65 years since independence – who benefited?

Around 100 people attended the Tamil Solidarity meeting at Queen Mary
University, east London, on 4 February, Sri Lanka’s independence day,
entitled: “65 years since independence – who benefited?”

Report by: Akila Kumar and Senan
Tamil Solidarity supporters, students, trade unionists, British Tamil
Forum (BTF), Act Now, other organisations and activists discussed
planning action against the Sri Lankan regime.

The first discussion gave a brief historical background of what led to
independence and what followed from it. Tamils, and the majority of the
Sri Lankan population, gained little out of the ‘transfer’ of political
power from the British Empire to the local elite.

Attacks that took place on Tamils soon after independence were linked to
this political process. The meeting agreed that the oppressed masses
have nothing to celebrate about independence.

The meeting soon turned to its key part – planning an effective campaign
against the current Sri Lankan regime. Vakeesan from the BTF gave
proposals for action, including the boycotting of multinational
companies that operate in Sri Lanka, such as Walmart and Marks &
Spencer, as well as a protest at the Commonwealth Business Council. This
was discussed particularly in light of the Commonwealth meeting taking
place this year in Sri Lanka.

One of the strategies highlighted was boycotting tourism in Sri Lanka.
It was argued that while boycotting can be seen as a needed strategy, it
cannot work without any focus and the involvement of a wider movement.
Comments were also made about the need to learn the lessons from South
African history and the key impact the trade union movement made in that

The role of the trade union was highlighted by two invited speakers with
significant experience in organising trade union activities. Rob
Williams, national chair of the National Shop Steward Network, and Tracy
Edwards, from the PCS civil service union, shared their experiences and
said how Tamils in Britain can work with the trade unions.

The trade unions have been essential in increasing the awareness of
Tamil Solidarity campaigns in the wider community, with Tamil Solidarity
motions getting passed union branch meetings. The largest public sector
union, Unison, passed a resolution at its national conference supporting
Tamil Solidarity and other unions should be urged to do the same.

The whole meeting welcomed the active involvement of the students in the
campaign. Paul Callanan, from Youth Fight for Jobs, shared his thoughts
on the situation faced by Tamils students today and urged them to join
other students in campaigning for free education and against cuts and
privatisation. Paul pledged Youth Fight for Jobs’ support to Tamil

The discussion was opened up, allowing others to contribute their ideas,
thoughts and disagreements. Suggestions were taken as to other areas of
interest for the campaign. Speakers responded to questions about Tamil
Solidarity’s work.

Many student volunteers came together at the end of the meeting to form
an action group to follow up the decisions made in the meeting and
inform everyone of future plans.