By Dr. Vickramabahu Karunaratne
Many decades ago in1947 June 5, comrade Velupillai Kandasamy a young member of the GCSU, was killed while participating in a demonstration. He was a clerical officer of the department of health and sanitary services and was killed by police firing ordered by the British police superintendent Robins.
He was participating in an orderly march of the members of the Government Clerical Services Union (GCSU).
The immediate cause of this demonstration was the interdiction of the GCSU president T.B.Illangaratne and nineteen other of his trade union colleagues for having held a meeting on the Galle Face Green in contravention of public services regulations.
The fact that the regulations was used against their leaders sparked a major strike of the public servants and on June 5, 1947 thousands of slogan- shouting but peaceful strikers took to the streets to march in orderly manner headed by Dr N.M.Perera the leader of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) to hold a public meeting at Ralahamigewatte in Kolonnawa.
They marched through Dematagoda, at that time a politically strong left-oriented worker-based district of the City of Colombo.
When confronted by the police headed by the British police superintendent Robins, Dr N. M.Perera approached him to explain that the meeting was authorized and therefore a legal expression of the views of the GCSU. But Dr Perera was dealt with a stunning blow by the baton on his head and he fell on the ground. But before the second blow, Dr Perera was spirited away to safety by his comrades.
The officer, however, gave the order to shoot not in the sky but at the demonstrators who carried no weapons nor were they violent or provocative in any way. Altogether the police fired nineteen rounds of bullets into the strikers that killed one and injured nineteen others and five them seriously.
Few decades’ later UNP government organized thugs to attack workers who had participated in a lunch-hour picket, and a half-day walk-out and picket, on 5 June 1980. The Government had organized a counter-picket as an excuse for government thugs to attack the workers’ picket.
During the violence a government employee and union official, comrade D.Somapala, had been killed. The immediate reasons for calling the demonstration on that day had been the inflation, dictatorial constitution, privatization of public property and chauvinist repression.
In this year again, in the beginning of June a worker protesting against a fraudulent pension scheme was shot dead by the present government. Also many others were injured.
The protest was organized by the JTUA, though the government never refers to the JTUA. In the case of Somapala, in 1980 we organized a massive funeral march along Maradana road to Kanatta and I spoke on behalf of the United Federation of Labour and the Government United Federation of Labour. JR allowed all that; but today we had to face the military might of the chauvinist IMF backed MR when participating in the funeral of Roshen!
Army on Saturday June 4 forced the kith and kin of comrade Roshen Rathnasekara to allow them to shift the coffin to Roman Catholic Church, Minuwangoda, where the last rites were to be performed. They tightened security in and around the area of Galloluwa and transported the coffin themselves around 8 am to the church, in an unprecedented act of “protection”.
However, there was a little tension as some friends and relatives of the slain factory worker were outraged at the decision, claimed by the army as a family decision, to start the funeral rites earlier in the morning, when it was originally scheduled start at 3 p.m. Around 10 am, I went to the church, with several others including Chamil Jayaneththi, media secretary of the NSSP, to pay our last respects to the slain comrade. Several people complained to us about the state terror launched at the funeral house.
We explained that the family has the right to protest against such action. Immediately the commotion expanded and soldiers were seen running in large numbers towards the cemetery side. Few minutes later Sunil, one of the friends of the family of slain FTZ employee Roshen Rathnasekara and a reputed social worker of the area explained to the crowd that the army changed their stand as to speed up the funeral service and instead agreed to take back the coffin to the house.
However the family members have said that it would be improper to take a coffin back from the church but they have insisted that the funeral proceeding should be as scheduled with the burial at 4 pm. State forces and the church has agreed to that.
After that incident the media was interested in our views and a small press conference was held in church premises where several media organizations including local TV stations Sirasa and Swarnawahini participated. I said “Roshen did not die in vain, his sacrifice and the sacrifice of hundreds of others who were injured, made the government retreat. The fraudulent bill has been withdrawn.
This is a victory for the working masses. He will be remembered with Kandasamy and Somapala, the heroes who died in 1947 and in1980. Both those incidents happened in early June. Now we have three heroes for June remembrance. Even the May Day started with the death of struggling workers. Roshen will be remembered by the workers world over.
This struggle showed the power of mass struggle. It is an example for the oppressed masses both in the south and in the north.” At this point, one SLFP organizer with several others intervened to disturb the press conference. He shouted “Good for you, because you are paid to say all these”. I answered “I never did politics for money; you have come to this position by licking the boots of others. It is your leader who is selling the country for dollars”.
Many young workers were nodding and approved what I said and they pushed forward. Those who came with the organizer sensed the danger and dragged him away. Soldiers watched helpless. Sunil and others invited us to visit the funeral house and we visited the village and explained what happened.
The mortal remains of the 21-year-old slain comrade was buried around 4 pm while the security officers led by the Army personnel had kept at bay large crowds of mourners led by JTUA leaders and opposition politicians. JTUA was represented by Linus Jayathilaka, Dharmasiri Lankapeli, Amarapala, Joseph Stalin, Anton Marcus and Saman Rathnapriya but none were allowed to speak.