Sunday, 30 September 2018

Probing into the sufferings of Singapore's left-wing labour movement in the 1960s

Probing into the sufferings of Singapore's
left-wing labour movement in the 1960s


Written by Chng Min Oh @ Zhuang Ming Hu
Translated by Angela Chew


Sahabat Rakyat Editor's Note
Chng Min Oh @ Zhuang Ming Hu (left in the picture above) is a registered TCM physician in Singapore and formerly, a trade unionist. Five years back in 2013, he wrote this paper specially for the 50th anniversary commemoration event of the “2nd February Incident”. In order for this article, written in Chinese language, to be disseminated to the democratic parties, organisations and democrats in Singapore and Malaysia timely, Chng sent Sahabat Rakyat Committee his article for publication. This article was published on Sahabat Rakyat blog on 12 January 2013.

Chng was arrested under the “Internal Security Act (ISA)” on 3 August 1970 for his active involvement in the left-wing trade union movement. He was stripped of his citizenship rights and was imprisoned without trial for thirteen years and four days. He was released on 7 August 1983 with four conditions imposed upon him:

  • Not allowed to leave the country without permission
  • Not allowed to move house without permission
  • Not allowed to contact former political detainees
  • Not allowed to participate in pro-communist political activities
In Chng's later life, he continues to participate in non-governmental organization (NGO) activities. In view of the PAP government Singapore is still implementing draconian laws which contradict with the proclamation of democracy and human rights in this era, on 19 September 2011, together with fifteen former ISA detainees, Chng signed a petition for the abolishment of ISA. In 2013, Chng specially wrote an article entitled “The Common Voice of the Victims: Immediately Repeal ISA” for the 50th Anniversary of the "2nd February Incident", and also delivered a speech in the commemoration event held at Hong Lim Park, Singapore on the same day (2 February).

The 82-year-old author has never given up his concern for human rights and democratic movement in Malaysia and Singapore. In order to share his views and discourse with readers who do not understand Chinese, Chng specifically arranged a friend of his to translate this article he completed 5 years ago to English, the main text had been sent to Sahabat Rakyat Working Committee and is now published on Sahabat Rakyat blog – this has added sparkle to the 17th anniversary commemoration event of Sahabat Rakyat.

The author highlights the suppression of Singapore's left-wing trade union movement in the 1960s', first by the British colonial government and subsequently, by Singapore's ruling party, the People's Action Party (PAP) led by the then Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, as well as by Tunku Abdul Rahman, the then Prime Minister of Malaysia, leader of Malaysia's UMNO (United Malay National Organisation) ruling clique. The repression was particularly harsh during the ‘Operation Coldstore' before the formation of the Federation of Malaysia. Moreover, the sabotage within the left, mainly caused by politicians with wild ambition and undercovers of enemies infiltrated into the left-wing camp had resulted in the eventual demise of the left-wing trade union movement in Singapore, nearly half a century by now.

The author wishes to convey the main messages below in his article:
 • (1) We must learn from this bitter history so that we do not repeat our mistakes; may we be reminded that no commemoration event or political movement is to be alienated from the realities and from the people, demands put forward should meet the aspirations and the interests of the broad masses. 
 • (2) We must learn from this bitter history that the reform movement at any period of time will not only suffer the suppression of the enemy externally but also the sabotage of the enemy internally which both should not be neglected.

Followings are the 6 outlines of this article:
The release of the English rendition of Chng's article at this time may provide some readers (especially those who do not understand Chinese and do not understand the history of Malaysia/Malaya and Singapore) a historical lesson, or a new revelation, when they ponder about the question about the restoration of Mahathirism encountered by the democratic reform movement in Malaysia at present phase.

Below is the full text of Chng's article, pictures and captions are added by the blog editor ——
Photo above: Author, Chng Min Oh (third from the right) attending the memorial of Tan Jing Quee held in Singapore in 2011. Others in the picture are (from the right): Chng's comrade-in-arm, Tan Sin (Chen Xin @ Tan Seng Hin), and Tan's wife Loo Ah Looi (right), cultural worker Chng Wee Thian @ Chng Ler Thian, representatives of Sahabat Rakyat Ngo Jian Yee and Choo Shinn Chei (left).

2nd February 2013 was the 50th Anniversary of codenamed, "Operation Coldstore", which saw more than a hundred activists, dissidents, trade unionists arrested under the ISA by Lee Kuan Yew, the then Prime Minister of Singapore and leader of the ruling party, PAP. Many former ISA detainees, who have long retired, joined a group of civil rights activists to organise a commemoration ceremony and to publish a commemorative book. Encouraged by my friends, I decided to share my personal experiences and perspective about the sufferings faced by the Singapore's left-wing labour movement before and after that fateful 1963 mass arrest, to aid historians who are interested in Singapore's history and to encourage those who have personally experienced the event, to discard their ideological burden, tell the truth and surmise lessons learnt while we still can.

(I) The formation of the Federation of Malaysia that included Singapore was conspired by Lee Kuan Yew and his cronies, in collaboration with the British and the ruling elite of Malaysia. "Operation Coldstore" reveals the true nature of the Singapore ruling elite, which is anti-people and undemocratic.

Lee Kuan Yew and his cronies, in their pretence as anti-colonialists had infiltrated the life-wing anti-colonial movement to gain the people's trust. PAP under his leadership had succeeded in taking over power in Singapore from the British, through the 1959 election for self-government. After gaining power, they soon revealed their true nature by suppressing the left-wing anti-colonial movement, which was instrumental to their electoral victory, in the first place. The harsh defeat and subsequent painful experiences of Singapore's left-wing movement, particularly of its trade unions, testifies to the draconian rule of Lee Kuan Yew and his cronies and has since, left an indelible mark on the history of Malaysia and Singapore.

In May 1961, Tunku Abdul Rahman proposed and established in August 1963, the formation of the Federation of Malaysia, which comprises the Malay Peninsula, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak, as well as Brunei. LKY announced in June of that year of PAP's support. He had ignored the demands of the people of Singapore for complete independence from the British by supporting Tunku Abdul Rahman's neo-colonial plot. Lee effectively sidestepped the scheduled June re-negotiation with Britain on Singapore's new constitution. LKY's political manoeuvring was met with strong resistance and criticisms, especially from the left. The formation of the Federation and the campaign for Singapore's internally self-governing from the British thus, became the issues of heated debate during the by-election of the Anson district in July. The PAP's candidate was the leader of the National Trade Union Congress (NTUC), Awang and its opponent was David Marshall of the Workers' Party. Marshall won the election by more than six percent at 43.32% on 15 July 1963. PAP's defeat shows that the people of Singapore were aware of the draconian nature of the PAP government.

The caricature above was published on 15 January 1965 in the Bulletin of The Singapore Commercial House & Factory Employee`s Union (SCHFEU). It depicted Tunku Abdul Rahman and LKY as two bulldogs fiercely attacking the people, before and after the formation of the ‘Federation'. This was published before the 2nd Anniversary of the "2nd February Incident'' organised by the left-wing trade unions and labour organisations. It is a significant reminder to all people of Malaysia and Singapore, not to forget the pain and suffering imposed by the ‘Operation Coldstore'.
The establishment of the "Federation of Malaysia" in 1963 was a plot by the British colonial elite, in collaboration with the ruling elite led by Malaysia's Tunku Abdul Rahman and Singapore's LKY, aimed to slow down, obstruct and suppress the rising waves of anti-colonial dissent, and further, to retain control and forge a neo-colonial state in their interests. 1960s was the era of anti-colonialism and Third World Independence all over the world. The people of Africa, Asia and Latin America were fighting to overthrow their colonial masters. In Southeast Asia, the British colonial government had no choice but to pass its control to its trusted ally; Tunku Abdul Rahman and LKY and their cronies, to ensure that its economic and military interests in the region are protected. In fact, as soon as LKY took over power, he was set in destroying the left-wing anti-colonial movement. However, he was still weary of the backlash, particularly from the organised forces like the militant and resilient workers' movement. Therefore, he used the "Federation" as his proxy and relied upon Tunku 's power to destroy the left in Singapore.

Tunku who was anti-communist, was also weary of the rise of the anti-colonial sentiments in Brunei, Sarawak, Sabah and Singapore and was determined to prevent its spread to the Malay Peninsula that would have undermined his regime. In other words, the ruling elite was determined to deploy the constitutional means of forming a federation of the four states to forestall the takeover of the anti-colonial left. By doing so, it would continue to control and exploit the abundant natural resources in the region and LKY's rule over the small island city state of Singapore would be consolidated.

Hence, the "Federation of Malaysia" formed in 1963 was a product of neo-colonialism and was opposed by the majority of the people of the five states, as well as the governments of Indonesia and the Philippines. In July 1961, the left wing forces within the PAP of Singapore could no longer work with LKY and his cronies and decided to walk out of the party to form its rival party, the Barisan Socialis Singapura (BSS) which was then led by Lim Chin Siong, the then leader of the trade union movement. BSS was firmly against the formation of the "Federation", which subsequently, ushered in a concerted wave of people's resistance against the ruling elite in Malaysia and Singapore and the power-that-be became isolated.

Barisan Socialis Singapura (BSS) was formed on 16 September 1961 by Singapore's left-wing forces, led by Lim Chin Siong, the Secretary General of the party. It was against the manoeuvres of LKY and his cronies who were collaborating with the British and the reactionary "Federation", also commonly known as the ‘merger'. The background shows the logo of BSS. Lim and his party fought for democracy through constitutional means.
It is noteworthy that on 20 August 1962, Brunei had its very first parliamentary election and the Partai Rakyat Brunei (PRB), which was against the ‘merger' but advocated for the formation of the Negarabagian Kesatuan Kalimantan Utara, had won sixteen legislative seat s in the national election, as well as 54 out of 55 seats for local district council election. An elected independent candidate later joined the PRB, This was an overwhelming victory for the opposition, which was subsequently endorsed by the then Sultan. Consequently in 1963, the PRB announced that they would fight for Brunei's independence. In retaliation, the British colonial government deliberately created a constitutional crisis by instigating an ‘armed revolution' on 8 December 1963 to justify its deployment of troops from Singapore, Malaysia, Britain, Australia and New Zealand to suppress it. The "Federation of Malaya" also sent 200 members of its Special Forces to Brunei to quell the ‘insurgence'. As the Brunei People's Army was weak in strength, it was overwhelmed just within a few days of fierce battle.

