Singapore Labour Party



The Singapore Labour Party (SLP) was inaugurated on 1 September 1948.1 It was fronted largely by English-speaking Indians who underwent the British education system, were exposed to publications on British politics and involved in labour unions.2 The SLP met with some electoral successes such as winning two out of seven seats at the April 1951 Legislative Council general election and three out of six seats at the December 1951 City Council election. Since its formation, however, the party had been wrecked with internal struggles for power, dissension and squabbles, which eventually weakened and fractured the organisation, leading to its demise six years after it was established. On 21 August 1954, the SLP merged with the Singapore Socialist Party to form the Labour Front.

Founding
Formation of the SLP was initiated in 1948 by English-educated Indian trade union leader, Abdul Mirza Majid, president of the Singapore Seamen’s Union and defeated candidate in the 1948 Legislative Council election. Majid declared in a press release that the proposed new party would break the communist influence on the labour movement. Privately, however, Majid’s motive was to attract votes from the large Indian community, whom he believed would be a major winning factor in future elections. M. P. D. Nair, an India-born Indian who was a founding member of the Army Civil Services Union (ACSU), and Peter Williams, a Ceylon-born Tamil and also leader of the ACSU, joined Majid, and the trio jointly inaugurated the SLP at a public meeting on 1 September 1948.3


According to an interview with founding SLP member, Francis Thomas, a British national who had been working as a teacher in Singapore for over a decade, he was unexpectedly elected as one of the SLP’s leaders while in attendance at the inaugural meeting.4

Another significant member of the party was Lim Yew Hock, a third-generation Straits Chinese. He was a legal clerk and trade unionist who enjoyed strong support from English-speaking workers. Lim had been appointed by the governor in 1948 to represent workers’ interests in the Legislative Council. He was initially with the Progressive Party but left and joined the SLP in 1949 upon the persuasion of Nair.5

Objectives

Fashioned after the British Labour Party and borrowing virtually wholesale their party objectives, the SLP aimed to work with trade unions to advance the interests of workers, improve their living conditions and ensure a more equitable distribution of wealth.6

The party also aspired to achieve full self-government for Singapore by 1954, followed by independence through merger with the Federation of Malaya leading to the creation of a “socialist society in Malaya”. It also advocated for state ownership of tin and rubber industries, increased income tax and death duties, a minimum-wage policy and employment insurance for workers, revising the Trade Union Ordinance to allow unions to participate in politics and making National Service voluntary.7

Membership
The SLP was a multiracial party, with membership open to wage earners who were both British and non-British subjects above the age of 21, as well as those who were sympathetic to the causes of labourers and workers.8 Membership subscription was initially set at 50 cents per month or $6 annually. The annual fee was subsequently reduced to $2 per year in August 1949.9 The majority of the party members, which numbered between 3,000 to 4,000 people, were ordinary members of trade unions whose leaders were in the SLP’s general council. The party was fronted predominantly by English-educated leaders who were mostly Indian immigrants. Most had attained up to secondary education, with a few having university qualifications. They were mostly trade unionists and clerks.10

Electoral performance
Municipal elections
At its first showing in the April 1949 Singapore Municipal Council election, the SLP fielded five candidates and won one out of 18 seats.11 In the following year at the December 1949 municipal election, it performed slightly better, fielding six candidates and winning two out of six seats.12 In the City Council election in December 1950, the SLP again fielded six candidates and won one out of six seats.13 At the December 1951 City Council election, the SLP won half of the six seats.14 The following year’s election saw the SLP contesting four out of six wards, winning one.15 In its last City Council election in December 1953, the party contested one out of five wards and failed to win the seat.16

Summarised results of the SLP’s performance at the municipal elections (April 1949–December 1953):

