Saturday, August 25, 2012

Dons punching above their weight - Editorial


Thousands of striking university teachers, accompanied by their well-wishers, trade unionists and Opposition activists, thronged the streets of Colombo on Thursday, braving as they did inclement weather to pressure the government to be amenable to their demands. They held a highly successful rally at Hyde Park and dispersed peacefully. Their message has been loud and clear: the strike will continue until their demands are met!

The Federation of University Teachers' Associations (FUTA) is punching above its weight. It has effectively silenced its critics who underestimated its strength and doubted its ability to hold a successful public rally. Emboldened by Thursday's show of strength, the striking dons may now seek to negotiate with the government from a position of strength.

Pro-government propagandists are peddling an argument that university lecturers should not take to the streets to win their demands. True, ideally, they should not. We do not think they enjoy what they are doing. Who wants to get drenched to the skin in thunderstorms or keep standing in the scorching sun? They would have been more than happy to remain indoors and fire strongly worded letters at the Higher Education Ministry. In fact, they had done so several times and even held a number of discussions with the government in vain before resorting to public protests. So, they cannot be blamed for their marches and rallies, we reckon.

Madness is said to be doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. FUTA members have proved their sanity, so to speak, by changing their modus operandi to win their demands. The fact that the university teachers' trade union action has spilled over into the streets is a damning indictment on the government, which has, as is common knowledge, provoked the strikers to adopt unorthodox methods. Had the government made a genuine effort to solve their problems, there would have been no need for them to hold public rallies.

The government's reaction to the FUTA rally is not yet known but it is not difficult to predict. Politicians and bureaucrats involved in negotiations with the striking lecturers are likely to harden their position. The government's war mentality has not gone away yet and it is apparently relying more on brawn than brain in dealing with FUTA. Power not only corrupts but also intoxicates politicians. Like some types of illicit brew it tends to cause blindness. That is why the ruling party potentates intoxicated with power are blind to reality. The cure is an electoral shock. The bigger, the better! When kicked out of power politicians begin to see.

The government has made a huge mistake. It has, thanks to its arrogance and obduracy, provided another rallying point for the scattered Oppositional forces by driving university teachers to conduct street protests.

In the late 1980s, universities remained more closed than open due to southern terrorism which plunged the country into a blood bath. Today, they have been closed indefinitely owing to the government's arrogance. Ultra radical elements bent on disrupting universities must be laughing up their sleeve.

While the government remains determined not to give in to pressure from FUTA, bankrupt political elements with no prospects of making a comeback under their own steam must be hoping and praying that the university dispute will drag on indefinitely so that they could ride piggyback on striking dons to gain some mileage. The vast majority of people, we believe, do not want the government and the university teachers to continue this battle. They want the universities to reopen without further delay and function smoothly in a trouble free environment.

It is imperative that the government and FUTA sit down and negotiate until a solution is found.

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