After quelling the ‘armed insurgence', the Sultan of Brunei began to persecute the PRB, disbanded the parliament and suspended the constitution. Furthermore, arrests of all members and supporters of the party, as well as its sympathizers were carried out. Meanwhile, the British colonial government used the pretext of pre-empting similar insurgencies to arrest many leftists including, cadres of the Sarawak United People`s Party (SUPP), as well as members of the Sarawak Liberation League. Between 11 and 16 December, no less than 48 left-wing activists were arrested. Among them, more than half were Central Committee members of the SUPP as well as key cadres of its party branches. Given the dire situation, the Sarawak Liberation League advised its members and supporters to escape to Indonesia for military training, to prepare for armed struggle in the long-run. According to Chan Eng Seng @ Tian Nong, "it is estimated that by early 1963, no less than 2000 young men and women left Sarawak for Indonesia and by July of the same year, more than 6,000 had left ". (see "One Stone A Thousand Waves" (transl.) published by the Party History Working Committee of the Labour Party of Malaya, pg. 17, 20 June 2002)

The overwhelming victory of the PRB, at the last national election was a big boost for the anti-colonial movements in Peninsula Malaya, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak. In particular, the anti-colonial movement in Singapore was resisting against the ‘merger'. The ruling elite of Peninsula Malaya and Singapore, as well as the British colonial government were worried that the election results of Brunei might be replicated in Singapore, which could in turn, obstruct the ‘merger'.

This is the weekly newspaper of BSS, Zhen Xian Bao (阵线报). The front page of 9 May 1962 shows the grandeur of 1 May, International Labour Day Celebration organized by the left labour organisations. Nearly 70,000 attended, which shows the high level of organised labour in Singapore after World War II. LKY and his PAP cronies were able to ride on the back of organised labour to clinch his 1959 election victory for internally self-governing of Singapore. Lee knew if he could not destroy or co-opt this massive and strong political force, he and his PAP cronies were not going to have their way.
LKY in his bid to push through the ‘merger' held a referendum in September 1962, offering three options that all lead to the ‘merger'. There was neither option for complete independence from the British nor one against the ‘merger'. The Left in Singapore was faced with the dilemma of either participating or boycotting the referendum. The final decision was to participate so as to make use of the opportunity to propagate its views, to educate the people and to strengthen the mass movement. The people were asked to cast blank votes in protest against the ‘merger'. Despite the government's intimidation by spreading rumours like, "those who submit blank votes shall lose their citizenship rights and work" and so on, 25% of all electorates did exactly just that. Moreover, LKY was aware that not all 75% of those who voted supported him either. Barely five months after the referendum, LKY arrested his opposition on 2 February of 1963 under the ISA, codenamed, "Operation Coldstore", to suppress the left-wing movement in Singapore. This shows that LKY was unsure if PAP would win the general election, be it before or after the ‘merger', in spite of all the machinations he deployed. Lee was aware that should PAP lose the election, not only would the ‘merger' fail, his regime and his power might also end. Therefore, the ruling elite of the Malay Peninsula, Singapore and the British colonial government colluded to ensure LKY and his party would win the election. And to achieve that, Lee must destroy the Left in Singapore by incarcerating them.


(II) After the ISA mass arrests ("Operation Coldstore"), LKY and his cronies deployed repression and persecution, as well as deception and machination to destroy his opposition in Singapore

Renowned British historian, T.N. Harper revealed that LKY had intended to detain about a thousand people whom he regarded as his opposition during "Operation Coldstore" so as to ‘nib' dissent ‘in the bud' including, Ong Eng Guan of the United People`s Party(UPP). He also asked the Federation government to arrest Boestaman and Lim Kean Siew, both well-known leaders of the Malayan People`s Socialist Front (MPSF). However, he was only granted permission to arrest 169 people, including Boestaman but not Ong Eng Guan and Lim Kean Siew.


"Zhen Xian Bao" – Party Newspaper of BSS; 24 BSS candidates fielded to contest in September 1963 Singapore's General Election. They were arrested during "Operation Coldstore" to prevent them from running for election. They were all key leaders and cadres of BSS. LKY held the election after they were all in prison to ensure PAP's victory. This was Lee's way of co-opting and destroying a political party that was established for the people through constitutional means.

On 2 February 1963, 113 Singaporeans were arrested and at the top of the list, was Lim Chin Siong, leader of BSS and the left-wing labour movement in Singapore. Eleven days later, Boestaman was arrested under ISA by the Federation government. (See T.N. Harper's "Lim Chin Siong and the Singapore Story", 2004.)

After LKY's ruling clique failed to fully exterminate of the left-wing anti-colonial forces and other resisters through "Operation Coldstore", they still continued with their scheme. Just half a year after "Operation Coldstore", LKY's ruling clique, in order to win the general election, deployed repression and persecution, as well as deception and machination, to step up the destruction of the resistance forces and forcing the broad masses of people to submit.

On 28 August 1963, LKY announced that he would close down seven left-wing trade unions, which were the most influential in Singapore, with a total of 60,000 members on 30 October. The seven unions were namely, the Singapore General Employee`s Union(SGEU), the Singapore National Seaman Union, the Singapore Business House Employees` Union(SBHEU), the National Union Of Building Construction Workers(NUBCW), the Singapore Brick Making Workers` Union(SBMWU), the Singapore Bus Workers` Union(SBWU) and lastly, the Singapore Machine & Engineering Employees` Union (SMEEU).

Before that, Lee and his crony trade unions had long infiltrated the left-wing unions to divide them from within and to take over their leadership. The infiltrators were bent on sabotaging the workers' campaigns for improved working conditions and to resist unreasonable termination of workers. They even forced employers from recognising left-wing trade unions in their companies. Lee was all out to exterminate Singapore's left-wing trade unions, for instance, the Singapore Harbour Board Workers Union (SHBWU).

Since March 1963, Lee had started to attack this left-wing union with a membership of more than ten thousand. When they had failed to co-opt the union leadership, they turned to iron-fist tactics to force the union into submission. Lee accused the union of being controlled by a clique of 30 to 40 members and confiscated the union's building. By July of that year, the union's bank account with its deposit of more than Singapore Dollars 120,000 was frozen. Furthermore, the government had instructed the Singapore Port Authority to reject the union as workers' representatives. In doing so, the union was made defunct . (See "Newspaper of BSS, 阵线报, 20 March 1963.)


3 February 1963, "Sin Chew Jit Poh" (Chinese Daily) reported that 97 persons were arrested during the "Operation Coldstore". By the end of April, 120 were detained under ISA with seventeen among them deported to Malaysia, one escaped and 102 detained in Singapore . (See Assistant Special Officer Moore's letter to Britain Colonial Administration Governor, CO: 1030/1574, No.289, d.d. 29 April 1963.)

On 4 September, LKY then announced the nomination day for the general election as 12 February and 21 February as the voting day to ensure the absolute victory of PAP. He also linked the general election and PAP's campaigning activities with the establishment of the "Federation" so that an overwhelming victory of the PAP would be regarded as the people's support for the "Federation". Moreover, he needed the election victory to legitimise his subsequent persecution of Singapore's dissidents. Right after the election, waves upon waves of arrests and detentions were conducted and his main target was the left-wing trade unions. Hence, from 16 September 1963; the day the ‘merger' was finalised, to 9 August 1965, the day Singapore was kicked out of the "Federation"; LKY had carried out numerous arrests of his opposition in less than two years:

1. 22 September 1963 – cancelled the citizenship of Mr. Tan Lark Sye, founder of the then Nanyang University – just two days after LKY's election victory. Tan as a strong advocate of Chinese education in Singapore, was targeted for his support of BSS candidates who were Nanyang University's graduates.

2. 26 September 1963 – the army and police were deployed to Nanyang University campus to beat up and arrest students. Many were severely injured with 4 in life-threatening conditions. 5 students and 7 graduates were arrested, with 3 among them being BSS candidates in the general election. In addition, the government cancelled the permit of 6 University's publications including, "The University Tribune"("大学论坛")That was LKY's way of hitting back at those who supported his rivals.

3. 3 October 1963 – Closed down 5 grassroots associations of left-wing farmers and hawkers with a total of more than 100,000 members. They are: Singapore Rural Residents` Association (SRRA), Singapore Country Peoples` Association (SCPA), Singapore Hawkers` Union (SHU),Singapore Itinerant Hawkers` and Stallholders` Association (SIHSA) and Singapore Hawkers` Association.

4. 8 October 1963 – a two-day general strike against the government's prosecution of left-wing unions including, the closure of seven trade unions. The government warned through radio broadcasts that the strikes were illegal to deter people from joining. It also warned about sending the troops and police in to tackle the strikers. During the strike, the pro-government union, the Singapore Manual & Mercantile Workers' Union had sabotaged the strike with the help of the army and the police. Nearly all the left-wing leaders of BSS and Singapore Association of Trade Unions (SATU) were arrested including, 3 Members of Parliament i.e. Loh Miaw Gong, Lee Tee Tong and S.T.Bani,. and five BSS candidates for the election.

5. 30 October – Disbanded seven left-wing trade unions of a total of more than 60,000 members. LKY ordered the national Registrar to write to the unions on 28 August,

"The action initiated by the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, participated by your trade unions and others on 25 August for war reparation is against your constitution and mission. Your action is in line with the communist united front activities …you must therefore explain in writing by 30 October the reasons for not cancelling your registration as trade unions".

As this campaign was organised by the Chinese Chamber of Commerce and left-wing trade unions, among others, all their members were encouraged to participate, including a meeting where LKY himself, was present. This is a legitimate effort to seek justice for the World War II war crimes committed by the Japanese troops during Japan's three-year-and-eight month occupation of Malaya and Singapore. Why the left-wing unions should be singled out and accused of ‘communist united front activities'? Why should they be closed down and disbanded?

6. 8 January 1964 – cancelled the registration of the Singapore Naval Base Labour Union of 10,000 members. The union members carried out a strike in October 1963 to demand for better working conditions and LKY saw them as a threat. As a result, the union was disbanded and a pro-government union took its place.

7. 27 June 1964 – more than three thousand soldiers and police surrounded the Nanyang University and 41 students were arrested at dawn. More than a hundred police vehicles surrounded the campus and raided the students' hostels. 41 male and female students were arrested.

8. 18 July 1964 – 101 students from the Nanyang University, as well as 75 staff and workers were fired.

9. 10 September 1964 – members of left-wing unions, student movements and leaders of opposition political parties arrested. This was a joint effort by both the Malaysian and Singaporean governments to clamp down on more than 30 activists and leaders of the anti-colonial movement, including trade unions, students associations, BS and the People's Party, etc. The leaders of the Singapore Trade Unions Liaison Secretariat (STULS), which represented 32 workers' groups were all arrested. This was a coalition of trade unions formed after the closure of the left-wing trade union federation, SATU . (See Appendix 1)

12 September 1964 – BSS planned to organise a public meeting at Hong Lim Park against national service i.e. compulsory military draft of Singaporean male citizens at 18 years old. The assembly was also to protest against the government's arrests and detentions under ISA. However, the government had sent in a few thousands of troops and police to close down the gathering. The participants had to disperse but they persisted to march in protest in small groups. They were brutally attacked by the police and 77 were arrested. Some of them were fined while others were sentenced to three months' imprisonment. Among them, Lim Yew Beng, the paid Secretary of the Singapore Bookshop, Publication & Printing Press Workers`Union was detained without trial under the ISA for two years and subsequently, deported to Johor Bahru, Malaysia.

