Singapore Association of Trade Unions


The Singapore Association of Trade Unions (SATU) was one of the two rival groups that emerged from the split of the Singapore Trades Union Congress following the breakaway of the leftists in the Peoples Action Party to form their own political party. Being communist-controlled, SATU and the unions under its umbrella were engaged in activities that were inconsistent with their objectives and rules as well as prejudicial to law and order in Singapore. As a result, some of the unions were de-registered and SATU itself was refused registration. This resulted in an exodus of SATU unions to its rival, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), which remains to today the central trade union organization in Singapore. .     

On 21 July 1961, the leftists in the PAP broke away to form Barisan Sosialis, and the division resulted in a split in the leadership in the Singapore Trades Union Congress (STUC).  On 25 July, the STUC was dissolved. The pro-Barisan leaders formed the Singapore Association of Trade Unions (SATU) led by Lim Chin Siong, and applied for registration with the government on August 16.  The pro-PAP leaders formed the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) led by Che'Awang and Devan Nair.     

As SATU was a conglomerate consisting of their own unions and other unions, a Working Committee for the communist unions was formed to manage the latter.  Initially it comprised only representatives of the various federations of trade unions deregistered by the government in May 1960, but it was later expanded to include leaders of the other unions not members of the federations.  

From 21 July 1961 to 31 December 1961, there were 84 strikes in Singapore. SATU was allegedly behind 77 of them, and was watched closely by the government.  In late August 1963, seven extremist unions from SATU were served notices by the Registrar of Trade Unions for displaying anti-Malaysia banners and placards during a mass rally on 25 August 1963.  They were asked to justify why they should not be deregistered for participating in what was regarded as communist united front activities.  Although there were some protests against the notices, the communists decided to focus their attention on the upcoming election.  On 21 September 1963, the PAP secured a landslide win against the Barisan at the polls.  The victory marked the decline of SATU. 
On 3 October 1963, SATU held a protest meeting to condemn and demand the withdrawal of the dissolution order against the seven extremist unions.  They also condemned the government's action against the Nanyang University students.  On 7 October, SATU called an island-wide strike on the following two days.  They also planned mass demonstrations by students of Nanyang University and Chinese middle schools, and members of the outlawed peasant and hawker unions.  Hours before the strike, the police arrested SATU's president S.T. Bani and many other officials, and declared the strike as illegal.  By that time, many unions had decided to distance themselves from SATU, and ignored its call for a strike.  The strike died out on the first day.  

On 30 October 1963, the seven extremist unions were deregistered for being used for purposes that were inconsistent with their objectives and rules.  To prevent members of the de-registered unions from joining NTUC, the communists instructed them to join the other unions under the SATU's umbrella.  About 40,000 of the 60,000 affected members joined the Singapore Commercial House & Factory Employees' Union (SCHFEU), making it the stronghold of the Communist trade union movement.

On 13 November 1963, SATU was refused registration for serving unlawful purposes that were inconsistent with its rules and objects, and its 29 trade unions were affected. To woo these unions, the Singapore Manual and Mercantile Workers Union (SMMWU), which was an affiliate of NTUC, mounted an aggressive campaign.  By November, 74 branches from the deregistered SATU unions had joined SMMWU


Joshua Chia Yeong Jia


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(Call no.: RSING 331.8095957 CHE)

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(Call no.: RSING 959.57 LEE)

Lee, T. H. (1996).  The open united front: the communist struggle in Singapore (pp. 62, 206-209, 266-268).  Singapore: South Seas Society.
(Call no.: RSING 959.5703 LEE)

Lim - Ng, B. E. (Ed.) (1986).  Chronology of trade union development in Singapore 1940 - 1985 (pp. 14-17).  Singapore: National Trades Union Congress.
(Call no.: RSING 331.88095957 CHR)

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The information in this article is valid as at 2008 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. 

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

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