Month: April 2014

Singapore Loses a Visionary (Asia Sentinel)

This article originally appeared in Asia Sentinel, 2010.

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Asia Sentinel
MON,17 MAY 2010

Goh Keng Swee, who helped to build the island republic, dies.

lky The death on May 14 of Goh Keng Swee is a reminder that of the original group behind the formation of the PAP and the independence movement in Singapore, only Lee Kuan Yew and Toh Chin Chye now survive and only Lee himself is still heard from. The death is a reminder that Lee Kuan Yew did not build Singapore by himself.

Gone are the likes of Lim Chin Siong, Devan Nair, Ong Eng Guan, S. Rajaratnam, all of whom played critical roles in the early years of the PAP and most as ministers in the 60s and 70s.

Of the group, only Goh was regarded as the intellectual equal, if not superior, to Lee. But as a civil servant before he became a politician, he had neither the skill nor the taste for Lee’s brand of ruthless street politics. So it was his skills as an administrator and clear-headed thinker about economic development that he was to prove his worth forging new institutions and policies. Meanwhile, Lee kept command of the centre of power and the PAP.

Goh’s work was the bedrock of the industrialization force-fed by a government facing the consequences of the withdrawal of Britain’s military garrison, once a key part of the Singapore economy, and the rapid growth in the workforce due to a post 1945 surge in the birth rate.

Goh also played a key role as Defense minister in the creation of the Singapore Armed Forces and later still as education minister and deputy prime minister prior to the elevation of the then young Goh Chok Tong to that post in 1985. Although he remained on various boards and committees, Goh was almost invisible for the past 25 years of his life so for most Singaporeans under 45 years of age his accomplishments are little known. Even less is known about his relationship with Lee, a man of very different character from the discreet, reserved Goh. Nor has Goh – as far as is known – written memoirs which would give his version of events between 1950 and 1980, the formative years of modern Singapore.

The Lee Kuan Yew version as related in his two volume biography may be factually accurate but obviously others, Singaporean and Malaysian, saw things from very different perspectives. But Lee still rules, the others are almost all gone.

Devan Nair became president before being publicly disgraced by Lee and exiled in 1985. He died in 2005. Toh Chin Chye, the same age as Lee and first chairman of the PAP left the cabinet in 1981 and after several years as a disgruntled backbencher retired from politics altogether in 1988.

Lim Chin Siong, the Chinese-educated workers’ leader who founded the PAP with Lee, was detained as an alleged Communist (an allegation for which there was no evidence, according to British intelligence) from 1964 to 1969 before being forced to renounce politics. He was in exile in London for 10 years returning to Singapore 1979 and dying in 1996. One Eng Guan, another fiery Chinese-educated politician and mayor of Singapore, whom Lee only just beat in a party committee vote to become prime minister in 1959, formed another party after clashing with Lee and left politics in 1964 .

Those who stayed with Lee all through included Rajaratnam, who died in 2006, and important but lesser figures such as Lim Kim San, the force behind the Housing Development Board, who died in 2006, Hon Sui Sen, first head of the Economic Development Board and then Finance Minister who died in 1983, and Ong Pang Boon who was forced into retirement in 1984 at the early age of 55.

As time passed and these names have slipped into the dim distance the continued dominance of the Lee family in Singapore politics has tended to obscure the roles of other pioneers. In politics as in war, history is written by the victors. But as Stalin’s ghost will have learned, history can also be re-written. So expect some future revision of Singapore history to make more mention of the above names.

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More Information:

Click here to download a PDF tribute to Dr. Goh Keng Swee (from Defence Science Organisation (DSO), the defence research agency of Singapore)


What Singapore Means to Me, by Devan Nair

Transcribed by Jess C Scott from Not By Wages Alone (Selected Speeches and Writings of Devan Nair, 1959-1981).

A shorter version is available on Jess’s blog.

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“What Singapore Means to Me” (11 November 1981)
by Devan Nair / Address as President, Republic of Singapore at the NTUC Cultural Show, Rally and Dinner


Devan Nair:
Istana File Photo

I thank the leaders and staff of the NTUC, its affiliate unions, and all those concerned with the co-operative and other enterprises of the NTUC, for your great kindness in honouring me at this function.