10. 29 April 1965 – 30 trade unions leaders tasked to organise the upcoming 1 May, International Labour Day were arrested. Left-wing unions were organising various activities in their respective centres and offices. They had applied for police permits to hold public celebrations at Hong Lim Park, Farrer Park or Jalan Besar Football Stadium, as required by law. Firstly, the Federal government forbade the trade unions in Sarawak to commemorate the occasion. Secondly, the Singapore trade unions' applications to hold public meetings and to jointly celebrate International Labour Day were rejected. The government even issued a statement, "this is a conspiracy by the Organising Committee of the Singapore trade unions to involve the workers in creating insecurity and tension in Singapore"; an excuse to further suppress legitimate union activities. On one hand, the power-that-be obstructed the unions' right to hold May Day celebration at Farrer Park. On the other hand, it swiftly arrested the 30 members of the Organising Committee and the Trade Union Liaison Secretariat (see Appendix 2). On 1 May, workers and the masses held peaceful protests but the government responded by attacking and beating up the protestors. 277 people were arrested that day.

After the establishment of the "Federation of Malaysia", the governments of Peninsula Malaysia and Singapore joined hands to repress the left-wing forces which opposed the ‘merger'. The ruling elite used the ISA, which gave them extensive power, to indefinitely detain the opposition without trial. They banned and disbanded legal organisations and used legislative means to suppress people's autonomy in organising, by amending laws and regulations, such as the "Amendment of Society Act", "Amendment of Trade Unions Act", etc. By using laws to strangle these legal bodies, both governments had succeeded in exterminating all their oppositions and rivals. At the same time, they also enacted new laws, such as the "Employment Relations Act", "Industrial Relations Act", etc. to suppress workers' demands for better pay and working conditions.

(Ⅲ) After the 2nd February Incident in 1963, SATU remained loyal to Lim Chin Siong by implementing their policies based on his Three Principles

①Below outlines the struggles of Singapore's left-wing trade unions prior to the 2nd February 1963 Incident:

Between 1948 and early 1963, the Singapore left-wing trade unions had succeeded in constitutional struggles in various political contexts by using different strategies and tactics to gain from strength to strength. They had grasped the new realities and constraints following the forced ‘merger' and adapted their strategies accordingly.

1. From the imposition of the Emergency Decree in 1948 and its accompanying brutal repression and persecution of the Malaya and Singapore people by the British colonial government to the early 1950s, the Singapore left-wing trade unions had succeeded in its policies of slow and steady growth, embedded in changing political conditions.

During this period, left-wing trade unions could hardly organise publicly. To avoid scrutiny and being targeted by the government, progressive labour had to integrate themselves with the workers in their workplaces to build solidarity with them. The aim was to educate and organise the workers, even if they had to rely on the pro-government unions to encourage workers to fight for their rights. This strategy was to accumulate their power and experiences until they could carry out their struggles openly.

2. Between 1954 and 1956, workers' constitutional struggle was possible and it was beneficial for the expansion of the workers' movement. Hence, the main strategy was to encourage workers to conduct economic struggles.

On 13 May 1954, the students protested against compulsory military draft in Singapore. Their initiatives had effectively broken through the atmosphere of ‘White Terror' and awakened the consciousness of all people against neo-colonialism. The following year, the Rendel Constitutional government was implemented, and the emergence of left-wing political parties had signalled a sign of a fledgling democracy. This greatly encouraged the growth of the trade union movement.

After the "May 13" Incident, a group of students joined the trade unions and helped re-energize the beleaguered labour movement. This facilitated the left-wing trade unions' effort in educating and organising the workers, thereby creating the favourable conditions to strengthen the union movement and launch the workers' struggles for better pay and working conditions. Since the 1948 Emergency, which brought in Martial Law, the workers and the masses had long been dis-enchanted with the regime. Their anger and disillusionment was like a volcano waiting to explode. Their desire to improve their lives had motivated them to join the trade union movement. This was the underlying factor that led to the rapid growth of the trade union movement at that time.

3. From September 1956 onwards, the Lim Yew Hock regime had begun massive repression by arresting many left-wing leaders and banning left-wing organisations. Consequently, the left-wing workers' movement had lost its momentum and was at its all-time low. Henceforth, the leadership had to adopt low-profile strategies and tactics by consolidating existing organisations and to wait for a more conducive time to develop the movement. 1956 and 1957 were the two years of ‘ebb' and ‘submergence' of the social movements because of the spread of ‘White Terror'.

Between 1954 and mid-1956, left-wing trade unions led by the Singapore Factory and Shop Workers' Union (SFSWU), had succeeded in organising the workers to fight for better pay and working conditions and as a result, the workers' support for the unions had also increased. The strengthened unions had in turn, helped support and strengthen the other social movements. Thus, the people's political awareness and resistance against neo-colonialism were at all-time high. The demand for self-government quickly gained momentum. By early 1956, more and more trade unions had embarked on strikes to fight for their rights, including naval base labour , army civil service labour, harbour board workers, City Council labour , STC Bus Workers, transport vessel workers etc. The momentum against colonialism was gaining ground as economic and political struggles went hand-in-hand. This had certainly alarmed the British colonial government, which quickly intervened to suppress the rising left-wing forces in Singapore.

4. PAP which proclaimed pro-workers got into power in 1959, provided favorable conditions for the left-wing trade union movement to vigorously promote its development.

In 1959, PAP which proclaimed pro-workers, had initially embarked upon a series of political reforms, such as the taking down of pro-government unions and unions which created divisions within the labour movement. The PAP even announced its pro-union policies and advocated for a united trade union movement then. In response, the Singapore left-wing trade union movement was on the rise and very engaged in fighting for workers' rights. The unions were expanding, the workers' organisations were strengthened and consolidated, and the union movement was becoming increasingly united. The employers also became more cooperative and most labour disputes were easily resolved. All these had boosted the confidence and morale of the workers. And in turn, the workers' support for the left-wing trade unions grew substantially. At that time, the workers movement was well-organised, the leadership was united and the rank-and-file was militant. According to 1963's statistics, there were 29 left-wing trade unions with more than 100,000 members, making up two-thirds of organised labour then.

Singapore's left-wing trade unions had always been militant and politically involved. They were the pillar of the country's anti-colonial movement. In mid-1961, LKY and his cronies betrayed the Singapore people by colluding with the elite of Malaya and Britain, to push for the ‘merger' with Malaya. Lim Chin Siong as the leader of the left-wing trade union movement fully demonstrated the autonomy and independence of the labour movement. He led the ‘anti-merger' movement and stood for internally self-governing of Singapore instead. As a result, he left the PAP and founded BSS with the left-wing labour movement at its helm. BSS was to unite with various political parties, which represented the bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeoisie. A "Committee for Joint Actions" comprising the 5 political parties was formed. These were the BSS, Partai Rakyat (PR), Workers' Party (WP), Liberal Socialist Party (LSP) and the United Democratic Party(UDP).

The Joint Committee was to unite people from all social and economic classes and to lead through peaceful constitutional struggles, against the national referendum about the ‘merger'. It was to raise the people's consciousness about democracy so that a formidable force of people's power could tackle the reactionary forces. On hindsight, as we assess the success and failure of our past, our understanding of the aftermath of the 2nd February Incident and our insistence on pursuing constitutional struggles are imbued with great significance.

②Prior to the 2nd February Incident, Lim Chin Siong had raised three principles and policies for our struggle

At the critical juncture of the 1962 General Election, the other political parties of the Five-Party
The cover of the Chinese version of the book by renowned British historian, T.N. Harper, "Lim Chin Siong and the Singapore Story – the other side of history". Harper was positive about the role Lim Chin Siong played and his place in Singapore's history.
 coalition, which was against the ‘merger' i.e. the Liberal Socialist Party (LSP), United Democratic Party (UDP)and the Workers' Party, had succumbed to the intimidation of the power-that-be and supported the ‘merger' instead. BSS in response campaigned for the people to cast ‘blank votes' at the referendum, a strategy that was acceptable to most. The referendum result showed that only 25% responded to BSS' call whereas 71% voted for the ‘merger'. And the rest of the population had spoilt their votes. Consequently, some people began to doubt the effectiveness of constitutional struggle, as advocated by BSS led by Lim Chin Siong. Some among them became cynical and pessimistic whilst others became adventuristic and radicalised.

Lim Chin Siong, as the leader of the left-wing labour movement and the BSS, had evaluated the referendum outcome to dispel the doubts of some about the effectiveness of constitutional struggle. His intention was to correct both the left-leaning and the right-leaning tendencies among the people. Half a century of struggles and praxis has passed since his assessment, it is important to revisit his analysis today.

Lim had admitted that the referendum result was a small setback for the left but he went on to propose principles and policies for our future struggles. He had pointed out that our struggles had to expand beyond the confines of Singapore to include the other four states, since the Federation of the five states had become a reality. He also predicted another round of arrests. Lim had raised three main principles and policies in actualising the goals of the Left. He also talked about how the Left should deal with the petty bourgeoisie and the bourgeoisie within the movement :
  • i. Persist in constitutional struggle for as long as conditions for peaceful constitutional struggle still exist;
  • ii. To strengthen and consolidate our work towards racial harmony and unity
  • iii. To unite majority of the people on the basic foundation of workers and farmers.
(For details, see: "Three principles of our struggle, campaign for the realisation of our current goals", BSS`s Newspaper, Issue No. 52, 19 September 1962.)

Lim also explained, "Despite the reactionary forces' denial of peaceful constitutional struggles, as well as the validity of parliamentary democracy, it is possible to gain the support of the majority of the people for socialism through peaceful constitutional means. Upon this basis, military suppression cannot destroy or obstruct the progress of people's socialist power" . (See "Comrade Chin Siong's analysis and our objective reality", SCHFEU`s Bulletin, No. 17, 17 September 1965.)

According to him, "The Left in our country have to realise social transformation through peaceful and constitutional means. Only when the majority of the people want socialism would socialism become possible. The reactionary forces will surely fail if they attack socialism on its rise (the rising waves of socialism). Therefore, the reactionary forces will increasingly rely on undemocratic and fascist means to maintain their grip on power…it is precisely because our socialist force is making progress through constitutional means; the ruling elite as a reactionary force has to resort to undemocratic actions" . (See "We will develop even stronger!", BSS`s Newspaper,No.79,30 December, 1962.)

On ways to unite the majority of people in Singapore, Lim advised, "…Without doubt, this must be based on principles. Not to be opportunistic. It must be based on the workers and farmers as our foundation, and unite the petty bourgeois and the bourgeoisie through principled, good relationships and with sincerity and patience. Needless to say, we cannot give up or compromise our principle that is firmly premised on the working class and the farmers." (See "Three principles of our struggles to realise our immediate goals", BSS's Newspaper, No. 52, 19 September 1962.)

③Even after the "2nd February Incident", our constitutional struggle was not completely blocked.

