14 November 2012

Budget 2013 and the July ’80 strikers

Thirty two years is a long time to wait for justice.  Too long for some.  So long that some decided to take matters to their own hands: they killed themselves.  It’s been thirty two years and four months, and still, after all these years, there are those who continue to petition for redress or for some kind of relief so bring closure to a union action whose architects didn’t suffer much and indeed moved to greener pastures of one kind or another.

We are talking about the July ’80 strikers.  That was the last hurrah of what was called ‘The Old Left’.  The ‘new’ of that fringe is past middle-age now and splintered in very much the same way,  but that 1980 strike and its brutal suppression all but killed the ‘old’ and made things that much easier for the ‘new’.   For a while at least. 
The strikers who lost their jobs have spent decades petitioning.  The parties that persuaded them to take to the streets had already lost political clout by then and had to cling to the SLFP’s coattails for relevancy.  The leaders, at least.  They were included courtesy a bland mix of compassion and tokenism, just to secure a red/left hue to the blue.  They could do nothing.  Relevancy of appeal got some currency during major elections, simply because championing causes is part and parcel of politics. 

Promises were made.  And forgotten.  The strikers grew old.  Some died.  Time took fight out of heart.  But some persisted.   

This year’s budget proposes ‘redress’.  Those strikers over 65 years of age are to be given Rs. 5000 every month by way of a Cost of Living Allowance.  That’s a pittance, but better than nothing.  The recipients will be grateful no doubt. 
The problem is that even the youngest of the strikers (let’s say they were 20 then), would be over 50 now.  The vast majority of those who have survived three decades of disappointment would be over retirement age.  Those who are 64 cannot be in ‘lesser need’ than those who are 65. 

Granted that it is inconceivable that all these individuals remained ‘jobless’ and without income all these years, it is still a fact that they were terribly wronged in July 1980 and that the wrongs were never made right. 
We are not a society or a polity that is blind to wrongs done or to the distress of our fellow creatures.  Those who suffered from natural disasters benefit from a largesse that is an integral part of our cultural make up.  The state intervenes.  Individuals and organizations do their part.  Victims of human-made disasters do not go uncared for either.  The state intervenes.  Individuals and organizations do their part.  We saw this and see this in post-war Sri Lanka.  Even prisoners get their sentences reduced.   

These people have suffered.  Their suffering has been used as political capital.  They did not take up arms.  They did not hold anyone to ransom.    They deserve respect. They deserve justice. 
Rs. 5000 is not enough, but it is better than nothing.  Yes.  The better-than-nothing should not be dished out as generosity but as part compensation.  And that compensating cannot be selectively done. 

The budget is being debated.  This issue cannot go un-mentioned.  We have, as a society, failed these people. For more than three decades.  They are old.  Every passing day, their political worth diminishes.  That is not reason enough to ignore them.  We would indeed be diminished if we did. 
Over to the honorable members of the Parliament!  







sajic said...

The COL of Rs 5000 is certainly a pittance, given now. It would have been worth much more 30 years ago.
Perhaps the govt could consider adding 'inflation' rates to this pitiful amount?

DJ said...

It is a good thing that you have written this article and brought it to the forefront of the parlimentarians. I hope they do the right thing and increase the amount paid to these individuals.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing this article. I am honoured to see this. My parents lost their jobs when I was in kindergarten and I know the gravity of each and every word you write here. I don’t need to mention the hardships we faced and their effect on our lives. When I think of a job as a graduate, my parents forced me not to join government service at any all! My father died few years back and my mum is now 68. It’s a great relief to see at least someone still think of those people, especially because they didn’t strike for “Best schools” or any “6%” kind of demands. Thanks.