The Straits Times strike

Singapore Infopedia


The Straits Times encountered two strikes in 1954 and 1971 respectively. In 1954, 300 printing employees went on strike, resulting in The Sunday Times not being published the following day. In 1971, 900 printers and journalists of The Straits Times Group and New Nation organised an eight-day strike, with no English and Malay newspapers published for seven days.1

The 1954 strike arose from a dispute over the terms of reinstatement of a dismissed worker. The strike was considered illegal as no prior notice had been given as required by law. The Straits Times management subsequently dismissed the workers who had taken part in the walkout. Upon realising that the strike was illegal, the workers agreed to return to work but were locked out of their workplace.2

Causes of the 1954 strike
On 2 February 1954, the eve of Chinese New Year, a worker at the Straits Times Press pressured two other Chinese operators to stop work early. The management dismissed the worker, who happened to be an official of the SPEU.3 Although the management later agreed to reinstate the worker, a dispute arose over the terms of reinstatement. This resulted in 300 printing employees going on strike without giving the 14 days’ strike notice as required under Emergency laws.4 To maximise its impact, the strike was held on Saturday, 6 February, so that The Sunday Times, which had the highest circulation, could not be published the following day.

On 7 February, The Sunday Times carried a front-page notice informing the striking workers that they had been dismissed but would be reinstated if they reported to work before noon that day.6 On Monday, 8 February, SPEU secretary Othman Wok called an urgent meeting at the union's headquarters at Anson Road. He urged the workers to resume work as the strike had been illegal, and they agreed. However, when they turned up for work, they found that they had been locked out of the premises except for a handful who were favoured by management. The management was perceived as taking the opportunity to dismiss unwanted workers and union leaders. Eventually, only 50 out of the 300 workers who went on strike were reinstated. Hence, the strike continued and the workers picketed outside the Straits Times office, demanding fairer treatment and better wages.7

Resolution of the 1954 strike
The SPEU continued their negotiations with the Straits Times management. It was an uphill task as the Straits Times was a powerful employer and represented the voice of the British establishment in colonial Singapore. After discussions with the union, the management agreed to withdraw the notices of dismissal and pay two months' wages and contributions to the provident fund of about half of the employees who had walked out. They also offered priority for re-employment of the dismissed workers.8 The dispute was eventually settled, and the workers returned to work on 22 February.9

The 1971 strike
The 1971 strike began on 23 December 1971 and ended on 30 December 1971. It was organised by journalists from the Straits Times branch of the Singapore National Union of Journalists (SNUJ). The strike was a result of years of tension and disagreements between the Straits Times management and its journalists, including perceived unfair treatment of journalists and low pay.10 Printers from the Singapore Printing Employees’ Union (SPEU) also joined the strike. Representatives from the Straits Times management, SNUJ and SPEU engaged in negotiations at the Ministry of Labour and reached an agreement on 30 December 1971, thus ending the eight-day strike.

Joshua Chia Yeong Jia

1. “Newsmen and Printers Back at Work,” New Nation, 31 December 1971, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Labour Dept., Singapore, Annual Report 1954 (Singapore: Labour Dept., 1956), 11 (Call no. RCLOS 331 SIN); Othman Wok, Never in My Wildest Dreams (Singapore: Raffles, 2000), 116. (Call no. RSING 324.25957009 OTH)
3. C. M. Turnbull, Dateline Singapore: 150 Years of the Straits Times (Singapore: Times Editions for Singapore Press Holdings, 1995), 197. (Call no. RSING 079.5957 TUR-[HIS])
4. Labour Dept., Singapore, Annual Report 1954, 11.
5. Wok, Never in My Wildest Dreams, 116.
6. “An Illegal Strike,” Straits Times, 11 February 1954, 6; “Trade Union Principles,” Straits Times, 18 February 1954, 6 (From NewspaperSG); Turnbull, Dateline Singapore, 194.
7. Wok, Never in My Wildest Dreams, 116–18.
8. Labour Dept., Singapore, Annual Report 1954, 11; Wok, Never in My Wildest Dreams, 117.
9. Turnbull, Dateline Singapore, 197.
10. Clement Mesenas, The Last Great Strike (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2013). (Call no. RSING 075.95957 MES) (Also available as an eBook.)

The information in this article is valid as at August 2021 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.



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