Right after the 1962 dramatic political changes in Brunei, the British, Malaysia and Singapore authorities began to repress people's resistance. The reactionary forces were in a tight corner and therefore, had to reveal their undemocratic nature by resorting to violence. The violent suppression of the authorities had shown people their true colors. This reflected the development of the anti-Malaysia anti-colonial movement. The violent suppression of the authorities to form the "Federation of Malaysia", reflected the contrast of power between the people and the enemy with the people on the weaker side for the time being, and the violent suppression of the enemy temporarily played a decisive role.

In less than two years after the ‘merger' was proposed in May 1961, the reactionary forces were already defeated. The power-that-be had to use force and deception though the so-called, ‘parliamentary election', as in the case of March to August 1963 in Sarawak and Sabah; September in Singapore, as well as April 1964 in Peninsula Malaysia, proves that the people's political consciousness was on the rise and the disparity of power between the ruling elite and us was narrowing.

The authorities were wary that the full use of force on the people could lead to a backlash, which could in turn; result in their total loss of control. Hence, they refrained from totally suppressing the Left as they did in 1948, by closing down all left-wing groups and organisations instead. They focused on selective arrest, detention and closure of groups, and at the same time, amended laws to suit themselves. These were, the "Amendment to the Trade Union Law", "Amendment to the Society Act", "Amendment to the Industrial Act", "Amendment to the Labour Relations Act", etc.

LKY signing the "Malaysia Agreement" on 13 July 1963 in London after he had succeeded in clearing his path to power of all obstructions. He was smug about the successful collusion with the British colonialists and the Malaysia ruling elite, however, he never expected that Singapore under his leadership would be ‘kicked out' of Malaysia by Tunku Abdul Rahman in 1965. 
As seen from the above, the anti-colonial resistance had entered a turning point. The conditions for democracy were deteriorating by the day; the environment was becoming harsher, more complex and tortuous. For the Singapore Left, the LKY regime was far more dictatorial, violent, cunning, deceptive and manipulative than the Malaysian regime. The struggle was going to be far more difficult in Singapore than between 1959 and 1963, prior to the "2nd February Incident".

After that crackdown, Singapore had descended into the Lim Yew Hock (1956- 1957) period, which was shrouded in ‘white terror'. The mass movement had entered a ‘new low' and the Left needed to adapt accordingly. Besides insisting on constitutional struggle, we had to rely on a ‘semi-submerged' and ‘semi-open' approach in organising. The emphasis was on working closely with the workers and the masses, consolidate grassroots organisations, strengthen political education, and strive for more power so that we could turn the situation around.

④After the ‘merger', SATU advocated four principles and policies of struggles and four programmes

After the referendum, Lim Chin Siong raised three principles and policies, which represented his strategic thinking for Singapore's anti-colonial movement, which was subsequently affirmed by the left-wing union leadership and implemented after the "2nd February Incident".

The Singapore Association of Trade Unions (SATU) was the leading organ of Singapore's left-wing trade unions. Its newsletter, "Suara SATU" (团结之声), No. 2, published on 11 August 1963, published an essay entitled, "Analysis of the conditions and tasks of our struggle in Malaysia's political environment". It analysed the new situation that might arise in view of the changing situation of political struggle, as a result of the forced formation of the ‘Federation of Malaysia', and indicated policies and programmes of struggle to be followed.

It further pointed out that "after the "2nd February Incident", the implementation of Malaysia's reactionary constitutional arrangements is inevitable. The anti-colonial anti-Malaysia struggle has suffered temporary setbacks, and we must seek the truth based on facts and face the new political realities... "

It also highlighted, "…the Federation that is formed is only democratic in name but its true nature remains colonial, feudalistic and capitalistic…the extreme right, feudalistic and reactionary political leadership of the ‘Federation' is a proxy for the domestic and international ruling elite and reactionary forces, which use the façade of parliamentary democracy to hide its dictatorial nature against the toiling masses, the petty bourgeois and the national bourgeoisie. "

"The formation of the Federation of Malaysia has resulted in a temporary retrogression of its social status and resulted the regime in becoming more reactionary temporarily, therefore, the Malaysia plan is a reactionary constitutional arrangement with a temporary retrogression. ... because the reactionaries had deployed intimidation and violence to enforce submission, hence, the anti-colonial anti-Malaysian struggle has suffered temporary setbacks. We must seek truth from facts to face the new political environment and persist in our struggle for progress based on the new political reality."

With regards to the strategy of struggle in the new political struggle environment, the essay pointed out: "The anti-colonial progressive movement in this state need to, in terms of theory and praxis, emphasise the following policies:
  • Maximise the use of peaceful constitutional struggle; 
  • Strengthen and consolidate national unity ; 
  • With workers and farmers as our base, we unite all people;
  • Closely link the struggle for livelihood and welfare with our political struggle."
The above-mentioned four point-programme is based on the three principles and policies raised by Lim Chin Siong and added in the fourth point to the principles. This shows that SATU, as the highest leadership organ of the Left had affirmed Lim's strategies and direction and implored its union members to implement them.

The essay also predicted that in the anti-colonial resistance of Malaysia, the huge disparity of power between the ruling elite and the people would change eventually as the reactionary regime would be defeated. There are four scenarios in which this could happen:
  • i. Firstly, when the power of change is more balanced across Malaysia, the progressive central political power would eventually replace the reactionary one.
  • ii. Secondly, under certain special circumstances, the people became united or, due to certain international factors, the people of the three states of Malaysia; Sabah, Sarawak and Brunei demand to leave the union, then the progressive people of Malaya and Singapore must support them in their struggle for independence and liberation. In doing so, the reactionary regime of Malaysia will implode from within and cannot be wholly replaced.
  • iii. If on the other hand, the power of the anti-colonial progressive movement of Malaya and Singapore were to develop much faster than the three northern states, and the former managed to take over political power, then the latter could decide if they would remain in the union. If they decide to leave Malaya and Singapore could work towards a united Malaya that is truly independent, democratic and united instead. In turn, the reactionary forces would become divided and finally disintegrate.
  • iv. If the people of Singapore in our struggle for equal civil rights, equal political participation rights and equal economic rights and eventually, become an unified transformative force that the reactionary regime cannot destroy (and this is supported by the people of the other four states), we must have the courage to leave the union and be independent so that in time to come, we would fight for the reunification of Malaya and Singapore.
The essay analysed the above-mentioned four possible scenarios and clearly pointed out that:
  • Any of the four scenarios is advantageous to the people's progressive anti-colonial movement because they all achieve the goal of defeating the reactionary central political power.
  • As seen from the contexts of Malaya and Singapore, we have to focus on building a truly independent, democratic, peaceful and united Malaya because Malaya and Singapore share many commonalities in terms of historical and social conditions.
Generally speaking, the "Four Struggle Programmes" is the Struggle Policy and strategies of the national democratic movement in resisting the ‘merger' and colonialism. Both constitute the political routes of the left-wing labour movement and the anti-colonial, national and democratic movements.

The essay stresses that the left-wing labour movement in its political struggle must always maintain its autonomy and takes its initiatives:
  •  "We stress that, because the left-wing labour unions movement have outstandingly taken the role of the leadership within the anti-colonial, national, democratic political movement, the latter is able to withstand all storms and tests and still steadily progress; similarly, because the left-wing labour unions movement have taken the role of the leadership within the anti-colonial, national, democratic political movement after the forced formation of Malaysia, it is only so that we can move from victory to victory with the least mistakes and distractions."
  • "In order for the left-wing labour movement to assume the role of leadership in all political struggles, it must be able to persist in its autonomy and initiatives, ideologically, politically and organisationally."
With regards to the organisation of the left-wing trade union movement, the essay states:
  • "The fundamental rests upon our ideological consistency in organising. When challenged by reactionary political discussion, reformism, as well as opportunism, and simultaneously attacked by various so-called, ‘leftist' political theorists from within the movement, it is even more important for left-wing trade union movement to seek ideological consistency from strengthening the struggle of the two areas."
From SATU's views about left-wing trade union movement must be able "to persist in its autonomy and initiatives" and "it is important for the movement to seek ideological consistency from strengthening the struggle of the two areas" released in 1963, as outlined above, it seemed to explain that the leadership of the left-wing trade union movement had already by early 1960s sensed that when challenged by left-wing political parties using ‘left' theories, the labour movement's autonomy and ability to take initiatives would be seriously tested. Such foresight by the leadership was unfortunately, not taken seriously, nor understood properly and finally, not implemented.

With regards to the issue of grassroots organising, the essay indicates that:

"Every unit within the left-wing trade union movement must take seriously, the work of consolidating organisations and raising of awareness among the members. We must correct the mistakes of staying in close contact with our grassroots workers only when we are dealing with labour disputes. Even when the situation is risky, dangerous, harsh and difficult, for instance, when union organisations are closed down or banned by the government, apart from special circumstances, all trade union leaders, officers, and cadres must return to the factories and work sites to work and live with the rank-and-file, even more closely than before. The difficult days of struggle in the past clearly shows us that as long as our grassroots are stable and strong, and deep into the heart of the masses, the left-wing trade union movements will not be destroyed."

This indicates that the leadership at that time had already predicted that after the "2nd February Incident", the regime would continue to exert pressure on the labour movement, notwithstanding the closure of union organisations. It was a reminder that union cadres must be psychologically prepared for the harsher days ahead whereby the political conditions would be increasingly challenging, hinting at the necessity to submerge ‘semi-underground'.

⑤Big defeat at the September 1963 General Election followed by another round of severe repression in October but SATU maintained its line of constitutional struggle

During the September 1963 election, the left-wing, anti-colonial movement threw its weight behind the BSS and was very confident that it could defeat LKY and his cronies, who were British loyalists that had betrayed the people. This was based on their victory in overthrowing the proxy government of Lim Yew Hock in 1959, which ushered in the rule of PAP that had postured itself as pro-labour then. Given that the Left in Singapore was far more organised and stronger, with greater mobilising power in 1963 than in 1959, Dr. Lee Siew Choh, leader of BSS was very confident that his party would win the election, so much so that he had rejected the request of the Partai Rakyat to field their candidate in certain districts. Ali, Chairman of Partai Rakyat met with Dr. Lee at BSS headquarters, appealing to BSS to allow the Partai Rakyat to contest in one of the three constituencies i.e. Geylang East, Geylang West, or Changi because the latter did not have any party branch in the three constituencies even though the party was very active there. However, Dr. Lee refused. His response was, "BSS intends to form the government so we need to field candidates who are potential cabinet ministers in these three districts. The Partai Rakyat is a Malay party; you should contest in the Malay districts."

Photo above shows the BSS`s Newspaper, 1963, Page 2; Special Edition on the 1963 Singapore Legislative Assembly Election. It indicates that BSS is a party that adheres to constitutional struggles and was ready to form a government that would take care of workers' interests. However, the cunning LKY had coerced and misled the party and its supporters to take ultra-radical actions that alienate itself from its masses. This has eventually led to the demise of the party. LKY in his memoir said that leader of BSS, Lee Siew Choh had handed over the political stage of the parliament to the PAP, which allowed the PAP to monopolise political power in the Parliament Singapore for decades, without challenge.


