Tuesday, April 18, 2006

GENESIS OF THE MAIN UNIONS

THE TRADE UNIONS OF THE PLANTATION SECTOR. -3

There are 156 registered TUs in the plantation and agricultural sector and of them preponderant majority are in the plantation sector. Presently about 57 TUs are functioning among the plantation workers. However, only two TUs, out of them, have over 50,000 membership, another two have over 10,000 membership, three have over 5,000 membership, four have over 3,000 membership, nine have over 1,000 membership and seven have over 500 membership. One can ascertain the actual age of a popular actress but not the real total number of membership of a TU. Many major TUs maintain inflated document to distort their membership strength for the consumption of their donors and public as well. They need not to worry about it, as they are not liable to pay any Inland Revenue tax for the subscription they receive from their membership. In this chapter we give an out line history of existing plantation TUs that have at least 30 years of history.The Lanka Estate Workers Union: The All Ceylon Estate Workers Union (ACEWU), the predecessor of the LEWU, was born in 1938 during the course of the first recorded strike on the plantations, which took place at British owned Annasigala Estate, Kirenpitiya of Pasthun Korale on 13th July 1938. The immediate cause of the strike was termination of work of three workers on the estate – Mookan, Pichaie, and Murugiah -, who were supporters of the LSSP. The strike went on for six days and called off successfully after those workers were reinstated and the field officer, who was behind several anti-workers activities, was removed from the estate. The strike had the direct backing of the LSSP and in the course of the strike the ACEWU was formed with S.A.Wickramasinghe as its president. The ACEWU remained an ad hoc organisation until it was reorganised in 1939 and place on a strong footing with N.M.Perera as its president and P.M.Velusamy as its General Secretary having its head office at Kandy. Only when the ACEWU of the LSSP made inroads and provided militant leadership the hidden revolutionary potentials of the plantation workers began to assert itself. The famous Mooloya strike of 1940, in which a worker- Govindan- was shot killed by the police and the shooting case created a constitutional crisis in the country; the first wave of militant strike that shook the entire plantation sector which culminated in the great Wewessa strike of May 1940 in which the workers set up their elected `Workers` council` and disarmed a police party that entered the estate and returned the rifles seized from them to the ASP and obtained receipt for the same on the instruction of the Workers` council and the estate superintendent agreed to take instructions from the WC, were some of the events that remains to date as episodes.But the ACEWU`s hey day did not last for long. The split that occurred in the first part of the 1940s when the so-called Stalinists were expelled from the LSSP and the ban on the LSSP on 17th June 1940, followed by the arrest of four LSSP leaders –Dr.N.M.Perera, Dr.Colvin R de Silva, Philip Gunawardena and Edmond Samarakody – on 18th June caused a serious set back. The final blow came in March 1942, when the ACEWU also was banned. This ban was lifted only after the Second World War ended in 1945. By that time the Ceylon Indian Congress Labour Union had emerged as a formidable force in the plantation sector. The ACEWU never recovered from its set back. In 1956 it was renamed and registered as the Lanka Estate Workers Union and reorganised. From 1960s to mid-1970s it re-emerged to become the third largest TU in the plantation sector. Dr.N.M.Perera, Colvin R de Silva and Neil de Alwis were some of the LSSP leaders who held the post of president of the union and P.M.Velusamy, V.P.Ponniah and V.S.Rajah, Sivasamy were some of the prominent Tamil leaders who held the post of GS and the present GS of the union is Suppiah Ramanathan.The Ceylon Workers Congress and the Democratic Workers Congress: The decade 1930s witnessed a trend of anti-Indian mania to an unprecedented level. It reached a new height when the Ministry of Communication and Works, under the Minister J.L.Kotalwala (later Sir John Kotalawala), liquidated as many as 2,517, out of a total of 6,624 daily-paid Indian workers, in 1939. This drastic action had caused alarm among the Indians living in Sri Lanka. Seventeen influential Indian associations in SL despatched a joint letter on 23rd June 1939 to the General Secretary of the All Indian Congress requesting to intervene into the matter. The AIC first decided that Sarojini Naidu should go to SL but later due to her indisposition and in view of the serious proportion the question was heading, Jawaharlal Nehru was sent here. During this period the names of Gandhi, Nehru and Subash Chanra Bose were cherished as symbol of Asian