May Day Op-Ed: The PAP and The NTUC

May Day Op-Ed: The PAP and The NTUC

In his maiden speech as DPM, Mr Heng Swee Keat spoke about the close relationship between the PAP and the NTUC, and how this helped Singapore weather many storms in ‘the early years’.


The PAP and the NTUC were close because of a shared and fraught history.

The PAP split in 1961 when its left-wing members broke away to form the Barisan Socialis.

This break-away faction, led by Lim Chin Siong, was by far the more powerful.

20 out of 25 branch secretaries and their committees defected to the Barisan Socialis in a spectacular internal coup. LKY and the rump PAP were nearly decimated overnight.

Concurrently, the then Singapore Trade Union Congress (STUC) also split into two.

Again, the Union body allied to Barisan was the stronger, with 82 unions breaking away to form the Singapore Association of Trade Unions (SATU).

27 other unions allied with LKY’s rump PAP to form the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC).

And therefore NTUC, the only union organisation that most Singaporeans today know, was born.

The rest is history.

The PAP prevailed over the Barisan, LKY over Lim Chin Siong, and the NTUC over SATU.

Today, few younger Singaporeans have heard of the Barisan Socialis, SATU, and their supremo and LKY’s greatest rival, Mr. Lim Chin Siong.

Such is history cruel to the losers.


Today, the NTUC is by far the strongest union body in Singapore.

There is no doubt that Tripartism -the unique close relationship between the Government, Employers, and Workers – has helped Singapore avoid the labour unrest that plagued many countries, and weathered many storms.

But its success has meant that the NTUC and its affiliates is overwhelmingly the only choice for workers.

Despite its close historical relationship with the PAP, for Tripartism to work, the NTUC has to work with the Government of the Day, whether it is the PAP or another party.

A day may come when the PAP is no longer in power. Does that mean that the NTUC remains close to the PAP and become an alternate centre of power for them, like in 1961?

This cannot be. This is not 1961. Singapore is now almost 54 years old and a developed country. More importantly, there is no SATU or any union body to rival the NTUC.

The NTUC must be willing to work with any party that is elected by the people.

It is no longer PAP’s union organisation. It is Singapore’s.

Instead of retaining “a close and symbiotic relationship” with the PAP as Mr. Heng has promised, the NTUC must actually do the opposite.

It is time for the NTUC to cut its umbilical cord with the PAP.

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