A building sits nestled in the heart of the Central Business District; a building that reflects the development of Singapore.
One Marina Boulevard, also known as the NTUC Centre is home to the Labour movement of Singapore, the voice of workers.
No discourse on the history of Singapore is ever complete without the mention of trade unions and the NTUC, which Founding Father Mr Lee Kuan Yew has shared as the reflection of the history of the development of Singapore.
The founders of the People’s Action Party (PAP) forged close ties with Singapore’s trade unions which have lasted till today. And it was Mr Lee Kuan Yew and his team who built up PAP’s grassroots support by informally working with the unions.
Here are 8 things you need to know about the symbiotic ties between the PAP and the NTUC:
1.) The symbiotic relationship was born out of necessity; based on a shared vision and common goals: NTUC wants better life for workers and PAP Government wants better life for Singaporeans.
2.) 90% of those present at PAP’s inaugural meeting in November 1954 were trade unionists; more than half of the first Central Executive Committee were unionists.
“while preserving their institutional independence, trade union leaders should work together with political leaders for the common good of Singapore… if the NTUC and PAP were to go their own ways, there will be confrontations and in a small country like Singapore, with limited resources it will be disastrous.”
– The Late Mr Devan Nair, Former NTUC President, speaking at the 1980 NTUC Ordinary Delegates Conference.
3.) The Government does not appoint NTUC leaders: elections held in all unionised organisations once every 3 years see union leaders elected by secret ballot. All Labour MPs have to go through the rigorous process.
4.) In the early years, the grassroots union leaders who joined the PAP and stood for elections voiced workers’ views in Party forums and in Parliament.
“Such additions to the unions’ manpower capabilities made a qualitative difference. Without their disciplined intellectual input and their easy access to ministers, the case for the unions would not be put across in a way that would command attention and from time to time bring about a revision of policies.”
– Mr Lee Kuan Yew, speaking at the 2012 NTUC Labour Leadership Appreciation Dinner.
5.) Today, there are 5 elected Labour MPs (NTUC Secretary-General Lim Swee Say, Deputy Secretary General Chan Chun Sing, Deputy Secretary-General Heng Chee How, Assistant Secretary-General Ang Hin Kee, Assistant Secretary-General Patrick Tay, Assistant Secretary-General Yeo Guat Kwang, Assistant Secretary-General Zainal Sapari) and 1 Labour Nominated Member of Parliament (K. Karthikeyan).
6.) Since 1961, NTUC has continued to work closely with the PAP Government to grow the economy and strengthen our society. This led to low unemployment rate and a steady increase in real wages.
7.) Both Mr Goh Chok Tong and Mr Lee Hsien Loong have followed Mr Lee Kuan Yew in being Pro-worker and Pro-unions which has changed the attitude of antagonism by employees towards their employers to one of fair bargaining and accounts of employers open for inspection.
8.) Since the early 1980s, trade union leaders have been put on statutory boards in order that they will understand and shape policies of the boards.
The industrial peace and stability we enjoy today is born out of the symbiotic relationship between the NTUC and the PAP; an idea from our Founding Father, Lee Kuan Yew.