Sunday, August 7, 2011

Sweat, Blood and Tears of ‘Traitors’

By an Anonymous Contributor,

It has been two weeks since our TUA was called off, and in the past couple of weeks I have been reading several blog posts and emails presenting two views about the conclusion of the union action and its success (or lack of it). One group is of the opinion that the union action was called off at an inappropriate moment, with some accusing the FUTA leadership and the negotiation team of treacherously betraying the struggle. The other group is of the opinion that FUTA accomplished many praiseworthy achievements and that continuation of the action might have undermined all that had been won so far. I belong to the latter group. However, the purpose of this piece of writing is not to justify the actions of the FUTA leaders and the negotiation team. Prof. Jayatissa of Ruhuna University (among others) has already done a great job in that respect.

The purpose of this letter is to put on record the sweat, blood and tears of some of these ‘traitors.’ I am not an office bearer of FUTA or our own trade union. However, I am a close friend and colleague of two FUTA officials, one of whom was member of the negotiation team. I had the opportunity of observing from very close quarters their actions and experiences. Therefore, I feel it is my duty to let the finger pointers know how much these traitors were committed to the struggle and the price they paid for its success. I will not name my friends because I believe the stories of other FUTA leaders and negotiation team members are probably very similar. Let this be a tribute to all of them.

Sweat they did, by the bucketful. Since May 9th, when we began our TUA, until the very end my two friends could not attend to any of their academic or personal work. They were involved with the TUA on a 24x7 basis. Once when I called one of them at home around 9 p.m., his wife told me she was waiting for him to come home from a meeting to take their son to a doctor. Later I learnt it had been after 11 p.m. when they managed to visit a nursing home and get some medicine their son. During office hours, whenever I dropped into the office of one or the other of my friends, I hardly got a chance to speak to him/her for five minutes at a stretch. Because, s/he would have to answer or make a phone call or write an email: to discuss strategy, to coordinate with the sister unions, to organise a press conference, to verify the truth of various rumours that were floating about; the list goes on. (By the way, did anyone think of the personal phone bills of these people?) Of course, these interruptions to our conversations occurred when I managed to actually get into their offices, provided that they were not away at some meeting or another. Often, even if s/he was in the room, I had to stand in line; in addition to all the work, my friends also had to explain the latest situation to the umpteenth colleague who wanted the news straight from the horse’s mouth. This is just a fraction of the visible aspects of their toil. There was also the tremendous mental stress. Once, on hearing about a negotiation session and an ‘after-session’ discussion that had started in the afternoon and had gone well past midnight, I commented that it must have been exhausting. My friend gave me a tired smile and said that it didn’t end there. He explained how the moves, counter moves, disparate opinions of sister unions, possible moves of the opposition three or four steps down the negotiation process, newspaper reports, solid information, half-rumours, public opinion and a thousand other variables in the negotiation equation  were constantly playing in his mind, day and night. In summary, their entire life was consumed by the TUA during that period.

I do not mean to imply that they were the only ones who worked hard. I attended two of the public meetings organised by our sister unions and I was impressed by the hard work they had put into organising them, and also by the efforts of those who had travelled from one end of the country to the other to participate. I was also told by my two friends how some sister unions were involved in collating relevant information which they provided to the FUTA leadership, and various other services rendered by different sister unions. I do not wish to undermine any of that effort. However, I do believe FUTA leaders and the negotiation team had to work the hardest; simply because there was a set of tasks they had to do. No one else could do them.

Their blood was drawn too. Both my friends were victimised by administration because they were two of the most visible members of the struggle. The name of one of them was also dragged in mud and vilified in a vicious web post aimed at destroying the TUA (not written by a university teacher). I hope he never saw it. No one deserves to be subjected to such ugliness. Once again, I am not saying that it was only the FUTA leaders or the negotiation team who got victimised or slandered this way. However, being the most visible parties, they were more vulnerable and direct targets. I should also mention that as far as my two friends are concerned, before the TUA neither of them had earned any adverse comments from the administration or anyone else for unprofessional conduct or poor performance. What they have earned now is a direct result of being at the forefront of the struggle. It is ironic that they have also earned the title of ‘traitor’ from within our own ranks. A traitor betrays a cause for personal benefit, but all my friends have personally gained is what is likely to be a huge impediment on their career path.

They did not shed tears because they are made of sterner stuff, but that is not for want of instances that merited tears. I saw the fatigue and stress on their faces caused by endless demands on their time and effort for a hundred and one tasks that absolutely needed to be done. I saw the frustration and, at times, despair in their eyes after some of the early negotiations ended up without result. (Yes, in case we have now forgotten, a number of the initial negotiation sessions ended in deadlock. Nothing was offered to us on a platter.) I saw their hurt when superiors of the institution they consider a second home condemned and punished them for their role in the struggle without a second thought. Yet, they didn’t give up. They kept at it for nearly three months until much was achieved. And now, I see the sadness in their eyes when the very same people on whose behalf they toiled are pointing accusatory fingers, crying “treachery!”

Did they fail? Did they call off the TUA at the wrong time? As I noted earlier, I believe they did the right thing at the right time. However, that is my opinion; there is room for the other opinion too. Let us assume that they failed in the task (keeping in mind that it is only one opinion). Then it is a question of competence. From what I saw, and made a poor attempt at describing here, any failure is not due to of lack of effort. If the appointed team has been incompetent in their task, it is up to a new, more competent team to learn from their mistakes and take the struggle forward in the proper way. That is for the membership of the sister unions to decide. With regard to the TUA just concluded, I have a few questions for you: If the problem (assuming there was a problem) was one of ability of the FUTA leadership and the negotiation team, does it negate all the hard work they put in? Does it negate their sincerity? Did their conduct warrant the title of ‘traitor’?

1 comment:

Prasad Mahindarathne said...

There is no absolute doubt or underestimation about the worked done by the FUTA office bearers,and about the leadership they rendered for this trade union action. It is all about sudden , abrupt call off. Some big slogans of the trade union action were to attract new recruits to the University system and again to increase the budgetary allocations for higher education. After putting that much of effort, shading that much of sweat, earning that much of blames & dishonest from some non progressive segments of the society; what we achieve at the end of the day is not significant. Probationary lecturers got some Rs. 1,090 salary increase only. At the time of recruitment, research allowance can not be considered as a part of their salary. Entire university system would be at the mercy of least attractive initial salary for their new recruits. And next; no tangible result for increase of higher education budget.