Addressing Parliament on Tuesday, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe reiterated his demands that the working class and rural workers bear the full burden of the unprecedented economic collapse that has been intensified in every country by the COVID-19 and the US-NATO proxy war against Russia.
President Gotabhaya Rajapakse appointed Wickremesinghe Prime Minister after former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse was expelled on May 9 amid mass protests demanding the resignation of the President and his government over shortages, soaring prices of basic necessities and several hours of daily power cuts. Wickremesinghe, who leads the United National Party (UNP) and is the only parliamentarian from the right-wing party, has no popular support.
Wickremesinghe highlighted the severe and worsening economic crisis facing Sri Lanka and cited the decline in the harvest of the country’s staple food crops in recent months.
“In a few months, we will face severe hardship and shortages in terms of diet,” he said, referring to a forecast by Sri Lanka’s Central Bank that the country’s economy will contract. by 3.5% in 2022. Wickremesinghe went on to warn that “According to the International Monetary Fund, the situation is even worse. According to them, growth will be -6.5%. He cited these figures to justify an escalation of the class war policies that he and President Rajapakse are beginning to unleash against working people and the rural poor.
“Our traditional political ideologies” must be set aside “for a short time” and “a concerted effort” must be made “to rebuild the country”, he said. “People across the country should play a role in this effort.”
In other words, the working masses of Sri Lanka are somehow responsible for the crisis facing the ruling class and must therefore bear the burden of “rebuilding the country” and establishing “economic stability”. “in order to maintain the Rajapakse-Wickremesinghe government and bourgeois power. “Our main objective here is economic stability, but we cannot recover from this alone by creating economic stability. We have to revive the economy of our country,” Wickremesinghe said.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has made it clear that the implementation of tough austerity measures is a precondition for an emergency loan facility it is trying to secure in a desperate attempt to temporarily avert the severe economic crisis facing Sri Lanka. These measures include the restructuring of public sector companies, an increase in taxes and drastic reductions in the budget deficit by cutting jobs, wages, pensions and remaining public sector subsidies.
In addition to appointing Wickremesinghe Prime Minister, Rajapakse also appointed him Finance Minister with specific responsibility to implement these tough measures as soon as possible.
On June 2, Wickremesinghe increased value added tax (VAT) from 8% to 12%. The income tax net was also widened to encompass more sections of the working class, telecommunications taxes were increased, and new surcharges were imposed on certain property.
Public sector institutions have been instructed to cut spending through a variety of means, including calling only “essential” staff to work sites and limiting overtime pay. These measures are in preparation for cutting jobs, wages and other limited benefits received by public sector workers.
Wickremesinghe spoke to IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva on Tuesday evening regarding Sri Lanka’s current economic situation. He called for a high-level IMF delegation to visit the country as soon as possible so that a services-level agreement could be finalized quickly.
During his parliamentary address, Wickremesinghe also hinted at some of the economic factors behind future attacks on public sector workers. “In the current situation of our country,” he said, “the government is not in a position to provide funds to cover the losses of public companies. This debt burden can no longer be borne by the state or public banks.
On May 29, the Secretary of the Ministry of Public Administration, Priyantha Mayadunne, told a meeting of his officials that public sector employees who are preparing to retire should not ask for pensions and gratuities ” until the economy reaches $10,000”. [per capital income level].” He also complained that “the maximum sustainable number of jobs in the public sector is 500,000 or at most 800,000” from the current level of 1.7 million. This means the destruction of 50-70% of the existing public sector workforce.
During his speech in parliament, Wickremesinghe called for unity across all parties in the political establishment to push through the new austerity measures, urging them to put aside tactical differences and support “economic reforms , sociopolitical and civil service” of the government.
“Let’s build the country first. Let’s protect our country from this crisis. Please support these efforts. After normalcy returns to the country within the given time frame, you can resume your traditional political activities,” he said.
In an attempt to counter any possible hesitation from a section of the ruling elite fearing the reaction of the working class and rural poor to these brutal social measures, Wickremesinghe referenced Britain’s World War II Prime Minister Winston Churchill .
“I would like to conclude my statement by quoting Winston Churchill. “The pessimist sees difficulties in every situation; the believer sees an opportunity in every difficulty,” Wickremesinghe said. “We have to seize every opportunity that comes our way. We will take advantage of these opportunities to build the country with confidence. We will all take full responsibility to bring the country back to normal.
In fact, all of Sri Lanka’s political establishment parties, including the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and Tamil National Alliance (TNA), and their pseudo- leftists such as the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP), have already shown their support for the IMF’s already imposed policies.
None of them opposed the hikes in VAT and other massive tax increases announced last week or denounced the massive job cuts being prepared in the public sector. Additionally, the SJB, JVP and TNA have implemented or supported Sri Lankan governments implementing similar austerity policies in the past. In fact, the SJB has previously criticized the Rajapakse government for not addressing the IMF sooner, while the JVP has signaled its tacit support by remaining silent on the IMF’s latest demands.
Workers, youth and the rural masses have already shown that they will not accept the type of attacks on their social and democratic rights that the Rajapakse-Wickremesinghe government is preparing. Over the past two months, the working class has played a central role in the ongoing grassroots protests against the Rajapakse government, with millions of workers taking part in two one-day general strikes on April 28 and May 6 and a strike subsequent general, which began on May 9 in response to a senseless attack by the government on protesters and ended on May 11 when it was called off by the unions.
Unable to quell growing anger over the government’s public restructuring and privatization moves, the Ceylon Electricity Board Engineers’ Union has called for nationwide industrial action, starting midnight Wednesday, to protest against the amendments to the Electricity Law that allow India’s Adani Group to establish wind power projects in the north.
The Rajapakse-Wickremesinghe government has responded to the planned strike by declaring the electricity supply and health sectors essential services, making clear that it is on a collision course, not only with these workers but with the whole of the working class.
As the Socialist Equality Party (SEP) has consistently explained, unions operate as an industrial police force on behalf of government and employers, working to suppress and betray strikes and other industrial action.
Workers must organize independently of unions, taking these struggles into their own hands by forming action committees in every factory, workplace, plantation and neighborhood.
Working with the political support and guidance of the SEP, these committees must rally all sections of the working class and rural workers across the island to fight for the establishment of a workers’ and peasants’ government committed to socialist policies. These action committees should reach out to the International Workers Alliance of Rank-and-File Committees (IWA-RFC) launched by the International Committee of the Fourth International and forge the unity of Sri Lankan workers with their brothers and sisters. class sisters internationally in a common community. struggle against global capitalism.