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Meryl Fernando stood for working class - Prof Tissa Vitharana

Lanka Sama Samaja Party General Secretary and Scientific Affairs Minister Prof Tissa Vitharana participating during the vote of condolence Thursday in Parliament said: "Meryl Fernando, the veteran Samasamajist, died on May 27, 2007 at his home at Koralawella, Moratuwa. He was 84.

He was born at Koralawella, in the house built by his maternal uncle in 1908. Meryl recalled a story recounted by people in his neighbourhood that their house was surrounded by Punjabi (Indian) soldiers during the 1915 riots. His uncle who edited a Sinhala nationalist paper was taken to prison as were prominent nationalist leaders.

Meryl received his education at Prince of Wales College, Moratuwa. He entered the Colombo University in 1941; World War II was raging. He passed London intermediate examination in 1944. He later entered the Teachers' Training College, Maharagama, where he qualified as a trained teacher.

His interest in politics began about 1942. He joined the LSSP during the second world war whilst still a university student. In the immediate post-war period he was active organising match-factory workers in his hometown, Moratuwa.

Meryl was associated with the work of the Moratuwa branch of Kelaniya Match Workers Union for nearly two decades and served as secretary of the Moratuwa branch for several years.

In 1948, Meryl was successful in getting carpentry workers at Willorawatta, Moratuwa, to join the Industrial and General Workers Union affiliated to the LSSP and submit demands. He and Doric de Souza made representations on behalf of the union. The management agreed to grant an eight-hour working day, wages-board holidays with pay, overtime payments etc. This was the first time that carpentry workers employed in a workshop had won such demands.

He was a member of the Moratuwa Urban Council for a period of 15 years and was for a term its Chairman. This was the first local council in which the LSSP was able to wrest power from the ruling UNP in 1951. Moratuwa, 12 miles south of Colombo, was a rising seaside township dotted with carpentry workshops. Monsoonal conditions affected fisherfolk who lived in cadjan-thatched mud and wattle huts.

Rainstorms blew away their habitations. Deep-sea fishermen were unable to venture out even to eke out a precarious living. Likewise in-shore fishermen who were engaged in the casting and hauling of nets were also adversely affected. The left-dominated urban council administration introduced relief measures.

Meryl was arrested and jailed during the August 1953 hartal or protest campaign against drastic cutbacks on food and welfare spending by the ruling rightwing UNP Meryl was detained for three weeks.

Colvin R de Silva appeared for him at the trial, as he did in over 50 such cases in various Courts in the island. The charges were blatantly false and after two policemen gave evidence and were cross-examined by Colvin, Meryl was acquitted without the defence being called.

The hartal reached almost insurrectionary high points where the LSSP was strong, in Moratuwa in the hamlets of Egoda Uyana, Katukurunda and Koralawella. Over forty years later, Meryl published a reprint of Colvin's original pamphlet Hartal, with a new introduction by him outlining the lessons of the tumultuous events. Meryl also addressed a public meeting at Moratuwa held to mark the Hartal anniversary. He vividly recounted the turbulent events that shook the town.

He represented the LSSP as MP for Moratuwa from 1956 to 1964. In the 1956 general election he made a stormy entry into parliament securing 19,529 votes and beating into third place the sitting Member, a leader of the Sinhala Bhasha Peramuna.

The LSSP then adhered intransigently to its language policy of parity of status for Sinhala and Tamil as state languages. Its prestige was never higher.

He made rousing speeches in Sinhala; a parliamentary colleague used to tease him about his "takarang" voice, soaring in flights of oratory, he recalled in a self-deprecatory reminiscence. He spoke eloquently on the aspirations of workers and the oppressed and on the imperatives to radically transform society.

In May 1960 when N M Perera proposed that the LSSP should form a coalition government with the SLFP, Meryl along with the left tendency in the party opposed the proposal at a special conference. On developments that followed Meryl wrote: "recognising that 'In the context of Sri Lankan politics, the attainment of power through a parliamentary election is a possibility', the leadership proceeded to form a United Left Front in 1963 with the Communist Party and Philip Gunawardena's MEP." "But when the government was seriously weakened in 1964 and its very existence became doubtful, and Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike prorogued parliament for four months and sought left-wing leaders in her government" the LSSP entered the government and the ULF broke up.

Meryl rejected the coalition perspective the LSSP followed in 1964, in 1970 and thereafter.

In 1964 Meryl broke with the LSSP along with Edmund Samarakkody, Bala Tampoe, Prins Rajasooriya and others when the party joined the coalition government of Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike, and he helped found the LSSP-R, and later the Revolutionary Workers Party. With his defeat at the hustings in 1965 Meryl continued to intervene in class and social struggles.

He stoutly adhered to the defence of working-class independence against all varieties of political opportunism. Meryl also contributed articles on political topics to the Revolutionary History and What Next? published in London, and the local press.

He undertook stints as a part-time university English teacher, and after passing three parts of a management accountancy examination worked for a period as a bookkeeper at the Moratuwa University.

Meryl was a modest and unassuming man. A lanky figure, he would travel to Colombo by bus or train for party meetings. He did not own a motor car.

Meryl's services to the LSSP and working class will never be forgotten."


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