A.E. Goonesinha (1 May 1891–1 August 1967): First Labour Leader of Sri Lanka

A.E. Goonesinha (1 May 1891–1 August 1967): First Labour Leader of Sri Lanka

A.E. Goonesinha started his professional career as a journalist and publisher of the Journal “Search Light” to support the National Movement.

A.E.Goonesinha was proclaimed a National Hero in 1928 when he represented Ceylon at the British Empire Labour Conference in London. 

He fought for the workers’ rights and against the British Government that ruled Sri Lanka. He went to prison and overcame with bravery the resistance by the British rulers in order to celebrate May 1 as Worker’s Day, to give the worker trade union rights and the respect for the profession.
Goonesinha’s political career marked the formation of the Labour Movement in Ceylon. First, the Ceylon Labour Union was inaugurated in 1922. Then, in 1928 the Ceylon Labour Party was formed. When Ramsay McDonald, the Ceylon Labour Movement.

British Labour Party Leader and Prime Minister visited Ceylon in 1926, Goonesinha received him on behalf of the Ceylon Labour Movement.
Goonesinha was proclaimed a National Hero in 1928 when he represented Ceylon at the British Empire Labour Conference in London. He was responsible for obtaining the Universal Adult Suffrage (Universal Franchise) from the Donoughmore Commission in 1928. A.E. Goonesinha and the Ceylon Labour Union were the only advocates of the grant of Universal Franchise. It was he who asked that universal suffrage be given to Sri Lankan workers and the general public regardless of income or education.

Labour Party

At the first State Council and the CMC elections held in 1931 Goonesinha was elected on the Labour Party ticket as Member for Colombo Central. He repeated this feat in 1936. In 1940 he became the first Sinhalese Mayor of Colombo.
In the 1947 Parliamentary election, he was elected for the Colombo Central Seat and appointed Chief Government Whip in the UNP government, Minister without Portfolio and Minister of State of the First Parliament of Ceylon – then known as the House of Representatives lead by Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake. Goonesinha was later appointed as Ceylon’s Ambassador to Indonesia and Burma.

A.E. Goonesinha was a democrat at heart-a social democrat-championing the labour cause. He created paths and thus made history as a freedom-fighter and national hero, social worker, advocate of the poor, politician and trade union leader.
He is remembered today as the father of Sri Lanka’s Trade Union Movement. Labour Day or May Day was first held in Ceylon in 1927 under his leadership – the first Labour Leader of Sri Lanka.

A.E. Goonesinha’s devoted follower and an eloquent speaker in the Ceylon Labour Party, the late President Ranasinghe Premadasa, renamed Price Park in Pettah “Goonesinhapura” where the trade union and political meetings led by A.E. Goonesinha’s used to be held.

As a tribute to this leader of the workers A.E. Goonesinha’s statue has been erected at the entrance to Goonesinhapura, showing him with a hammer in hand breaking rock stones for Civil Disobedience in not paying the Poll Tax and thus being instrumental in getting the Poll Tax abolished in 1925.
May this great man’s path created for the rights of the worker not be misused and abused by contemporary politicians. May there be unity among all parties and leaders to work together for the mutual welfare and benefit  of Sri Lanka.

Yasmin Koch

 

courtesy dailymirror