Fong Swee Suan


Fong Swee Suan (Dr) (b. 27 October 1931, Senggarang, Batu Pahat, Johor, Malaya–4 February 2017, Singapore) was a trade unionist who was active in the Singapore labour scene during the 1950s and 1960s. He is often associated with Lim Chin Siong, a fellow trade union activist. Fong was also one of the convenors at the inauguration of the People’s Action Party (PAP) in 1954.

Early life and education
Fong was born in Senggarang, a township located within the Batu Pahat district of Johor, Malaya. Senggarang was a bustling town well known for producing betel nuts. Fong’s grandparents and parents had settled in Senggarang after arriving from China. Fong’s father operated a laundry shop in town and his eldest brother ran a tailoring business before the war. Fong lived with his mother, who ran a betel nut plantation in a nearby village, and attended the local Zhong Hua Primary School.1

In 1949, Fong left for Batu Pahat town to study at Hua Qiao Secondary School.2 In 1950, Fong went to Singapore to study at The Chinese High School, where he was placed in the same class as Lim Chin Siong.3 In 1951, he was expelled from school for being one of 108 students who boycotted the new Junior Middle III examination. The examination was introduced by the British colonial administration and was seen by some members of the Chinese community as an instrument of discrimination against Chinese vernacular schools.4

After his expulsion, Fong applied to study at the Chinese teacher’s training college but was rejected because of his involvement in the boycott. He then studied at a private English school for a short while before starting work as a clerk in a shipping company.5

In 1952, he joined the Green Bus Company as a ticket seller.6 While working there, he became a member of the Singapore Bus Workers’ Union (SBWU). In 1953, the then 22-year-old Fong was elected secretary-general of the SBWU.7

Joining the People’s Action Party
In 1954, Fong was introduced to Lee Kuan Yew by the students of the Singapore Chinese Middle School Students’ Union. At that time, Lee was the legal adviser to the union and was planning to form a political party that had the support of the unions.8

When Lee co-founded the PAP in 1954, Fong agreed to be a convenor for the party as he felt that the PAP was a suitable partner in the fight against colonialism and for workers’ rights.9 Subsequently, he was made a member of the first Central Executive Committee of the PAP.10

Union career and political ideology
Fong continued to be a union activist throughout the 1950s. Together with Lim Chin Siong, Fong formed the Singapore Factory and Shop Workers’ Union in 1954. He also served as an adviser to many other trade unions.11

Fong was seen as a major instigator of the strike that eventually resulted in the Hock Lee Bus riots of 1955. In a newspaper interview years later, Fong claimed that the strike was not instigated by the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) but admitted that there could have been elements within the party who took advantage of the situation.12 Fong admitted responsibility for the strike which preceded the riots, but not for causing the riots.13 Fong was arrested in June 1955 for his involvement in the riot.14 He was held for 45 days in detention under the Emergency Regulations.15

A year later, Fong was again arrested on 24 October 1956 under the Preservation of Public Security Ordinance (PPSO) for his alleged involvement in the Singapore Chinese Middle School Students’ Union riots.16 He was detained at Changi camp with other union leaders, including Lim Chin Siong, C. V. Devan Nair, Sidney Woodhull and James Puthucheary.17

Following the PAP’s victory at the 1959 elections, Fong and seven other detainees – Nair, Lim, Woodhull, Puthucheary, Tan Chong King, Chan Say Jame and Chan Chiew Thor – were released from detention.18 Upon their release, the union leaders issued and signed a statement titled “The Ends and Means of Socialism”, which endorsed the PAP’s objective of achieving an independent, democratic, non-communist Malaya through peaceful constitutional means.19

Under the PAP government, Fong served briefly as the Political Secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Law,20 where his experience as a union leader was put to use settling numerous industrial disputes.21

The collaboration between Lee’s faction and the unionists within the PAP began to fall apart over the issue of merger with Malaysia. While Lee and his associates campaigned for independence through joining the Federation of Malaysia, Fong and the unionists were against the idea of merger.