The election results were (see BSS`s Newspaper, No. 33, 29 September 1963):
  • Out of more than 617,000 voters, BSS got 193,000 votes i.e. 31%; 
  • The Partai Rakyat got 8000 votes i.e. 1.3%; 
  • The party led by Ong Eng Guan, which divided the votes among the left in Singapore i.e. United People`s Party got 49,000 votes i.e. 8%; 
  • BSS and the Partai Rakyat got altogether, 201,000 votes, about one third of all the votes – these are firm votes for the Left; 
  • If includes the United People`s Party, the total was 259,000 votes i.e. 42.3%.
The defeat of the Left in this election had allowed PAP to return to power. This was the second defeat of the Left since the last election held in September 1962. This has increased the dissatisfaction of the cadres and the masses, as well as their doubt about constitutional struggle. In turn, there was much cynicism and many wanted to give up. On the other hand, there were others who became even more radicalised.

Right on the heel of the election, the authority conducted another mass arrest of the opposition in October, rendering another heavy blow on the left-wing anti-colonial movement. The leaders of numerous organisations were imprisoned; even left-wing elected members of the parliament were not spared. Five civic organisations with 100,000 members and seven trade unions with 60,000 members were banned. Given the highly repressive atmosphere then, there was increasing doubt if constitutional struggle still makes sense.

In response, SATU published in "Suara SATU", its November, Issue No. 4 newsletter, an article entitled: "An Analysis of our future struggle and tasks based on the meaning and purpose of constitutional struggle and momentum". The essay highlighted the reasons for the doubt of cadres and the masses about constitutional struggle after the election defeat, the mistakes made by the Left during the election, and the left-wing trade unions' affirmation to persist in constitutional struggle.

"After this election, many cadres, as well as the masses have lost their confidence in constitutional struggle mainly because they are unclear about the purpose of such form of struggle. Secondly, we have made mistakes in some of our campaign messages. We failed to point out that the imperialists intended to perpetuate its existence through the one-man-one vote election system. Moreover, the left was so convinced that we could control the in Singapore. We were wrong because we were influenced by the results of the 1959 election. We thought since we succeeded in putting PAP in power in 1959, we could defeat it in 1963. However, we have ignored the vast difference between the two situations. In 1959, the Lim Yew Hock puppet government was unpopular because of its corruption and ties to Britain. LKY on the other hand, was well-liked by the colonial ruler because of his class bias and his performance in 1956-57. The new Singapore Constitution stipulated that all political detainees are barred from participating in the first election after the new constitution was passed. By 1963, the machination by LKY had guaranteed PAP's victory, particularly since the election was held merely five days after the ‘merger'. This indicates that the British colonial power was secretly assisting and instructing LKY to win the upcoming election.

The article also explained the significance of participating in the constitutional struggle and affirms its position of continuing to adhere to the constitutional struggle, as follows:

• "...the purpose of the British colonial ruler implementing Parliamentary democracy system in its colonies is to divide the people and prolong its rule";

• "To persist in constitutional struggle for as long as conditions for peaceful constitutional struggle still exist. After the state election and the general strike, the reactionaries did not completely block the constitutional approach, so we still have to fight with the reactionaries using the constitutional approach in the future";

• "The constitutional struggle is not all about winning the majority of seats in the Parliament, but to accelerate the early maturity of condition for overall victory through constitutional struggle".

⑥ The National Union Of Building Construction Workers (NUBCW) banned and transferred to the Singapore Commercial House & Factory Employee`s Union, (SCHFEU)and continued to advocate for SATU's approach

The seven trade unions banned in October 1963 were the backbone of SATU. LKY destroyed them to destroy the militancy of the united leadership of the left-wing labour union. The National Union Of Building Construction Workers (NUBCW) was one of the key members of SATU, which was instrumental in determining the policies and programmes of the left-wing labour movement after the "2nd February Incident". The internal debate and discussion was comprehensive, which allowed the leaders and cadres to grasp fully its 1963 policies. That is, to "consolidate the factory-level organising units and strengthen political education". After its transfer to the Singapore Commercial House & Factory Employee`s Union (SCHFEU), committee members and cadres led the unions and got involved in the day to day organising at the grassroots. Some of them worked as rank-and-file in factories, others became union cadres while still others, were assigned to different branch unions to take up political, propaganda and education tasks and responsibilities. I was re-assigned to the branch union located in Siu Poh (Xiaobo) Area.

The leaders of the National Union Of Building Construction Workers (NUBCW) joined hands with those o SCHFEU, and other banned unions, which had transferred to the latter's jurisdiction, to implement SATU's policies and directions; thereby resisting the advocacy of BSS leader, Dr. Lee Siew Choh and other left-wing unions. The leaders had persisted even after they were forced to abdicate their posts later on.

To raise the political consciousness of the workers and the masses, propaganda and education work is extremely important. SCHFEU understood that it was pertinent to strengthen its publishing work, such as newsletters; it was a popular means of communication among members and between the leadership and the members. However, due to the widespread ‘white terror' then, few dared to take up leadership roles of such a large scale union due to the high risk of arrest and imprisonment.

In 1964, the NUBCW had recommended Nanyang University graduate, Guo Xiaofeng who was already active in the union's propaganda and education work, to be employed by SCHFEU to take care of its newsletters and other propaganda and educational work. However, by September of the same year, LKY had ordered another round of arrests and detention of left-wing trade unionists; those responsible for SCHFEU were either detained without trial or had ‘escaped'. By that time, the only leader originally from the NUBCW left in SCHFEU was Phua Yong Shio. Before his arrest in end of April 1965, he had recommended a new graduate from Nanyang University, Tan Sin (Chen Xin @ Tan Seng Hin) to take over his work. He also told me to be ready to take up more work, which I had accepted.

In May 1965's union election, out of the 17 leaders five of us who came from the NUBCW, were elected as the Central Committee of SCHFEU. We were namely, the President Tan Sin (Chen Xin @ Tan Seng Hin), Organising Section Head Chan Beng Sam, Central Committee member Lim Hock Seng, Chee Song Beng, and Guo Xiao feng was appointed as Secretary of Propaganda and Education. And I was elected as the Propaganda and Education Section Head. I also accepted the appointment as the representative of SCHFEU to the seven-person leadership committee that represented 28 trade unions. Thus, when time was most difficult, the core leaders of the NUBCW have risen to the occasion to take up the most important tasks in SCHFEU. Unfortunately, we were labelled by those who disagreed with us as, "Right-leaning opportunists", "Scab", "infiltrators", sinister gang, "left-wing traitors", "agents of PAP", etc. Despite the name calling, we persisted in defending and promoting SATU's policies and direction.

(Ⅳ) The split within the Left had to do with the debate between those who were for and against the three principles and policies advocated by Lim Chin Siong

From the end of 1963, BSS was divided on the issue of compulsory military draft of young men from 18 years old, also known as National Service in Singapore. This tension escalated until May 1964 when eight members of BSS including, Lee Siew Choh left the party. Lee also accused the party of betraying the principles of BSS, that it was helping imperialists to further enslave the people; that BSS was in alliance with the enemy and so on. Their departure signified the public split within the party.

9 March 1965, Lee Siew Choh and the other seven members of BSS returned to the party as the role of conquerors and continued to oppose the party's strategy of ‘registration in principle' for National Service. He also criticised BSS's call to cast blank votes in the 1962 referendum. He was of the opinion that BSS should have boycotted the referendum to raise people's political consciousness and in turn, reveal British imperialism and its puppet LKY regime with their fake parliamentary democracy, parliamentary election and referendum . (see "Malaya Labour Party's History of Struggle", published by the Malaya Labour Party's Party History Committee, 1 January 2001, pg. 388. )


Dr. Lee Siew Choh, Chair of BSS. He left the party on 4 May 1964, after his advocacy was rejected by the party. After the party leadership openly apologised to him, he returned to the party as Chair and held his position from 2 March 1965 until the party was disbanded.

Lee Siew Choh successively criticized the strategies of " registration in principle" and "cast blank votes", which were "against the party's principle and position", "right-leaning opportunism ideology" and " right-leaning opportunists line", which is undoubtedly a direct negation of the leadership of Lim Chin Siong and other BSS leaders and to establish Lee's personal leadership authority.

The criticisms from Lee Siew Choh took place while Lim Chin Siong and Lim Hock Siew were tortured by the ruling clique in the prison, had aroused much concern and anger, particularly among the Left. Hence, given the respect and loyalty that Lim still enjoyed among his followers, Lee Siew Choh refrained from directly criticising Lim and his strategies. He criticised those loyal to Lim instead, particularly the leadership of the left-wing trade union movement, by deeming them as the "main targets of the struggle" of "opposing right-leaning opportunists."

On the third day of Lee Siew Choh's return to BSS, 12 March 1965, he announced in the welcome assembly that, "…I hope you will be alert about certain new slogans. I personally disagree with the campaign slogan of ‘withdraw from Malaysia" (see 17 April 1965, BSS's party newspaper, "Party News", No. 5.) His warning was interpreted by some as hostile. Subsequently, on 3 April, BSS`s Newspaper published an essay entitled, "Crush ‘Malaysia' and defeat the reactionary regime". It reflected Lee's intention to overturn the resolution passed at the Party's Assembly three weeks earlier. A week later, BSS`s Newspaper published another essay entitled, "Withdraw from Malaysia – a mistaken call of action". It was meant as a direct attack on the left-wing union leadership. This signified the beginning of Lee's hostility towards the labour movement and his refusal to "eliminate differences and fight against the enemy"Lee and his supporters were bent on dividing the labour movement and to defeat the strategies adopted by the movement.

(V) After Singapore left the Federation of Malaysia, left-wing trade unions advocated for "genuine independence with complete sovereignty" but this was sabotaged and attacked by Lee Siew Choh and the BSS leadership

9 August 1965, Singapore's departure from Malaysia became a reality; the left-wing labour movement adhered to SATU's policies and principles and immediately raised the above-mentioned slogan.

When LKY declared Singapore independent, thirty left-wing trade unions across Singapore put out a joint statement, "The forced withdrawal of Singapore from Malaysia as a new deception after British Imperialist rule thwarted" . (see SCHFEU`s Bulletin, No. 15, 15 August 1965.)

The joint statement indicated, "The withdrawal of Singapore from Malaysia is the progress of the people' struggle of opposing the ‘Federation of Malaysia' and the defeat of the puppet regime led by the Federation and the PAP. Even more so, it represents the setback of British imperialism and neo-colonialist rule in our region." It also proves that the insistence of left-wing trade unions to fight against the ‘merger' was correct and the PAP's promotion of the ‘merger' was a mistake. Not to mention that PAP had in the past two years suppressed and persecuted its dissent and opposition. Therefore, it was the wish of all people in Singapore come true, and the fruits of our struggle. In that sense, LKY had no right to posture himself as a hero or a saviour. He should admit his responsibility in that failure, he should resign and apologise to the people instead".

