Quarry Union Strike

IMG_1831IMG_1832This propaganda flyer was acquired primarily for the interesting caricature bearing Lee Kuan Yew, Tunku Abdul Rahman and the third person unclearly depicted as either S.Rajaratnam or Goh Keng Swee. The drawing depicted a quarry worker wearing a shirt bearing the words 石業工友 (Quarry Union) wielding a hammer striking at the three politicians scurrying away, with Mr Lee himself holding a document in his hand with the words 僱傭法令 (Employment Bill). This piece was intended as a souvenir from the Singapore Quarry Workers Union (新加坡石業工友联合会) and there was a message at the back of the flyer lamenting about the Employment Act, which had affected the workers from the union. The message mentioned that on 25 September 1968, 123 workers of the Gim Huat Granite Quarry (锦發石廠) were sacked and as a result, the workers decided to hold a strike which had since lasted up to 3 months in defence and retaliation against the Employment Act. The message called for solidarity and moral support as this “righteous cause” went on. The Singapore Quarry Workers Union was set up after the July 1967 deregistration and consisted of members of the Gim Huat Granite Quarry. The 123 workers sacked were all part of this union, and in the same period there were also 150 workers in total removed from Da Guang (大關) and Er Guang (二關) Quarries. The 3 months strike purportedly resulted in a standoff between the workers and the regime on 3 January 1969 at the Er Guang Quarry as reported by Barisan Socialis magazine “Zheng Xian Bao” 《阵线报》12 January 1969 issue 315.

RiotThe Singapore Quarry Workers Union was one of the several unions affected by the Employment Bill, as well as the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act which followed suit. The former was presented to the parliament on 15 May 1968 and passed on 31 July 1968. It sought to standardise the terms and conditions of employment for all workers and setting a systematic pay structure that did away overtime work and unclear incentives. The Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act introduced on 10 July 1968 and passed on 1 August 1968 was used to define the management rights of employers over employees with stringent measures concerning recruitment, promotion, allocation of duties, etc. Both these acts took effect on 15 August 1968. While Lee Kuan Yew was previously a stalwart in pro-socialist labour movement during the strife against the British colonialists, he took a different stance after the separation from the hinterland in 1965, and began with a series of crackdowns against unionists and participations of labour strikes, the most famous being the arrest of K.Suppiah, then leader of the Public Daily Rated Employees Union Federation and the other union leaders, and deregistration of the unions and federations. Recounting the incident in his 2000 memoir, “From Third World to First”, Lee Kuan Yew described the strike as a ‘landmark confrontation with an irrational trade union leader who did not understand the changed circumstances’ and ‘a turning point in Singapore’s industrial history’.

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