On 14 July 1961, Lee asked Fong and two other political secretaries, namely Lim and Woodhull, to resign from their posts. This was because they had, together with union leaders Jamit Singh, S. T. Bani and Dominic Puthucheary, issued a statement on 2 June 1961 calling for the abolition of the Internal Security Council and for full self-government. The statement was issued in response to comments made by Tunku Abdul Rahman, then the Prime Minister of Malaya, at a Foreign Correspondents’ Association of Southeast Asia luncheon that Singapore could become a part of Malaysia.22

Fong and the five others who issued the statement were secretaries in the Trade Union Congress (TUC). Fong and the other union leaders were against merger as they felt it was a ploy to suppress the leftists and would negatively affect the livelihood and rights of workers and Singapore citizens.23

The difference in opinion over the merger issue split the PAP. The unionists left the PAP and formed a new party known as the Barisan Sosialis. In addition, the TUC was disbanded. In August 1961, the Singapore Association of Trade Unions (SATU) was formed with Fong as the secretary-general.24 That same month, Fong joined the newly formed Barisan Sosialis as party secretary.25

On 2 February 1963, Fong was arrested in his home as part of Operation Cold Store.26 He was subsequently taken to Malaysia for detention and was only released on 25 August 1967.27

Fong’s activism in the trade union stemmed from his belief that at the heart of trade unionism was the struggle against oppression and exploitation. Trade unionism was thus a dynamic force of politics that would lead to the creation of a socialist society.28 Fong has maintained the position that he is a socialist and not a pro-communist.29

Later years
Following his release from detention in 1967, Fong stayed on in Malaysia and worked in Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bahru as he had been banned from entering Singapore since the previous year.30 In 1976, Fong started a company that handled heavy machinery and property investments.31

In 1991, Fong obtained a correspondence Bachelor of Business Administration degree from Kensington University in the US. After retiring in 1996, Fong continued his studies and obtained his master's and doctorate in business administration through a distance learning programme offered by St Clements University in the British West Indies.

In December 1990, the ban on Fong’s entry to Singapore was lifted.32 He then returned to Singapore as a permanent resident to live with his wife, fellow trade unionist Chen Poh Cheng,33 and daughter. He has two other sons, one of whom is Singaporean author Otto Fong.34

