The man has now been laid to rest. As Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong mentioned in his eulogy during the State Funeral Service of the Late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, “The light that has guided us all these years has been extinguished.”
But Singaporeans who watched the State Funeral procession yesterday would have noticed a group of mourners lining the road in front of the NTUC Centre in dark blue jackets and peak caps.
These people are actually a group of pilots from the Singapore Airlines (SIA) who were paying their last respects to Mr Lee Kuan Yew as they stood in the heavy downpour as his cortege drove past.
The intent of their presence was clear: they wanted to honour the man who helped to shape the current Air Line Pilots Association-Singapore (ALPA-S).
In 1980, the Singapore Airlines Pilots Association (SIAPA) (the association which preceded ALPA-S), staged an unofficial work-to-rule in 1980, demanding, among other things, for a 30% increase in basic salaries.
It was then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who stepped in after 10 days, and ordered all flight operations to be returned to normal and the airline’s image restored. He threatened to ground the airline, sack all the SIA pilots and set up a new national carrier, if his orders were not met. He cautioned the pilots not to undermine Singapore’s industrial relations which focus on the a harmonious relationship between the union, employers and the Government.
The ALPA-S is one of three unions that are not affiliated under the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) which has 60 other affiliated unions and associations.
The other two unions not affiliated to the NTUC are: Singapore Catering Services, Staffs & Workers Trade Union and The Film Industrial Employees Union of Singapore.
Not being affiliated to the NTUC could actually be disadvantageous. The NTUC, as the sole federation of trades union in Singapore is seen as a strong voice for workers with its membership of more than 900,000. Unions can tap on the collective voice of the NTUC to represent workers as well as to give members more value for money with the range of membership benefits.
However, the NTUC today has come a long way from its tumultuous past.
The NTUC was formed in 1961, following a split in the labour movement over whether Singapore should join the Federation of Malaysia and become independent within a large political entity.
The NTUC supported the position taken by the People’s Action Party (PAP) that it would be in Singapore’s best interests to become part of Malaysia. The NTUC and PAP waged a bitter struggle with the communists who claimed that Malaysia was a Western creation to maintain their dominance in the region.
In a bid to undermine the authority of the PAP government, the communist-led unions mounted a series of strikes. These politically-inspired actions by the communist-led unions resulted in company closures and job losses.
The communist-led unions were led by the Singapore Association of Trade Unions (SATU) which was formed by leftists in the PAP who broke away to form the Barisan Socialis.
In the 1963 General Elections, the PAP secured a landslide victory against the Barisan Socialis, which also saw the decline of SATU.
After many illegal and unlawful strikes and protests, SATU was refused registration and the 29 unions under it were affected.
To woo these unions, the Singapore Manual & Mercantile Workers Union (SMMWU) affiliated to the NTUC mounted an aggressive campaign and had the 74 branches from the deregistered SATU unions joining them.