Year

Seats

Candidates

Won

April 1949

18

5

1

December 1949

6

6

2

December 1950

6

6

1

December 1951

6

5

3

December 1952

6

4

1

December 1953

5

1

0


Legislative Assembly general elections
On 7 November 1950, the SLP started their campaign for the April 1951 Legislative Council general election. The party manifesto called for fairer distribution of Singapore Improvement Trust accommodation for labourers, an electoral process for the Municipal Commission and mayor, and municipal control of the Singapore Traction Company.17 It fielded six official candidates and one independent candidate backed by the SLP in the election. Contesting seven out of nine seats, the SLP won two, with C. R. Dasaratha Raj (Rochore) and Lim Yew Hock (Keppel) elected.18


At the 1955 Legislative Assembly election, the SLP’s lone candidate, Lee Yong Min, failed to win majority votes in the Geylang ward.19

Summarised results of the SLP’s performance at the Legislative Assembly elections:

Year

Seats

Candidates

Won

April 1951

9

7

2

April 1955

25

1

0


Organisation

The SLP was composed of a general council of 21 members, an executive committee who was also part of the general council (comprising the president, two vice-presidents, a secretary and a treasurer), several sub-committees and nine periodically active branches in the electoral wards who used members’ houses as their meeting venues. The executive committee and the general council were elected via a secret ballot at the annual party conference, with branch delegates casting votes. Party conventions were also established at the conference. The general council and executive committee had different responsibilities, with the former responsible for establishing the party policies, while the party’s administrative operations were managed by the latter.20


Conferences could be convened by one-third of the membership or branches. However, an amendment to the party constitution after 1951 granted the general council the exclusive right to call for party conferences. By then, however, all branches were virtually inactive and had been shut down as a result of internal dissension.21

The SLP’s operations were rather laissez-faire: It did not have an established office nor were proper membership records, subscription collections or finance accounts kept. The party expenses were funded largely by membership subscriptions and, to a lesser degree, by donations. The party’s biggest expenditure – earmarked for participation in the elections – was bankrolled by the party candidates themselves.22

Internal strife and dissension
From its inception, the SLP had been beset with internal rivalries. This resulted in the changing of the party president on an annual basis. At the 1950 annual conference, a showdown occurred between rival groups, with the out-going president Pat Johnson being ousted and his plan to elect fellow lawyer V. P. Mendis as president, foiled. Lim Yew Hock was elected as the new president and P. M. Williams became the secretary-general.23


At this time, a “rebel group” was also formed by two close friends, Lee Choon Eng and V. K. Nair, in an attempt to better their odds for nomination as candidates in the general elections. This faction snubbed the 1951 annual conference convened by Lim, where he was re-elected as the party president and Williams retained his post as secretary-general. At Williams’s urging, the party constitution was changed to allow only the general council the right to convene party conferences. Williams further strengthened his support cabal within the general council and was eventually able to monopolise it.24

Two groups with distinct identities had emerged by then: a moderate faction comprising mainly Chinese professionals and businessmen led by Lim and Francis Thomas; and Williams’s more radical white-collar office workers.25 The SLP received strong support from the Trade Union Congress via Lim’s group, while Williams, being one of the leaders of the ACSU, was able to help the party establish close links with the union.26

After the party’s impressive performance at the 1951 City Council election, conflicts were exacerbated over the nomination of candidates for the following year’s election, particularly for SLP-dominated constituencies: Harbour Board, Rochore and South Ward. There was a major tussle among the competing factions: Lim’s, Williams’s and the “rebel group” for control of the general council, which was in charge of nominating candidates for elections. By mid-1952, disagreements among the rival factions had descended into an exchange of mudslinging accusations.27

The internal dissensions culminated in widespread dissatisfaction and unhappiness among the majority of the party members when Williams was nominated as the South Ward candidate for the December 1952 City Council election. At the time of Williams’s nomination, this ward had been represented by one of Lim’s supporters, S. Jaganathan, who had been expected to be re-nominated. Stirred to action, party members petitioned Lim to call for an emergency party conference to make a ruling on Williams’s nomination. However, with the majority support of the general councillors and using the constitutional amendment as justification, Williams refused to convene the party conference, declaring that the petition was unconstitutional. Lim was then expelled by the general council when he gave his backing for the petition.28 Williams also turned a deaf ear to the protests lodged by the “rebel group” over his increasing domination of party affairs.29

