The Straits Times strike



The Straits Times strike arose from a dispute over the terms of reinstatement of a dismissed worker. The strike was considered illegal as no prior notice was given as required by law. The Straits Times management subsequently dismissed the workers who took part in the walkout. The workers, on realising that their action was illegal, agreed to return to work but were locked out of their workplace.1

Causes
On  2 February 1954, the eve of Chinese New Year, a worker  at The Straits Times Press pestered two other Chinese operators to stop work early. The management took action and dismissed the worker, who happened to be an official of the Singapore Printing Employees' Union (SPEU).2 Although the management later agreed to reinstate the worker, there was a dispute over the terms of reinstatement. This resulted in 300 printing employees going on strike without giving the 14 days’ strike notice as required under the Emergency laws.3 To maximise the impact, they held the strike on Saturday, 6 February, so that The Sunday Times, which had the highest circulation, would not be published the following day.4

On 7 February, The Sunday Times carried a front-page notice informing the striking workers that they had been dismissed but would be reinstated if they reported to work before noon that day.5 On Monday, 8 February, SPEU secretary Othman Wok called an urgent meeting at the union's headquarters in Anson Road. He urged the workers to resume work as the strike was illegal, and they agreed. However, when they turned up for work, they were locked out of the premises except for a handful who were favoured by management. The management was seen as taking the opportunity to dismiss unwanted workers and union leaders. Eventually, only 50 out of the 300 workers who went on strike were reinstated. Hence, the strike continued and the workers picketed outside The Straits Times office, demanding fairer treatment and better wages.6

Resolution
The SPEU continued their negotiations with the Straits Times management. It was an uphill task as The Straits Times was a powerful employer and represented the voice of the British establishment in colonial Singapore. After discussions with the union, the management agreed to withdraw the notices of dismissal and pay two months' wages and contributions to the provident fund of about half of the employees who had walked out. They also offered priority for re-employment of the dismissed workers at a later date.7 The dispute was eventually settled and the men returned to work on 22 February.8



Author

Joshua Chia Yeong Jia



References
1. Singapore. Labour Dept. (1956). Annual report of the Labour Department 1954 [Microfilm no.: NL 9771]. Singapore: Labour Dept, p. 11; Othman Wok. (2000). Never in my wildest dreams. Singapore: Raffles, p. 116. (Call no.: RSING 324.25957009 OTH)
2. Turnbull, C. M. (1995). Dateline Singapore: 150 years of the Straits Times. Singapore: Times Editions for Singapore Press Holdings, p. 197. (Call no.: RSING 079.5957 TUR-[HIS])
3. Singapore. Labour Dept. (1956). Annual report of the Labour Department 1954 [Microfilm no.: NL 9771]. Singapore: Labour Dept, p. 11.
4. Othman Wok. (2000). Never in my wildest dreams. Singapore: Raffles, p. 116. (Call no.: RSING 324.25957009 OTH)
5. An illegal strike. (1954, February 11). The Straits Times, p. 6; Trade union principles. (1954, February 18). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Turnbull, C. M. (1995). Dateline Singapore: 150 years of the Straits Times. Singapore: Times Editions for Singapore Press Holdings, p. 194. (Call no.: RSING 079.5957 TUR-[HIS])
6. Othman Wok. (2000). Never in my wildest dreams. Singapore: Raffles, pp. 116–118. (Call no.: RSING 324.25957009 OTH)
7. Singapore. Labour Dept. (1956). Annual report of the Labour Department 1954 [Microfilm no.: NL 9771]. Singapore: Labour Dept, p. 11; Othman Wok. (2000). Never in my wildest dreams. Singapore: Raffles, p. 117. (Call no.: RSING 324.25957009 OTH)
8. Turnbull, C. M. (1995). Dateline Singapore: 150 years of the Straits Times. Singapore: Times Editions for Singapore Press Holdings, p. 197. (Call no.: RSING 079.5957 TUR-[HIS])



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.

 

Subject
Newspaper employees--Labor unions--Singapore
Organisations>>Companies
Business enterprises
Straits Times Strike, Singapore, 1954
Strikes and lockouts--Newspapers--Singapore
Business, finance and industry>>Economics>>Labour economics>>Conditions of employment
The Straits Times Strike, Singapore, 1954
Business, finance and industry>>Economics>>Labour economics>>Labour unions
Organisations>>Trade Unions
Labour and employment