka remains vulnerable to money laundering and terrorist finance.
In its Country Reports on Terrorism in 2013, The Bureau of Counterterrorism of the United States Department of State says while South Asia remained a front line in the battle against terrorism last year, Sri Lanka is vulnerable to money laundering and terrorist finance.
The report required to be submitted to the Congress says that although no arrests related to terrorism were made in 2013, the Sri Lankan government remained concerned that the LTTE's international network of financial support was still functioning. According to the report released Tuesday (April 29), before its defeat in 2009, the LTTE had used a number of nonprofit organizations for fundraising purposes.
Continuing to list the LTTE as a terrorist organization, the State Department noted that although there have been no known attacks in Sri Lanka that could verifiably be attributed to the LTTE since the end of the war, the LTTE's financial network of support continued to operate throughout 2013.
"The LTTE uses its international contacts and the large (pro-LTTE) Tamil Diaspora in North America, Europe, and Asia to procure weapons, communications, funding, and other needed supplies. The group employed charities as fronts to collect and divert funds for their activities," the report said.
"The Sri Lankan government continued to voice concern about the possible re-emergence of pro-LTTE sympathizers," it said.
Although Sri Lanka is not a significant regional financial centre or a preferred centre for money laundering, several factors make the country vulnerable to money laundering and terrorist finance, the report noted.
The emergence of newly armed LTTE cadres, from among those who were defeated in May 2009, earlier this month, and the reported success of the armed services to effectively destroy these nascent forces of terror, shows the correctness of the State Department's analysis and understanding of the situation with regard to the threat of terrorism that still prevails in the country.
This certainly gives cause for surprise about anti-Sri Lanka position of the US with its sponsorship of the resolution against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC in March this year, and the unverified allegations it continues to make regarding human rights violation by the armed forces here, or the frequent call made for the total demilitarization of the Northern Province. This does show a duality of attitude towards Sri Lanka within the US Administration.
Whatever the cause such duality may be, the State Department's report certainly underlined President Rajapaksa's statement on May day that "we will never bow down and no one can make us bow down" his May Day warning of conspiracies to disrupt the workforce, because disruptions of, and attacks on the country's workforce can also come from forces such as those that continue to fund and support terrorism and separation.
A section of the massive crowd at the UPFA May Day Rally at Campbell Park.
The President's message also said that "as a worker-friendly government we are glad of our success in providing a free and democratic May Day to the working people. This occasion is celebrated by the working people of Sri Lanka with enthusiasm and pride. We are indeed fortunate for having established a democratic environment in the country, a peaceful atmosphere in the workplace and legal rights of organization and assembly to our workers. As a worker-friendly government we are glad of our success in providing a free and democratic May Day for the working people.
Red May Days
As one who has much familiarity with the genuine red May Days of the past, especially of the LSSP and CP, before parties other than those of the Left also began organizing trade unions and celebrating May Day, President Rajapaksa is fully aware of the traditions of May Day, its purpose in helping in the organization of the working people, both the workers and peasants, and the role it can and has played in expanding democratic freedoms and the rights of the working people of this country.
He now leads a government that is a coalition led by the SLFP, which in its key role in the MEP that came to power in 1956, declared May Day as a national holiday, and gave official recognition to its celebration. It is also the party that took important action to implement the demands of the working class and trade unions throughout the previous decades, with the removal of the British military and naval bases in the country, the nationalization of bus transport and the ports, and establishing the Employees' Provident Fund.
There is little doubt that Mahinda Rajapaksa retains his commitment to ensuring the rights of the working people and sees that strengthening these rights is important for the progress of the country, through the development strategies of the Mahinda Chinthana. It is significant that the May Day rallies chaired by him, since his election as President in November 2005, have always drawn the largest participation of workers and peasants, both urban and rural people, and exposed the continuing weak links that the UNP and JVP have with the working people of the country, despite much organization and colour, especially by the JVP.
In reminiscing a bout past May Days when the processions were only red, red and red with the leadership of the LSSP and CP, and the one massive May Day at Galle Face Green where these two parties were also joined by the MEP, led by Philip Gunewardena that had broken away from the government, a journalist friend made an interesting observation. He said that apart from the National Anthem sung after independence, the only song that had been sung together by such large numbers of people in the country must have been "Saadukin Pelanavun" the anthem of struggle the LSSP. It seems a very correct observation.
Remembering May Days past, it would be interesting to recall here of the origins of May Day, which goes back to the USA in the late 1800s. The history of May 1 as a workers' holiday is intimately tied to the long movement in the US for an eight-hour day, to rights of immigrant workers, to police brutality and repression of the labour movement, and to the long tradition of American anarchism.
With earlier struggles failing, in 1886, the Chicago Central Labor Union again demanded an eight-hour day. The demand was "eight for 10" -- that is, eight hours' work for 10 hours' pay. The demands of the militant Chicago workers coincided with a massive upswing in other militant movements. Workers and Texas farmers were rebelling against a monopolistic railroad system. The Knights of Labor were rapidly organizing and spreading their vision of a cooperative, rather than capitalistic, society. "What happened on May 1, 1886," writes James Green, the recent historian of the labour movement, "was more than a general strike; it was a 'populist moment' when working people believed they could destroy plutocracy, redeem democracy and then create a new 'cooperative commonwealth.'"
Four days later, it all came crashing down. On May 3, police had shot to death six strikers at the McCormick Works, where a long-standing labour dispute had turned the factory into an armed camp, and beaten dozens more.
On May 4, anarchists held an outdoor indignation meeting at a square called the Haymarket to protest the police murders, when a bomb explosion caused more deaths. From then Haymarket stood out in the history of the international workers' movement.
Of eight workers rounded up and convicted, despite no evidence they were involved on the Haymarket bombing, seven were sentenced to be hanged and two had their sentences commuted. A third Louis Lingg, reportedly the most radical and militant of them cheated the hangman by chewing a detonator cap and blowing off his jaw. The remaining four August Spies, Albert Parsons, Samuel Fischer, and George Engel were hanged on November 11, 1887.
They went to their deaths singing the Marseillaise, then an anthem of the international revolutionary movement, and before he died, Spies shouted out his famous last words: "The time will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today."
In 1889, French syndicalist Raymond Lavigne proposed to the Second International - the international and internationalist coalition of socialist parties that May 1 be celebrated internationally the next year, to honour the Haymarket Martyrs and demand the eight-hour day, and the year after that the International adopted the day as an international workers' holiday.
In countries with strong socialist and communist traditions, May 1 became the primary day to celebrate work, workers and their organizations, often with direct and explicit reference to the Haymarket Martyrs. May Day remains an official holiday in countries ranging from Argentina to India to Malaysia to Croatia and dozens of countries in between.
Yet in the United States, with some exception, the workers' tradition of May 1 died out. In 1921, May Day was declared "Americanization Day and later "Loyalty Day" in a deliberately ironic attempt to co-opt the holiday. In 1958 Dwight Eisenhower added "Law Day" to the mix.
Yet May 1 lives on, and indeed has been rejuvenated in the United States in the past few years. In 2006, immigrant activists organized "a day without an immigrant," a nationwide strike of immigrant workers and rallies. It was perhaps the largest demonstration of workers in United States history.
These immigrants, mostly from Latin America, had brought May 1 back to its birthplace, and in so doing, they resurrected its history as a day specifically for immigrant workers.
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