Singapore Glass Factory strike



The Singapore Glass Manufacturers Co Ltd was a leading manufacturer of glassware, plastics and cardboard in Singapore.1 Its factory, popularly known as the Singapore Glass Factory, stood on Henderson Road, and was a famous landmark in Bukit Merah for many years.2 Established in 1948 shortly after World War II, the factory at Henderson had a workforce of more than 950 people by 1973.3 Since the 1950s, however, relations between the company and its employees had become strained due to several issues such as the retrenchment of workers.4 This culminated in a strike on 28 August 19605 involving about 600 employees which lasted 73 days before it was settled, and workers returned in batches to the factory on 9 November.6 The strike was marked by a number of incidents, including a demonstration by non-striking employees outside the Istana.7

Incidents
On the afternoon of 21 October 1960, the picketers formed a human chain to prevent a lorry carrying machinery from leaving the factory. The police failed to persuade the strikers to disperse, and a scuffle broke out. Four policemen were injured, and 39 strikers including eight women were arrested. At the lockup at Tanjong Pagar Police Station, those arrested created a scene by stomping on their bedsteads, singing, clapping and shouting.8 They were subsequently charged under the Trade Disputes Ordinance.9

At 8 am on 28 October, a group of workers arrived in four lorries to resume work at the factory. However, they were quickly surrounded by strikers who tried to persuade them from breaking the strike. A heated argument between the two groups broke out, and the police dispersed them.10 A few days later, on 1 November, two lorries carrying 42 workers arrived at the factory gate. The workers had earlier met with then Labour and Law Minister K. M. Byrne regarding their intention to resume work. Officials from the Ministry of Labour informed the strikers that they could persuade their colleagues not to resume work, but they were not allowed to obstruct them or to use violence. Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and uniformed police officers were deployed at the scene to maintain law and order. However, the strikers ignored the directive, and linked their arms to form a human barrier to prevent the workers from entering the premises. Fighting between the two groups broke out, and 38 workers managed to fight their way into the factory. The police moved in and arrested 14 people, 13 of whom were from the picket line. The “strike-breakers”, referring to those who did participate in the strike, later revealed that they decided to resume work as they needed money badly. Due to the volatile situation outside, they decided to stay in the factory.11

Resolution
On 3 November, representatives from the Singapore Machine & Engineering Employees‘Union met with Labour and Law Minister Byrne to seek arbitration for the labour dispute.12 By 4 November, it was expected that the strike would end very soon, and the strikers picketed peacefully outside the factory. However, they prevented the factory oil tankers from entering the premises.13

After two rounds of talks chaired by James Puthucheary, then manager of the Industrial Promotion Board, an agreement was reached on 8 November between the union and the management of the company. The company agreed to re-employ its workers as work became available on the basis of seniority of service in their respective departments. The union, on the other hand, agreed to provide a written undertaking that they would not call any strike or stoppage without giving at least four days’ notice. In addition, they agreed to allow the factory to have unrestricted access to fuel oil supply at all times. Both parties also agreed to resume negotiations that had been interrupted by the strike within four weeks, and to refer all matters that remained unsettled to arbitration.14

Despite the resolution reached on 8 November, the strikers continued to harass those that did not participate in the strike by gathering at the gate in anticipation of the strike-breakers. Riot-control vans were called in to maintain order. Eventually the strike-breakers were ferried out of the factory in lorries. The 73-day strike ended when workers returned in batches to the factory on 9 November.15



Author

Joshua Chia Yeong Jia



References
1. Singapore Glass plan new products. (1958, October 17). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Leong, W. K. (1994), August 28). Hunt for items reflecting history of Bukit Merah. The Straits Times, p. 7; Meeting new challenges with 25 years of experience and skills. (1973, October 4). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Meeting new challenges with 25 years of experience and skills. (1973, October 4). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Singapore. Labour Dept. (1961). Annual report of the Labour Department 1960 [Microfilm no.: NL 9771]. Singapore: Labour Dept, pp. 17–18; Bid to end glass strike. (1951, August 6). The Straits Times, p. 7; Glass plant prepares to shut as 580 go on strike. (1958, June 9). The Singapore Free Press, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Singapore. Labour Dept. (1961). Annual report of the Labour Department 1960 [Microfilm no.: NL 9771]. Singapore: Labour Dept, pp. 17–18.
6. Glass plant strike now settled after 73 days. (1960, November 9). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Singapore. Labour Dept. (1961). Annual report of the Labour Department 1960 [Microfilm no.: NL 9771]. Singapore: Labour Dept, pp. 17–18; ‘Intimidatory tactics don’t cut any ice – we are tough guys’. (1960, August 31). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Detained men create row at station. (1960, October 22). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. 39 Glass strikers in court. (1960, November 5). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10 Groups argue outside the factory . (1960, October 29). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. 38 fight their way into factory. (1960, November 2). The Straits Times, pp. 1, 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Strikers seek arbitration. (1960, November 4). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Glass strike may end by Monday. (1960, November 5)The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Glass plant strike now settled after 73 days. (1960, November 9). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Singapore. Labour Department. (1961). Annual report of the Labour Department 1960 [Microfilm no.: NL 9771]. Singapore: Labour Dept, pp. 17–18
15. Glass plant strike now settled after 73 days. (1960, November 9). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



Further resources
Hall, N. (1949, September 21). Bottles by the many millions. The Singapore Free Press, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.


Singapore Glass. (1970, January 12). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 2016 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>>Companies
Business enterprises
Commerce and Industry>>Labour and Employment
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Manufacturing industries
History>>Asia>>Southeast Asia>>Singapore
Strikes and lockouts--Singapore
Singapore Glass Factory--History
Business, finance and industry>>Economics>>Labour economics>>Labour unions
Labour and employment
Singapore Glass Factory Strike, 1960