Singapore Trades Union Congress



When the Emergency was declared in 1948, the communist-linked Singapore Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU) went underground.1 The Singapore Trades Union Congress (STUC), with the support of the colonial government, was formed in 1951 as a federation of trade unions to replace the SFTU. However, the STUC was short-lived because of political rivalry. It was dissolved in 1961, resulting in the formation of two opposing trade union federations: the Singapore Association of Trade Unions and the National Trades Union Congress.

Formation
In June 1948, a state of emergency was declared in Singapore following acts of lawlessness and violence instigated by trade unions.2 Subsequently, there were unsuccessful attempts to form a trade union congress in May 1949 and September 1950.3 In 1951, there were calls to abolish the prohibition of government employees’ unions affiliated to non-government employees’ unions.4 This led to the amendment of Gazette Notification No. S 88 of 1947, which allowed government employees’ unions to act in conjunction with non-government employees’ unions.5 The change paved the way for the founding of the STUC by V. K. Nair and Lim Yew Hock, and the congress was inaugurated in May 1951.6 The STUC received full support from the government.7 It held its inaugural delegates’ conference in September that year, during which Lim was elected its first president.8 In December 1951, the STUC became affiliated with the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.9 By that time, the STUC had under its umbrella 28 of the 107 unions, with a combined membership of 24,098.10

Growth
Despite its relatively small membership, the STUC was able to garner enough support to secure an electoral victory for the Labour Front, of which Lim was a member, during the general election of 1955.11 That same year, the STUC entered into secret discussions with the left-wing Singapore General Employees’ Union to form a united trade union front. As a result, the STUC became the largest conglomerate of unions on the island.12


Following its victory in the 1959 Legislative Assembly general election, the People’s Action Party (PAP) came into power and formed the government. It amended the Trade Unions Ordinance to empower the registrar to deregister or to reject the registration of unions.13 Consequently, many splinter trade unions were deregistered.14 Amalgamation and federation of similar unions followed, resulting in more unified trade unions.15

Dissolution
In July 1961, the leftists in the PAP broke away to form the Barisan Sosialis.16 A few days after the split, Minister for Labour and Law K. M. Byrne dissolved the STUC at the request of its secretary-general G. Kandasamy. The aim was to reorganise the unions without the pro-communist elements.17 This resulted in the formation of two federations of trade unions. The leftist leaders formed the Singapore Association of Trade Unions, and applied for registration on August 16.18 It was led by Barisan secretary-general Lim Chin Siong.19 The moderate leaders formed the pro-PAP National Trades Union Congress.20



