Great Singapore Traction Company Strike

Strikes and other forms of labour unrest were common in 1950s Singapore. The year 1955 saw 57 cases of labour unrest involving bus company workers, including the Hock Lee bus workers’ strike and riot. That same year, bus workers of the Singapore Traction Company (STC) also carried out a strike.1 Known as the “Great STC Strike”, the 142-day strike was the longest in postwar Singapore.2 For about a month, workers of other public-bus companies also joined in the strike, thus resulting in the paralysis of the public bus system.3

Events
Prior to the “Great STC Strike” in 1955, industrial relations between the Singapore Traction Company and the employee’s trade union were already strained. For instance, calls and strikes for better pay, amongst other demands, had occurred in 1938 and 1947.4

On 14 July 1955, STC workers again demanded for wage increment from their British employer, which, if met, would result in an annual loss of £500,000 for the company.

The demand came after an agreement had been reached in February 1954, which stipulated that no demand for increment was to be made for two years. When STC rejected the demand, the STC Employees Union announced their intention to hold a strike from 27 September 1955.6 In October and November, the chairman of STC travelled from London to negotiate with the union, but the talks failed.7

Determined to paralyse the entire public bus system in Singapore, subversive agitators also created unrest in the other Chinese-owned bus companies, demanding more pay and other benefits. As the companies stood firm against the unions, bus workers picketed at the entrances of bus garages to protest against the “wicked actions of the greedy employers”.As a result, all bus services came to a halt for about a month.9

Countermeasures
To ensure that students could continue to travel between their homes and schools, the government started a free transport service with lorries that were normally used for ferrying workers.10 Adults, on the other hand, had to find alternative transportation, and demand for taxis and pirate taxis surged.11

In November 1955, the government introduced a train service to ease the transport problem. The service, which plied Telok Blangah, TanglinBukit TimahBukit Panjang, Kranji and Johor Bahru, cost 15 to 80 cents. However, this service was not popular, and was quietly withdrawn within weeks.12

Then in early January 1956, the Registrar of Vehicles offered short-term licences to the Chinese bus companies to operate services on some of the routes covered by the STC.13

Resolution
On 28 December 1955, the government appointed a court of inquiry to look into the dispute between the STC and the union.14 Both parties agreed to abide by the findings and recommendations of the court of inquiry.15 On 11 February 1956, the findings and recommendations were released, and the union won substantive wage increments for STC’s operational staff.16 Consequently, the workers returned to work on the afternoon of 16 February, which marked the end of the 142-day “Great STC Strike”.17

Timeline
14 Jul 1955: STC Employees Union demands for wage increase from STC’s management.18
12 Sep 1955:
 Notice of intention to strike sent by the union to STC.19
27 Sep 1955:
 STC employees go on strike.20
11 Oct 1955:
 STC chairman meets with the union.21
25 Nov 1955:
 Chairman returns to Singapore for direct talks with the union.22

28 Dec 1955: Court of inquiry is appointed.23
3 Jan 1956:
 Chinese bus companies starts operating services on some routes covered by STC in the city.24
11 Feb 1956:
 Report of the court of inquiry is released.25
15 Feb 1956:
 Agreement to end the strike is signed.26
16 Feb 1956:
 STC bus workers return to work.27




