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Obituary – Bala Tampoe

3 September, 2014IndustriALL Global Union renders tribute to Bala Tampoe who passed away on 1 September. Bala was 92 and led his union IndustriALL affiliate Ceylon Mercantile, Industrial and General Workers Union (CMU) for more than 60 years; he negotiated with every Prime Minister since Sri Lanka’s independence.

One of the great figureheads of the Sri Lankan labour movement, Bala Tampoe, general secretary of CMU passed away on 1 September after a brief period of illness.

An advocate of criminal law, Bala became General Secretary of the CMU in February 1948. His work contributing to shape Sri Lanka’s political and social landscape spans more than 65 years, and under his leadership the CMU became one of the country’s largest trade unions in the commercial sector.

Known for challenging the political decisions of the government, Bala led a strike in the Colombo port in 1963. The struggle escalated into an all-island general strike and defied the government when it invoked its emergency powers.

Linus Jayatilake, President of the United Federation of Labour, and friend says:

“Comrade Bala leaves the CMU and the working-class at a moment of the emerging crisis of the neo-liberal capitalist system on a world scale. But the rich memories of his militancy and the class intransigence will be his sole contribution to the working class; to confront the collapse of this system.”

“His Marxist and left learnings led him to remain steadfast in the independence of the working-class against all forms of class-collaborationist politics.”

Until his death Bala retained the position as General Secretary and participated actively in major negotiations with the government and employers. During the past years he worked to get the Workers Charter implemented, as well as trying to get the unions to join forces and make the government of Sri Lanka ratify ILO Conventions 87 and 98.

IndustriALL General Secretary Jyrki Raina says:

“Bala Tampoe was a great man who dedicated his whole life to the struggles of the trade union movement. His achievements resonate with workers all around the world. He will be missed.”