The Old Left- Hartal and Trade Unionism

During the Hartal  (general strike)  organised by Marxist parties in 1953  to express public dissatisfaction over the rise in the cost of living, especially the cost of rice, a member of the GCSU ( General Clerical Services Union) Kandasamy  was shot dead by  Police during  a protest march led by   LSSP stalwarts,  NM, Colvin and Lesley et al.  GCSU was a powerful and a prominent confederation of workers at the time which acted as a real power tool to demand worker rights up till 1985.

‘The Old Left’ likes to look back with heroic nostalgia of the 1953 hartal as the vital event of their history. Consequently, for many years to follow Hartal Day was used as an occasion for provoking speeches by the Left party members.  A review of the past  shows that  it was not the Old Left but the SLFP which benefited out of the hartal in the form of the popular upsurge of 1956 which felled the UNP and brought S.W. R. D. Bandaranaike to power as Prime Minister

‘ GCSU headquarters in Fort was a small ‘hut’ during the sixties  but later it has been  converted into a multi storey building under the leadership of  I.J Wickrema and K.M Karunarathna.  Inside their office hanged photographs of the (in) famous 1953 hartal including that of the victim Kandasamy on display’.

‘I.J Wickrema was an outspoken guy, who was highly critical of N.M’s 21 demand overtures after becoming the Finance Minister. Finally he was kickedout of the leadership by N.M for going against N.M.   The new headquarters was opened by Mrs. Bandaranaike when she was the Prime Minster with a very colourful ceremony with a momentous Pirith ceremony throughout the night.

When Kandasamy died of gunshot wounds, the LSSP thought it was a new beginning for their future project, vis a vis -  coming to power by implementing the ‘ strike muscle’ as an ideal tool or a weapon”.

 GCSU was considered as the most powerful alliance among the trade union movement where NM had a very steady and a close relationship with it. Even SWRD Bandaranaike was unable to govern the country rightfully and peacefully due to the interference of the LSSP by means of union pressure groups vigorously agitating against his government. That very fact made Mrs. Bandaranaike to accuse NM for ‘killingher husband single handed while SWRD was still living’, Nicky Karunarathna remembers.

Tamil Majority

‘Though these unions were led by Sinhala office bearers, majority of the membership consisted of Tamil workers. The percentage of Tamil membership in the Public Service would have been up to 70% at the time, until politicians of T.B. Illangaratna calibre changed this framework through the SLFP government administrative policy to employ more rural youth by directly introducing the State Language Policy of Sinhala only’.

 “ It was in fact due to the LSSP’s  deceptive, dishonest and sneaky undercurrent manipulations that the Tamil workers always got the upper hand and  managed to secure good jobs while,  lamentably  in a country where there was a majority of Sinhala Buddhists were denied of any chance of serving their own country  in a beneficial capacity, except  being employed as  minor workers or  having to depend on labour as a means of subsistence!  It was indeed a sad dilemma where the majority of the population (Sinhala population) had to succumb to minor jobs in an insignificant capacity while the minority (Tamils) enjoyed all the comforts of a healthy working environment”.

During those  ‘gloomy, low-spirited  days ‘ the  Jaffna  train that ran from Colombo,  Maradana station  was  chock-a-block  with Tamil  passengers  which consisted of  Tamils who were doing jobs in the South  and  returning home for the weekend, yet the   irony being when the train  reached the Anuradhapura station , Tamils  took  absolute control of the train compartments by pushing Sinhala passengers out-of-their-way up to Jaffna  !  It was a time where some Sinhalese from the South had businesses in the North.


On  several occasions when Colvin came to address union backed ‘strikers’  he managed to  condition  the workers’  minds  by injecting  ‘ poison’ into their thinking systems by repeating in a mantra form  saying  “ strikes alone is useless.  but you have to organise rallies and agitate from your workplaces; at least throw a stone or two at the police and spill some blood on the floor!  It would not harm much, as otherwise there is no purpose in your just striking” Nicky Karunarathna recalls.

‘One could not just fathom the mentality of those  LSSP hierarchy  for  misleading their  union members which simply boiled down to nothing else but  to expose their endeavour  to utilise the ‘ illiterate’ working class masses for their own ends’ !