nationalism. Amidst the hostile political climate Nehru held talks with the pan-Sinhalese Board of Ministers in the mid-July. But the talks ended without any significant settlement of the issue. Before Nehru returned to India he advised the various Indian organisations to merge together form a strong organisation to defend their interest. Accordingly, in the presence of Nehru the Ceylon Indian Congress was formed on25th July 1935 having V.R.M.V.A.Lechumanan Chettiar as its President and A.Aziz and H.M.Desai as Joint-Secretaries.The CIC from the very start accepted the principle of voicing for the interest of the plantation workers. But the initiation to form a trade union arm of the CIC was taken by Peri Sundaram, the first Cambridge graduate among the Up-country Tamil community, who had been the secretary of the Workers` Welfare League formed by Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam in 1919 and the first Labour Minister of SL. The inauguration ceremony of the Ceylon Indian Congress Labour Union was held in March, 1940 at the Kathiresan Temple, Haputale and it was registered under the TU Ordinance in 25th June, 1940 having V.R.M.V.A.Lechumanan Chettiar as its President and A.Aziz and H.M.Desai as the Joint-Secretaries in keeping with the tradition of holding these two posts by the same President and Secretary of the CIC. In the 1941 Convention Peri Sundaram was elected as the President and G.R.Motha and S.Somasundaram as its Joint-Secretaries. In1942, at the Kandy Convention, there was a competition for presidentship, for the first time, and A.Aziz was elected once again as the President of the CIC and the CICLU, defeating S.Thondaman. From that year onwards the competition between the two had become a permanent feature. In 1945 at the Nuwara Eliya Convention S.Thondaman defeated Aziz and became the President of the CIC and the CICILU and in 1948 Aziz once again regained the presidentship.Favoured by the LSSP ban and the untimely demise of Natesa Aiyar in 1947; backed by the planters and the HKGs against the radical Natesa Aiyar`s union and the Leftist unions; and due to the ethnic and linguistic proximity of its leadership to its members the CICLU had become not only the largest TU in SL but also the second largest TU in the south East Asia, only next to the Union of Estate Workers in the Republic of Indonesia. The CIC associated with the Leftist in politics and its seven elected MPs sat together with them in Parliament in the opposition in 1947 and demanded complete independence for the country. It launched a general strike against the Soulbury constitution in 1946; Aziz was incarcerated for several days at Welikada Prison for his `seditious` speech at the Badulla Convention in 1943 under Geoffrey Layton, the commander-in-chief, rule; during the famous Knaves mire estate strike of 1946, which triggered off by the land policy adopted by D.S.Senanayake, Thondaman pledged his Wavendon estate to bail out362 workers, who were remanded, until legal proceedings were over. The 1948 Citizenship Act introduced by D.S.Senanayake further alienated the UNP from the Up-country Tamil community.Although the CICLU was formed as the adjunct of the CIC after the decitizenisation and disenfranchisement in 1948 the CIC faded away. The belated sit-in campaign (Satyagraha) of 1952, which lasted for 140 days against the disenfranchisement failed to produce any significant result but boosted the influence of the CICLU among the plantation workers. None of the other TUs adequately campaigned against the inhuman Act nor paid due attention to help the ignorant plantation workers to overcome the procedural obstacles they encountered in applying for the citizenship. Thereby the CICLU was rendered the free opportunity to espouse the cause of the plantation workers. At the beginning it declared a boycott and after 21 months it took an abrupt decision to reverse it, only when there was three months left to make application for citizenship. To handle the Himalayan task a task force, consisting of 125 clerical staff –trained specially for this purpose- was set up. It visited each estate and wherever permission was refused by the estate management temporary offices were opened at the nearby towns to cater the service to those estate workers. This strategy helped the CICLU to increase its membership by obtaining signatures on the Union membership forms from workers together with the citizenship application forms. During this period K.G.S.Nair was its general secretary and it had a number of prominent leaders like A.Aziz, S.Thondaman, Peri Sundaram, K.Rajalingam, S.Somasundaram, K.G.S.Nair, C.V.Velupillai, A.K.Vellaiyan, S.M.Suppiah, Sivapackiyam Kumaravelu, Kogilam Suppiah, B.S.V.Naido, M.A.Thangavel, K.Kandasamy, K.Kumaravelu, S.P.Vythilingam, N.M.Palanisami, Ramanujam, S.Fernandez, M.S.Sellasamy, M.Alagaraj, Maruthai, L.Rajamanickam, Ponniah, Sevuga