United Socialist Party, Sri Lanka’s section of Committee for a Workers’ International has paid tribute to veteran trade unionist, Bala Tampoe, who passed away recently at the age of 92. Philip Balendra Tampoe became General Secretary of The Ceylon Mercantile Union (CMU) in 1948 and remained in that position till his death. But most notable is the role that he played in building the strength of union in the decade before and after independence from British rule. He later joined the LSSP (Lanka Sama Samaja Party), the largest Trotskyist party at that time and played a leading role in building its weight among the working class. He also stood firm against LSSP leaders when they abandoned a consistent struggle against capitalism and formed a coalition government with the capitalist SLFP (Sri Lanka Freedom Party) in 1964. But since then his participation in the active struggle for socialism began to decline. In 1980 for example, Bala withdrew the CMU from the general strike despite functioning as a co- convener of the general body of the workers which led the strike. He then remained an isolated trade unionist and held back the CMU from any political activities and hardly took part in any joint trade union activities.
However his initial stand of opposing the LSSP forming a coalition government with capitalist parties, – above all Bala’s role in opposing British imperialist rules and subsequently playing a key role in building the strength of the unions at its early stage and winning number of rights for the wider working class – will remain, as today there is enormous need to build the strength of the unions again. All unions and activists should come forward to rebuild the workers’ strength to defeat the current regime and reverse attacks on workers’ conditions and democratic rights.