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Of that grand pratfall

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Yesterday we saw the fate of those who make the mistake of punching above their weight. By calling a general strike, the JVP undertook to accomplish a Herculean task that it was not simply equal to. The resounding victory it had scored at the Education Department Co-operative Society elections against the government trade unions a few months ago may have emboldened it to launch a strike by way of a show of strength at a time it was reeling from a breakaway, but it must now be ruing the day it decided to flex its trade union muscle. The inevitable happened after weeks of planning and rhetoric. The JVP had a pratfall with a thud. The UNP, too, blundered by pledging solidarity with the JVP and was left with egg on its face. The UNP only became the JVP's partner in failure!

Was that which befell the JVP-UNP combine yesterday a kind of nemesis? Twenty eight years ago, the JVP had betrayed workers in a general strike, where the UNP sacked tens of thousands of workers reducing them to paupers and driving some of them to suicide for the crime of demanding a pay hike. Workers refused to join forces with them this time around in spite of their impressive demand for a five-thousand-rupee salary increase. Only a faction of the workforce answered their call.

The government is cock-a-hoop. It seems to think that workers have stood by it. Let it cherish no such delusion. Workers' refusal to join the strike does not amount to any reaffirmation of their faith in the government. Nor have they spurned the JVP's offer to win them a handsome pay hike. They, in fact, are in need of more, given the immense hardships they are undergoing. But, they rejected the JVP's stratagem for achieving a political end by camouflaging its political project with trade union demands.

It may be that many people including workers are desirous of seeing the back of this government. But, they don't seem to think this is the time for bringing it down, as the war has entered a crucial phase with the LTTE sending distress signals. Patriotism has deserted the JVP. The UNP finds itself in a contradiction. On the one hand it rejects war lock, stock and barrel and on the other it tries to exploit the achievements of a retired general, who excelled in battle against the LTTE, to win the upcoming polls in the NCP. Thus, both the JVP and the UNP have failed to woo the people abhorring terrorism.

The workers' decision against backing the JVP-UNP political project amounted to only one thing: A vote of confidence in the brave men and women on the warfront fighting for the country at tremendous odds. Workers, by ignoring the JVP's call for a general strike which had the potential to snowball into a continuous labour dispute, pre-empted a JVP-UNP move to wreak political turmoil, which, they knew, would have a devastating impact on the morale of the troops and the on-going military campaign against terrorism.

Everything is not hunky dory for the government. If it fails to solve workers' problems, its enemies now licking their wounds will use them to make an early comeback. Protracted labour disputes, as we argued the other day, are like old anthills – venomous snakes creep into them, posing a threat to one and all.

Workers have spoken and we only hope politicians will figure out their message.


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