The joint statement also reiterated that it was the people's aspiration to achieve "genuine independence and complete sovereignty. This was always the goal of our struggle as the left-wing labour movement. The statement was in effect, a categorical challenge to LKY on the issue of ‘genuine independence'.

Furthermore, the statement quoted LKY, "Singapore shall from today onwards, forever be a sovereign democratic and independent nation…Tunku Abdul Rahman also said, "Lim Chin Siong was arrested when we were preparing to establish the Federation of Malaysia, hence is Singapore's business." We the Left responded as clearly as possible, "the PAP must first and foremost unconditionally release all imprisoned patriots who were against colonialism and totally reinstate democracy before disbanding the parliament and organise an election. Otherwise, this is an unequal, unfair and undemocratic election so that the seeming autonomy and self-determination are simply fake and deceiving. This is the common aspiration and demand of the working class and all people of Singapore."

Singaporeans have experienced two years of persecution and repression, on top of that, the economy was failing, unemployment was high, taxation was exorbitant – there were complaints everywhere. There was an intensification of social contradictions in Singapore society. It did present an opportunity for the Left to mobilise the masses for change. At that time, the left-wing labour movement demanded genuine complete sovereignty and independence. It challenged LKY to unconditionally release all political detainees and all anti-colonial patriots and to restore democracy in the country. It asked LKY to resign and to apologise, to disband the parliament and hold an election that was truly democratic and fair.

In my opinion, such an approach was most effective in convincing the people, it was a strategy to unite the masses and in turn, develop a mass movement.

On the other hand, Lee Siew Choh, the leader of BSS had accused the labour movement of going against Malaysians' aspiration to achieve true independence, democracy and unification. Lee Siew Choh also attacked and sabotaged the labour unions' demand for mass struggles and genuine independence and complete sovereignty. Investigation into the intentions of Lee's persistent attack and sabotage against the trade unions to split the left-wing movement in Singapore/Malaya and what Lee advocated is important.

The editorial published in the Partai Rakyat`s newspapers expressed viewpoints that were similar to those of the left-wing trade unions

The Singapore Partai Rakyat as another left-wing party shared similar viewpoints about the strategies to be adopted after Singapore's withdrawal from Malaysia. The editorial of the party's newspaper, "Mimbar Rakyat" (人民论坛), in its first issue on 1 September 1965, was entitled, "Unite, and fight for complete independence with complete sovereignty."

It went on to say, "…The independence of Singapore is the first step towards victory of those who opposed the formation of the Federation. It is a defeat of neo-colonialism and imperialism. Singapore being ‘kicked out' of Malaysia signifies a big stride forward, of the independent movement that is fighting for complete sovereignty. "

"The left socialist activists have always fought for the genuine unification of Singapore and Malaya and to achieve national independence based on complete sovereignty, and for national liberation and freedom. Our position has not changed…"

"…the independence of Singapore, regardless if it is genuine or fake, proves that the left activists' persistence for an independent movement that fights for complete sovereignty is correct, that resisting fake ‘merger' and opposing the ‘Federation of Malaysia' is correct…"

The editorial is categorically clear about the struggles ahead, in view of the new political situation since the ‘independence of Singapore':

"To materialise the duties that were assigned to us by the masses, to make the mass movement more effective, our immediate tasks are:
  • Unite and continue to fight for genuine independence with complete sovereignty. 
  • The current ‘independence' of Singapore is only in form, it is not an independence based on complete sovereignty. In fact, this independence is a compromise by the PAP leaders who have betrayed our sovereignty and the interest of the people. It is an independence premised on various unfair treaties and of non-sovereignty 
  • Therefore, for the respect, integrity and interests of our country and people, we must fight on until the independence based on complete sovereignty and equality among all races is achieved. 
  • Independence based on complete sovereignty refers to: 
    •  Internally – all races are equally treated; everyone has equal political participation rights and freedoms; with freedom of association, speech and publication. 
    • Externally – not constrained by unfair treaties, diplomacy and foreign policies. It should be based on the Bandung (Conference) principles; to maintain friendly relations with all countries in the world and support the people's fight for justice, and against imperialism, colonialism, and oppression. 
  • Fight for the release of all patriots imprisoned for their anti-imperialist and anti-colonial struggles.
(Ⅵ) Lee Siew Choh controlled the BSS leadership, he was against the advocacy of the labour organisations and he seemed to make defeating the labour movement his goal – was there any ‘hidden agenda'? Let the historians investigate and conclude!

When Singapore was withdrawn from the Federation of Malaysia, 30 left-wing trade unions advocated for "fighting for genuine sovereignty and independence". The Partai Rakyat also advocated for "independence with complete sovereignty". There may be some nuances between the two but they are similar in nature. Yet, they were treated differently by Lee Siew Choh and BSS. Publicly, they were silent towards the demand of the Partai Rakyat. However, they were furious about the demand of the labour movement, attacking us aggressively that our advocacy was against the ‘principles'; that we were unilaterally changing the goals of the struggles of the people of Malaya. Their intention was to defeat the leadership of the labour movement.

Lee Siew Choh and BSS openly accused the leaders of the labour movement as ‘agents of the enemy', ‘fake leftists', targeting Tan Sin (Chen Xin @Tan Seng Hin)-led SCHFEU leadership and were manoeuvring to take control of the leadership of SATU. Before and after May 1966 was the pinnacle of their open challenge to expose and defeat the left-wing trade unions. The emphasis was on overthrowing the influential leadership of SCHFEU.

① The BSS leadership controlled by Lee Siew Choh, and the labour organisations, as well as the Partai Rakyat, which were under his influence, had attacked the leadership of left-wing trade unions, followings are a couple of the typical incidents:

1、 BSS`s Newspaper of 23 April 1966, No. 175, in his International Labour Day speech entitled, "Malaya Workers and Brothers Unite", Lee Siew Choh harshly attacked the left-wing trade unions as below:

• Regarded the left-wing trade unions as ‘agents of the enemy', ‘fake leftists';
• "...these ‘fake leftists' were trying to use incorrect slogans, perspectives and policies to confuse and mislead the working masses, to numb their fighting spirit against imperialism, and to divide and weaken the unity between the left wing and the workers' movements within the country…";
• "…Completely and thoroughly defeat them who were helping imperialism and reactionary forces to carry out sabotage and subversive activities; it was a conspiracy to attack the people's national liberation struggle. "

2、BSS`s Newspaper, No. 178, 14 May, Page. No. 4: "Cannot alter the objectives of the Malayan People's Struggle - Assessment of the Resolution raised by 22 labour organisations at the May Day Rally" . (Note by the author: The number should be 23 and not 22, same as below). This article highlighted certain phrases that appeared in Resolution Four, such as "Singapore's Working Class", "Singapore People", "The people of Malaya and Singapore", "The people of Malaya and Singapore have conducted their anti-colonial and anti-imperialist campaigns based on their concrete realities….", and then distorted the original spirit of the resolution. It was to scandalise the leadership of the workers' organisations. In addition, front page of the party's newspaper reported the recommendations by the Central Committee of BSS in response to the resolutions made at the May Day rally. They were as follows: "The Committee for May Day Celebration of all Singapore workers' organisations and all parties concerned should take seriously, the mistakes made and the serious implications thereof, and hence, they are urged to retrieve the Fourth Resolution to prevent such a misleading resolution to hurt and endanger the people's democratic movement". It was really rare to find someone such arrogant.

3、BSS`s Newspaper, 21 May, No. 179. "Joint Comments by Five trade unions - on the demeaning conditions accepted by 22 labour organisations to organise the May Day Rally". The five organisations were: Singapore Tailors` Union, Amalgamated Malayan Pineapple Workers` Union, Singapore Wood Workers` Union, Singapore Tong Loke Shoe Makers` Union, Singapore Restaurant, Bar, Eating & Coffeeshop Employees` Union. Thirty organisations jointly organised that May Day Rally, among them, 23 accepted the unreasonable conditions lay down by the police, albeit with protest. Five other unions refused to accept the conditions and withdrew from the organising. These five gave their statement after the rally, openly criticising the decision of the 23 organisations.

The five organisations scandalised the May Day Rally organised by the 23 organisations, reducing it to nothing. They blamed the latter for the divisions within the trade union movement and criticised them as hypocritical left-wingers. Their statement also criticised the fourth resolution of the May Day Rally. All these sounded very similar to the criticisms levelled by Lee Siew Choh. This is an example of the animosity between the majority that abided by the SATU policies and the minority that followed Lee Siew Choh.

4、The "Mimbar Rakyat" published by the Partai Rakyat on 1 June, No. 13, "An assessment of the resolutions raised at the May Day Rally by 22 workers' organisations" on their take about the Fourth Resolution. The main argument was similar to the BSS leadership led by Lee Siew Choh, accusing the trade unions of "going against their principled position." This is obviously echoing Lee Siew Choh's criticism.

5、On 3 June, the Committee for the Joint May Day Celebration by all Singapore Trade Unions and Workers' Organisations issued a long statement, "Response to the criticisms by BSS leadership on the May Day Rally Resolution by the 23 Workers' Organisations". The summary is as follows:
  • "To attack the resolution of the May Day Rally is insulting to all the workers present at that rally." 
  • "The concept of the people of Singapore and its working class has been adopted by the left-wing movement from the beginning, including BSS."
  • "To distort and attack – is this the way of resolving issues?" 
  • "Should the leadership of the left-wing movement who used the words such as "Singapore and Malaya" and "the people of Singapore" in the past be accused as disregarding the interests of the Malayan people?" 
  • "It is not possible to label us for tampering with the strategic goals of the Malayan people's struggle." 
  • "We resolutely agree with the joint struggles of the city and the countryside, and will adhere to the principle of workers and farmers alliance." 
  • "To seek the truth is a concrete and unique characteristics of united front struggles, is it justified to accuse us of abandoning the alliance between workers and farmers?" 
  • "To simplistically judge internal disagreements as the contradictions between ourselves and the enemies is damaging the unity of the left-wing movement." 
  • "The emergence of differences in opinion within the left-wing movement has its historical origin and should not emphasise on individual responsibility." 
  • "The correct political line can only be guarded when we resolutely oppose both "right-leaning and left-leaning opportunism"." 
  • "To resolve the internal disputes and differences within the Left must begin with the aspiration for unity."
The essay concluded by asking the Lee Siew Choh-controlled BSS leadership three questions:
  • "1. Why does BSS, as a political party that represents the interests of the working class not celebrate the International Labour Day?" 
  • "2. Why does the party ignore our invitation to the May Day Rally and Celebratory activities?"
  • "3. Why does the party's leader, Lee Siew Choh in his speech made before the May Day, attack the leadership of the left-wing labour movement?"
The essay also indicated that "the entire text was sent by the committee to Lee Siew Choh, asking him to publish it in full in his party's newspaper." It also expressed the hope that the other labour organisations will do the same.