Perumal, R.V.Ramachandra, Kathirvelu, Dr.Subramainiam, K.Arunachalam, M.Arunachalam, V.M.Subramaniam, Jaya Chandra, A.M.D.Rajan, Angappa Mudaliyar, Periyannan, P.N.S.Samy, R.N.Chelliah , V.M.Subramaniam and M.Devaraj who had brought their act together.In 1950, at the Matale Convention, the CIC was renamed as the Ceylon Democratic Congress while the CICLU was changed its name as the Ceylon Workers Congress. It reflected the sentiment of the Congress leaders of the time. As the question of the citizenship right of the Up-country Tamil community became a heated controversy they hastily dropped identifying themselves as Indians and instead they claimed themselves as Ceylonese.The personality clashes between Aziz and Thondaman reached a breaking point in November 1955, though Azis’s popularity stood far above that of Thondaman at that stage. Thondaman tactfully moved his strategy to capture the leadership this time. He persuaded S.Somasundaram, who had been working closely with Aziz all this time -with a view to hit two birds in one stone: to create a split within the ranks of Aziz`s supporters and to win the support of a particular caste, to which majority of the workers belonged to since Somasundaram also came from the same caste-, to contest against Aziz for the presidentship. All mediations held by neutral leaders of the Congress to bring about a settlement failed. However, in the election Aziz defeated Somasundaram comfortably. Then came the election of the GS and Aziz supported C.V.Velupillai while Thondaman wanted his nephew K.Kumaravel as the second in command. Verbal attacks that ensued ended up in physical attacks. The election was postponed as a result and the GS and other office bearers were to be elected at the Hatton Convention, at Dunbar Ground. Both the factions openly clashed with each other and once again the election of other office bearers was postponed. In another date a special delegates` session was held to elect them and this session was dominated by Thondaman`s supporters. Somasundaram was elected as the GS of the CWC while A.K.Velliyan and Arunachalam were elected as the joint-secretaries of the CDC. Aziz was cornered from all sides and was not allowed to carry out his duties as its president. Against this backdrop the Aziz faction decided to function independently and to capture the CWC head office. Thondaman`s faction promptly worked out a counter-strategy. A.K.Vellayan`s master brain saved the day for Thondaman. On his advice a pre-dated letter to all Executive Committee members was sent with a view to meet legal implications that would arise. The meeting was held at Kathiresan Temple, Gampola on 22nd November 1955 and presided over by K.Rajalingam. Only Thondaman`s loyalists participated in the meeting and decided to expel A.Aziz and his supporters from the CWC and the CDC. On the next day the new office bearers were elected. Thondaman, being an astute politician, proposed Rajalingam as its president and it was accepted unanimously because he did not want to take the blame for the split. However, the very next year Thondaman became its president and remained so until his death in 1999.The Aziz faction formed the Democratic Workers Congress and it was registered on 1st January, 1956. The split marked the beginning of a reactionary trade union culture in the plantation sector. Until such time the leadership was not individualised, it rotated among the prominent members of the union. But since the split the CWC has become the personal property of Thondaman while the DWC became the personal asset of Aziz, both of them remained as its life long leaders respectively. The inner- organisation democracy dried up and trade union rivalry became the rule of the jungle. At the time of the split it was the DWC that had the upper hand over the CWC, in terms of numerical strength and wide spread organisational network, because the latter did not have much experienced field-moblisers. But, within a few years time the table was changed in favour of the CWC due to various corrupt tactics adopted by its leadership: liquor and bribery, and intimidation and thuggerism went unabated. The CWC also played upon the communal sentiment by attacking Aziz`s Muslim-Pakistani origin.. The planters also took the side of the CWC and denied recognition to the D.CW. Only after the Diyagama strike, in which one Sinhalese worker –Abraham Singho- was killed in the police shooting and on the intervention of the then Prime Minister S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike, the situation was changed. The CWC affiliated to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions in 1953 and the DWC joined the World Federation of Trade Unions after the split.In the eve of the 1960 March Parliamentary elections a thinking emerged among the plantation political circle that at least four seats could be win if both the CWC and the DWC unitedly contested the