My contributions to the labour movement have been referred to in glowing terms. What has not been referred to are the contributions the labour movement has made to my own growth. It would be truer to say that the labour movement made me, rather than that I made the labour movement. I know I did not.

I recall with pleasure and pride a number of the older generation persons present here today, without whose understanding and support my own personal contribution to the NTUC would have been considerably diminished. And those of you here who were present at the inauguration of the NTUC in 1961 will have fond memories of brave and loyal comrades, who have since left the mortal scene, without whose dedicated and active support the NTUC may have turned out to be a stillborn child, strangled in the very womb of the turbulent political and social milieu of those times.

I hope my successors in the NTUC will have the same good luck that I enjoyed, in terms of loyal, large-visioned and dedicated comrades-in-arms.

I count my election to the Presidency of our Republic more as a recognition of the role the labour movement has played in the making of modern Singapore, than as a recognition of my own more modest virtues and attributes.

I do not doubt the sincerity of your motives in wanting to honour me. However, I do suspect that a number of you are also a little relieved that as President of Singapore, I will no longer be able to scold or lecture you. Presidents and Heads of State are expected to be nice and gracious to everybody. My doctors tell me that this will be good for my health. I have no doubt that it will also be good for my soul.

None of my trade union friends need feel that you have lost your President. You have not. I am still your president. The only difference today is that I am also the President of employers and all others in Singapore.

Allow me now to ascend from permissible levity to a more solemn subject. I do not know what you feel when Majulah Singapura is sung on National Day by assembled choirs of school children, with everybody standing to attention. I know what I feel, and what I believe the Prime Minister and his senior colleagues feel, on such occasions.

Personally, I struggle against tears of pride as I mentally scan the last 40 years. I know it is difficult for the younger generation of Singaporeans to appreciate the reasons.

I had occasion some time back to refer in a speech I had made to the passion which went into the making of modern Singapore. I was told that some young persons had wondered aloud what on earth I had meant. They could not understand, simply because they have inherited a milieu which they assume had dropped ready-made from heaven.

Now, I do not doubt that these young persons are good and loyal Singaporeans. Many are reservists in our army, and would no doubt be ready to die for Singapore, should that become necessary. But of course, they are fairly certain that the occasion will not arise, and that they will die natural deaths. I sincerely hope so.

The difference between my generation and theirs is simply this: We were not merely ready to die for our beliefs. Many of us expected to die, whether in communal riots, or from the bullets and knives of communist assassins. Frankly, I consider it a near miracle that we are alive today. For there were a number of occasions when Singapore might have been snuffed out, politically or militarily. In which case there would have been neither Singapore nor Singaporeans today.

Other memories too come crowding in. I knew Toa Payoh as a dirty malaria-infested slum. Jurong was a swamp, and shacks, grimy and overcrowded shop-houses, and dirt tracks stood where the skyscrapers of Shenton Way stand today. The sea covered much of the lush green East Coast Parkway of today, and the plush housing estate of Marine Parade did not exist. Neither did the townships of Telok Blangah, Bukit Merah, Ang Mo Kio, Bedok, Tampines, Changi, Hougang, Kampong Chai Chee, Clementi, Marsiling and a lot of other places. They were either slums, swamps, ramshackle kampongs, or coconut and rubber plantations. Public housing as we know it today was non-existent. Singapore was a dirty and shabby place.

The most startling fact for the younger generation today is that there were no Singaporeans even as early as 21 years ago. There were only Chinese, Malays, Indians, Ceylonese, Eurasians, and other races.

The population seethed with bitter resentments, against colonialism, against the exploitation of workers, against corruption in public life, bribery and nepotism. Naturally, the populace were easy prey for communists masquerading as socialists and nationalists, and for communalists, who did not need to masquerade as anything but themselves. And there were riots and strikes galore, arson and social and political tensions of the most acute kind.

The process of transformation which began in 1959 was by any standards a daunting one, calculated to test the character, calibre and mettle of the strongest and most daring. Lesser men would have been intimidated, overwhelmed and crushed by the forces of the redoubtable communist united front, of the communalists, and by surrounding political circumstances. Indeed, international doomsday prophets were in the habit of predicting, at almost every turn, that our days were numbered. They have stopped doing so now.