Fong passed away on 4 February 2017 at his home at the age of 85.35



Author

Jaime Koh




References
1. 方水双 [Fong, S. S.]. (2007). 方水双回忆录 [Memoirs of Fong Swee Suan]. 新山:新山陶德书香出版 [Johor Bahru : Xin shan tao de shu xiang lou, Johor Bahru], pp. 1–2. (Call no.: RSEA Chinese 959.5704 FSS -[HIS])
2. 方水双 [Fong, S. S.]. (2007). 方水双回忆录 [Memoirs of Fong Swee Suan]. 新山:新山陶德书香出版 [Johor Bahru : Xin shan tao de shu xiang lou, Johor Bahru], p. 22. (Call no.: RSEA Chinese 959.5704 FSS -[HIS])
3. 方水双 [Fong, S. S.]. (2007). 方水双回忆录 [Memoirs of Fong Swee Suan]. 新山:新山陶德书香出版 [Johor Bahru : Xin shan tao de shu xiang lou, Johor Bahru], p. 2. (Call no.: Chinese RSEA 959.5704 FSS -[HIS])
4. 方水双 [Fong, S. S.]. (2007). 方水双回忆录 [Memoirs of Fong Swee Suan]. 新山:新山陶德书香出版 [Johor Bahru : Xin shan tao de shu xiang lou, Johor Bahru], p. 29. (Call no.: RSEA Chinese 959.5704 FSS -[HIS])
5. 方水双 [Fong, S. S.]. (2007). 方水双回忆录 [Memoirs of Fong Swee Suan]. 新山:新山陶德书香出版 [Johor Bahru : Xin shan tao de shu xiang lou, Johor Bahru], p. 30. (Call no.: Chinese RSEA 959.5704 FSS -[HIS])
6. 方水双 [Fong, S. S.]. (2007). 方水双回忆录 [Memoirs of Fong Swee Suan]. 新山:新山陶德书香出版 [Johor Bahru : Xin shan tao de shu xiang lou, Johor Bahru], p. 31. (Call no.: RSEA Chinese 959.5704 FSS -[HIS])
7. 方水双 [Fong, S. S.]. (2007). 方水双回忆录 [Memoirs of Fong Swee Suan]. 新山:新山陶德书香出版 [Johor Bahru : Xin shan tao de shu xiang lou, Johor Bahru], p. 286. (Call no.: RSEA Chinese 959.5704 FSS -[HIS])
8. Yap, S., Lim, R., & Leong, W. K. (2009). Men in white: The untold story of Singapore’s ruling political party. Singapore: Singapore Press Holdings, pp. 37–38. (Call no.: RSING 324.25957 YAP)
9. 方水双 [Fong, S. S.]. (2007). 方水双回忆录 [Memoirs of Fong Swee Suan]. 新山:新山陶德书香出版 [Johor Bahru : Xin shan tao de shu xiang lou, Johor Bahru], pp. 38–41. (Call no.: RSEA Chinese 959.5704 FSS -[HIS])
10. Fong, S. C. (1980). The PAP Story – the pioneering years. Singapore: Times Periodicals, p. 14. (Call no.: RSING 329.95957 FON)
11. Fong, S. C. (1980). The PAP Story – the pioneering years. Singapore: Times Periodicals, p. 33. (Call no.: RSING 329.95957 FON); Yap, S., Lim, R., & Leong, W. K. (2009). Men in white: The untold story of Singapore’s ruling political party. Singapore: Singapore Press Holdings, p. 87. (Call no.: RSING 324.25957 YAP).
12. 陈天明 [Chen, T. M.]. (2007, April 26). 方水双出版回忆录 1955年福利巴士工潮 “主谋”方水双揭秘辛 [Fong Swee Suan memoirs reveal truth behind the 1955 Hock Lee Bus Riots]. 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao]. p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Yap, S, R. Lim and Leong W. K. (2009). Men in white: The untold story of Singapore’s ruling political party. Singapore: Singapore Press Holdings, p. 78. (Call no.: RSING 324.25957 YAP)
14. Yap, S, R. Lim and Leong W. K. (2009). Men in white: The untold story of Singapore’s ruling political party. Singapore: Singapore Press Holdings, p. 87. (Call no.: RSING 324.25957 YAP)
15. Fong is back: It’s a big surprise. (1955, July 26) The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Yap, S., Lim, R., & Leong, W. K. (2009). Men in white: The untold story of Singapore’s ruling political party. Singapore: Singapore Press Holdings, pp. 90–92. (Call no.: RSING 324.25957 YAP).
17. Yap, S., Lim, R., & Leong, W. K. (2009). Men in white: The untold story of Singapore’s ruling political party. Singapore: Singapore Press Holdings, p. 92. (Call no.: RSING 324.25957 YAP).
18. Lee, K. Y. (1998). The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew. Singapore: Times Editions, pp. 362–371. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 LEE -[HIS])
19. Fong, S. C. (1980). The PAP Story – the pioneering years. Singapore: Times Periodicals, pp. 97–98. (Call no.: RSING 329.95957 FON)