As a result, to keep it from the cadres and the masses, Lee Siew Choh and the BSS did not publish our essay in its party newspaper. Similarly for the Partai Rakyat and the unions who were with them. "The manual of our struggle strategies" published by BSS' Central Propaganda Committee on 8 August 1966 also excluded our essay.

Labour Party of Malaya (Johor Branch) had on the other hand, provided left-wing cadres and masses the following material to help its members understand the differences in opinions between the BSS controlled by Lee Siew Choh and the labour organisations. No. 20, "Party News", published on 20 June included:
  • Fourth Resolution of the May Day Assembly 
  • "Malayan People's Struggle Goals Cannot Be Changed" by BSS 
  • "In response to BS leadership's criticism of the Resolutions passed at the May Day Assembly by 23 Labour Organisations" written by the Joint Committee of Singapore's Labour Organisations for the May Day Celebration
6、25 June, BSS`s Newspaper, No. 184, published an article entitled, "Eleven Labour Organisations claim the article by ‘May Day Preparatory Committee' not representative of their opinions". This joint statement was issued by the following:
  1. Singapore Tailors` Union (STU) 
  2. Amalgamated Malayan Pineapple Workers` Union (AMPWU) 
  3. Singapore Wood Workers` Union(SWWU) 
  4. Singapore Tong Loke Shoe Makers` Union(STLSMU) 
  5. Singapore Restaurant, Bar,Eating & Coffeeshop Employees` Union(SRBECEU) 
  6. Singapore Commercial House & Factory Employee`s Union,(SCHFEU) 
  7. Singapore Electrical & Wireless Employees` Union(SEWEU) 
  8. Singapore Metal Box Workers` Union (SMBW) 
  9. Singapore Taxi Drivers` Union(STDU) 
  10. Singapore Transport Vessel Workers` Union (STVWU) 
  11. Singapore Catering Services, Staff & Workers` Trade Union(SCSSWTU) 
  12. Singapore Hairdressers` Union(SHU)
The first 5 labour organisations out of these 11 labour organisations which were led by STU also participated in the "Joint Statement", this was really messing things up! This was because these 5 labour organisations had withdrawn from the ‘May Day Preparatory Committee' sometime back left with 23 organisations in the committee, the article of the ‘May Day Preparatory Committee' responding to BSS leadership only represented the 23 labour organisations excluding these 5 labour organisations, thus how could these 5 labour organisations say this article "was not representative of their opinions"?

It is worth noting that the entire statement only expressed the "May Day Preparatory Committee" article "was not representative of their opinions", the statement did not state if the signatories were for or against the "Fourth Resolution of the May Day Assembly". This may imply that the five labour organisations led by the STU had joined hands with SCHFEU in which its leadership had been usurped, to recruit five more labour organisations which used to participate in that May Day Assembly, to oppose the afore-said resolution. However, they had failed so they could only contend with publishing the statement mentioned-above to indicate that it did not represent their views. Their wanted to give the impression that the opposition to the leadership of the 23 organisations had grown, to intensify their attack on SATU's line of struggle.

In May, the Central Committee of SCHFEU had a re-election; the BSS controlled by Lee Siew Choh switched ballot boxes to ‘oust' the leadership of Tan Sin (Chen Xin @Tan Seng Hin).This move has remained largely unknown to many until today. In the 1950s' and 60s', left-wing trade unions were competing with ‘yellow unions' and unions which were pro-business Unionism for leadership of the labour movement, in order to fight for the rights of the working class in Singapore. And we had relied on the political consciousness and militancy of our union members i.e. the working class and the masses, as well as their unity. We did not deceive nor manipulate to achieve our goals.

② During the election of SCHFEU, why did Tan Sin (Chen Xin @Tan Seng Hin) and company not expose that ballot boxes were switched?

The election was organized by the union's organizing committee. Chan Beng Sam as the head of the committee was most informed and was aware of the entire proceeding. When he knew that Lee Siew Choh had sent people to switch the ballot boxes, he had sought the advice of Tan Sin and the latter had given his permission. It was then rumoured that Tan Sin and his group had withdrawn from the election; thereby giving up the union leadership to their competitors. Tan Sin did later clarify his decision as follows:
  • At the General Meeting of SCHFEU, Central Committee member, Chee Song Beng and Lee Siew Choh's supporter, K.K. Nair were embroiled in a heated argument, which nearly escalated into a fist fight. Tan Sin chose not to aggravate the situation and therefore, decided to let things take its course. 
  • Before this, a man by the surname, Foo, who claimed to be asked by a representative of the "Malayan National Liberation League" (MNLL) to act as an intermediary, twice persuaded Tan Sin (SCHFEU) to support the policy of "Crush Malaysia'. 
  • Lawyer, T.T. Rajah said at the same meeting; those who were against BSS were agents of PAP, which had fully explained what they wanted to do.
  • From all indications, the well-respected figures within the Left had already decided to mobilise the left organizations to completely support Lee Siew Choh, as well as BSS that was under his control and their approach to the struggle. We have by then tried our best. We could not do more.
③ The new leadership of SCHFEU expelled Tan Sin,Chng Min Oh, Chan Beng Sam and Lim Hock Seng

Before and after the May Day Celebration jointly organised by the 23 workers' organizations, the left labour organisations were dissatisfied with Lee Siew Choh's attack on the left-wing trade unions, as well as the conduct of the five labour organisations led by the STU, however due to the fear of the overbearing behaviour of Lee Siew Choh led BSS leadership and his followers, most of them dared not voice out their disapproval openly.

However, the winning faction could not rein in the rest of the trade unions especially some of their Central Committee members and employees, district cadres, cadres of factory units and union members. The people who were disgruntled by the seemingly callousness of the new union leadership and the BSS seemed to be on the increase. The expulsion of the afore-mentioned four union leaders was an attempt to contain the dissatisfaction within the federation of unions and beyond. In my opinion, this move was to warn the rest of the labour movement, to intimidate them into submission.

The four leaders were expelled on 20 August and this was announced in a slightly more than 200 word-long statement published on 5 September in the newsletter of SCHFEU`s Bulletin, Issue No. 31, as below:
"The Central Committee of the Federation has unanimously passed the motion to expel Tan Sin, Chng Min Oh, Chan Beng Sam and Lim Hock Seng after careful, in-depth, concrete and comprehensive examination and discussion, this decision is necessary to uphold our mission and goals, to preserve our integrity, protect the interests of our members and our organisation. It is also done in the interest of the unity of the left-wing movement and its future development, and in turn, the liberation of our country, Malaya. In view of this, necessary measures and actions shall be taken to consolidate and unify the activities of the Xiu Po Area. From this point on, the SCHFEU shall not be responsible for the actions of the afore-mentioned persons. "
In addition, three so-called condemning essays which were devoid of contents that took up five pages of the newsletter were also published. The new leadership of SCHFEU, in their letter sent to various organisations, provided a different explanation of the expulsion. The letter says:
"Tan Sin and the others have used their position as leaders to promote a line of struggle that is mistaken and against the principles of left-wing labour movement and left-wing movement, which has caused confusion and chaos within the Left, and in turn leading to our disunity. Even though they have lost in the recent May election, they persisted in their criminal activities and have refused to correct their mistakes. On the contrary, they have continuously conducted activities that are divisive, thereby damaging our unity through rumour-mongering, as well as false and hurtful accusations to tarnish the reputation of the Federation and the current leadership, by persisting in their mistakes ." (see BSS`s Newspaper, No. 193, 27 August 1966.)
I would like to categorically state that the above accusation is baseless, it is to justify their expulsion of us.

④ Before this episode of expulsion from SCHFEU, BSS under the control of Lee Siew Choh had already expelled Tan Sin from the party.

On 30 July 1966, BSS`s Newspaper announced his expulsion on the basis that Tan Sin has engaged in activities against the party (BSS), the people and the activities of the Left. It did not raise any concrete evidence for the party's decision. In fact, false accusations were made against Tan Sin, including subversive activities against the party in collusion with traitors such as, Kow Kee Seng and Chio Cheng Thun, etc. Below is an excerpt of the announcement:

• "…it is decided that Tan Sin be expelled from the party due to his long-running activities against the party, the people and the Left."

• "…since Tan Sin's assumption as the Chair and his duty in propaganda and educational work, he has indiscriminately carried out actions that divide the party and the left-wing movement. He also deliberately promoted the slogan of "Withdraw from the Federation of Malaysia", which is against the principles of the party, and against the interests of the public. His advocacy is in line with imperialism. Furthermore, he has spread rumours to divide between the party and the Left by writing essays against the party and colluded with Kow Kee Seng and Chio Cheng Thun and their company, in subversive activities against the party. Their attempt is to turn an anti-imperialist, anti-colonialist and anti-Malaysia, left-wing political party into one that meets the needs of imperialism and the reactionary forces i.e. as a loyal opposition to the ruling party. "

• "…despite that the party and the left-wing movement have been warning him against his mistake and the damaging effect of his actions, he did not accept nor correct his mistakes. On the contrary, he has intentionally persisted in his erroneous ways, and furthermore, by expanding his influence. In view of this, he has turned from being a comrade to a traitor; from being a friend of the people to being the enemy; and in the eyes of our enemy, he has become their agent."

⑤ The Partai Rakyat withdrew its editorial published in its newspaper, "Mimbar Rakyat", entitled "Unite, fight for independence with total" and then admitted its mistake, as well as expelled Chng Min Oh and Kweh Chu Pang

This is a photo of Tay Check Yaw, the then Partai Rakyat's Vice-Chairman in 1960's taken in his later life. He lives in Singapore now. In 1965, he accepted the invitation of SCHFEU to deliver a keynote speech entitled "Unity of the Left-wing and the Immediate Pressing Tasks" in the SCHFEU cadres learning lecture session.
May 1966, the new leadership of SCHFEU organised a so-called ‘political forum' at the Siu Po Branch of SCHFEU; its real purpose was to criticise the advocacy of the labour movement for genuine independence of Singapore with full complete sovereignty. About six or seven members of the Partai Rakyat participated including Tay Check Yaw. However, they did not speak up throughout the meeting. I was then a member of the Geylang Branch of the Partai Rakyat.

At the meeting, I showed the article published on 1 September 1965 that was subsequently withdrawn (as mentioned above), as well as two other documents in relation to the Manifesto of the Partai Rakyat. I was defending the stance of the labour movement. I had pointed out that the Labour Movement and the Partai Rakyat are united on the question of fighting for Singapore's genuine and total independence and that this did not go against our principles. Apparently, my proclamation had alarmed the Partai Rakyat. Subsequently, on 15 June 1966, the party newspaper, "The People's Forum", Issue No. 14, announced that the party had retracted the said article and admitted its errors, and that a full statement on its self-evaluation would be published soon. An article entitled, "Our view on Singapore's total and complete independence", as the so-called self-evaluation report, was published on the same day, in the Issue No. 7 of the party's internal newsletter, "Party News", which had very limited circulation.

