Jamit Singh



Jamit Singh (b. 1929, Ipoh, Malaysia–d. 10 December 1994, Ipoh, Malaysia) was a well-known trade unionist in Singapore. He inspired and united the port workers in colonial Singapore against the Singapore Harbour Board, and won several concessions for them in 1955.1 However, Jamit was subsequently banned from entering Singapore until 1990.2

Early life
Jamit was born in 1929 to a relatively well-off and respected Sikh family, his father working as a railway station master. Jamit did not wear a turban or grow a beard like most Sikhs. He completed secondary school in Malaya, and came to Singapore in the early 1950s to pursue his university education.3


On 23 February 1953, Jamit and a group of undergraduates established the University of Malaya Socialist Club and became its publications secretary. This was in addition to his appointments as the honorary president or secretary in other student clubs. Jamit did not complete his university education. He had been unemployed for a year when he met Lee Kuan Yew. Lee then brought him into the Singapore Harbour Board Staff Association (SHBSA) as a fulltime paid secretary in 1954.4

Singapore Harbour Board Staff Association
Jamit was recruited into the trade union for his knowledge of English.5 At the time, harbour workers were frustrated that the management had failed to settle claims, some of which dated to the 1940s. Earlier negotiations by union representatives broke down. In protest, the SHBSA started the “go-slow”, whereby the SHBSA members deliberately took a longer time to complete their work on the docks. This prompted the management of the Singapore Harbour Board to accuse the SHBSA of economic sabotage. The SHBSA then overwhelmingly voted in favour of a strike action. The strike began at midnight on 1 May 1955. The SHBSA rallied its 1,300 members and together they left about 20 ships stranded alongside the SHB wharves.6


With ongoing negotiations with the management, the SHBSA was now primed for a prolonged strike. Jamit used the workers’ discontent over the unsettled claims as a leverage. Together with his negotiating team, Jamit managed to bring the issues to the local government’s attention. The SHBSA strike was generally peaceful and lasted 67 days. The strike ended with a 15-point final agreement that was reached on 7 July 1955 after 100 hours of negotiation at the Ministry of Labour. As per the terms of the agreement, SHBSA members were offered wage increases and shorter working hours. These changes cost the SHB $11,500. Jamit considered the settlement to be an achievement for the trade union movement in Singapore.7

After the successful settlement with the SHB, in 1956 Jamit attempted to unite the various waterfront trade unions, which were at the time divided along occupational and ethnic lines. By April 1956, he had managed to convince five unions, including SHBSA, to dissolve and form the new SHB Workers’ Union (SHBWU). The SHBWU had about 10,000 members, and was formally registered with the Ministry of Labour as a trade union in December 1956.8

Barisan Sosialis
During the 1959 Legislative Assembly general election, Jamit went door-to-door canvassing for votes for the People’s Action Party (PAP). On 30 May 1959, the PAP swept the polls, winning 43 of the 51 seats.9


However, ideological differences soon arose within the PAP, culminating in a historic split that led to the formation of the left-wing faction known as the Barisan Sosialis. The PAP had the support of the pro-government National Trades Union Congress, while the Barisan Socialis was affiliated with the Singapore Association of Trade Unions (SATU). SATU was an umbrella organisation made up of Singapore’s six major trade unions.10 Jamit, a union leader, was known as one of the TUC (Trade Union Congress) Six. The other five were Lim Chin Siong, Fong Swee Suan, Sidney Woodhull, Dominic Puthucheary and S. T. Bani.11

Banishment
On 18 October 1962, Jamit, then secretary-general of the SHBSA, and Yeow Fook Yuen were charged with criminal breach of trust of the SHBSA’s funds.12 They were accused of misappropriating SHBSA’s funds amounting to $7,000. Deputy Public Prosecutor Francis Seow initially recommended that Jamit be denied bail, but the presiding judge, Justice Choor Singh, refused. The trial lasted 23 days.13


Yeow and Jamit were found guilty and sentenced to nine and 18 months imprisonment respectively, and Jamit was to serve his term in Malaysia. Both appealed against the verdict. It was alleged that the sums taken were loans that were later ratified by the executive council of the SHBSA. Chief Justice Wee Chong Jin presided over the appeal and upheld the initial verdict. However, the prison sentences of both Yeow and Jamit were eventually suspended and replaced with fines.14

On 2 February 1963, Jamit was arrested during Operation Coldstore, a crackdown on alleged pro-communist activities to prevent suspected political subversives from mobilising mass support against the Singapore government. He was placed under restriction orders by the Internal Security Council.15

Jamit was then imprisoned for a year in the Batu Gajah Detention Camp in the Federation of Malaya.16 He was subsequently banned from entering Singapore, until November 1990 when the Singapore government lifted the entry ban.17

Later life
After his release in March 1964, Jamit settled down in Ipoh, Malaysia, and worked as a schoolteacher in the Anglo-Chinese School. He was later transferred to the Methodist School, where he retired as its principal.18


Jamit died of a heart attack in his home on 10 December 1994. A memorial service was held in January 1995 in the Anglo-Chinese School auditorium in Ipoh where an estimated 150 people paid tribute to him.19



