Expressing solidarity with their counterparts across the Palk Bay, Sri Lankan trade unions on Monday protested against the “attack” on Maruti workers.
With posters displaying slogans in Sinhala, Tamil and English asking the Indian State to stop “prosecuting” workers, leaders and members of different unions here gathered outside the Indian mission’s premises on Colombo’s sea-facing Galle Road.
Observing that workers in India and Sri Lanka faced similar challenges, Anton Marcus, Joint Secretary of the Free Trade Zones & General Services Employees Union said that often, imprisonment was used to intimidate working people and to discourage them from unionising in future. “That is what we are seeing in this case involving Maruti workers. It is important that we stand in solidarity in times like these,” he said.
In March this year, a district court in New Delhi sentenced 13 workers of Maruti Udyog to life imprisonment for allegedly killing the Human Resources manager at its plant in Manesar in 2012. “We are terribly concerned about the repression of workers in India, especially in this case of life imprisonment for the Maruti workers. We oppose and condemn this,” said Linus Jayatilake, President of the Union Federation of Labour.
The group of protestors, numbering nearly 30 persons, included student-activists from the Inter-University Student Federation of Sri Lanka, which works across 10 state universities in the island. “This is not an issue about India alone, we see very similar problems here as well,” said Federation convenor Lahiru Weerasekara, referring to a recent case in which the Sri Lankan police reportedly slapped heavy fines on 37 contractual workers of the Ceylon Electricity Board who had protested demanding permanent employment.
“This attack on workers cannot be seen outside of the domination of a neoliberal state. Police or legal action is only a way of telling them ‘this is what we will do if you protest demanding your rights,” the student leader said.