election, without splitting the Up-country Tamil votes. P.T.Thanupillai, one of the founder members of the CIC and Member of Indian Lok Sabha, mediated between the two and both the organisations merged together for a time kindling an eclipse of hope. The CDC was revived and four of its leaders contested in the March election respectively at Nuwara Eliya (Thondaman), Central Colombo (Aziz), Maskeliya (Vellayan) and Haputale (M.Arunachalam) and none of them returned to Parliament. The unprincipled two-in-one combination did not work from the very start. There were complaints from the DWC cadres and members of being discriminated by the CWC officials. The final blow was dealt to the short lived unity, in 1962, when Thondaman, violating the gentlemen agreement that both –Thondaman and Aziz- should not seek the office of the President and that a neutral person should be appointed to the post jointly, contested against S.Somasundaram who was considered as the common candidate, during the absence of Aziz, who had gone to the GDR to attend a conference. Somasundaram was defeated and both the parties voluntarily parted in April 1962 realising that the unity would not work anymore. The second split had weakened the DWC further. Already, somewhere in 1959, people like C.V.Velupillai, S.M.Suppiah, Kogilam Suppiah, S.Natesan, Rosario Fernando, O.A.Ramiah and P.Devaraj -a section of the active DWC leaders- who opposed the merger had left the DWC and joined the CP union the CPWU. To a certain extend they were encouraged to leave the DWC by the CP. To add to its misfortune the dynamic GS of the DWC, K.G.S.Nair died of heart attack on 12th May 1962. At the meantime Thondaman was appointed as the nominated MP to represent the interest of the Indian origin people in the country in 1960 July by the Mrs.Bandaranaike government and it gave political clout to him to boost his image. From then onwards Thondaman`s position was strengthened.In 1965 there was another split in the CWC, when 15 officials broke away from the union with A.K.Vellayan. However, compared to the Aziz-Thondaman rupture it has not caused serious damage to the CWC. In 1968 there was the first split in the DWC when M.A.Thangavel and A.K.Kandasamy left the DWC on the question of lack of transparency and formed the Agricultural Plantation Workers Congress on 3rd April that year.The Srima-Shastri Pact of 1964 alienated the left unions for the first time and created a deep scar in the minds of the plantation workers against the SLFP. In 4th December1964 Mrs.B`s government was defeated by one single vote as Thondaman abstained from voting on the question of the Press Bill. For the first time the CWC supported the UNP during the 1965 elections and had two nominated MPs in the Dudley`s government- S.Thondaman and V.Annamalai. In the 1970 general elections the United Front government of the SLFP-LSSP-CP coalition led by Mrs.B came to power and A.Aziz was appointed as a nominated MP and it did not help Aziz to regain his supremacy. The land policy, the communal violence let loose against the plantation workers, the chauvinist speeches made by a number of Ministers, the rigid implementation of the inhuman Srima-Shastri Pact and the near-famine situation under the UF government further alienated the SLFP from the plantation workers. The unpopularity of the SLFP rule caused serious damage to the DWC. In the 1977 election both Aziz and Thondaman contested for the Nuwara Eliya-Maskeliya three- member constituency. Thondaman returned to Parliament as the third MP while Aziz suffered a humiliating defeat. Aziz could not recover from the set back until his death in 1990. After Aziz`s death there occurred another split in the DWC as his son Ashroff Aziz and V.P.Ganeshan did not see eye to eye. Ashroff Aziz formed the Aziz Democratic Workers` Congress while the leadership of the DWC held by V.P.Ganeshan. This split had caused serious set back to the DWC as majority of the membership joined the ADWC. Presently the DWC is led by Ganeshan`s son Mano Ganeshan, who is a MP, contested under the UNP symbol. Since he concentrate more on the problems of the Colombo based Tamil people its mass base in the plantation area is eroding.Thondaman became a cabinet Minister in 1978 in the UNP government and emerged stronger until the Black July 1983. The heightening of militancy among the youths, the serious allegations of corruptions levelled against him, the growth of the UNP led LJEWU under the leadership of Gamini Disanayake, the formation of the Up-country Peoples` Front in 1989 led by P.Chandrasekaran- who left the CWC in 1988-, which represented the educated plantation youths, and the question of choosing a successor to Thondaman, which had become a controversial issue when the long-standing GS of the organisation- M.S.Sellasamy was fired out of the post, Thondaman`s grandson Arumugan Thondaman was appointed as the GS, Sellasamy went