Remembering Lee Kuan Yew

Remembering Lee Kuan Yew: Without tripartism, we won't be here, says labour chief

The labour movement, in a symbolic move, will hold a memorial service on Friday for Mr Lee Kuan Yew at its first permanent home, the Singapore Conference Hall.

The building, long associated with trade unionism in Singapore, was officially opened in 1965 by Mr Lee, who had played a major role in nurturing tripartism to avoid the confrontation style of labour relations in other countries.

This role was underlined yesterday when the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) held a ceremony at its current home in One Marina Boulevard, with about 500 union members and workers observing a one-minute silence for Singapore's first Prime Minister.

Labour chief Lim Swee Say later told reporters: "Mr Lee created tripartism. Without tripartism, without his vision for Singapore, we will not be here."

This model of unions, employers and the Government working together will also be highlighted at Friday's memorial service by one of the speakers, NTUC's first chairman Mahmud Awang.

The 87-year-old told The Straits Times he will talk about the early struggles of workers and how Mr Lee improved workers' lives by his non-confrontational approach towards trade unionism.

Other speakers will include former Singapore president S.R. Nathan, who had headed NTUC's Labour Research Unit, as well as younger and older workers.

About 800 past and present union leaders and People's Action Party (PAP) members, as well as representatives from employer groups and government officials, will be invited to the service.

It will allow the labour movement to pay its respects to Mr Lee, said Mr Lim yesterday.

Earlier, during the ceremony, he read aloud NTUC's condolence letter to unionists and workers.

"Mr Lee dedicated his whole life to the workers and people of Singapore. He has left an indelible mark on the lives of all of us."

He also said that while Mr Lee pushed for economic development, "he has always believed that the purpose of economic progress and development must be to serve the interest of the people and workers".

Among those who turned up to sign the condolence book was office attendant Wan Cheong, who works at Allen & Gledhill, a law firm with offices at One Marina Boulevard.

The 80-year-old has been living for more than 30 years in Bukit Merah, which is part of Tanjong Pagar GRC where Mr Lee was an MP.

"I attended his rallies, he spoke with so much passion," said Madam Wan. "I have never met him personally, but I wanted to thank him for making life better for Singaporeans, especially older ones like me."

NTUC has also published a 40-page newsletter compiling Mr Lee's quotes and photographs from the 1950s.

"(The newsletter) captures all that he had said, all that he has done for workers and with the unions," said Mr Lim. "We hope it will help the public and Singaporeans understand better how great a leader he was."

The free newsletter is available at selected NTUC FairPrice supermarkets.

tohyc@sph.com.sg

Additional reporting by Samantha Boh