20. Yap, S., Lim, R., & Leong, W. K. (2009). Men in white: The untold story of Singapore’s ruling political party. Singapore: Singapore Press Holdings, p. 211. (Call no.: RSING 324.25957 YAP)
21. 方水双 [Fong, S. S.]. (2007). 方水双回忆录 [Memoirs of Fong Swee Suan]. 新山:新山陶德书香出版 [Johor Bahru : Xin shan tao de shu xiang lou, Johor Bahru], pp. 129–138. (Call no.: Chinese RSEA 959.5704 FSS -[HIS]); Lee, X. Y. (2009, May 30). We came out feeling very low, very sombre’. The Straits Times, p. 98. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Lee, K. Y. (1998). The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew. Singapore: Times Editions, pp. 362–371. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 LEE -[HIS])
23. 方水双 [Fong, S. S.]. (2007). 方水双回忆录 [Memoirs of Fong Swee Suan]. 新山:新山陶德书香出版 [Johor Bahru : Xin shan tao de shu xiang lou, Johor Bahru], p. 145. (Call no.: RSEA Chinese 959.5704 FSS -[HIS])
24. Now a split in T.U.C. (1961, July 18). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Fong, S. C. (1980). The PAP Story – the pioneering years. Singapore: Times Periodicals, pp. 97–98. (Call no.: RSING 329.95957 FON)
25. Yap, S., Lim, R., & Leong, W. K. (2009). Men in white: The untold story of Singapore’s ruling political party. Singapore: Singapore Press Holdings, p. 211. (Call no.: RSING 324.25957 YAP); 方水双 [Fong, S. S.]. (2007). 方水双回忆录 [Memoirs of Fong Swee Suan]. 新山:新山陶德书香出版 [Johor Bahru : Xin shan tao de shu xiang lou, Johor Bahru], p. 164. (Call no.: RSEA Chinese 959.5704 FSS -[HIS])
26. Abisheganaden, F. (1963, February 3). 107 held in Singapore dawn drive. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Yap, S., Lim, R., & Leong, W. K. (2009). Men in white: The untold story of Singapore’s ruling political party. Singapore: Singapore Press Holdings, p. 247. (Call no.: RSING 324.25957 YAP); 方水双[Fong, S. S.]. (2007). 方水双回忆录 [Memoirs of Fong Swee Suan]. 新山:新山陶德书香出版 [Johor Bahru : Xin shan tao de shu xiang lou, Johor Bahru], pp. 180–181, 206. (Call no.: Chinese RSEA 959.5704 FSS -[HIS])
28. 方水双 [Fang, S. S.]. (1962). 工运论文集 [Essays on trade unionism]. 新加坡:阵线报出版委员会 [Xinjiapo] : Zhen xian bao chu ban wei yuan hui. (Call no.: RCLOS Chinese 322.2095957 FSS)
29. 我是社会主义者, 不是亲共分子 [I am a socialist, not a pro-communist]. (2007, April 26). 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 14 Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Govt lifts entry ban on nine Malaysians. (1990, December 1). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. 方水双 [Fong, S. S.]. (2007). 方水双回忆录 [Memoirs of Fong Swee Suan]. 新山:新山陶德书香出版 [Johor Bahru : Xin shan tao de shu xiang lou, Johor Bahru], p. 227. (Call no.: Chinese RSEA 959.5704 FSS -[HIS])
32. Govt lifts entry ban on nine Malaysians. (1990, December 1). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. Bride for a top unionist. (1960, September 3). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34. 方水双 [Fong, S. S.]. (2007). 方水双回忆录 [Memoirs of Fong Swee Suan]. 新山:新山陶德书香出版 [Johor Bahru : Xin shan tao de shu xiang lou, Johor Bahru], p. 288. (Call no.: RSEA Chinese 959.5704 FSS -[HIS])
35. Former leftist trade unionist Fong Swee Suan dies, aged 85. (2017, February 5). The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/ 



Further resources

A call to oppose 'PAP type merger'. (1961, October 2). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.


A new charge by Swee Suan. (1962, November 13). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Alexandra in turmoil. (1985, January 13). Singapore Monitor, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Fong: Stop 'divide and rule' attempts. (1960, September 25). The Straits Times, p. 4. 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 history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Subject
Riots
Personalities
Biographies
Politics and Government

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