before court of law and obtained restraining order- seriously damaged the CWC. The cross over of Thodaman to the PA government and becoming a cabinet Minister, while being a national list MP of the UNP without the endorsement of the rank and file also tarnished his image. In fairness to Thondaman it must be stated that in two aspects he should be admired: firstly for his courage to air his view despite the position he had held in the government and secondly, for he had held the Up-country Tamil people as a community together until his death. After the demise of Thondaman in 1999 there occurred another split in the CWC when P.Devaraj, Rajan, Sennan, Sathasivam and Rajaratnam left the organisation and formed a new union. The CWC crossed over from the PA government and joined the UNP in 2001 to topple the PA government. During the last Parliamentary election the CWC contested under the UNP symbol and its leader Arumugan once again became a cabinet Minister. Presently Arumugan Thondaman, grandson of late S.Thondaman, leads the CWC. The Arumugan-Sellasamy dispute on the question of the GS post, which is pending at court of law, is heading for an amicable settlement after M.S.Sellasamy rejoined the CWC in 2001 and became its deputy president.The Ceylon Plantation Workers Union and the United Plantation Workers Union: Until the so-called Stalinists were expelled from the LSSP in 1940 the communists played an important role in unionising the plantation workers through theACEWU. In 1940 the expelled Stalinist group formed the Colombo Workers` club and then the United Socialist Party before emerging as the Communist Party on 3rd July 1943. However, they did not take any serious effort to unionise the plantation workers until 1943 as they were concentrating their attention to unionise the urban workers with a view to fill the void created by the LSSP ban. Thus the ban on the LSSP union, ACEWU, was not fully capitalised by the CP. They formed the CPWU only on 29th October 1944. From the very start the CP was handicapped by lack of Tamil plantation cadres to unionise the plantation workers. Therefore its growth was confined to Sinhala speaking down South for a long time. The first effort to make headway in the central plantation region was taken by M.C.Mendis in 1948. He was successful in expanding its union base to Badulla, Bandarawela and Hatton areas. During this period the CPWU was known as the Red Lanka Estate Workers` Union (Rathu Lanka Wathu Kamkaru Samithiya). But soon their progress was brought to a halt as a result of adventurist tendency that made inroads. Emotionally carried away by the victory of the Chinese revolution in 1949 the CP characterised this period as socialist era and some of the strikes led by the CPWU, such as the adventurist strikes at Gasnawa estate, Kegalle, where the estate workers attacked the superintendent and hoisted the red flag over the factory, proved counter productive. The CEEF withdrew recognition of the CPWU in May 1950. This unofficial ban on the CPWU caused a serious set back and it changed its tactics by working through the DWC until it re-emerged in 1957 under the Bandaranaike government. In around 1959, when the splinter group of the DWC consisting of the prominent Tamil members like C.V.Velupillai, S.M.Suppiah, Kohilam Suppiah, S.Nadesan, Rosario Fernando, P.Devaraj and O.A.Ramiah joined the CPWU it overcame its shortage of Tamil cadres to unionise plantation Tamil workers. But it experienced another set back when C.V.velupillai and Mr. and Mrs. Suppiah left its rank and joined the CWC, because of the sectarian attitude of the party cadres of giving priority to its own party members.In 1963 there was a major split in the CP and the Peking wing CP led by N.Shanmugathasan captured the CPWU while the supportes of the Moscow wing headed by M.C.mendis, S.Nadesan, and P.Devaraj formed the UPWU having S.Nadesan as its president. The nominal TU of the CP turned to be real though the split had a negative impact. While the UPWU under the Moscow wing retained its base in areas like Matale, Haputale and Down South, the CPWU, which was now called the Red Flag Union, managed to emerge as a force in the Central Up-country, Uva and Sabaragamuwa regions. Within a year of the split Rosario Fernando and several workers belonged to the RFU were arrested on a murder charge but they were released soon. By 1966 the RFU, under the leadership of Shanmugathasan, combined union activities with political education and cultural activities were encouraged to supplement the political and union activities. The central region of the plantation area around Hatton witnessed a renaissance and blossoming of revolutionary sprit. The RFU led several successful strikes jointly with the CWC in Mayfield estate and in Meddecombra Estate. It played the leading role in the demonstration and the mass rally held on 2nd March 1971 against the killing of four