LAST Thursday, the Sri Lankan capital Colombo was halted as hundreds of thousands of trade unionists and their supporters took to the streets in a national general strike.
Thousands of trade union members joined protesters already camping in front of the president’s office for nearly three weeks, demanding the government’s removal.
The general strike marked the first time the country of 22 million residents was brought to a standstill after mass protests erupted late last month.
For workers life has become impossible as the economic crisis deepens. Last year, the price of rice was around 99 rupees per kilo. It is currently at 215 per kilo.
Sri Lanka does not have enough foreign currency to import essential food items, fuel and medicines after the coronavirus pandemic. The rise in oil prices due to the Ukraine war, tax cuts by the government and declining foreign currency reserves have crippled its economy.
The protesters are continuing to call for the resignation of Sri Lanka’s government, as prices of food and fuel escalate on a daily basis amid a deepening debt crisis.
Rallies against the government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa escalated on April 19th, after police in the central town of Rambukkana shot dead a man, amid protests over fuel prices.
Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government is now on the rocks. He is now willing to drop his brother as prime minister, after a fresh surge in inflation brought the masses onto the streets.
Rajapaksa has agreed to form an all-party government with a new PM, local media reported on Friday, citing Maithripala Sirisena, a former president.
However, opposition leaders have said they have enough support to oust the PM in a no-confidence vote, while workers on the streets want both Rajapaksas to step down and make way for a workers government.
On Friday, prices in the capital Colombo rose 30%, making more interest rate increases, and even higher prices certain if the conditions of an International Monetary Fund bail-out are to be met.
Consumer prices surged 29.8% in April from a year earlier, the Department of Census and Statistics said in a statement. That’s faster than 18.7% in March and a 25% median estimate in a Bloomberg survey.
The nation’s foreign-exchange reserves dipped to $1.94 billion.
Sri Lanka needs $4 billion over the next eight months to pay for imports of essentials. The central bank, which has raised interest rates by 900 basis points from a pandemic-era low, next meets to review policy by May 19th.
The general strike, however, has changed everything.
Banks were closed, businesses shut and public transportation halted as over 1,000 trade unions across the island nation organised the strike, with workers from both public and private sectors attending.
Sri Lankan officials are now appealing in vain to the International Monetary Fund for a loan package to alleviate the country’s deepest financial emergency since independence in 1948.
The government is short of foreign exchange to pay international creditors, with at least $4bn in debt repayments due this year alone. The government has temporarily suspended foreign debt payments and is looking for new lines of credit as it awaits the IMF’s assistance.
Thousands of demonstrators have in recent days massed outside the president’s office, demanding Rajapaksa step down. Opposition parties have rejected Rajapaksa’s appeal to form a unity government, arguing that the crisis is the responsibility of the ruling coalition led by Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party.
However, the issue is that the working class must now finish the job that it has just begun.
There must be an indefinite general strike to bring down the government, and workers and youth throughout the island must organise Councils of Action, or Soviets, to run the country.
These must see to it that the armed forces are disbanded and replaced by a workers militia and that workers councils are set up in every district to expropriate and run the major industries, while handing over the land to the rural poor for cultivation.
Led by the working class, the oppressed must take the power and give a powerful lead to the workers of India, who have just completed a successful general strike.
Forward to a socialist Sri Lanka and a socialist India! Forward to the victory of the world socialist revolution to put an end to capitalism worldwide!