SPEECH BY PRESIDENT S R NATHAN AT THE LAUNCH OF "WINNING AGAINST THE ODDS - THE LABOUR RESEARCH UNIT IN NTUC'S FOUNDING", ON 25 JAN 2011, 3.50PM
Thank you for being here for the launch of my book entitled “Winning Against The Odds – The Labour Research Unit in NTUC’s Founding”.
At the outset I would like to thank several people, who have in one way or another made the publication of this book possible. Foremost, my thanks goes to Secretary-General Lim Swee Say for his kind words and for the privilege he gave me to launch my Book as part of NTUC’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations.
Next, my Principal Private Secretary, Tan Eng Beng, my Private Secretaries Desmond Yong and Jessie Liew, and my Manager (Media and Communications), Miss Ong Lim Tim, who spent many hours working on my drafts and helping me bring to life this publication. Tan Eng Beng deserves special mention as he contributed much in time and effort to get the Book ready for publication. Next, Mr. Timothy Auger, who helped make the work more readable for the lay reader. To my old friend Ee Boon Lee, I owe a special debt for meticulously going through my drafts, checking to make my work factually as near perfect as possible with verification of facts, dates and data. His long association with the Labour Movement enabled him to recall events, which my memory had failed to recall. I need to say a special thanks to Shova Loh who despite the short time available to her did a marvelous job editing the book to make it what it has turned out to be. Next, I must thank Shirley Hew, who has been persistent in reminding me to recall my experiences in life and come out with a book which she could publish. It was her persistence that got me moving to come out with this particular part of my working life. Thank you, Shirley for pushing me in this Endeavour. To Temasek Holdings I must say a special word of thanks for underwriting the publication of this book.
I have dedicated this Book to the late C.V. Devan Nair, without whose unflagging determination the NTUC would not have come into existence. I know of many who would be perplexed by this man and what happened to him in later years. But as a witness of his uncanny ability to lead and motivate the loyalty of the bunch of comrades who followed him, I can do no less. He had to overcome the heavy odds stacked against him, as he strove to establish the NTUC. If only for that reason, he merits this accolade as the founder of NTUC.
One may ask why this book. One reason is because it is about some interesting times in our past which I lived through. It is also about the Labour Research Unit, an unusual agency, and the role it played in the founding of today’s NTUC. It was composed primarily of Civil Servants and some Trade Union leaders, who were thrown to undertake, without much experience, a much needed task in what traditionally would have fallen on the shoulders of trade union activists and others with a political calling.
I did not maintain any diary in those times because I saw it as a passing phase in my career. Hence, much of what I have narrated has been trawled from my memory. It could seem to some readers that this is a highly selective account of those times. If that be so, I can offer no apologies, as I recorded what I remembered and what came to my mind as significant as I recounted the events. Readers could also find some parts of the book somewhat disjointed or even incomplete. Again, I offer no apologies as they reflect my personal experiences and encounters as they happened. I had to learn on the job and improvise solutions dictated by the prevailing circumstances of those times. I enjoyed living those years, with their challenges and frustrations. I would not wish to say anything differently, even if there are differences of views by others, interpreting the happenings of those times differently.
As to why anyone today should be interested in this book, I offer no special reasons for it. Those were interesting and dangerous times which today’s generation must have some insights into. Towards that end, I have recorded what I recall of the events of those times, in the hope that readers will find something of interest and value in my experiences of those times.
I thank the Labour Movement for giving me the opportunity and privilege to serve with them in a struggle that could easily have turned against our way of life in Singapore which we take for granted today. Through that exhilarating experience, staunch friendships were made with members of the Movement at different levels. I am glad they have stood the test of time, and many remain my friends to this day.
As I am writing from memory, I recognise that I have inadvertently overlooked many stalwarts of the NTUC who served its cause, both during or after my time – they were critical players from Day 1 of the NTUC.
Foremost would be the late Hsu Tse Kwang, whose heart and soul was with the NTUC. For many years and well into the 1980s, he was the source of support and counsel to all our NTUC leaders, beginning with Devan Nair and I think into the days of Lim Boon Heng. Mahmud Awang, who was a source of strength to the floundering NTUC – he had the courage to dare to engage and challenge the leaders of the Pro-Communist Labour Organisations, directly challenging their credentials to leadership of the labour movement. Others who must be remembered would be:
• Ho See Beng
• Seah Mui Kok
• Aziz Karim
• Bernard Rodrigues
• T V Gomez
• Joseph Tan
• Lawrence Sia
• Eric Cheong
• Tan Soon Yam
• Gopalakrishnan of SPEU
• Hashim Idris
• Peter Lim
• Francis Rozario
• Michael Chua
• Choo Eng Khoon
• Lim Keng Hoe
and several others like Chin Harn Tong and others, who were involved in NTUC, after my departure in 1965. If I have left anyone out, I ask to be excused.
I also hope that through this book, Singaporeans will get a glimpse of our labour situation of the past and recognise the collective efforts of our pioneer union leaders in helping Singapore achieve the good labour relations we enjoy today. Like issues pertaining to race and religion, we should never take for granted the peace and harmony of good labour relations, as any mismanagement of this relationship could ignite sparks and discredit all our efforts in preserving our harmonious labour-management relations.
Let me end by wishing the NTUC many more years of success in its vision of achieving a better and more meaningful life for all workers of Singapore, a critical underpinning for the continued prosperity and stability of our Singapore.