I said lesser men would have succumbed. I should have added, a lesser people than Singaporeans would also have succumbed.

The world watched incredulously as an industrious and responsive population, led by honest and intelligent men, crested wave after threatening wave, dipped into dangerous trough after trough, and finally emerged buoyant and whole into calmer and more stable waters.

With the right incentives and vigorous promotional effort, investments poured in. Jobs and homes were created by the thousands for our workers. Schools and hospitals were also built. And eventually, unemployment was wiped out.

Others have recorded elsewhere the political, economic and social developments which resulted in the Singapore of today. There was hard-headed planning and efficient implementation which led to our phenomenal economic growth. And vitally important, the nation-building process also paid rich dividends.

My generation did not begin as Singaporeans. I myself started out as a Malacca-born British Subject of Indian origin. But our children are all Singaporeans. They feel like Singaporeans, comport themselves like Singaporeans, and eat and live like Singaporeans.

For the younger generation, even our recent history is not more than cold print. For us it was far from cold print. Reading about hell, war, unemployment, imprisonment and riots in cold print is one thing. Living through hell, war, unemployment, riots and imprisonment is quite another.

Still vivid in the memories of those who lived through it are the grisly human heads, with terror and agony written on the faces, stuck on poles outside the Cathay Cinema during the Second World War. It was the military way of terrorizing the population into submission.

I saw a man writhing in flames and burning to death on a rubber plantation in Johore. Some soldiers had soaked a sack in kerosine, put it over his head and body, and set him alight. I gazed in horror as the man died in voiceless agony. But the soldiers found it amusing.

Most of us then lived for days on end on tapioca or tapioca flour. No fish, meat or eggs. And if you fell ill, no medicines either. Medical drugs were mainly for the military. I remember massive unemployment in the 50s and 60s, made worse by communist-inspired industrial unrest. Factories were forced to close down and workers thrown out of jobs. I knew workers who sold their babies in order to keep themselves alive.

Then we lived through riots, some communist-inspired, others the outcome of rabid racialist and communist sentiments. I remember how, during the bloody Hock Lee Bus riots in 1954, a student, hit by a stray police bullet, could have been saved if he had been taken to a hospital straightaway — but communist united front cadres took the bleeding student on their shoulders and paraded him around the city, in order to inflame public opinion even more. And when, four hours later, he was taken to hospital, he was already dead.

There were times when some of us thought that all was lost, and that Singapore would be overwhelmed by anarchy and chaos let loose by pro-communist and communalist agitators. I remember with pride persons, some of whom are with us here today who, with their backs to the wall, quietly determined that they would die on their feet and not on their knees. They were surprised to discover later that, instead of losing, they had won.

Naturally, we would not wish a similar baptism for our own children. We have contributed to the making of the present. But inexorably, sooner or later, we will be referred to in the past tense. As a poet once said, the world of tomorrow we cannot visit, not even in our dreams.

The younger generation of Singaporeans cannot really learn from the experiences of earlier generations. For their experiences and their problems will be different. New roads have to be travelled, new paths hewn out, unexpected hurdles cleared, unforeseeable dangers met, and fresh challenges faced and overcome.

We cannot, therefore, pass on to the younger generation a blueprint for the future. The accelerating pace of political and technological changes in the modern world makes it impossible to predict the twists and turns of the future. You will therefore have to prepare your own blueprints.

Having said all this, it would be wrong to assume that there is nothing at all you can obtain from the founding generation of Singaporeans. There are certain constants in our collective social life, the preservation of which will ensure that the core of our society will not be corrupted by dry rot.

These constants are the standards and values we rigorously subscribe to in our private and public lives, and which are primarily responsible for the unique socio-economic progress and stability we have achieved. They include intelligence, married to scrupulous honesty and integrity, social justice and fair play, and last but not least, a sensible and practical equation between hard work and high performance on the one hand, and personal and social rewards on the other.

Honesty and integrity in public life involve the need to shun the fatal temptation to court cheap and transient popularity at the expense of telling people the truth. More enduring and much harder to gain than popularity, is public respect.

Moments of truth are devastating, for both individuals and nations, because they often come too late. The only way to avoid them, for leaders and citizens alike, is to try and be sincerely truthful all the time.

