Back in the 60s and 70s, our parents and maybe our grandparents would have probably worn a particular brand of socks at least once – Swan Socks.
Swan Socks Manufacturing Co. (Malaysia) Ltd was a joint venture between a local trading company and three Japanese firms. One of the Japanese firms Ikeo Socks Co. Ltd was founded in Osaka in the 1900s.
But here’s the thing, in August 1963, Swan Socks was awarded the pioneer certificate under Singapore’s Pioneer Industries Scheme.
Back then, the Pioneer Industries Scheme was implemented by the Government to encourage foreign investments in Singapore. The British withdrawal of their troops in 1967 left Singapore’s economy affected and many workers were displaced.
These pioneer industry certified companies were given tax breaks, and other financial arrangements apart from a productive and forward-looking labour support.
Besides Swan Socks, other businesses included those in the textiles business, woodworking business and even shipyards.
State-of-the-art sock making facilities
Apparently, Swan Sock’s factory was equipped with the latest socks-making equipment and facilities shipped in from the United Kingdom, United States and Europe.
If you were to ask your father or uncle, they would have owned a pair of Swan-produced socks as the company switched to manufacturing socks for the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) in 1974 due to the downturn brought about by the oil crisis.
PIEU represented 32,000 workers in the pioneer industries
Along with the Pioneer Industries also came the Pioneer Industries Employees Union (PIEU). The union represented workers from the pioneer industries. At its peak, the union saw a membership number of 32,000.
According to a union official who was working for PIEU then, when the pioneer industries were first set up, the challenge was how to get newly employed workers to get used to working for foreign bosses, and in a factory environment. After all, most of these workers were formerly farmers before the land was cleared and families displaced, to make way for the factories.
It was not just one agency that was involved in this transformation, but a combined effort of the Economic Development Board (EDB) which attracted foreign investments, Jurong Town Corporation (JTC) which saw to the redevelopment of the Jurong area.
At that time, it was the work of PIEU to ensure that the workers were fairly treated and represented.
In 1986, the two omnibus unions, PIEU and the Singapore Industrial Labour Organisation (SILO) were restructured into 10 industry-based unions in a bid to make the unions more relevant and able to contribute more meaningfully. Over time, these 10 industry unions gave birth to the 60 NTUC affiliated unions and associations of today.
Swan Socks stopped operations shortly after 1988 when other companies began producing cheaper alternatives.
We don’t see many of the pioneer industries like Swan Socks these days, but we are slowly seeing the emergence of new-age businesses and disruptive technologies coming onto our shores and creating different types of opportunities for our workers.