workers at Nalanda Estate, Matale, organised by the Joint Committee. But its leadership during the Keenagala estate strike, which showed a tendency of adventurism, where two workers were killed in the police shooting on 1stSeptember, 1970 was not remarkable. It experienced a serious set back when almost all its leaders like N.Shanmugathasan, Rosario Fernando and O.A.Ramiah were arrested in April 1971 following the insurrection led by the JVP, and incarcerated for nine months. The RFU was further weakened by the dissention that was brewing within the CP as a section of the leaders, who were illusioned by the close rapport the Chinese government had developed with Srima Bandaranaike, advocated collaboration with the SLFP against the UNP. Subsequently there was a split within the RFU when Rosario Fernando and O.A.Ramiah captured its leadership and the faction headed by N.Shanmugathasan formed the New Red Flag Union. But both the factions never regained its past prestigious place. The CPWU in the mid of 1970s joined the Moscow wing CP. Several prominent leaders like Dr. S.A.Wickramasinghe, Philip Gunawardena, M.C.Mendis, S.Nadesan, N.Shanmugathasan, Rosario Fernando, H.L.K.Karawita, Higgodha Dharmasena, M.Sundaram, and D.E.W.Gunasekara held the presidentship of the CPWU while M.C.Mendis, Dharmapriya, N.Shanmugathasan, K.A.Wimapala and Higgodha Dharmasena held the post of General Secretary of the union. The present President of the union is Chandrasiri Gajatheera and the G.S is O.A.Ramiah.The National Union of Workers: Thondaman was not comfortable when an educated popular leader was occupying the seat as second in command. Since all other recognised leaders of the CWC were either passed away or left the organisation it was Vellasamy Kalimuthu Vellayan was the only senior most leader remained in the CWC next to Thondaman. He was the son of a HKG and a well-educated man – old Trinity rugby lion. Misunderstanding between Thondaman and A.K.Vellaiyan was brewing for some time and a circle of self-seekers around Thondaman added fuel to it. His outspokenness and his habit of smoking in the presence of Thondaman were interpreted as impoliteness. Vellayan`s low caste status had become a concern to them. Politically too both had some differences as well. Vellayan did not support the decision to team up with the UNP during the 1965 general election. In an attempt to sideline Vellayan the shrewd Thodaman proposed the name of M.S.Sellasamy to the post of GS in 1964, which was held by Vellayan. In fact Sellasamy received his apprenticeship under Vellayan. Anyway Vellayan handled the situation more cleverly by withdrawing from the contest stating that the workers themselves should hold the leadership of a union. He was elected as its vice-president that year. The last straw that broke the back of the donkey was the denial of the chance to Vellayan of being appointed to one of the two nominated seats in Parliament that had been offered to the CWC by the Dudley’s government in 1965. Instead of appointing Velliyan as one of two MPs Thondaman appointed V.Annamali, one of his close associates. Even he was not appointed as a Senator though two senator posts were allocated to the CWC. When this matter had become an issue within the CWC Thondaman made a tactical move by appointing R.Jesudasan, a regional representative of the CWC, who was a nephew of Vellayan and belonged to the same caste, as a Senator, overnight. Vellayan left the CWC together with 15 union officials and formed the NUW on 1st May 1965.From the very inception the NUW adhered to its principle that workers themselves must lead unions. Thus the first president of the NUW was a worker- S.Perumal of Templestow Estate- and Vellayan was its GS cum Financial Secretary. In 1966 C.V.Velupillai joined the NUW and became its Administrative Trustee and later he became the GS of the union while Vellayan remained as its FS. Vellyan passed away on 2nd December 1970 of heart attack at Crown Hotel, Hatton. The NUW emerged as a force to reckon with to contest various elections since 1970 through its political wing. It played a pioneer role in conducting workers education programme. That year, just before the untimely demise of Vellayan the present president of the Union A.T.Aiyadurai was elected to the post. In 1971 P.V.Kandiah was elected as its GS and P.Perumal FS. C.V.Velupillai remained as its vice-president until his death on 19 November 1984.The Lanka Jathika Estate Workers Union: The LJEWU was not originally a UNP union. It was founded by Tudor Keerthy Mendis, at Gampola on 17th August 1958 on communal line to organise Sinhalese workers on the estates, at a time Sinhala Chauvinism was confused with the progressive nationalism. According to Kerney the UNP concern with the labour movement emerged from an effort to reform and revitalize the party after its crushing defeat in 1956. The party was thought to have suffered