If you take a walk through the NTUC’s heritage gallery at One Marina Boulevard, there lies an almost nondescript watch. At first glance, it is just the usual tarnished old-fashioned gold Rolex watch.
But a closer look at the back of the watch reveals an inscription which reads:
TO MRS. L.K.Y.
The watch was presented to the late Mrs Lee Kuan Yew by the Singapore Union of Postal and Telecommunications Clerical Workers whose case went into arbitration in 1953.
Mr Lee successfully represented the postal workers (pictured above) in their battle for better wages as their legal advisor in 1953. In appreciation, the union presented presented the watch to Mrs Lee for assisting Mr Lee when he helped its members.
The young-Mr Lee had begun his political life by representing trade unions at a young age of 30.
When he fought his first election in 1955, he chose Tanjong Pagar for its location which was where the postmen were based.
“I was a young legal assistant at the firm of Laycock & Ong, and the postmen were about to go on strike. I was asked to look after them. They went on strike. For two weeks, the union ding-donged in the press against the Commissioner for Posts representing the Colonial government on the merits of their case… Public sentiments swung towards the unions, and the Colonial government had to give way… Because the union won, I was next briefed by the clerical union of Post & Telegraphs for their demands, which went to arbitration. Again the union won.”
– Mr Lee Kuan Yew at the NTUC’s 50th Anniversary Dinner in 2011.
This was just one union which Mr Lee Kuan Yew had fought alongside. He went on to become the advisor to numerous other unions, and continued to maintain relations with unions after he became Prime Minister of Singapore in 1959.