Govt. actions harm the economy, not TUs: K.D. Lalkantha
- Massive trade union alliance being formed to defeat KNDU Bill
- Won’t allow KNDU Bill to be implemented, even if passed in P’ment
- Country’s economy has not collapsed due to trade union actions
- Current economic system is unable to provide solutions to issues
- NPP needs to be expanded; FSP can decide on joining NPP
- The JVP is adapting to new conditions and global trends
By Yoshitha Perera
Left-wing politics are essential for a country to build an equal socio-political and economic environment. In an interview with The Sunday Morning, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) politburo member and National Trade Union Centre (NTUC) Chairman K.D. Lalkantha said the country is in need of strong political and economic reforms of this nature and that the people in the country have to be changed to develop strong leadership.
Following are excerpts from the interview:
A broad coalition of trade unions was formed recently. Are all trade union actions from now on being carried out as a coalition?
There is no such idea. At present, there are several trade unions which had formed united fronts and alliances. One is the teachers’ and principals’ trade unions which are working together to eliminate the 24-year-long unresolved salary anomalies and to defeat the controversial Kotelawala National Defence University (KNDU) Bill, which is due to be passed in Parliament on 6 August.
Recently, the trade unions also formed an alliance against government moves to crush dissent and arrest people who took to the streets to protest and struggle.
The name of the coalition was the Trade Unions and Mass Organisations Alliance and the main objective of this union was to release those who were detained under the guise of being sent for quarantine. After releasing those who were detained in army camps using quarantine regulations, the need for such an alliance has disappeared for now and after the release of the trade union and civil society activists, that alliance did not meet again.
However, I must say that a massive trade union front is being formed to defeat the KNDU Bill and to highlight many other administrative failures. We all know that, so far, there is no trade union front or alliance that has been formed in the country. Struggles have arisen due to the loss of their rights in various fields and we all support them.
There is a need for such a front or alliance. Even if such an alliance is formed, it is not possible to make a law that only that organisation should launch trade union struggles in the country. Any individual can speak and fight for their rights and demands, and no one has the ability and the right to centralise that process.
Most often, trade union action is used to demand solutions to salary issues. But trade union action has an adverse impact on the economy. Does it therefore not have an overall negative impact?
In a situation where the Government has destroyed the economy and the Covid-19 pandemic is raging in the country, instead of rescuing people from the relevant conditions, the Government is taking more steps to harm the economy.
The economy of this country has not collapsed due to trade union struggles. When the Government abolishes the oil monopoly of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC), its trade unions are struggling, and it cannot be prevented. When valuable lands and buildings in Colombo are sold by a company called Selendiva, the country’s economy collapses. It is their activities that harm the economy of the country. Then, the actions of the people and the actions of the trade unions cannot be prevented.
When the East Container Terminal (ECT) of the Colombo Port is sold to India, the economic benefit we get, goes to India. The trade unions and other mass organisations are working against such things. When the actions of such a government are stopped, it will help to build our economy.
So far, the country has not been built by any of the governments that have existed for about 30 years; they have only collapsed. Such things happened not because of the trade unions, but because of the rulers. In fact, the trade union movement did not intervene enough. If we had fought properly, this destruction would not have happened.
Some trade unions also supported individual governments. Due to such things, the economy of this country has collapsed. Now, the Government is trying to educate civilians through the military by implementing the KNDU Act. The civilian population of the country does not need martial law. The education of the civilian population should be through the state university system. At a time when the economy is collapsing, the trade unions are rallying against such actions taken through legislation.
The Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) has initiated a dialogue with leftist parties as well as minority parties. Will the JVP join this endeavour for a leftist coalition?
The FSP had sent a letter to our party headquarters a few days ago requesting a discussion. But we have not yet decided whether to hold a discussion or not. Another thing is that we do not believe that the political parties and groups nominated by the FSP are leftist and progressive. As an example, the leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) is former President Maithripala Sirisena, and we know that there is a huge protest among the people regarding his past administration. We do not accept a party led by such a person to be progressive and leftist.
The other thing is that many of these parties are supporting the unfavourable decisions taken by the Government. Both the Communist and Lanka Sama Samaja parties (LSSP) are in positions to approve the actions of this Government. We have a problem with the parties.
The National People’s Power (NPP) is the movement that we have built by uniting the leftist and progressive forces that we can currently unite. What we need now is to make arrangements to expand that centre. It is not a single election campaign. We can talk to the FSP with the aim of joining the NPP and they can decide whether they will join or not.