The retraction of the editorial from the party's newspaper was obviously, the result of my intervention in the political forum organised by the party. This incident had confused many party members, particularly those from the Geylang branch office and had found the situation unacceptable. Henceforth, together with three other party members; Kweh Chu Pang (the Chair of Singapore Industrial Workers' union (SIWU)), Yu Tiong You, Liu Yik Choo, we sent a letter to our branch secretariat,
"The party has retracted the editorial, "Unite, fight for independence with total complete sovereignty" and has concluded that its perspective is erroneous. As party members, how are we to understand and deal appropriately with the stance as presented by the article, "Our view on Singapore's total and complete independence" of the party?"
This is a simple question and yet the People's Party has so far not given us an answer, neither verbally or in writing except to announce the expulsion of Kweh Chu Pang and myself from the party in the "Mimbar Rakyat", Issue No. 17 of 10 August 1966. According to the statement,
"…both Chng and Kweh have been scandalising and distorting the party's struggle objectives and the tasks at hand…Chng Min Oh and Kweh as members of the party, have been conducting activities against the party, its principles and stance, within their respective trade unions. These include, insisting on campaigning for the withdrawal of Singapore from the Federation of Malaysia, to fight for the independence of Singapore; both are erroneous and against the stance and principles of our party…both of them are unwilling to correct their mistakes but would rather persist on their erroneous path. Recently, they have aggravated the situation by distorting the goals of the party, dividing the party and are engaged in the despicable actions of splintering left-wing unity…"
Kweh Chu Pang and I have abided by the SATU line of struggle, to protect and promote the autonomy and initiative of the left-wing trade union. We were determined to promote the policy and line of the labour organisations, and at the same time, we were implementing the political tasks as laid out by the Partai Rakyat and its Constitution, "to fight for the independence of Singapore and the reunification of Malaya and Singapore". Instead, we were accused of "going against the party's principles and position, "dividing the unity of the left" and were subsequently, expelled from the party. The leaders of the Partai Rakyat led by the then Party's Vice-Chairman, Tay Check Yaw were culpable. The political task of "fighting for the independence of Singapore and the reunification of Malaya and Singapore " not only clearly written in the Partai Rakyat Program, as early as 1957, Partai Rakyat had made it clear to the people of Malaya, and even people around the world.

On 26 February 1957, the "New Paper" of Singapore reported that, at the rally of the Partai Rakyat held at the Eastern World, Geylang Serai on the 24th, the party has declared its position on the upcoming London talk that was to take place in March about Singapore's self-governance:

"…The Partai Rakyat will fight for an independent and sovereign Singapore…The Partai Rakyat emphasises that Singapore is part of Malaya and therefore, the party demands that Singapore join Malaya as a unit…"
""To fight for the independence of Singapore with complete sovereignty" was the political position that Partai Rakyat established back in 1957. Under the new political conditions with the withdrawal of Singapore from the Federation of Malaysia, the essence of the spirit of the Editorial of the first issue of Partai Rakyat organ's newspaper is the embodiment of the political task of "fighting for the independence of Singapore and the reunification of Malaya and Singapore". The call by the party for Singapore's independence that respects our sovereignty is to realise the goal of a unified and democratic Malaya that is truly independent. There was no betrayal of the principles or position of the struggle of the masses. There was no betrayal of the party's principles or position. All 30 labour organisations held the same view. The division between Singapore and Malaya is an outcome of the ‘divide-and-rule tactics' of the colonialists. It was also the colonialists and their agents who were obstructing the realisation of the reunification of Malaya and Singapore. Therefore, to reunify Malaya, both places must first have their autonomy and sovereignty. Otherwise, it renders any talk of reunification as unrealistic and hollow. The failure of BSS led by Lee Siew Choh is evidence of such a misguided policy and stance.

1966 Members of Parliament of BS protested in the streets, unfurled a banner that reads, "Parliamentary Democracy has died!" This was the harbinger of abandonment of constitutional struggle by BSS led by Lee Siew Choh, which quickly led to the demise of the party. BSS' boycott of the parliament had allowed LKY-led PAP to monopolise it for more than half a century. Chia Thye Poh (4th from the left), was the main figure who accepted and executed Lee Siew Choh's political line at the time. He is now a scholar living abroad. After SCHFEU changed to Cai Ya Zhe-led leadership, Chia delivered a policy speech entitled "Striving for a truly independent, democratic and unified Malaya" at SCHFEU. SCHFEU`s Bulletin published this 10-page article in their "Special Subject Edition" on 25 August 1966.

⑥ Lee Siew Choh had deliberately distorted the slogans and line of struggle by the leaders of the labour organisations led by Tan Sin, which completely destroyed the leadership of the left-wing trade union movement. Was there any hidden ‘agenda' in this?

Lee Siew Choh had returned to BSS leadership as the as the role as conquerors and he immediately attacked the leaders of the left-wing labour organisations. He deliberately distorted their political advocacy and slogans, accused them of "altering the goals of the Malayan People's struggle". Furthermore, he had labelled these leaders as the "agents of the enemy". He had accused Tan Sin of leading the Singapore left-wing labour organisations to "Resolve Malaysia, withdraw from Malaysia" before and after its formation. The most serious and typical accusation was to accuse Tan Sin of promoting "a struggle line that promotes and abides by imperialism and imperialist tendency" because he advocated for "total independence of Singapore with sovereignty" after Singapore withdrew from Malaysia.

In reality, "Resolve Malaysia, withdraw from Malaysia" was the struggle line and agenda of SATU which the Singapore left-wing workers' organisations were following. SATU was advocating for constitutional struggle in response to the formation of the Federation of Malaysia as a product of neo-colonialism. After Singapore's withdrawal from Malaysia, it was the common goal of Singapore's left wing parties and organisations to fight for Singapore's true independence. Didn't Lee Siew Choh also mention about "fighting for Singapore true independence" before?

Below are two excerpts of Lee Siew Choh's speech in 1963 on the struggle for Singapore's independence:

• 27 May 1963, "Sin Chew Jit Poh" - Chairman of BSS, Lee Siew Choh spoke at the 5th General Assembly of Malayan People`s Socialist Front in Kuala Lumpur on 26 May, "the stance of Singapore BSS is to achieve real unification with Malaya for a truly democratic and independent Malaya; one that is not controlled by foreign armies or countries. If true unification cannot yet be achieved, then Singapore should first be given real independence".

• 3 June 1963, "Sin Chew Jit Poh" published BSS Chairman, Lee Siew Choh's speech at the occasion of Singapore State National Day. "In Singapore, this day marks the end of a phase in our anti-colonial struggle, which gave Singapore limited self-governance". "However, it records the beginning of the second phase of our anti-colonial struggle and that is complete independence and ultimately, to reunify with the Federation of Malaya for a truly independent Malaya…"

The Lee Siew Choh-led BSS leadership disregarded the abovementioned historical facts and arbitrarily said that "striving for the total independence of Singapore with sovereignty" is a violation of the "principles and position" and this is actually a "fake issue."

Their practice proved that:

• They misled left-wing cadres (especially the cadres of labour organisations) to adopt a radical line of struggle 
• They put doubt in these cadres and undermined their confidence against SATU's line of struggle 
• They took over the leadership of the labour organisations and led to the collapse of workers' organisations

Did they have any ‘hidden agenda' then? If so, what was it? We shall leave these questions to the historians to discover and ponder!

(This essay was written and edited in early December 2012, translated into English in July 2018)


[Appendix 1]Name List of Known ISA Detainees (Source: BSS's Newspaper, 16 September 1964, No. 87) 
李平宁(厂商工联主席) 、迈哥芬兰地(厂商工联中委)、
潘雄美(厂商工联总务)、哥文达三美(厂商工联中委)、
许长寿(书报工联主席)、叶金生(胶业工联受薪秘书)、
林耀明(书报工联受薪秘书)、李添吉(海产工联职员)、
杨义隆(☆团体不详)、陈秀娇(鞋业工联执委)、
孙才洲(茶餐工联主席)、李锡楷(南大毕业同学会助理秘书)、
蔡文良(工业工联职员)、杨绍兴(培青校友会主席)、
邓细九(平仪校友会主席)、林猷強(养正校友会主席)、
吳春生(光洋校友会主席)、许丽英(南侨高二生)、
汤石麟(冈洲校友会执委)、默地勒尔(星人民党秘书)、
吳隆春(星人民党副主席)、钟顺茂 (社阵总部职员)、
吳南山(社阵候选人)、叶荫全(社阵三巴旺支部主席)、
吳多才(社阵大巴窑支部秘书)、張志雄(社阵四排坡支部秘书)、
卢朝基(社阵裕廊支部秘书)、莊永豹(社阵武吉班让支部副主席)、
叶少柑(社阵武吉知马支部主席)、刘天成(康乐音乐研究会主席)、
郭树和(社阵摩棉支部財政).
(资料耒源:1964年9月16日《阵线报》第87期.注:因资料中有误,笔者改为☆团体不详.)

Appendix 2]Name List of Known ISA Detainees (Source: BSS's Newspaper, 1 May 1965, No. 123)
王 和(厂商工联)、潘扬齐(厂商工联)、詹姆士苏(工业工联)、
亨利吳(工业工联)、邱选远(海产工联)、戴民忠(胶业工联)、
徐友发(书报工联)、刘再赐(咖啡工联).
(资料耒源:1965年5月1日《阵线报》第123期)


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《人民之友》发表对国内政局看法
马来文版已于9月23日刊出
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人民之友成立于2001年9月9日,2018年9月9日是人民之友成立17周年纪念的日子。我们在这一天发表了一篇题为< 联合起来,坚持真正的民主改革! 丢掉幻想,阻止马哈迪主义复辟!>的文章作为纪念。

我们一如既往选择在这一个对我们来说,具有里程碑意义的日子,对我国当前阶段(大选后新政府上台)的政治局势发表一些意见,与为推动我国和世界民主人权运动而奋斗的同道们,互相交流。

为了面向国内不谙华文的广大非华裔群体,也为了让我们对当前阶段的政治局势的意见能够更广泛地传播开去,工委会决定尽快把这篇纪念文章先后翻译成马来文和英文。马来文版已于9月23日刊出。英文版也已于10月26日贴出。点击以下链接即可阅读——



此外,现居新加坡的庄明湖已将他在《人民之友》发表的《20世纪60年代新加坡左派工运问题探索》(正篇)一文的英文译稿传送到编辑部,因原文中所述人物的姓名或者是党团工会组织的全称或简称,在译文中尚未解决或有待查证,需要一些时日来完成——人民之友工委都是自愿挤出时间来进行工作的,因而无法很快完成。经过一番努力,我们终于在9月30日刊出,为我们的17周年纪念增添光彩!

值得在此一提的是,庄文所述的20世纪60年代新加坡工运遭遇问题(除了遭受来自外部的镇压,还要遭遇来自内部的破坏)的见解,或许能为一些读者(特别是不谙华文和不懂新马历史的读者)思考马来西亚民主改革运动在当前阶段面临马哈迪主义复辟的问题,提供一个历史殷鉴,或者是一个新的启示。

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