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May Day in Sri Lanka: Politics Prevails While Workers’ Rights Diminish

May Day, observed yesterday in Sri Lanka and worldwide, raises questions about whether it was celebrated in a manner befitting its origin, with politics overshadowing the rights of workers.

Since 1886, May Day commemorates the sacrifices of workers at Hay Market, Chicago, advocating for an eight-hour workday and worker rights. Tragic events unfolded on May 1, 1886, and subsequent days, marked by bomb attacks and police brutality.

However, in Sri Lanka, the true essence of May Day has faded over the years. This year is no exception, with political parties seizing the opportunity to showcase power, particularly with an eye on the presidential elections.

With elections looming, the country is already in election mode, despite official electoral processes set to commence after July 17. Leading up to May Day, it was anticipated that political parties would use the occasion as a launchpad for their campaigns. True to predictions, the day saw the announcement of presidential candidates and election pledges.

Yet, amidst the political fervor, discussions on reforming labor laws to align with the demands of a free-market economy were conspicuously absent. Despite a rising poverty rate and the need for economic growth, pertinent discourse on labor law reform was sidelined.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s speech lacked detailed insights into labor reforms, instead calling for support for his economic program. The opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) utilized the platform to unveil election promises, including constitutional amendments and economic initiatives.

The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) announced Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe as their presidential candidate, diverting attention from labor rights issues.

At the NPP Matara District May Day rally, Anura Kumara Dissanayake criticized mainstream politicians for their inability to foster a disciplined society. Meanwhile, the SLPP, led by Mahinda Rajapaksa, used the occasion to rally support for their candidate, highlighting political rivalries.

Once again, May Day in Sri Lanka saw politics dominating, while the plight of workers remained unaddressed, leaving attendees disillusioned and without hope for change.

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