Singapore Glass Factory strike

The Singapore Glass Manufacturers Co Ltd was a leading manufacturer of glassware, plastics and cardboard in Singapore.1 Its factory, popularly known as the Singapore Glass Factory, stood on Henderson Road, and was a famous landmark in Bukit Merah for many years.2 Established in 1948 shortly after World War II, the factory at Henderson had a workforce of more than 950 people by 1973.3 Since the 1950s, however, relations between the company and its employees had become strained due to several issues such as the retrenchment of workers.4 This culminated in a strike on 28 August 19605 involving about 600 employees which lasted 73 days before it was settled, and workers returned in batches to the factory on 9 November.6 The strike was marked by a number of incidents, including a demonstration by non-striking employees outside the Istana.7

On the afternoon of 21 October 1960, the picketers formed a human chain to prevent a lorry carrying machinery from leaving the factory. The police failed to persuade the strikers to disperse, and a scuffle broke out. Four policemen were injured, and 39 strikers including eight women were arrested. At the lockup at Tanjong Pagar Police Station, those arrested created a scene by stomping on their bedsteads, singing, clapping and shouting.8 They were subsequently charged under the Trade Disputes Ordinance.9

At 8 am on 28 October, a group of workers arrived in four lorries to resume work at the factory. However, they were quickly surrounded by strikers who tried to persuade them from breaking the strike. A heated argument between the two groups broke out, and the police dispersed them.10 A few days later, on 1 November, two lorries carrying 42 workers arrived at the factory gate. The workers had earlier met with then Labour and Law Minister K. M. Byrne regarding their intention to resume work. Officials from the Ministry of Labour informed the strikers that they could persuade their colleagues not to resume work, but they were not allowed to obstruct them or to use violence. Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and uniformed police officers were deployed at the scene to maintain law and order. However, the strikers ignored the directive, and linked their arms to form a human barrier to prevent the workers from entering the premises. Fighting between the two groups broke out, and 38 workers managed to fight their way into the factory. The police moved in and arrested 14 people, 13 of whom were from the picket line. The “strike-breakers”, referring to those who did participate in the strike, later revealed that they decided to resume work as they needed money badly. Due to the volatile situation outside, they decided to stay in the factory.11

On 3 November, representatives from the Singapore Machine & Engineering Employees‘Union met with Labour and Law Minister Byrne to seek arbitration for the labour dispute.12 By 4 November, it was expected that the strike would end very soon, and the strikers picketed peacefully outside the factory. However, they prevented the factory oil tankers from entering the premises.13

After two rounds of talks chaired by James Puthucheary, then manager of the Industrial Promotion Board, an agreement was reached on 8 November between the union and the management of the company. The company agreed to re-employ its workers as work became available on the basis of seniority of service in their respective departments. The union, on the other hand, agreed to provide a written undertaking that they would not call any strike or stoppage without giving at least four days’ notice. In addition, they agreed to allow the factory to have unrestricted access to fuel oil supply at all times. Both parties also agreed to resume negotiations that had been interrupted by the strike within four weeks, and to refer all matters that remained unsettled to arbitration.14

Despite the resolution reached on 8 November, the strikers continued to harass those that did not participate in the strike by gathering at the gate in anticipation of the strike-breakers. Riot-control vans were called in to maintain order. Eventually the strike-breakers were ferried out of the factory in lorries. The 73-day strike ended when workers returned in batches to the factory on 9 November.15


Joshua Chia Yeong Jia

1. “Singapore Glass Plan New Products,” Straits Times, 17 October 1958, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Leong Weng Kam, “Hunt for Items Reflecting History of Bukit Merah,” Straits Times, 28 August 1994, 7; “Meeting New Challenges with 25 Years of Experience and Skills,” Straits Times, 4 October 1973, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
3. “Meeting New Challenges.”
4. Labour Department, Singapore, Annual Report 1960 (Singapore: Labour Department, 1961), 17–18 (microfilm NL9771); “Bid to End glass Strike,” Straits Times, 6 August 1951, 7; “Glass Plant Prepares to Shut as 580 Go on Strike,” Singapore Free Press, 9 June 1958, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
5. Labour Department, Singapore, Annual Report 1960, 17–18.
6. “Glass Plant Strike Now Settled after 73 Days,” Straits Times, 9 November 1960, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
7. Labour Department, Singapore, Annual Report 1960, 17–18; “‘Intimidatory Tactics Don’t Cut Any Ice – We are Tough Guys’,” Straits Times, 31 August 1960, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
8. “Detained Men Create Row at Station,” Straits Times, 22 October 1960, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
9. “39 Glass Strikers in Court,” Straits Times, 5 November 1960, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
10 “Groups Argue Outside the Factory,” Straits Times, 29 October 1960, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
11. “38 Fight Their Way into Factory,” Straits Times, 2 November 1960, 1, 16. (From NewspaperSG)
12. “Strikers Seek Arbitration,” Straits Times, 4 November 1960, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
13. “Glass Strike May End By Monday,” Straits Times, 5 November 1960, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
14. “Glass Plant Strike Now Settled”; Labour Department, Singapore, Annual Report 1960, 17–18.
15. “Glass Plant Strike Now Settled.”

Further resources
Norman Cotterell, “Bottles By the Many Millions,” Singapore Free Press, 21 September 1949, 4. (From NewspaperSG)

Singapore Glass,” Straits Times, 12 January 1970, 12. (From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as of 2016 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.

Labour and employment
Singapore Glass Factory Strike, 1960
Business enterprises
Strikes and lockouts--Singapore
Singapore Glass Factory--History