Opinion

Spare us the English

Summary

During the 1953 hartal, English warships entered our waters to rescue a satrap UNP cabinet. Their courts still overruled the local legislature. England still held bases and ruled the waves. Their banks still rule the ebb and flow of capital.

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Our leaders love the English so. They sorely do.

During the first 20thC European tribal war aka World War I, Lanka was the main supplier of plumbago – used to make steel guns, armor plates, etc.

Yes, the graphite we still give away for others to make the pencils and batteries they sell back to us.

During the 2nd European tribal war aka WWII, 1939-45, we supplied 90% of the rubber for all “allies” and for US South Pacific forces’ tires and inner-tubes (of course manufactured in Australia). Exploitation of rubber workers soared as estates were slaughter-tapped!

Yes, the rubber we mostly sell to buy back rubber products.

Lanka also became the main military base for all the English wars east, overt and covert. In 1940, the English arrested Leftist leaders, after strikes on the plantations. They installed the Ceylon Indian Congress unions. 

When the Japanese army defeated the English in Singapore in 1942, English settlers here fled to the Maldives, leaving Lanka and India ‘undefended.’ The ‘Quit India’ Movement intensified and thousands of socialists were jailed or killed. 

The English military administration then enforced an Essential Services (Avoidance of Strikes and Lockouts) Order. This English law would continue long past ‘independence’’. Banning strikes and lockouts, they set up “Compulsory Arbitration” for workers.

Cultivators were guaranteed a minimum for their crops. In 1944, AE Goonesinha, the only Ceylon National Congress (CNC) leader to demand independence from the English, obtained compulsory arbitration for mercantile workers under wartime regulations.

This “George Steuart Award,” was then applied in 1945, to 13 other companies: Carson, Delmege Forsyth, Galaha Ceylon Tea Estates & Agency, Hayley & Kenney, Harrison’s & Crossfield, Imperial Chemical Industries, Leechman, Lipton, Shaw Wallace, Whittalls, Baur, Gordon Frazer, and James Finlay. For the first time standardized terms of employment were set up in 14 important English-owned trading companies. No such uniform standards now exist.


In 1945, the colonial Soulbury Commission unilaterally proposed a restrictive “Dominion of Ceylon.” The working class and the Left movement called for outright independence.

The CNC’s DS Senanayake, who had opposed universal suffrage, agreed to Soulbury’s limited self-rule, after setting up the UNP: with the Sinhala Maha Sabha, the Muslim League, the Colombo Tamil Union, Fort merchants, provincial landowners, and the planters, with AE Goonesinha’s Ceylon Labor Party tagging along in fear of the Leftists.

Yet in 1946, progressive Buddhist nationalist leaders unilaterally declared independence. A general all-island strike of government employees (begun by the gravediggers) ensued. The biggest strike ever in Sri Lanka began, led by railway workers in Ratmalana, factory workers in Kollonava, and harbor workers in Mutwal.

The May-June 1947 General Strike of 50,000 workers begun by municipal employees soon spread to the private companies. On June 5, police killed government clerk V. Kandasamy as workers marched towards the Kollonava oil installations.

On June 6, thousands marched through Colombo, and a total ban on processions was declared for the first time. The colonial Lake House Press falsely declared the strike over, and the English suppressed it, promising “Dominion Status” to Ceylon, fixing ‘Soulbury elections’ for 1947.

Widespread general strikes in India and the Indian navy ‘mutiny’ in 1946, led to India’s ‘independence’ in August 1947.  Having slaughtered millions of people in WWII, the English were too weak to fight, but resorted to their ‘ethnic’ card: dividing India, with over 3 million people slaughtered. Now the Indian government insists on dividing us.

In dependence

In the colonial ‘General Election’ of September 1947 in Lanka, the UNP prevented ‘lower-castes’ from voting, and estate owners forced at gunpoint upcountry plantation workers to vote for the UNP. DS Senanayake formed a government with the support of the Tamil Congress, Ceylon Labor Party and others.  Despite the Left splitting into 3 parties, the UNP only got 42 of 101 seats.

The Ceylon Independence Act was then enacted in London, granting the colony ‘Dominion Status’ in 1948 as requested by the UNP government, with the Queen remaining the Head of State!

A Public Security Ordinance was enacted, providing for a declaration of a State of Emergency – to also ban strikes and processions, and generally suppress strikes – which remains in the statute books. Plantation workers were also disenfranchised.

During the 1953 hartal, English warships entered our waters to rescue a satrap UNP cabinet. Their courts still overruled the local legislature. England still held bases and ruled the waves. Their banks still rule the ebb and flow of capital. “Soulbury”, once cried a speaker at a Communist rally at Galle Face, “Soulbury is coming to bury your soul.”

 Indeed, he keeps trying.

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