Straits Times Press Books :: Biography :: Winning Against The Odds

Winning Against The Odds

Winning Against The Odds

Winning Against The Odds

“I had the good fortune to be thrown unexpectedly into something called the Labour Research Unit – a little known organisation set up to assist the fledgling labour movement. It was not a company, nor a statutory board, nor a government department – in fact it did not exist at all as a legal entity. Thus in slightly unorthodox circumstances I became part of that struggle.”
S R Nathan

Winning Against The Odds covers the critical years 1961–1965, when battle raged between NTUC and the pro-communist unionists for the hearts and minds of Singapore workers. This period was a turning point in the broader struggle against militant forces out to destroy Singapore’s way of life. NTUC’s foundations were laid then, a fact not well known to many people, not even to members of today’s labour movement. In Winning Against The Odds, S R Nathan relives that period, telling in his typically direct fashion, what he remembers about the events that took place then, to give a sense of the harsh realities that he and his colleagues were confronting. In simple language he also relates the conflicts he had with union leaders, civil servants and the man he deeply admires, C.V. Devan Nair.


A Time of Turbulence and Change: In October 1961, Singapore’s essential services were under siege. Water supply was cut off every day for six hours, garbage was not collected, and night soil buckets were not emptied. There were critical health concerns. This is only one of a series of events that threatened our welfare and economic progress.

The Battle for Allegiances: Rivalry between NTUC and SATU (Singapore Association of Trade Unions) escalated industrial disputes, as each side tried to prove itself more capable in getting employers to meet workers’ demands. There was one vital difference: unlike SATU, the NTUC unions did not mix politics with industrial disputes.

The Labour Research Unit: To quote Devan Nair, the founding father of Singapore’s trade union movement: “In the past, trade unions could not meet employers on an equal footing. Employers had all the research facilities and finances at their disposal. Unless trade unions were equipped with facilities that would enable them to meet employers on equal terms, the industrial arbitration system would collapse. That was why we asked the government to help set up a Labour Research Unit.”

Wresting Support for the PIEU and Jurong’s Pioneer Industries: The Labour Research Unit got sucked into playing a more proactive role in the struggle to win support for the new enterprises across Singapore and particularly in Jurong. In doing so, they had run-ins with Dr Goh Keng Swee’s Economic Development Board.

Building Up a Core of Industrial Relations Officers: In the early days, labour negotiations were often conducted in an uncivilised manner, with union leaders using obscenities and threats. There was a real need to introduce professionalism by developing union activists with leadership and collective bargaining skills. These and many more topics offer a deeper understanding of the fundamentals of Singapore’s trade union movement, to show how it moved from collective bargaining and arbitration towards the principles of tripartism that hold today.

Weight 0.55 grams
Author S R Nathan
ISBN 978.981.4266.87.1
Size 152mm x 227mm
Extent 200pp
Hardcover / Softcover Softcover
Illustrated or Black & White Black & White
Language English
Our price: US$21.50
Quantity Out of stock

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