Such, then, are what I hope and pray will remain some of the constants in our public life. You will jettison them only at grave social peril. You may exceed these standards and values. But it will be a betrayal of our people and their future if you settle for anything lower.

I have told you as succinctly as possible what Singapore means to the men and women of my generation. Certain basic values and standards have been realised in the conduct of our public life. Modern Singapore is a living demonstration of this fact, which is why we in Singapore are even now exercising a demonstration effect on other developing countries.

However, the relentless attrition of time will ensure that the founding generation of Singaporeans will diminish with every passing year. The batons must therefore be steadily passed on to younger hands, for theirs is the future. But if the future is to be secured, young persons of dedication, intelligence and ability should not shirk the responsibilities of leadership in the institutions of public life.

In other countries, selfish clinging to power and office on the part of the ageing have been impediments in the path of able and intelligent members of the younger generation. The most obstinate stupidity in the world is that of old men who forget that they are mortal, and to whom the obituary pages of the newspapers fail to convey the message of mortality.

Fortunately for Singapore, persons in high public office are wise enough not to aspire for a gerontocracy. There is genuine concern, and changes are made to make way for younger persons. The labour movement, for example, has been among the first institutions in our society to engage in conscious self-renewal.

However, it needs to be emphasised that the right to lead is not transferable. Leadership must be justified, deserved and won.

In a democratic society, the instruments of leadership cannot be acquired through inheritance. There are no heirs-apparent in any of our institutions. On the contrary, the right to lead has to be fought for and won at the bar of public opinion. And this is as it should be. The generation which will take over the leadership of Singapore in the late 1980s must accept and prove themselves equal to this challenge. And if they are able, dedicated, honest and fearless in the fight to advance the interests of the people, they have little to fear. Demos is an exacting deity, especially so in Singapore, for our people are neither obtuse, naive nor gullible. They are a sophisticated lot. They have shown in the past that they can distinguish the genuine from the spurious, the sincere from the hypocritical. Their children will not be less discerning when they mature with experience.

But it is the sacred responsibility of able, intelligent, honest and dedicated members of the younger generation not to leave the leadership of the future to the vagaries of chance.

If the best young people in our midst do not aspire to leadership roles, the field will be occupied by lesser persons. This would be a tragedy, for Singapore requires and deserves our best young persons to come forward.

The lessons of history, and the many examples among other countries, remind us that where self-renewal is left to haphazard chance, the decision-making process in society, more often than not, passes into the province of fickle and irresponsible gamblers with destiny, prodigal (i.e. wastefully extravagant) with the nation’s wealth. They then proceed to mortgage the future, and generations to come will continue to pay for their follies of omission and commission.

I count it as a singular honour, as a representative of the founding generation of Singaporeans, to preside over our Republic. I count it an equally great honour to have been able to serve the labour movement — indeed the one prepared the way for the other.

May I say that my relations with the labour movement in our Republic will remain indissoluble. I shall continue to cherish the personal relationships built up over the years. I have not changed. My basic beliefs and concerns have not changed. I will remain myself. Only my role has changed. I cannot intervene in your decisions. But my concern and goodwill remain. All that I can do now is to advise you, should you seek my advise.

I salute the labour movement in Singapore, in the confident expectation that you will make an even greater contribution to our Republic than my colleagues and I were able to do in our time.

The greatest contribution you can make to the nation is to so constitute yourselves as to become a potent force for the national good. No individual can prosper if the society in which he lives and works goes down the drain. The individual can only contribute to himself if he contributes to the nation. Indeed, it is the quality and motivation of the individual which determines the quality of achievement of society as a whole.

The transformation of work attitudes needs to be effected at all levels of our society, from managers down to workers. This involves cooperation in place of confrontation, and harmony in place of dissension.

We must avoid being trapped in ugly and socially fatal class antagonisms, in which trade unions, employers’ organisations, and comport themselves, not as instruments for the national good, but as centres of organised sectional greed and selfishness.

It is for such a transformation that all individuals and organisations, sincerely committed to the national good, should aspire and work for. This is the road to the future, and it is a sunlit road, always ascending to progressively higher peaks of collective achievement as a nation. Any other by-road will lead anywhere but up.

