Shame and distortion of May Day


It is said that May Day, Labour Day or International Workers' Day, is universally observed to celebrate the contributions of the working peoples’, to everybody's well-being and prosperity. This is a totally proper recognition of the truth that nature's resources, purposefully employed, is the basis of all that we enjoy physically. The contribution of human talent and effort towards this is worthy of acknowledgment. But how far have we drifted? The extent to which Sri Lanka has distorted this objective is appalling. Far from celebrating the swarthy skins and sweat of labouring fellow beings, we seem obsessed with preserving the dinky little pink toes of political parasites.

Even acclaimed "political commentators" seem sunk in the numbers game. Who had more - Kirulapone, Galle, Borella or BRC? Scant attention given to the substance of Worker Welfare! What are the forebodings for the upcoming recruitment processes for the "Schools for Scoundrels" - the confusing array of pointless local level cabals, masked as Local Government Elections? Which M will win the tussle for Party supremacy? Will it be one SLFP or several SLFPP? Not a thought for the colossal expenditure of this circus - bribes, hooch, buses. All in all, this whole affair was an exercise in futility and a crude endeavour to contrive a forced interest in a meaningless show. The mountains of discarded lunch wrappings, empty liquor bottles and ugly plastic containers are symbolic remnants of a highly dispensable event!

The history of the May Day event is traceable to the so-called "Haymarket Affair" in Chicago on 4th May 1886, where labour assembled to seek an 8-hour Working Day. An unidentified bomb thrown at the Police sparked off retaliatory gunfire that left four dead and a street splattered with blood. Thus arose the symbolic red shirts (sported even by our blue (or blue-green) President). Progressively, Communists, Socialists and Anarchists and other claimants to red attire, took over the ascendancy. In Sri Lanka, the highjacking process is nearly complete. Remove the palpably political rhetoric and only an empty shell remains. Only the JVP rally went some way towards arresting this distortion. For May Day Rallies, as for Cabinets, more in numbers is the merrier. Long speeches are better than short ones - despite an inverse relationship between length and substance. Sinhala is a remarkably accommodating language - I doubt whether there is any other, where one can speak so much but say so little. Admittedly, there are able practitioners who are equally able in obfuscating in English. In Sinhala, throw in a few dozen "aththawasayenma", "aniwaryayenma", "Janathawa," "pragathiseelee" "paksha ekamuthuwa" "janawarama" - and Bob's your Aunty! Another developing technique is to make the most significant announcements to listeners in Kahatagasdigiliya, Dambana or Pallebedda and reserve hogwash for the capital city and "sophisticated" audiences! To me, the most telling piece, was the short U-tube one of our present President lavishing fulsome praise on his then Boss, now turned vagabond! Acknowledged Royalty turned to dangerous villain! Loyalty, consistency and integrity apparently have their proper place!

Of all the wasteful extravagances, May Day is now proving a serious rival to the monotonously frequent and equally irrelevant Elections. But more on this elsewhere! Ponderous and real problems are being systematically masked by crafty diversions. 100-day programs, revolutionary reformed Governance, vacillating Budgets, theatrical displays in Parliament, numerous (inconsequential?) State Visits, revised Budgets, promised insincere reliefs (falling just short of cereal imports from the Moon), Constitutional Reforms, Commissions, Councils, Assemblies and Committees. If the Rajapaksas are the National Menace that they are made out to be, the obvious route is to confront them with their numerous alleged frauds and neutralize them by lawful incarceration. There is no point in playing Footsie, trotting out increasingly improbable excuses (not reasons). The fast developing stench of possible collusion, honour among thieves, back scratching and Insurance for the future, is becoming overwhelming. We seem to have been through this many times before. Perhaps, the yet gullible audience is sufficient to keep the ping-pong going. But I digress! May Day was a washout - I can only wish that the inebriated audiences returned home safely - to ponder what the hell it was all about!

Let us hope that the pending Cricket Match between Parliamentarians and Veddahs (Vannielage Aththo, to be politically correct) may be more exciting!

Dr U.Pethiyagoda.

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