6 December, 2023


For Bala Tampoe

By Jean-Pierre Page

Jean-Pierre Page

Jean-Pierre Page

The working class and the labor movement in your country has just lost with Bala Tampoe one of its most prominent leaders. I bow my head with respect and salute the memory of the man who for decades has embodied the image and actions of Sri Lankan trade unionism. I would like to express my solidarity, and also the solidarity of the workers and their trade unions in France and around the world, who had the privilege of knowing Bala Tampoe!

Bala Tampoe was an internationalist in the sense understood by revolutionaries! That is, very different from those who like to make speeches about it, but who never translate it into concrete action! For Bala Tampoe, internationalism was not just an add-on, but rather the indispensable extension to be given to the historic struggle of the international working class to create the conditions for its emancipation.

I have known Bala well ! It is 20 years ago that Tamara Kunanayakam asked me to arrange meetings for Bala with our trade union confederation, the CGT! Ours is the largest and most important workers organization in France, in Europe and in the world. It is one of the oldest and the most respected organisations, as heir to the Paris Commune, deeply engaged in the armed resistance against the occupation of our country during the Second World War, and as leader of the anti imperialist and anti colonial struggles. Bala, who, despite his being very knowledgeable about our history, showed tremendous curiosity for further knowledge about our discussions and our actions!

Bala Tampoe

Bala Tampoe

Together with Bala, we established a cooperation, which took concrete shape in solidarity actions to support the struggle of the Colombo dock workers. Bala also showed great interest in actions and strikes that were ours, but which were also yours – our permanent struggle for the defense of our existing rights, the battle to gain new ones, and the fight to open a perspective other than capitalism for the world of labour: a socialist perspective!

In France, in Sri Lanka and in the world, we all belong to the same working class, we share common interests, and the class struggle is our common struggle. It is the struggle of all those who through their labour produce wealth and whose interests are fundamentally opposed to those of the rich, of the employers, of the profiteers, and of corrupt governments! We support each other, we need your battles to win ours, just as you need our battles to win yours!

Internationally, Bala not only helped in the organisation of actions, but he also made known trade unionism in your country, its history, its victories and failures. Bala was a man of great culture, of boundless curiosity, with an encyclopedic vision of the world! We often had passionate debates and I must admit sometimes we had our differences. But I must also admit with humility that I gained great knowledge from this exceptional human being, this real man.

I remember that during the international conference commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Communist Manifesto in Paris, which was attended by researchers, scholars, and men of culture and action of great renown, Bala was one of the speakers at the closing session at the prestigious University of Paris La Sorbonne. He knew how to be very impressive!

BalaAnother thing that brought us together was Bala Tampoe’s passionate defense of the concept of trade union independence, independence from political parties, religions, but above all independence from employers and exploiters! He believed rightly that workers are capable of organizing and directing their own struggles without the need for teachers or givers of orders. There cant be those who do, and others who decide!  This was an important issue in Bala’s concept of trade unionism!

Bala used to say, “I am of Tamil origin, but I’m not known as a Tamil, but as a leader of the working class.” He perfectly understood how communalism and communal politics was the poison of division and how it is used against the workers and working class unity, which is indispensable. That is also how Bala Tampoe saw this so-called “reconciliation”!

Finally, for many trade unionists in my country and around the world, Bala Tampoe was a man of great rigour, totally selfless, far from material interests and never in search of personal advantage! But, above all, he was a man of principles. One never negotiates away one’s owns principles, especially not those related to the sovereignty of the country, to the independence of the working class movement, or to one’s way of being!

I would like to conclude by quoting a great French writer, a militant Communist ,Elsa Triolet. She once wrote, “there are only two sides to a barricade” and we must choose which side we are on! Bala Tampoe chose his, without hesitation. He chose the side of the workers and their trade union movement!

For this reason and for his loyalty to principles, Bala Tampoe will always remain for all of us, not an icon, but an example, which must inspire new generations of militants who, like Bala and others before them, devoted their lives to this noble humane cause, that of trade unionism!

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Latest comments

  • 2

    He was like no other – Bala was an honest Brother~@~

  • 1

    He was like no other ~ Bala was an Honest Brother~@~

  • 3

    Bala dedicated his life to trade unions. His CMU was at the start mainly consisted of white collar workers and only lately that the other workers joined the union. These workers became an isolated lot from the other workers in this country and Comrade Bala did not educate them to become fighters for the general well being of the working class. These workers in the CMU became a selfish “elite” within the working class fighting only for their interests. They did not participate in the general strike of 1980 and they had a history of acting as blacklegs in several important strike movements in this country. The service Bala did to the working class is reflected by the words of the commentators who praised him. Some praised him for his efficiency in compromising with the employers and others praised him for not being involved in politics and maintaining independence of the trade unions. This ‘independence’ is nothing but ‘the politics of the ruling class in disguise’. Bala represents the last man of the old guard of the Samasamajists and his contribution as a Samasamajist until the LSSP betrayed the working class must be appreciated.

    • 1

      Guess, being Tamil, he couldn’t go far with the Sinhala left (would have been better if he also worked with dismantling the Jaffna caste-system and demanded good wages for blue-collared Dalits – not the corporate styled ones, but the ones who worked within the ancient caste-system of e.g. cleaning Vellhala bathrooms and drains. But let’s give him credit, for in the annals of modern history, he did give a good start to all things egalitarian for Sri Lanka.

  • 4

    While there’s life, there’s hope.|.
    ღ ⍟❥☻ ツ art is to conceal art ღ ⍟❥☻ ツ

  • 1

    Bala is a man who stood on the side of the working class when all so called leftists have become tail carriers of the ruling capitalist governments. They are not only became friends of the ruling parties but also became betrayers of the workers and the masses as a whole for their own benefits and survival. Bala was Unique and unmatchable in terms of commitment and contributions towards winning and safe guard the workers.

    He was an instrument in bringing the Shop and office act and the Termination of employment act that guarantees the basic rights of the workers. He also a master piece of coming out with collective agreements with greater number of employers in the country.These agreements ensured the industrial peace at work places with greater benefits to workers.

    One serious set back was that he didn’t take serious note of creating new leadership in the field.This is common to all so-called left leaders.

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