After Lim’s eviction from the SLP, another ACSU leader, S. Reddi, was elected as a figurehead president despite calls from majority of the party members to retain Lim as president. However, Reddi resigned after only nine months in office.30

On 31 October 1952, 800 SLP members convened an emergency meeting to pass a resolution to set up a special committee comprising elected Labour councillors, with Thomas as convener. The meeting passed a vote of confidence in expelled president Lim and called for the expulsion of Williams.31 This culminated in a devastating party split in December 1952, and the continued internal strife arising from a weakened and ineffective leadership spelt the inevitable demise of the SLP.32

On 21 August 1954, the SLP merged with the Singapore Socialist Party to form the Labour Front.33 A mere three months later, however, the SLP decided to divorce itself from the Labour Front and urged its representatives to leave as well, due to disagreements over the list of candidates nominated for the 1955 Legislative Assembly election, the drawing up of a constitution by the Labour Front and its application to be recognised as a political party.34

At the party’s annual conference held on 15 January 1955, 100 members voted in S. S. Manyam as the SLP’s sixth and last president. Other executive committee members who were elected were Ali Khan Suretee as vice-president, Ali bin Nani as treasurer and Lee Yong Min as secretary-general.35

In February 1955, the SLP declared that one candidate, Lee, would be fielded in the Geylang district for the Legislative Assembly election in April 1955. On election day, however, the SLP made a poor showing when Lee failed to win the majority vote, thus the SLP no longer had any representatives in the Legislative Assembly.36 The SLP did not contest in any further general elections, and by 1959 had become defunct.37

List of office-holders38
Presidents
1948: M. A. Majid

1949: Francis Thomas
1950–51: Lim Yew Hock
1952: S. Reddi
1954: V. P. Abdullah39
1955: S. S. Manyam40

Inaugural office holders (1948)
Vice-presidents: Francis Thomas, S. Sankaran
Honorary secretary-general: R. K. Bhattacharya
Executive council members: P. D. Nair, S. D. Rajoo, A. M. Kamal, Lee Yong Min, Hassan bin Maskam, P. Williams, Abdul Rahim bin Abdullah, E. P. K. Moorthy, Mohamed Noor bin Abdul Aziz, Joseph Lee, K. G. M. Sabai, Azad Abdullah, M. Rafik

Office bearers for 195041
President: Lim Yew Hock
Vice-presidents: G Sarangapani, M. P. D. Nair, V. K. Nair
Secretary: P. M. Williams
Treasurer: S. M. A. H. Chisty
Committee members: M. M. Malai, V. Rajaratnam, A. Arunasalam, S. Arumugam, R. K. Palayan, Tay Ling Seong, S. M. Hussein, Richards Desarataraj, K. K. Namblar, Lee Yong Min, Masood, T. K. Khan, M. I. Ahmeed, Lal Khan

Candidates fielded in the 1951 Legislative Council general election42
Six official candidates:
T. D. Richards (Tanglin)
C. R. Dasaratha Raj (Rochore) (elected)
P. M. Williams (Balestier)
Lim Yew Hock (Keppel) (elected)
V. P. Abdullah (Bukit Timah)
S. M. A. H. Chisty (Changi)

Independent candidate (backed by SLP):
N. G. Nair (Seletar)



