By: Teo Soh Lung
The NewPaper of 6 Feb 2017 reported the demise of Barisan leader and trade unionist, Fong Swee Suan. The report contains inaccuracies which should be put right as we have been indoctrinated by one sided history for too long. This paragraph requires correction:
“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.”
Firstly, Mr Fong was detained without trial on 26 Oct 1956 by the Lim Yew Hock government and was only released by the PAP in 1959. His imprisonment was a continuous one. There is a table of political prisoners in The 1963 Operation Coldstore in Singapore, Commemmorating 50 Years (p 436) edited by Poh Soo Kai, Tan Kok Fang and Hong Lysa which the journalist will find helpful.
Secondly, it is important that journalists write respectfully of a person who has made huge contributions towards improving the lives of workers in the 1950s and 60s and who is now not able to rebut what is said about him. Mr Fong was the Secretary of the Singapore Bus Workers’ Union (SBWU). He led the strike because the Hock Lee Bus Company management had reneged on an agreement settled by the arbitration court. It is rude and wrong to describe him as “a major instigator” of the bus strike in such circumstances. As secretary of the union, it was his duty and responsibility to call the strike.
Dr Poh Soo Kai, the author of Living in a Time of Deception has written about the reasons for the industrial action and how it culminated into a riot. He had even speculated and given two names as the agent provocateur acting on behalf of the British for the riot. As a medical student and editor of Fajar, this student publication had at that time claimed that the riot was used as a propaganda weapon to prevent the Marshall government from repealing detention without trial under the Emergency Regulations.
I do not dismiss this suggestion as it is clear from reading the literature that has come to light after the death of Lee Kuan Yew, that Lee played a great part in undermining the left while acting as their champion in the 50s.
I strongly encourage journalists to not only read the books published by the PAP but also the handful of publications published by authors like Dr Poh Soo Kai.