Author

Joshua Chia Yeong Jia



References
1. Choi Chik Cheong and Nadiah Loh, “Singapore’s Bus Reform Experience,” Journeys13 (May 2015), 19. (From NLB’s Web Archive Singapore)
2. “STC Buses Back on the Roads,” Straits Times, 16 February 1956, 1. (From NewspaperSG); Choi and Loh, “Singapore’s Bus Reform Experience,” 19. 
3. Choi and Loh, “Singapore’s Bus Reform Experience,” 19; F.W. York and A.R. Phillips, Singapore: A History of Its Trams, Trolleybuses & Buses, vol. 1 (Singapore: DTS Publishing, 1996), 93. (Call no. RSING q388.41322095957 YOR); Singapore. Labour Dept., Annual Report 1955 (Singapore: The Dept., 1956), 17. (Call no. RCLOS 331 SIN; Microfilm NL9771)
4. “Men Say They Cannot Live on Traction Co. Pay,” Singapore Free Press and Merchantile Advertiser, 26 October 1938, 3; “15-Week Strike of S.T.C. Men Ends,” Straits Times, 8 May 1947, 3. (From NewspaperSG); York and Phillips, History of Its Trams, Trolleybuses & Buses, 52, 93.
5. York and Phillips, History of Its Trams, Trolleybuses & Buses, 93; Singapore. Labour Dept., Annual Report 1955, 16.
6. York and Phillips, History of Its Trams, Trolleybuses & Buses, 93; Singapore. Labour Dept., Annual Report 1955, 16; Singapore. Court of Inquiry, Report (Singapore: Govt. Print. Off., 1956), 2. (Call no. RCLOS 331.892 SIN)
7. York and Phillips, History of Its Trams, Trolleybuses & Buses, 95; Singapore. Labour Dept., Annual Report 1955, 16.
8. York and Phillips, History of Its Trams, Trolleybuses & Buses, 93.
9. Choi and Loh, “Singapore’s Bus Reform Experience,” 19.
10. York and Phillips, History of Its Trams, Trolleybuses & Buses, 93–94; Singapore. Labour Dept., Annual Report 1955, 17; “10,000 Students Ferried,” Singapore Standard, 28 September 1955, 1; “S.T.C Buses Back on the Roads,” Indian Daily Mail, 17 February 1956, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
11. York and Phillips, History of Its Trams, Trolleybuses & Buses, 93; “10,000 Students Ferried.” 
12. York and Phillips, History of Its Trams, Trolleybuses & Buses, 95.
13. York and Phillips, History of Its Trams, Trolleybuses & Buses, 96; “Suburban Buses Take Over the City Routes,” Straits Times, 5 January 1956, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Singapore. Court of Inquiry, Report, 1; York and Phillips, History of Its Trams, Trolleybuses & Buses, 99; “Buses at Last – There Will Be More Today,” Straits Times, 29 December 1955, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
15. “STC Buses Back on the Roads,” Straits Times, 16 February 1956, 1; “S.T.C. Buses Roll Again,” Singapore Standard, 16 February 1956, 1. (From NewspaperSG); York and Phillips, History of Its Trams, Trolleybuses & Buses, 100.
16. York and Phillips, History of Its Trams, Trolleybuses & Buses, 100; “S.T.C. – Court Urges Big Rises,” (1956, February 12). Straits Times, 12 February 1956, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
17. “S.T.C Buses Back on the Roads”; “STC Buses Back on the Roads”; York and Phillips, History of Its Trams, Trolleybuses & Buses, 93, 100.
18. Singapore. Court of Inquiry, Report, 2; York and Phillips, History of Its Trams, Trolleybuses & Buses, 93; Singapore. Labour Dept., Annual Report 1955, 16.
19. Singapore. Court of Inquiry, Report, 2; Singapore. Labour Dept., Annual Report 1955, 16.
20. “STC Buses Back on the Roads”; York and Phillips, History of Its Trams, Trolleybuses & Buses, 93; Singapore. Labour Dept., Annual Report 1955, 16; Singapore. Court of Inquiry,Report, 2.
21. Singapore. Labour Dept., Annual Report 1955, 16.
22. Singapore. Labour Dept., Annual Report 1955, 16.
23. Singapore. Court of Inquiry, Report, 1.
24. York and Phillips, History of Its Trams, Trolleybuses & Buses, 96.
25. York and Phillips, History of Its Trams, Trolleybuses & Buses, 100; Singapore. Court of Inquiry, Report, 6.
26. “STC Buses Back on the Roads.”
27. “S.T.C Buses Back on the Roads”; York and Phillips, History of Its Trams, Trolleybuses & Buses, 100.



Further resource
Sonny Yap, “Dead End,” New Nation, 9 January 1979, 10–11. (From NewspaperSG)



The information in this article is valid as at February 2020 and correct as far as we can 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
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Services>>Transportation and logistics
Commerce and Industry>>Transportation
Transport workers--Labor unions--Singapore
Law and government>>Safety administration>>Land transportation
Strikes and lockouts--Transport workers--Singapore
Business, finance and industry>>Economics>>Labour economics>>Labour unions
Business enterprises
Great Singapore Traction Company Strike, Singapore, 1955
The Great Singapore Traction Company Strike, 1955-1956
Organisations>>Trade Unions
Labour and employment
Organisations>>Companies
Transportation