To labour well, and to labour rightly, should be our aspiration for Singapore. I conclude by remembering the motto of my old school, Victoria School:

Nil Sine Labore


Nothing Without Labour.

C.V. Devan Nair, in Not By Wages Alone (Speech: 11 November 1981)

Not by Wages Alone, by Devan Nair

Transcribed by Jess C Scott from Not By Wages Alone (Selected Speeches and Writings of Devan Nair, 1959-1981).

A shorter version is available on Jess’s blog.

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“Not by Wages Alone — Reflections on the Elimination of Strife in Industry” (30 September 1972)

by Devan Nair (Address at the Opening of the Union House of the Singapore Bank Employees’ Union)


Mr. Devan Nair bidding farewell to NTUC staff members in 1981, the year he became President. — ST FILE PHOTO

This is a proud day for bank employees. Your Union has come into possession of its own building. Other trade unions have also sent their representatives to share in your rejoicing. No doubt there will be a lot of mutual back-slapping when the opening ceremony is over, and the beverages with which you toast each other at the reception will engender an euphoric glow in your nervous systems. But there is a bit too much of artificial euphoria in our Republic, what with the seeming economic boom, annual wage supplements, Wages Council recommendations, and so on and so forth.

I find, however, that a glance at the future, a contemplation of the various possibilities and prospects, pleasant and unpleasant, for this small nation of ours, which the future might hold, serves to exercise a sobering effect. I therefore propose to share with you, on this occasion, some of the thoughts and reflections which have occurred to me as a trade unionist and a citizen, trying to envision a possibly better future from the standpoint of the present.

One finds little illumination in this task from the concepts which have come down to us from the past. Indeed, I will confess that conventional trade union speeches and writings, slogans and concepts, often bore me to the point of tears. They are so supremely irrelevant to our actual needs. A little reflection will show why this is so.

The survival of a small nation state like Singapore depends on the degree to which we achieve integration at all levels — national integration of different ethnic, linguistic and religious groups; educational and social integration so that each individual feels part of the national larger community; integration of development efforts involving the tripartite association of Government, entrepreneurs and labour. All this is generally acknowledged, at least in theory. It is admitted that the rugged society will not get very far unless is develops at the same time as an integral society.

A study of our present system of industrial relations discloses, however, more possibilities of disintegration than of integration. In fact, we must talk not of one system of concepts, but of several systems, depending on whether the management is British, American, Japanese, German, Australian or local. For wide variations exist in the concepts of industrial relations and personnel management which the different investors bring to bear in the operation of their separate undertakings. Our own industrial laws provide no more than a bare skeletal framework within which a whole variety of differing concepts attempt to operate.

The industrial climate which prevails in Britain today provides perhaps the most vivid illustration of the tragedy of industrial morals in the modern western system of the labour market. Any industrial system in which the constitution of the enterprise is based, not on the concept of the development of a working community of management and workers, but on notions of “them” and “us” in perpetual confrontation and strife, can only have the end-result that we see in Britain.

It might be said of British trade unions that their basic attitudes and concepts were fathered, not by the intrinsic nature of the British working class, but by the nature of British employers themselves. In short, the egotism of British employers has engendered the egotism of the British worker. And taken together, these conflicting egotisms constitute a social disaster for the British nation. As one critical observer of the British industrial scene remarked:

“Every dragon gives birth to a St. George who slays it. And St. George himself must collapse on the corpse of the slain dragon.”

Let me quote a British writer, Mr. Folkert Wilken, on the subject. He says:

“It is an inveterate evil of the traditional structure of trade unions, that in order to exist they must struggle to recruit members, and to make membership appear in the most attractive light. They are therefore under constant compulsion to prove the necessity of their existence. They have to institute periodic and militant proceedings for increased wages and shorter hours. By doing this, they are appealing to the egotistic interests of the workers. Thus, they never appeal to the social ideals dormant in the workers. They cannot, for they do not consider it their duty to further such ideals, and have no clear picture of the practical realisation of these ideals. They therefore wish to persevere in their war for higher wages and less work. To these aims they owed their birth, a hundred years ago. But then, those aims were justified by the conditions of the time, as they are always justified when there is capitalistic exploitation of labour.”

