15 October 2012

Where did the 6% profile pictures go?

FUTA (Federation of University Teachers’ Associations) called off a union action a few days ago after being on strike for 99 days.  What began as a salary issue was quickly transformed into a struggle about the budgetary allocation for education.  That transformation was accompanied by the natural inflation of ‘want’.  FUTA thereby got some numbers behind them, for demanding the equivalent of 6% of GDP won the attention of many who may not have otherwise bothered about some academics wanting bigger take-home bucks or indeed may not have been convinced that the original FUTA demands were justified.

In a country sorely lacking a decent Opposition, this ‘6%’ became a unifying banner for the disgruntled, cutting across vocation, political party, region, age and ideological preference.  That single-digit ‘come on’ made a mark of sorts in social media domains.  Many used the signature of the agitation (a black ‘6% GDP for Education’ against a darkish yellow background) as their ‘profile picture’ on Facebook. 

Throughout the strike, when I opened FB, that distinctive picture marked ‘presence’ of many on my friends’ list.  Two days after FUTA called off the strike, real faces replaced slogan.  I didn’t notice.  Rasika Jayakody did: ‘Where would all those 6% profile pictures go??? - I'm just asking - :-)’

My quick response was that Uvindu Kurukulasuriya still has his (profile pic, that is). Other comments followed.  Some were funny (‘Ehema ekak thibbada?’  -- Was there something like that? and ‘Aney mata mathaka nehe’ – I can’t remember), some witty (‘Tactically withdrawn’), some almost apologetic (‘Pulul janamathayak athi kala ne...e madai’ – broad public consciousness was created, isn’t that enough?), some caustic (‘6% only shield for salary hike) and some philosophical (‘Well…shall we say they were just defeated to absentia’).


There was one that was defensive and yet worthy of consideration: There would have been less disappointment and less foolish remarks made if those who supported FUTA's campaign had actually listened/read to what they were asking for, without getting caught up in the frenzy. The salary hike (which is yet to become a reality) WAS a major part of what they asked for. And if they do happen to get at least a part of what they ideally wanted (which was the 6 %) ..shouldn't we be happy? Wouldn't better salaries retain at least the remaining lecturers and 'Save State Education'? You must realize that most campaigns work this way-the 6 % was the ideal but it was also a way to get a whole lot of more people on board. They didn't get what they wanted but they just might get a part of it. Don't grudge them that. Good day all.’

There’s a part I agree with (for reasons other than were given : ‘There would be less disappointment and less foolish remarks if those who supported FUTA's campaign had actually listened (to) or read what they were asking for, without getting caught up in the frenzy.’

I read. Therefore I didn't get caught up in the frenzy. 

FUTA played a game, a political game.  Part of it was idealism-driven and part petty.  Some points were valid and some outrageously indicative of intellectual sloth or ignorance or both.  The disappearance of slogan is only part FUTA fault.  There were many who jumped the FUTA bandwagon for reasons that had little to do with FUTA-demands.  Fed perhaps by the exaggerations of social media’s role in the so-called Arab Spring (which quickly moved to an extended Arab Fall) and being naïve about what it takes to overthrow a regime or (better still) a revolution (which of course means an overhauling of a system and not face-change, a fact that many seem to miss or conveniently ignore when the word ‘revolution’ is tossed around), it was natural for expectations to rise and spill over.  And if you are uncritical to begin with then it is not uncommon for you to be disappointed pretty fast. 

Bala Tampoe is supposed to have observed, ‘when you begin a strike, you need to have a good idea about how to end it’.  The FUTA leadership would have known how far it could go, but perhaps what was miscalculated is how far the cheering squads they invited to the spectacle expected them to go. The distance mismatch might have been what prompted the hasty removal of those profile pictures. 
So the pulul jana mathaya or the claim that greater public awareness was created needs more verification. 

I am not a FUTA groupie.  On balance, however, FUTA conducted itself in a manner that is applause worthy.  There was no ‘sell-out’.  And anyway, those who were playing ‘free rider’ by getting FUTA to walk FUTA talk while twiddling thumbs at home hoping that some tidbits or more will come their way don’t have the moral right to cry foul. 

Time will tell how FUTA repositions itself and its struggle.  Having whipped up ‘frenzy’ with ‘6%’ or at least allowing the frenzy to be whipped out without a word of caution thrown in, FUTA will be honor bound to keep that issue on the table.  Having raised expectations FUTA would find it hard to obtain public sympathy on salary issues if it footdrags on education policy.  I would say that FUTA has painted itself into a corner, but one that the people of this country can be happy about because the crisis in education remains pretty serious. 

There are other positives. 

The entire ‘show’, if one may call it, showed that ‘6%’ was another name for ‘no’.  A week ago I elaborated on this: ‘The FUTA agitation may or may not end soon.  It may take a different form if resolution evades the parties or the parties evade resolution for whatever reason.  It may end.   With it, the placards and T-shirts carrying the ‘6%’ legend might disappear.  The number followed by the percentage sign, however, will continue to represent something more than what its authors intended, i.e. not just objection to education policy and budgetary allocation, but objection to the way things are and the way things are done (and not done). ‘

The FUTA agitation showed the potential for a group that for the most part cannot be turned into adjuncts of political parties to take on the Government on strictly policy issues.  Sure, it yielded a sense of what is meant by ‘this far and no further’, but FUTA showed that people can be mobilized and better still how to manage the mobilized people in a responsible manner (for the most part). 
It showed that state education is not only in crisis but it still something that inspires people to get out of house, classroom and office. 

There might still come a moment when those who cast aside the placards and are a bit shy of the fact that they put up the 6%-sign on their profile pages on Facebook look back at these 99 days to draw inspiration for some other struggle.  Today they might scream ‘sell out’, but I am pretty sure that in time they would reconsider shout and whisper ‘Those guys were good’. 
The 6%-signs were not white-vanned.  What was white-vanned is inflated assessment.  That’s natural. 


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

What percentage of GDP would FUTA demand for 1. Defence 2. Infrastucture Development in the country, immediately after the war.