from identification with the wealthy and privileged classes. The UNP entry into labour movement indicated a growing appreciation of the political significance of organised labour and a desire to contain the expanding Marxist influence. (R.N.Kerney, 19721,p66-7). J.R.Jayawardena entered into an agreement with Tudor Keerthy Mendis and became its president. For a long time the LJEWU did not make any significant headway due to its limited objectives: to mobilise crowd for the UNP May Day and to unionise exclusively the Sinhalese plantation workers. JR had been the president of the union for 20 years from 1958 to 1978 Under him it virtually remained as a formal TU run by Sinhalese cadres. It was reorganised by Gamini Dissanayake in 1971, when he was the vice-president of the union who was encountered with the task of facing the by-election held for Nuwara Eliya electorate after a court ruling had unseated him. After winning the by-election his strategy was to weaken the CWC. As an efficient organiser Gamini identified some young talents among the plantation Tamil youths like Rajasekaram, who passed away in 1975, V.Puthirasihamany, Divyarajan, Ramanathan and K.Velautham; gave them autonomy and encouragement to work. When JR became the executive President of the country in 1978 he had resigned from the LJEWU and the controversial Cyril Methew, who was the mastermind behind a number of Anti-Tamil pogroms carried out under the UNP government between 1977 to 1983, succeeded him. JR forced him to resign from the LJEWU in 1981 following a resolution passed at the working committee of the union demanding his removal, consequent to his 352 pages publication entitled `Sinhalese People, Arise and Safeguard Buddhism` and another book entitled `Who is the Tiger? `, that were posted to the Sinhalese plantation workers and the Sinhalese staff of the union. Thereafter Ranjan Wijeratne became its president and later succeeded by Gamini Dissanaike. The present President of the union is Ranil Wickramasinghe, the GS is Raja Seniviratne, and the administrative Secretary is S.A.H.Mohideen.Although other unions viewed the LJEWU in the plantation sector as the fifth-column of the UNP it never had a history of being a goon-squad in the hands of the UNP politicians, a serious allegation spearheaded against other JSS unions of the UNP. For a long period the LJEWU was not summoned by any plantation based joint committees but the attitude towards it has been changed in the recent times. It appears that the LJEWU enjoys some degree of autonomy to take decisions independently without the interference of the political party. For instances, it had participated in several strikes when the UNP was in power and it had opposed the UNP government’s decision to privatise the state plantations (with the backing of the late Minister Ranjan Wijeratne). However this autonomy has its limits and the union cannot take any political or organisational decision conflicting the interest of the political party. There were instances where the LJEWU had tried its best to prevent workers ` participation in some strikes initiated by the JPTUC, by playing in the hands of the UNP government. Due to the patronage the LJEWU enjoyed from the UNP government and the planters and due to the hard work done by its cadres it had emerged as the second largest Union, next to the CWC in the later part of the 1970s. The LJEWU also joined the IUF club following the CWC.One strong point of the LJEWU that other TUs, especially the CWC should learn was its efficient financial management. While the CWC was mortgaging its head office to a bank and selling its Union offices at Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Badulla and number of other towns the LJEWU within a short period of time, under Gamini, constructed its own imposing Head Office at Colombo Kotte, for this purpose only the land was granted by the UNP government and the building was constructed out of the membership fee collected from its members. In addition it has its own union buildings at Maskeliya, Pussellawa, Matale, Kegalle, Yatiyantota, Avissawala. Galle, Maththugama, and Balangoda while it has bought land in Nuwara Eliya and Badulla for the future construction of its own office. When Gamini left the Union it had over 7 million rupees in fixed deposit in bank

1 Comments:

Blogger Haakon said...

I am in the midst of writing a piece on Up-country Tamil trade unions as part of a larger thesis on Up-country Tamil university students at Peradeniya, based on research I did there last year, and I was just going through your texts in Voice of the Voiceless. It is quite a coincidence that 1) you have just started this blog, 2) posted the texts I have been reading and 3) that I should stumble upon it. Happy May-day!

Btw! My own blog has not been updated since I left Sri Lanka last summer.

5:38 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home