The virus of the British industrial disease is also latent in Singapore and could develop a malignant potency in future years, if our social thinkers and planners do not give thought to the development of corrective and remedial measures.

Many of the industrial aberrations in Britain proceed from current notions of the labour market. Conflicts of interest, rather than community of work, are the inevitable result when relations between managements and workers are based on these current notions. The worker’s skill of muscle and brain is, according to these notions, regarded as no more and no less than a commodity in the market, just like any other purchasable commodity. Now, if you regard the wage motive as the sole motivation that a worker is capable of, then it stands to reason that he will try and conform to your expectation. There will be no place in his thinking for solidarity of interests with the enterprise he works in, for pride of achievement, for job satisfaction and other satisfactions. If the commercialism of the labour market treats the worker as a mercenary, then a mercenary he inevitably becomes. He is indifferent as to whether the business for which eh works prospers or runs into difficulties. He does not even feel any unity with the company which has bought his services. He demands that the company shall give him as high a wage as possible, and grant as short hours as possible. His trade union supports him, because it has accepted the commercialisation of labour as a fiat accompli.

It is clearly necessary for us in Singapore, employers as well as trade unions, to try and avoid a repetition of the British experience here. Our government too would not relish the idea of being reduced into a helpless referee, like the British Government has apparently been — endlessly buffeted and held to ransom by one side or the other, or both. So we must ask ourselves whether it is not worth our while to replace notions and concepts of industrial relations which have proved themselves to be disastrous in practice elsewhere. Would it be possible, for example, to regard and develop, both entrepreneurs and workers in an enterprise, as a community of work, rather than as a field of clashing interests and perpetual strife? I think it is possible, given the fact that Singapore is already a melting pot of British, American, Japanese, German and local concepts, and given Singapore’s capacity for experiment and innovation.

Singaporeans must be their own forerunners in this particular field. But we will not be altogether alone in trying to put industrial relations on sounder foundations. Enlightened entrepreneurs elsewhere, keen to eliminate strikes and strife in industry through the associative organisation of their enterprises, have experimented, with varying degrees of success, to formulate new concepts of working relations in their undertakings. The most notable of such experiments have been by the Staedtler, Carl Zeiss, Robert Bosch, Gert Spindler and Rexroth undertakings in West Germany, and the John Lewis and Scott-Bader enterprises in England. Not all the concepts of these enterprises, includign their ideas on what they call “the neutralization of capital,” would be practicable or applicable in the Singapore situation, but some of the methods and approaches they have employed are certainly worth our interest.

If our object is an integral society, then we must strive for an integral system of industrial relations in which entrepreneurs and workers see themselves in a new light, as parts of a larger whole, and are bound together by a functional solidarity leading to a productive as well as psychological interdependence. This will call for worker education as well as management education. The National Productivity Board could play a significant role in this process.

We might now enquire into some of the chief factors involved in transforming a bi-polarised enterprise into a dynamic and co-operative community of work.

One obvious factor is a wage structure which the worker feels is justly and fairly related to his skill and performance, and represents an equitable distribution of income in the enterprise. I know of undertakings which possess a good system for the computation of wages based on performance, but the managements of which have not taken the trouble to acquaint the workers with the “how” and the “why” of the system. As a consequence, the workers are resentful about seemingly arbitrary variations in their monthly wage packets. It is clearly useful that when managements do the right things, they should take pains not to hide their light under a bushel.

One may expect wages and salaries, however, to be increasingly determined in future years on the basis of general guidelines laid down by the National Wages Council, having regard to the performance and the growth rate of the national economy as a whole. This should help to remove fears that incomes of workers in the Republic do not keep pace with economic growth and capacity.

The next factor is one which has received far less attention than it deserves. For wages and salaries are not the sole determinants of either the quality of production or of the quality of our society. The worker has a right not only to a decent wage. He has also a right to expect, and a civilised society owes this to him, that his work will provide him with satisfaction and a sense of fulfilment. To regard the worker as nothing more than a wage slave enhances neither productivity nor the quality of our society. It merely diminishes the one and depraves the other.

