Trade unions bid farewell to veteran unionist Poliyer Gunawardena

The final rites are due today (05) of veteran trade union leader Poliyer Gunawardena who passed away on Thursday (2) after providing a militant leadership for over three decades to education sector trade unions.

'Comrade Poliyer', as he was affectionately called, who held the general secretary post of the Sri Lanka National Teachers Union affiliated to the Sri Lanka Communist Party, initially served as a party youth activist in Akuressa of the southern Matara district  before becoming an ardent trade unionist. Elected as the Ampara district secretary in a short time after starting his career as a teacher in 1962, Gunawardena went on to be chosen to the top post of the union in 1979.

However, he left the Communist Party due to political differences in the early 80s and joined with dissidents to pioneer the formation of Socialist Peoples Movement in 1981. Forced to underground politics due to the state repression unleashed by then president JR Jayawardena under the allegation of taking part in a 'Marxist - Eelamist coup to topple the government', Poliyer Gunawardena remained in hiding and avoided arrest until the Jayawardena regime decided to grant an amnesty under the 1987 Indo-Lanka accord for all the political activists in the south who supported the Tamil militants.

Against racism

During the 1980 General Strike, Poliyer Gunawardena provided a staunch leadership to education sector strikers and lost his job, while his unreserved support to Tamils right to self determination remained unchanged until his death. His contribution to establish the broad movement for the release of political prisoners in the 80s' and Movement for Inter-Racial Justice and Equality (MIRJE) was remarkable.

He unfalteringly stood by every just struggle waged by teachers and students while being instrumental in formulating the Sri Lanka Teachers Services Constitution in 1994.

Comrade Poliyer Gunawardena was 74 years old when he passed away. The final rites are to be performed at his home in Jaltara, Homagama.☐



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