The JVP also did not attend the meeting organised by the National Movement for Social Justice to bring all Opposition political parties on to one platform. What is the JVP’s future course of action? Will it be a solo journey or as a coalition?
We seek to broadly connect individuals and organisations that are directly affiliated with the NPP. In addition, the NPP aims to build a movement such as an alliance or front, with non-affiliated organisations. It is not a kind of strategy to work with all Opposition parties as in 2015. Our party is not ready to go for such a thing.
What is the JVP’s stance on the proposed Finance Bill?
The proposed Finance Bill is to launder black money. We first need to look at who has the black money. Accordingly, the persons who were involved in the Central Bank fraud should have the largest stocks of black money. Then the leaders of the previous Government may have black money. There may be money stolen through the Bond Scam.
The other thing is that racketeers and politicians who sell this country in various ways and take commissions from different countries may have black money. That money should be taken by the Government directly after taking legal action.
Otherwise, if laws are passed for a money laundering racket, those who have not yet collected black money will enter the money laundering market. This Bill encourages theft. Even the public that has paid taxes with difficulty and invested in legitimate businesses will be tempted to enter the black money market.
Massive losses in tax revenue have been exposed by the current Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) in its first report tabled before Parliament on 20 July. What is your opinion on this?
The Government had already lost the amount of taxes it had to collect. Also, there is a failure in this Government to collect the full amount of taxes that should be collected properly. Accordingly, the loss is what continues to happen. There is a large number of files that need to be taxed.
Taxes are not properly collected from taxpayers, but the people have paid taxes for relevant services and institutions. The general public has not evaded taxes. This Government has been unable to collect the taxes paid by the people. There are tax evaders and the Government gives relief to them. Therefore, the country and institutions go bankrupt in the face of such a situation. The COPA report has exposed the inability of this Government.
The President had assured that the proposed KNDU will be brought under University Grants Commission (UGC). In this situation, is there any further action being planned to make objections to the Bill?
Mainly, three national-level trade unions have been formed against the proposed KNDU Bill. All of these are currently undergoing further action. We are going to defeat this Act. If the Government approved this Act, we would not let the Government implement it. There were many instances that the governments had to stop the procedure of certain approved Acts in this country. If this Act is passed without listening to the voice of the people, we will continue to struggle even after it is passed.
We would like to support a programme to strengthen the state university system and higher education institutions, but we are not ready to support a programme to militarise education. We stand against it.
What action will be taken by the JVP and the trade union coalition against the rising cost of living?
There was a massive struggle in the country’s farming community due to the present fertiliser matter. The so-called fertiliser problem is a matter of the cost of living. There are already protests and struggles. Accordingly, we do our part. However, the current economic system cannot find answers to these questions.
In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the country has been deprived of its two major financial sources – the financial remittances by those who are working overseas and tourism. In this situation, what is the party’s suggestion to boost the country’s economy? What alternatives would you propose to address the issues pointed out by the trade unions as well as the JVP?
This Government has not been able to end this pandemic in a short period of time. The Government is working toward maintaining the Covid-19 situation in the country and it thinks that it would be beneficial for them. About 2,000 people are infected with Covid-19 every day and they also release the numbers of the people who get discharged from the treatment centres as well as deaths. However, the Government is maintaining this as a formula; what is going on now is a programme to keep Covid-19 in the country.
In these conditions, the collapse of the tourism industry is inevitable. The income received by the country has already been lost. Another 600,000 people in the country have lost their sources of income. Those involved in the tourism industry have also started a struggle. They have not received any relief so far. The only solution for this matter is to find ways to end the pandemic soon. There are no other alternatives or interim solutions.
Has the JVP been able to change its policies to suit the current global and national trends, especially in the post-Covid-19 scenario?
We are a party adapting to new conditions and global trends. That is why we exist as a leftist party. In many countries, leftist parties have disappeared in recent times. But we are going through this journey with difficulty.
I’m not saying we’re in a good place. The reason is that it is always difficult to do good things. Now, we want two things – rights and freedom. For that, strong political and economic reforms are needed at this time.
The executive presidency should be abolished and the existing political culture needs to be changed. In 2015, the people gave a mandate for a strong political reform but the former President, Prime Minister, and the Cabinet betrayed that mandate. The people of the country must change for powerful political and economic reforms to be possible, and that is the most important thing.