We therefore come to the development of non-wage incentives, proceeding from the conscious promotion and inculcation of pride in workmanship, of job satisfaction and of a sense of personal and group fulfilment in the work done. Such promotion is heavily dependent on the psychological atmosphere and climate prevailing at the work-site. Far too often we have the authoritarian organisation of work-relations. Production supervisors conceive of their role as bullying drill-sergeants rather than as respected captains of production teams. Whenever you hear of a spontaneous mass work-stoppage somewhere, nine times out of ten you can trace the cause to poor quality middle-management personnel. A wise organisation of work-relations on the factory floor will utilise available techniques to imbue workers with a sense of individual and collective responsibility for work performance and for the quality of the product. The intelligent use of Works Councils and similar institutions to achieve this end should be resorted to far more extensively than is done at present. The initial hurdle blocking their introduction seems to be that many managements and workers are too conservative to consider such innovations on the work-site. They prefer the primitive bi-polar pattern of the paymaster at one end, the wage slave at the other, and a bully of a supervisor in the middle. In this atmosphere, it is not difficult to see why the vital sense of partnership in production is conspicuously absent in many production sites.

The present concept of industrial relations is also reflected in prevailing notions of personnel management. Very often, the personnel manager of an enterprise is regarded by the manage-workers as the management’s hired prize-fighter, paid to tell them lies and to hit them below the belt if necessary.

Many personnel managers have no specific qualifications for the job, apart from a cursory acquaintance with local labour laws and collective bargaining procedures, which some of them at least acquired as former trade unionists. The theory seems to be that an ex-trade unionist is uniquely fitted to fix the trade unions.

There is an urgent need to deepen and to widen the role and function of personnel management in the Republic, if we are to move on to more sophisticated and civilised patterns of industrial relations. The successful personnel manager is one who can steer both management and workers to a shared sense of partnership in production, and is able to promote a sense of loyalty and of belonging to the enterprise on the part of the workers and of genuine concern for the progress of the undertaking as a whole. It stands to reason that only those trained and qualified in the theory and practice of enlightened personnel management can discharge such responsibilities in an adequate manner. A qualified personnel manager would also deserve a far higher status in the policy-making board of his enterprise, instead of being regarded, as is the case in several enterprises at the moment, as a glorified errand boy or the hatchet man of the management.

Finally, if employers have a transformed role in an integral society, so have trade unions. Looking at the British scene, we know the responsibility of employers and trade unions for the disintegrating society. But what kind of role and function do we see for trade unions in an integral society?

At present, because the worker is regarded as little more than a commodity on the market the unspoken ideal of most trade unions, both here and elsewhere, is to get as much as possible for less and less work. With the transformed functioning of an enterprise, however, when the worker is regarded as a vital and organic part of the undertaking and not as a wage slave, his trade union develops a dual role and function. First, the trade union would be directly active, in order to ensure that the payment for performance is correctly based and graded. Second, the trade union undertakes its rightful social function, cooperatively representing the workers, in the sense of taking responsibility for the workers’ performance.

Under the present system, trade unions concern themselves only with payment, and hardly ever with performance. But in an enterprise which is a cooperative working community, the trade union assumes responsibility for performance as well. The improved industrial climate and the higher productivity which is bound to ensue in such a situation will be something quite beyond the reach of the old tribe of bullying drill-sergeant supervisors, whose only measurable achievements are man-hours lost, and not man-hours gained.

This two-fold function of the unions — responsibility for work and supervision of wages — would necessitate that all workers belong to unions. Anyone who did not want to would suffer all the social and natural disadvantages resulting from his non-participation. He would be an outsider, and this would contradict the communal spirit of labour. And from the point of view of the unions’ communal responsibility for work-performance, it becomes reasonable for the unions to demand a “solidarity subscription” from non-members, who share the advantages provided by unions.

I would submit that efforts to develop every enterprise as a successful working community is worth the most serious consideration on a tripartite basis, if Singapore is to avoid the industrial aberrations which increasingly plague developed societies in the western world. The integral society of the future which we envisage will be anything but integral if sound industrial relations, based on sound industrial psychology and practice, are left out of account by our Government, our employers and our trade unions. If desirable changes for the better are to take place in our present system and concepts of industrial relations, we require to have our forerunners to scout the possibilities of improvements in the future. And Singaporeans, as I said earlier, must be their own forerunners into the future.

C.V. Devan Nair, in Not By Wages Alone (Speech: 30 September 1972)