by Chia, Joshua Yeong Jia
The Labour Front (LF), now a defunct political party, was an offshoot of the Singapore Labour Party. It was formed in 1955 to contest the watershed election for the Legislative Assembly that year. Although the party emerged victorious in the election, the Labour Front government lasted for only a term. It fared badly in the 1959 and 1963 elections contesting as part of a coalition under the banner of the Singapore People's Alliance and Singapore Alliance respectively.
In 1952, the Singapore Labour Party (SLP) split following an internal party rivalry. In 1954, dissident leaders from SLP formed the Singapore Socialist Party (SSP). The following year, the SLP and SSP formed an alliance, the People's United Front, to contest the upcoming Legislative Assembly election. At this time, there were also plans to merge the two parties. Soon the alliance was renamed the Labour Front (LF) and was registered as a political party. David Marshall, Lim Yew Hock and Francis Thomas were among its members. Within seven months, the Labour Front had established 16 branches throughout Singapore. A women's wing was also established.
As it was originally an instrument of the SLP and SSP to gain public office in the election, it started to structure itself as a party only after the coalition government was formed after the 1955 election. The organisation structure was similar to that of SLP with some changes incorporated to minimise party feuds that had previously plagued the SLP.
The Labour Front, being descended from the SLP, had goals modelled along those of the British Labour Party. Like the mood on the ground at that time, its stance was decidedly anti-colonial. Among its declared goals were self-government for Singapore, an early Singapore-Malaya merger, an implementation of the multi-lingual policy in the legislature, the granting of citizenship together with political rights for the China-born Chinese, and dynamic socialism over communism.
Only a month after the government was formed, communist activists began a series of violent strikes and demonstrations, including the bloody Hock Lee bus riots. Facing mounting pressures from the communists, Marshall appeared soft and incapable. Even though he was unable to demonstrate his ability to curb the communist problems, Marshall went ahead with an all-party mission to London in April 1956 to seek self-government. The talks achieved little progress and fell through. On 6 June 1956, Marshall resigned as the Chief Minister and Labour Front member.
Two days later, Lim Yew Hock, who was Deputy Chief Minister and Labour Minister, took over as Chief Minister. Lim took a firm stance against the communists and many communist activists were detained under the Internal Security Act. Under Lim's leadership, the mission to London was successful in obtaining self-government. The Constitutional Agreement was signed on 28 May 1958.
The Labour Front took part in the 1955 Legislative Assembly election, and campaigned against colonialism and communism. It emerged the surprised victor, winning ten out of 25 seats. Since it did not win enough seats to form a government, the LF formed a coalition government with the Alliance Party. The People's Action Party (PAP) won three out of the four seats, and contested to join the opposition. David Marshall, who won a landslide victory at the Cairnhill constituency, became the first Chief Minister.
Facing pressure from the PAP opposition, Lim Yew Hock formed the Singapore People's Alliance (SPA), a coalition of the Labour Front and Liberal Socialist Party, on 10 November 1958. In the 1959 election, SPA won only four of the 39 seats contested, including Lim Yew Hock's win at Cairnhill. The PAP had a landslide victory, securing 43 of the total 51 seats available.
In the following General Election of 1963, the SPA grouped with the Singapore branches of the UMNO, Malayan Chinese Association (MCA) and Malayan Indian Congress (MIC) to form the Singapore Alliance. Lim Yew Hock, however, withdrew from the contest. Despite contesting 42 of the maximum 51 seats, the Alliance failed to win a single seat.
During a PAP election rally on 15 February 1959 at Hong Lim Green leading up to the 1959 Legislative Assembly general election, the PAP alleged that the SPA had received $500,000 from an American bank. It was later revealed that the money had been deposited into a bank account belonging to then Minister for Education Chew Swee Kee, an SPA member. In March 1959, Chew resigned from his ministry and the Legislative Assembly. The SPA was subsequently defeated in the election held on 30 May 1959.
The party failed to win any seats in the 1963 general election, and was dissolved when Singapore became independent.
Joshua Chia Yeong Jia
Chew resigns. (1959, March 4). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
Chew, E. C. T, & Lee, E. (1991). A history of Singapore (pp. 132-139, 148, 166, 273). Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 HIS)
Drysdale, J. (1984). Singapore: Struggle for success (pp. 94-159, 174-220). Singapore: Times Editions.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 DRY)
Hussin Mutalib. (2004). Parties and politics: A study of opposition parties and the PAP in Singapore (pp. 42-53, 106, 126-127). Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Academic.
(Call no.: RSING 324.25957 HUS)
Lee, K. Y. (1998). The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew (pp. 177, 189-190, 196, 212, 228, 232, 238, 257, 267, 271-273, 286, 293-295, 302, 305, 321). Singapore: Times Editions.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 LEE)
Morgan, P. (1959, February 19). Lee names minister. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
PAP warns Federation leaders on elections. (1959, February 16). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
Turnbull, C. M. (1985). A history of Singapore 1819-1975 (pp. 253, 257-271, 282-291, 306). Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 595.57 TUR)
Yeo, K. W. (1973). Political development in Singapore, 1945-55 (pp. 113-117). Singapore: Singapore University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 320.95957 YEO)
The information in this article is valid as at 2006 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.