 “Such tactics never helped them to win any demands, even while the LSSP enjoyed three portfolios in Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike Government, and the result being all their demands were thrown out of the window and Mrs. Bandaranaike decided to get rid of the LSSP coalition from the SLFP government, within a very short period of time after their proverbial political honeymoon, with a serious allegation of blaming the LSSP for attempting to run a ‘governmentwithin the main Government”.

Nicky Karunarathna identifies NM as a personality whose indulgence centred upon luxuries and good taste in a lavish life style. He says NM having studied in a Sinhala Buddhist seat of learning (Ananda College) where he played cricket, captained the school team, took part in Tennis mostly and metamorphosed into a politician following Marxism ended up drinking Scotch whiskey with the affluent at clubs deluding the proletariat!

 “Those so called ‘Red Leaders’ led a double life in the lap of luxury including Peter Keanauman of the Communist Party!  I (Nicky Karunarathna) used to meet up with Peter daily, early in the morning for a swim at the Otter’s club, Colombo 7. He was a keen early morning swimmer, and the crowd who visited the swimming pool those days early in the morning was of a different breed of affluent people in the society. Peter Keanauman himself was the Minister of Construction at the time. Going by what those guys used to preach to the masses overtly and what they did covertly in their private lives completely contrary to what they advocated, was rather baffling to a rational mind to comprehend or to fathom their political philosophy”.   


Going back to the days when Vijaya Kumaratunga was released from the prison, Vicky remembers Vijay’s   inclination and penchant towards the LSSP, yet his decision to form his own Party after breaking away from SLFP instead of joining the LSSP.  “WhenVijaya contested for Minneriya seat during the elections, I drove all the way from Colombo to help him with his electioneering with a financial contribution of Rs. 5000 (half of which was from my friend Kotakadeniya).  On the following morning I gave him our contribution at the Minneriya Rest House, in the presence of K.P Silva who was with him at the time but   he  betrayed us, just  like the LSSP hierarchy  by going to Jaffna with Chandrika  and meeting with the  ruthless  terrorist Prabakaran  who suffered from a mental disorder and going to the extent of sitting on the same bed with  such a megalomaniac.  This was widely exposed by the national press at the time”, relates Nicky.

CIA Intrusion

Touching on the latest developments in Sri Lanka and referring to Ranil Wickremasinghe’s US tour on a MIT assignment, Nicky sees it as a predominantly grooming exercise by intelligence services for politicos. “This has been done to Venezuelan leader of the opposition by the United States”, and continues thus:

 “Thisis not the first time in Sri Lanka of such an intrusion by the CIA, but it has a record of such activities from time immemorial. Especially when we emphasise on the Sinhala/ Buddhist cause, CIA gets very upset as it is their main objective in this world to wipe out or break the backbone of other nations and to get through their agendas and play their own games in foreign countries”.

“Howdid R.Premadasa become President of this country where voting patterns were based on caste system in its entirety?  If you ask a guy like Colvin, he will elaborate on this point well, he being a De Silva!  It is a question that cannot be solved even by mathematics using calculus or algorithm”!   

“Thissecret was imbedded on R. Premadasa’s Gam Udawa programme. Who funded this enormous amount of money to build villages within villages or inside villages comprising, a church, mosque, Hindu temple and a Buddhist temple?  

Why on earth one should be tempted to build other religious entities, other than a Buddhist temple in a 100% Sinhala/Buddhist village?

By the same token what was the need or the purpose to build  an additional Buddhist temple when there are numerous Buddhist temples in existence in those villages”?  

The answer is simplehe states;’ it is purely to get the requisite cover to build other religious entities, which of course was CIA’s hidden agenda and to fund through Saudi Arabian government using Alfarsi Foundation, Nestles (Vatican Churches) and rest by CIA.  Saudis were asked by United States  to go ahead with  financing under their instructions, the  idea being to break the backbone of the country and Sinhala/Buddhist perennial entity, until it came to Dambulla Gam Udawa, where Chief Buddhist monk who interrupted  the ceremony by  kicking the foundation laying stone in front of  Mr. R. Premadasa  and insisting that the monk would not  allow it to happen in his sacred city where Buddhism started!   

“Prior to that incident, everything went hunky dory and people with other faiths crept into these villages to dilute the majority”.

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