Author

Lee Hwee Hoon



References
1. Liew, K. K. (2004, October). The anchor and the voice of 10,000 waterfront workers: Jamit Singh in the Singapore Story (1954–63). Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 35(3), 459–478, pp. 459, 463, 466, 476. (Call no.: RSING 959.005 JSA)
2. Government lifts entry ban on nine Malaysians. (1990, December 1). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Liew, K. K. (2004, October). The anchor and the voice of 10,000 waterfront workers: Jamit Singh in the Singapore Story (1954–63). Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 35(3), 459–478, p. 463. (Call no.: RSING 959.005 JSA)
4. Liew, K. K. (2004, October). The anchor and the voice of 10,000 waterfront workers: Jamit Singh in the Singapore Story (1954–63). Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 35(3), 459–478, p. 464. (Call no.: RSING 959.005 JSA)
5. Liew, K. K. (2004, October). The anchor and the voice of 10,000 waterfront workers: Jamit Singh in the Singapore Story (1954–63). Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 35(3), 459–478, p. 464. (Call no.: RSING 959.005 JSA)
6. Liew, K. K. (2004, October). The anchor and the voice of 10,000 waterfront workers: Jamit Singh in the Singapore Story (1954–63). Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 35(3), 459–478, pp. 465–466. (Call no.: RSING 959.005 JSA)
7. Liew, K. K. (2004, October). The anchor and the voice of 10,000 waterfront workers: Jamit Singh in the Singapore Story (1954–63). Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 35(3), 459–478, pp. 466–467. (Call no.: RSING 959.005 JSA)
8. Liew, K. K. (2004, October). The anchor and the voice of 10,000 waterfront workers: Jamit Singh in the Singapore Story (1954–63). Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 35(3), 459–478, p. 467. (Call no.: RSING 959.005 JSA)
9. Liew, K. K. (2004, October). The anchor and the voice of 10,000 waterfront workers: Jamit Singh in the Singapore Story (1954–63). Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 35(3), 459–478, pp. 469–470. (Call no.: RSING 959.005 JSA)
10. Liew, K. K. (2004, October). The anchor and the voice of 10,000 waterfront workers: Jamit Singh in the Singapore Story (1954–63). Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 35(3), 459–478, p. 471. (Call no.: RSING 959.005 JSA); Trocki, C. A. (2006). Singapore: Wealth, power and the culture of control. New York: Routledge, p. 123. (Call no.: RSING 959.5705 TRO-[HIS])
11. Hussin Mutalib. (2004). Parties and politics: A study of opposition parties and PAP in Singapore. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Academic, p. 75. (Call no.: RSING 324.25957 HUS); Liew, K. K. (2004, October). The anchor and the voice of 10,000 waterfront workers: Jamit Singh in the Singapore Story (1954–63). Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 35(3), 459–478, p. 471. (Call no.: RSING 959.005 JSA); Trocki, C. A. (2006). Singapore: Wealth, power and the culture of control. New York: Routledge, p. 123. (Call no.: RSING 959.5705 TRO-[HIS])
12. Hussin Mutalib. (2004). Parties and politics: A study of opposition parties and PAP in Singapore. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Academic, p. 100. (Call no.: RSING 324.25957 HUS)
13. Liew, K. K. (2004, October). The anchor and the voice of 10,000 waterfront workers: Jamit Singh in the Singapore Story (1954–63). Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 35(3), 459–478, p. 473. (Call no.: RSING 959.005 JSA)
14. Liew, K. K. (2004, October). The anchor and the voice of 10,000 waterfront workers: Jamit Singh in the Singapore Story (1954–63). Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 35(3), 459–478, p. 475. (Call no.: RSING 959.005 JSA)
15. Government lifts entry ban on nine Malaysians. (1990, December 1). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Trocki, C. A. (2006). Singapore: Wealth, power and the culture of control. New York: Routledge, p. 124. (Call no.: RSING 959.5705 TRO-[HIS])
16. Gu, R. (2004). Malaysia: 45 Years under the ISA: Detention without trial. Malaysia: Strategic Information Research Development, p. 100. (Call no.: RSEA 345.59502322 GU)
17. Liew, K. K. (2004, October). The anchor and the voice of 10,000 waterfront workers: Jamit Singh in the Singapore Story (1954–63). Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 35(3), 459–478, p. 475. (Call no.: RSING 959.005 JSA); Government lifts entry ban on nine Malaysians. (1990, December 1). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Liew, K. K. (2004, October). The anchor and the voice of 10,000 waterfront workers: Jamit Singh in the Singapore Story (1954–63). Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 35(3), 459–478, p. 476. (Call no.: RSING 959.005 JSA)
19. Liew, K. K. (2004, October). The anchor and the voice of 10,000 waterfront workers: Jamit Singh in the Singapore Story (1954–63). Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 35(3), 459–478, p. 476. (Call no.: RSING 959.005 JSA)



Further resources

Brown, R. A. (1981). The Indian minority and political change in Malaya, 1945–1957. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Oxford University Press, pp. 218–219.

(Call no.: RSING 325.25409595 AMP)

Fong, S. C. (1980). The PAP story: The pioneering years, November 1954–April 1968: A diary of events of the People’s Action Party: Reminiscences of an old cadre. Singapore: Times Periodicals, p. 125.
(Call no.: RSING 329.95957 FON)

Lydgate, C. (2003). Lee’s law: How Singapore crushes dissent. Melbourne: Scribe Publications, pp. 39–40.
(Call no.: RSING 959.5705092 LDY-[HIS])

Turnbull, C. M. (1989). A history of Singapore, 1819–1988. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 245.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS])



The information in this article is valid as at 2009 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
Labor leaders--Singapore--Biography
Business, finance and industry>>Economics>>Labour economics>>Labour unions
Singh, Jamit, 1929–1994
Politicians
Personalities>>Biographies>>Political Leaders