Author

Joshua Chia Yeong Jia



References
1. Chew, S. B. (1991). Trade unionism in Singapore. Singapore: McGraw-Hill, p. 31. (Call no.: RSING 331.8095957 CHE); Lim-Ng, B. E. (Ed.). (1986). Chronology of trade union development in Singapore 1940–1985. Singapore: National Trades Union Congress, p. 4. (Call no.: RSING 331.88095957 CHR); Balakrishna, V. R. (1976). A brief history of the Singapore trade union movement. Singapore: National Trades Union Congress, p. 4. (Call no.: RSING 331.88095957 BAL)
2. Lim-Ng, B. E. (Ed.) (1986). Chronology of trade union development in Singapore 1940–1985. Singapore: National Trades Union Congress, pp. 3–4. (Call no.: RSING 331.88095957 CHR)
3. Chew, S. B. (1991). Trade unionism in Singapore. Singapore: McGraw-Hill, p. 32. (Call no.: RSING 331.8095957 CHE); Lim-Ng, B. E. (Ed.). (1986). Chronology of trade union development in Singapore 1940–1985. Singapore: National Trades Union Congress, p. 5. (Call no.: RSING 331.88095957 CHR)
4. Singapore. Labour Dept. (1952). Report of the Singapore Labour Department 1951 [Microfilm no.: NL 9771]. Singapore: Labour Dept., p. 6.
5. Lim-Ng, B. E. (Ed.). (1986). Chronology of trade union development in Singapore 1940–1985. Singapore: National Trades Union Congress, p. 6. (Call no.: RSING 331.88095957 CHR)
6. Singapore. Labour Dept. (1952). Report of the Singapore Labour Department 1951 [Microfilm no.: NL 9771]. Singapore: Labour Dept., p. 6; S’pore unions to form a T.U.C. (1951, January 8). The Straits Times, p. 1; Colony T.U.C. meet today. (1951, May 20). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Lim-Ng, B. E. (Ed.). (1986). Chronology of trade union development in Singapore 1940–1985. Singapore: National Trades Union Congress, p. 6. (Call no.: RSING 331.88095957 CHR); Chew, S. B. (1991). Trade unionism in Singapore. Singapore: McGraw-Hill, p. 32. (Call no.: RSING 331.8095957 CHE)
8. Lim Yew Hock – S’pore TUC’s 1st president. (1951, October 1). Singapore Standard, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. ICFTU admits TUC. (1951, December 24). Singapore Standard, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Balakrishna, V. R. (1976). A brief history of the Singapore trade union movement. Singapore: National Trades Union Congress, p. 4. (Call no.: RSING 331.88095957 BAL); Singapore. Labour Dept. (1952). Report of the Singapore Labour Department 1951 [Microfilm no.: NL 9771]. Singapore: Labour Dept., p. 6; Chew, S. B. (1991). Trade unionism in Singapore. Singapore: McGraw-Hill, p. 32. (Call no.: RSING 331.8095957 CHE); Lim-Ng, B. E. (Ed.) (1986). Chronology of trade union development in Singapore 1940–1985. Singapore: National Trades Union Congress, p. 6. (Call no.: RSING 331.88095957 CHR)
11. Chew, S. B. (1991). Trade unionism in Singapore. Singapore: McGraw-Hill, p. 32. (Call no.: RSING 331.8095957 CHE)
12. Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 502. (Call no. RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
13. Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 481. (Call no. RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS]); Lee, T. H. (1996). The open united front: The communist struggle in Singapore. Singapore: South Seas Society, pp. 206–207. (Call no.: RSING 959.5703 LEE-[HIS]); Lim-Ng, B. E. (Ed.). (1986). Chronology of trade union development in Singapore 1940–1985. Singapore: National Trades Union Congress, p. 11. (Call no.: RSING 331.88095957 CHR)
14. Lee, T. H. (1996). The open united front: The communist struggle in Singapore. Singapore: South Seas Society, pp. 206–207. (Call no.: RSING 959.5703 LEE-[HIS])
15. Lim-Ng, B. E. (Ed.). (1986). Chronology of trade union development in Singapore 1940–1985. Singapore: National Trades Union Congress, p. 11. (Call no.: RSING 331.88095957 CHR); Lee, T. H. (1996). The open united front: The communist struggle in Singapore. Singapore: South Seas Society, p. 207. (Call no.: RSING 959.5703 LEE-[HIS])
16. Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, p. 481. (Call no. RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS]); Balakrishna, V. R. (1976). A brief history of the Singapore trade union movement. Singapore: National Trades Union Congress, p. 6. (Call no.: RSING 331.88095957 BAL); Chew, S. B. (1991). Trade unionism in Singapore. Singapore: McGraw-Hill, p. 33. (Call no.: RSING 331.8095957 CHE); Lee, T. H. (1996). The open united front: The communist struggle in Singapore. Singapore: South Seas Society, p. 209. (Call no.: RSING 959.5703 LEE-[HIS])
17. Lee, T. H. (1996). The open united front: The communist struggle in Singapore. Singapore: South Seas Society, pp. 208–209. (Call no.: RSING 959.5703 LEE-[HIS]); Byrne to dissolve the T.U.C. (1961, July 26). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Singapore. Labour Dept. (1962). Annual report of the Labour Department 1961 [Microfilm no.: NL 9771]. Singapore: Labour Dept., p. 2; Lee, T. H. (1996). The open united front: The communist struggle in Singapore. Singapore: South Seas Society, p. 209. (Call no.: RSING 959.5703 LEE-[HIS]); Balakrishna, V. R. (1976). A brief history of the Singapore trade union movement. Singapore: National Trades Union Congress, p. 6. (Call no.: RSING 331.88095957 BAL); SATU – the TUC successor. (1961, August 17). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Lim-Ng, B. E. (Ed.). (1986). Chronology of trade union development in Singapore 1940–1985. Singapore: National Trades Union Congress, p. 14. (Call no.: RSING 331.88095957 CHR)
20. Chew, S. B. (1991). Trade unionism in Singapore. Singapore: McGraw-Hill, p. 33. (Call no.: RSING 331.8095957 CHE); 14-man body is set up to form a new Trade Union Centre. (1961, August 18). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 2017 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Subject
Organisations>>Trade Unions
Business, finance and industry>>Economics>>Labour economics>>Labour unions
Labor unions--Singapore
Labour and employment
History>>Asia>>Southeast Asia>>Singapore