Former leftist trade unionist Fong Swee Suan dies, aged 85

Former leftist trade unionist and Barisan Sosialis leader Fong Swee Suan died on Saturday (Feb 4) afternoon at his home. He was 85.
Former leftist trade unionist and Barisan Sosialis leader Fong Swee Suan died on Saturday (Feb 4) afternoon at his home. He was 85.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE -Former leftist trade unionist and Barisan Sosialis leader Fong Swee Suan has died.

Mr Fong, a founding member of the People's Action Party (PAP) before he left the party in 1961 over differences of opinion about Singapore's merger with Malaysia, died on Saturday (Feb 4) afternoon at his home. He was 85.

In a Facebook post, his son, author and cartoonist Otto Fong, wrote: "As a child, I watched every tree you tended grow into a lush green giant of sweet fruits and cheerful flowers. I remember your patient guidance for all of us, and the vast space and love you had for every quirk in our family.

"Yesterday as I took a walk with my dog, you quietly slipped away and left one last gentle smile. You must know you gave us a better land and better lives than you had yourself."

Mr Fong was born in Senggarang, a town in the Batu Pahat district of Johor, in 1931.

In 1950, he came to Singapore to study at The Chinese High School, where he was placed in the same class as former Barisan leader Lim Chin Siong.

In 1952, he joined the Green Bus Company as a ticket seller and subsequently became a member of the Singapore Bus Workers' Union (SBWU). He was elected secretary-general of the union a year later.

The students of the Singapore Chinese Middle School Students' Union introduced Mr Fong to founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in 1954, and he became a founding member of the PAP.

Mr Fong was detained several times between 1955 and 1959. He was regarded as a major instigator of the Hock Lee bus strike, which quickly escalated into a riot in 1955.

When the PAP came to power in 1959, he was released and served as a political secretary under the PAP Government.

In 1961, he and close ally Lim Chin Siong broke away from the PAP to form Barisan Sosialis.

Accused of being involved in communist activities, Mr Fong was arrested together with 100 others under Operation Cold Store in 1963. He was taken to Malaysia for detention, and only released in 1967.

The ban on him was only lifted in 1990, and he returned to Singapore in 1998.

Mr Fong is survived by his wife Chen Poh Cheng, two sons and a daughter.