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eDITORIAL-Farewell Comrade Bala: Love’s Labour is not lost

3 September 2014 06:38 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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n the decades before and after independence and specially after the Pancha Maha Balawegaya revolution of 1956 Sri Lanka’s trade union movement was a powerful force.  Striding like a Colossus on the stage was Balendra Tampoe-Phillips  better known as Comrade Bala to millions of workers who respect him for his honesty and integrity, transparency and accountability and more than six decades of outstanding commitment to the rights of workers.
On Monday Comrade Bala passed away into the golden red-bordered pages of Sri Lanka’s history. We join millions of workers in saying to him,“well done thou prince of the workers, may hosts of angels sing with you the hallowed workers’ anthem -- ‘Sadukin Pelena Wun, Then Ithin Negitiyau, Anthima Satanata Serasiyau’.  

Unfortunately during the past few decades the trade union movement, with some exceptions, has degenerated with party political lackeys and cronies, taking leadership. They are not fit even to remove the sandals of Comrade Bala who formed and led the Ceylon Mercantile, General and Industrial Workers’ Union better known as the CMU for more than sixty years. At one time the CMU had more than  20,000 active  members in 125 commercial, engineering and industrial establishments. The CMU played an important role not only in getting better wages and other benefits for the workers but also became involved in socio-economic and political issues which affected the working class and the country. Comrade Bala and the CMU also gave leadership to the workers when democratic and human rights were threatened specially during prolonged periods of Emergency rule which was imposed under the harsh Public Security Act.

During the  first insurrection of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna in 1971, Comrade Bala and the CMU were sympathetic to the grievences and aspirations of the young revolutionaries. So deep was comrade Bala’s Commitment that the JVP’s founder-leader Rohana Wijeweera, when he was released from jail thought the first person he should meet and thank was Comrade Bala.

Born in 1922 to an aristracratic Jaffna family, Comrade Bala in an interview 12 years ago revealed an unusual story as to what drew him to be a champion of the oppressed people though he had obtained top degrees from the universities of Ceylon and London. He said his father was a tough aristrocrat who had the habit of flinging his whip at people or animals who stood on his way when he travelled. In contrast his mother Beatrice was a non-violent Gandhiyan. Comrade Bala says at times he saw his father beating his mother but this negative act of male chauvinism was transformed into a blessing and produced Comrade Bala who championed the cause of millions of oppressed workers. Somewhat jokingly his high-class father also referred to Comrade Bala as the “Czar of the city clerks”.

After his education at Royal College, Bala Tampoe joined the anti-war movement in the 1940s and even managed to distribute leaflets among British soldiers, telling them to stop the war of imperialism. He joined the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) and played a leading role in helping leaders like N. M. Perera to escape from jail.
In the 1960s with the Soviet Union and China clashing Comrade Bala saw the old guard of the LSSP as revisionists,. a phrase coined by China’s legendary leader Mao Tsetung. Comrade Bala then formed the revolutionary wing of the LSSP and continued to guide the struggle of the workers until the last months and days.
Farewell Comrade Bala. In this globalised capitalist market economic era when most workers are being treated as virtual slaves, you will remain in their hearts and they will proudly say of you , “This was a Man. For  him love’s labour is never lost”.
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