Author
Sharon Teng



References
1. Yeo, K. W. (1973). Political development in Singapore, 1945–55. Singapore: Singapore University Press, p. 105. (Call no.: RSING 320.95957 YEO); Yeo, K. W. (1969, March). A study of three early political parties in Singapore, 1945–1955. Journal of Southeast Asian History, 10(1), 115–141, p. 133. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg; Labour Party formed in Singapore. (1948, September 2). The Singapore Free Press, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Yeo, K. W. (1969, March). A study of three early political parties in Singapore, 1945–1955. Journal of Southeast Asian History, 10(1), 115–141, p. 133. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg
3. Yeo, K. W. (1973). Political development in Singapore, 1945–55. Singapore: Singapore University Press, p. 105. (Call no.: RSING 320.95957 YEO); Yeo, K. W. (1969, March). A study of three early political parties in Singapore, 1945–1955. Journal of Southeast Asian History, 10(1), 115–141, p. 133. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg; Labour party formed in Singapore. (1948, September 2). The Singapore Free Press, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Turnbull, C. M. (2009). A history of modern Singapore, 1819–2005. Singapore: NUS Press, p. 241. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR); Englishman in new Labour Party. (1948, September 2). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Turnbull, C. M. (2009). A history of modern Singapore, 1819–2005. Singapore: NUS Press, p. 241. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR); Englishman in new Labour Party. (1948, September 2). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Yeo, K. W. (1969, March). A study of three early political parties in Singapore, 1945–1955. Journal of Southeast Asian History, 10(1), 115–141, p. 135. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg
6. Yeo, K. W. (1973). Political development in Singapore, 1945–55. Singapore: Singapore University Press, p. 106. (Call no.: RSING 320.95957 YEO); Labour Party to fight reds. (1948, November 29). The Singapore Free Press, p. 8; 300 hear Labour Party plans. (1951, November 6). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Yeo, K. W. (1969, March). A study of three early political parties in Singapore, 1945–1955. Journal of Southeast Asian History, 10(1), 115–141, p. 134. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg

7. Yeo, K. W. (1973). Political development in Singapore, 1945–55. Singapore: Singapore University Press, p. 106. (Call no.: RSING 320.95957 YEO); Yeo, K. W. (1969, March). A study of three early political parties in Singapore, 1945–1955. Journal of Southeast Asian History, 10(1), 115–141, p. 134. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg

8. New political party in colony. (1948, July 1). The Singapore Free Press, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Yeo, K. W. (1969, March). A study of three early political parties in Singapore, 1945–1955. Journal of Southeast Asian History, 10(1), 115–141, p. 137. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg

9. Colony labour party ‘reply to reds’. (1948, November 29). The Straits Times, p. 5; S’pore Labour Party membership fee reduced. (1949, August 22). Indian Daily Mail, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Turnbull, C. M. (2009). A history of modern Singapore, 1819–2005. Singapore: NUS Press, p. 241. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR); Yeo, K. W. (1969, March). A study of three early political parties in Singapore, 1945–1955. Journal of Southeast Asian History, 10(1), 115–141, pp. 134–135, 137. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg
11. Progressives in SMC election. (1949, April 3). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. S’pore goes to the polls today. (1949, December 3). The Straits Times, p. 1; Progressives win once more. (1949, December 4). Sunday Tribune, p. 1. Retrieved from NewsapaperSG.
13. Progressive party victory in 3 wards. (1950, December 3). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Election thoughts. (1951, December 3). The Singapore Free Press, p. 4; Labour 3 – Progressives 2. (1951, December 2). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Election results – an analysis. (1952, December 8). Indian Daily Mail, p. 2; Labour ‘has to pull up socks’. (1952, December 8). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. UMNO-MCS Alliance routed in citco elections. (1953, December 6). Indian Daily Mail, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Labour opens campaign. (1950, November 7). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Labour will contest 7 districts. (1951, March 11). The Straits Times, p. 5; Progressives head S’pore poll. (1951, April 11). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Singapore elections – analysis. (1955, April 4). Indian Daily Mail, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Yeo, K. W. (1969, March). A study of three early political parties in Singapore, 1945–1955. Journal of Southeast Asian History, 10(1), 115–141, p. 136. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg
21. Yeo, K. W. (1969, March). A study of three early political parties in Singapore, 1945–1955. Journal of Southeast Asian History, 10(1), 115–141, p. 136. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg

22. Yeo, K. W. (1969, March). A study of three early political parties in Singapore, 1945–1955. Journal of Southeast Asian History, 10(1), 115–141, p. 136. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg

23. Yeo, K. W. (1969, March). A study of three early political parties in Singapore, 1945–1955. Journal of Southeast Asian History, 10(1), 115–141, p. 137. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg

24. Yeo, K. W. (1969, March). A study of three early political parties in Singapore, 1945–1955. Journal of Southeast Asian History, 10(1), 115–141, p. 138. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg

25. Turnbull, C. M. (2009). A history of modern Singapore, 1819–2005. Singapore: NUS Press, p. 241. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR); Yeo, K. W. (1969, March). A study of three early political parties in Singapore, 1945–1955. Journal of Southeast Asian History, 10(1), 115–141, p. 135. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg

26. Yeo, K. W. (1969, March). A study of three early political parties in Singapore, 1945–1955. Journal of Southeast Asian History, 10(1), 115–141, p. 136. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg

27. Yeo, K. W. (1969, March). A study of three early political parties in Singapore, 1945–1955. Journal of Southeast Asian History, 10(1), 115–141, pp. 138–139. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg

28. Mr Lim Yew Hock ignores expulsion order! (1952, October 29). Indian Daily Mail, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Yeo, K. W. (1969, March). A study of three early political parties in Singapore, 1945–1955. Journal of Southeast Asian History, 10(1), 115–141, p. 139. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg
30. Turnbull, C. M. (2009). A history of modern Singapore, 1819–2005. Singapore: NUS Press, p. 241. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR); Yeo, K. W. (1969, March). A study of three early political parties in Singapore, 1945–1955. Journal of Southeast Asian History, 10(1), 115–141, p. 139. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg; 2275 members demand: Dissolve party council. (1952, August 21). Singapore Standard, p. 2; Labour throes. (1953, October 24). The Singapore Free Press, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. 800 ‘save’ the labour party. (1952, November 1). The Straits Times, p. 1; (2) Lab. wants P. M. Williams kicked out. (1952, November 1). Singapore Standard, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Turnbull, C. M. (2009). A history of modern Singapore, 1819–2005. Singapore: NUS Press, p. 241. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR); Yeo, K. W. (1969, March). A study of three early political parties in Singapore, 1945–1955. Journal of Southeast Asian History, 10(1), 115–141, p. 139. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg; 2275 members demand: Dissolve party council. (1952, August 21). Singapore Standard, p. 2; Labour throes. (1953, October 24). The Singapore Free Press, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. New Labour Front formed in colony. (1954, August 22). The Straits Times, p. 3; 6 men to guide Labour Front. (1954, August 22). Sunday Standard, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34. Labour to consider elections. (1954, December 21). Singapore Standard, p. 3; Labour Party may fight election too. (1954, November 20). The Singapore Free Press, p. 7; Labour Party bows itself out from the Front. (1954, November 4). Singapore Standard, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
35. Police called to Labour Party meeting. (1955, January 15). Singapore Standard, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
36. Singapore elections – analysis. (1955, April 4). Indian Daily Mail, p. 1; Lab. Party to contest one seat. (1955, February 25). Singapore Standard, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
37. Williams, back after 5 years, says, ‘I’m a new man’. (1959, May 29). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
38. Colony labour party ‘reply to reds’. (1948, November 29). The Straits Times, p. 5; Labour opens campaign. (1950, November 7). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Yeo, K. W. (1969, March). A study of three early political parties in Singapore, 1945–1955. Journal of Southeast Asian History, 10(1), 115–141, pp. 137, 139. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg; Mr Lim Yew Hock chosen president. (1950, June 12). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
39. Labour to rally former members. (1954, February 1). The Singapore Free Press, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
40. Death of Mr. S. S. Manyam. (1955, June 5). Sunday Standard, p. 5. Retrieved from NewsaperSG.
41. Mr Lim Yew Hock chosen president. (1950, June 12). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
42. Labour will contest 7 districts. (1951, March 11). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



Further resources
Labour Party backers meet tomorrow. (1948, August 31). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Labour Party to have no rival. (1948, July 18). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Labour Party tries a revival. (1953, December 3). The Singapore Free Press, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

‘Middle’ policy for new party. (1948, March 25). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Not so funny. (1952, November 2). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Purge in Labour Party this week. (1950, August 20). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Singapore Labour Party faces split. (1952, May 30). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Singapore Labour Party formed. (1948, March 24). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

‘We’re not red’ says Thomas. (1949, December 1). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 17 January 2018 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
Politics and Government