Sri Lanka Tea Workers Battle For £2 A Day

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SRI LANKAN tea workers, some 400,000 strong, are mainly Tamil women workers, who work for around £1 a day and live, along with their families, in crude lineshacks which have absolutely no amenities and which were constructed in the 19th century by British imperialism.

Their wages are not enough to feed their families or pay for the medicines that their health care requires, and such are the harsh conditions of life, most families have at least one member who is seriously ill.

The cost of living and surviving, far exceed their wages, so they are permanently in debt to moneylenders – a debt which increases every week and becomes unrepayable – a huge millstone around the neck of every family.

In inverse proportion to their oppression and poverty is the riches that they have created for the owners of the tea plantations, the British and other capitalists.

Now their unions have begun a struggle to try to double their wages to just over £2 a day, by not allowing tea to leave the plantations.

They will be opposed by the Rajapakse regime and its armed forces who, using their anti-terror laws, can jail anybody using trumped up charges.

The teaworkers have the support of the Sri Lankan working class who section by section, from garment workers to power workers, are being drawn into the struggle to defend their jobs, and to win wage rises in a situation of rising inflation, and a growing number of bankruptcies which threaten themselves and their families.

They must also have the support of the British workers. The TUC Congress must carry an emergency motion to fully support their struggle and give practical support, including making big financial donations to the cause.

The trade unions in Sri Lanka say that so far a quarter of a million tea plantation workers have joined the non-cooperation movement to fight for higher wages.

The Employers’ Federation of Ceylon has been writing to the unions, complaining at what it says are heavy-handed practices in imposing the non-cooperation.

Meanwhile, the United Trade Front of the Ceylon Electricity Board, began a strike on August 28, saying that strikers could not be held responsible for any breakdowns or blackouts.

The Sri Lankan workers have been hit hard by the worldwide capitalist crisis with thousands of jobs going alongside rapidly rising prices.

According to the Census and Statistics Department, the industrial sector lost 96,000 jobs during the first three months of the year and 36,000 in the construction sector.

Figures from the district labour offices of the Department of Labour show that 55 firms closed down from September 2008 to March 2009.

An ILO report quotes a figure of 300,000 job losses caused by the global economic crisis.

Even this report points out that the response of many firms to the crisis is to immediately start cutting labour costs.

Sri Lanka already has a massive debt. This will be added to by Rajapakse’s decision to increase the manning of the army by 50 per cent to 300,000. With the Tigers defeated the working class is the target.

To prevent a financial collapse, the IMF has agreed a huge £2.6 billion loan.

This loan will also have to be paid back by tax increases, widening the tax base to the poorest people, and pushing through revenue-raising privatisation measures.

The end result of all these measures is that the working class, both Tamil and Sinhalese, cannot live under Sri Lankan capitalism.

The only way forward is to unite the Sinhalese and Tamil workers through the organisation of a general strike to bring down the Rajapakse regime, and bring in a workers and small farmers government that will implement socialist policies and carry out a socialist revolution.