George Gomez, veteran Indian Trotskyist trade unionist
and political activist for nearly 70 years, died on August 27, 2016. He was a “worker Bolshevik” who rose from humble village origins to become a leader of the Bombay dock workers, historically one of the most militant and politically conscious sectors of the Indian working class.
George was born in Punnaikayal, a coastal fishing hamlet in the Tuticorin District of what was then the British Province of Madras (now Tamil Nadu). The Portuguese colonialists settled there in the sixteenth century and left their mark in Christian names and churches. Like most of the local population, his parents were Roman Catholic, but they had progressive ideas about social equality. Growing up, George identified strongly with the freedom movement and started reading socialist literature.
When his father died, George went to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to find work. He distributed socialist magazines from India and started an Indian students group. In 1948 he joined a small Trotskyist group, the Ceylon branch of the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India (BLPI), which was affiliated to the Trotskyist Fourth International headquartered in Paris.
After a few years George went up to Bombay and became a dock worker. By that time the BLPI had entered the Socialist Party of India and their cadres were working in various Socialist unions. George successfully led a struggle to elevate the part-time dock workers into permanent employment. After that he became a full-time trade-union organizer. In India, that guarantees a life of poverty and hardship. George lived amongst the dockworkers in the slums and chawls of Bombay. He went from port to port around India, organizing labor and working for trade-union unity. He played a role in bringing about the first national meeting of independent dockworkers’ unions in 1952. George also organized a union for construction workers on a national scale.
Meanwhile, George and his comrades from the defunct BLPI were left adrift without any party organization. They got some literature from the Fourth International but little else. The Indian Trotskyists managed to regroup in 1957, but two years later a majority, following the line of the Paris-based Fourth International, voted to merge with a centrist party. And when that blew up over differences on the India-China border war, the Paris Secretariat advised the Indian comrades to enter the pro-Peking Communist Party [CP(M)]. That, too, was a disaster. Despite all this, George remained loyal to the official Fourth International.
In 1987 George retired and returned to his native Tuticorin, but couldn’t resist political activism. He became president of the Democratic Fisher and Fishery Workers Union. At age 80 he was in the thick of protests on several fronts - against the government’s attempt to legislate Coastal Zone Management Notification, against the construction of a nuclear power plant in Kudankulam, and against the plan to dig a shipping channel in the marine corridor between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. George was one of the stalwarts who rallied youth in particular.
In his tribute to George, the Secretary of the Democratic Fisher and Fishery Workers Union summed up: “For 90 years he had tirelessly organized workers in their struggle against capitalism, inspiring youth towards Marxism…He remains an inspiration to many generations of socialists and political activists.”*
by Wesley Irvin
*M. Krishnamurthy, “Piriyavidai Thozhar: Thozhar George Gomezukku Ninaivu Anjali” [Farewell Comrade: Remembering George Gomez], Thozhilalar Koodam [Workers Forum], August 31, 2016.