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Former UK Prime Minister Liz Truss

Liz Truss

Say what you like about Liz Truss’s short stint as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom but it did produce a few gems for those of us thinking of headlines. While the one that comes to the mind of most is probably her famous “I am a fighter; not a quitter,” line which was spoken two days before she quit. Less famous but I believe equally important was a line that came in that same exchange, which was “He backs the strikers (referring to the rail strike); we back the strivers.” [LINK]

Ms. Truss was probably not conscious of it but she was echoing a sentiment that had scared has been part of the Singapore DNA.

Singapore has spent a good portion of recent history being held up as what a developed nation can do. Our success has become a text book not only for developing countries to follow but even our former colonial power, Britain, even went as far as to pay us the compliment of stating in the Brexit campaign that they would make London to become “Singapore on the Thames.”

Singapore makes no secret of its success. We’ve positioned ourselves as the oasis of calm in a region of turbulence and we consistently make the point that Singapore has the rule of law and unlike other post-colonial places, we welcomed “investment” from our former colonial powers.

While these points are well documented, one of Singapore’s less trumpeted but most effective selling points is an aversion to strikes. Like most things in Singapore, our national attitude towards strikes was based on Lee Kuan Yew’s realisation as to the things that could have costs him power. Mr. Lee, as a former labour lawyer who defended striking workers, knew that the “striking workers” who had crippled the economy and made life hard for the British colonial administration could easily do the same to him.

Hence, once he got into power, Mr. Lee went about ensuring that the Singapore worker would never go on strike. There was a combination of carrots and sticks. Those who had militant tendencies ended up experiencing jail time and laws were created to ensure that going on strike “without permission” would face sticky consequences. There were also some carrots. Worker’s salaries steadily increased and CPF contributions (at one time employer contributions were as high as 20 percent of the worker’s salary) ensured that Singapore had one of the highest levels of home ownership.

External events at the time also helped Mr. Lee. Left-wing governments in Western nations allowed for the development of “militant” unions. Mr. Lee, an anglophile, studied what militant unions did in Western nations, particularly in the UK, could do to national economies. Mr. Lee could happily sell Singapore to Western multinationals that they would never have to deal with strikes in Singapore.

So, the foreign multinationals poured money into the country and Mr. Lee could sell the story to the Singapore workers that “going on strike is for losers – strivers are too busy building a better life in their jobs to strike.” You had a culture where employers were considered benevolent and employees who were not “grateful” were considered the problem. When SMRT’s bus drivers went on strike in November 2012, you had people complaining that the China-born bus drivers were to blame and should have upgraded themselves, even though SMRT was engaging in “Un-Singaporean” activities like paying based on race.

The story on strikes worked for a simple reason. Money poured into the country and wages for workers went up. However, things may have reached a point where the continued narrative might be coming under scrutiny. As with other parts of the world, costs of living have been going up. However, wages have not been rising and ever since the 2011 election, even the government has understood that it cannot raise government salaries indefinitely when everyone else’s salary is not being raised.

The Singapore of today is different from the Singapore of the 60s. As a population, we are aware of how difficult strikes make life for everyone else. As an example, many of us have lived through travel plans being scrapped because airline workers went on strike. Singaporeans understand that people don’t go on strike for the sake of it.

Take the example of the case of nine (9) men who were investigated for protesting outside a light industrial building on October 18, 2022. The police took them in for “unlawful” assembly. However, my personal social media had examples of people who were sympathetic these men. The point made; the focus should have been on why the men were protesting rather than the “unlawful” assembly. It turned out that the men had not been paid and the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) resolved the matter between the workers and employer. The story can be found at: [LINK]

So, is there a realisatoin that being a “striver” and going on strike are not mutually exclusive. Most people understand that anyone who takes a job is primarily trying to “strive” ahead in life. However, the question remains, do we need to get to a stage where people feel like they need to disrupt things in order for get their grievances heard? It’s something that people in power need to ask themselves.

 

Tang Li

*Although I’ve been based mainly in Singapore for nearly two decades, I’ve had the privilege of being able meet people who have crossed borders and cultures. I’ve befriended ministers and ambassadors and worked on projects involving a former head of state. Yet, at the same time, I’ve had the privilege of befriending migrant labourers and former convicts. All of them have a story to tell. All of them add to the fabric of life. I hope to express the stories that inspire us to create life as it should be.

 

 

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READER COMMENTS BELOW

3 Responses to “Former UK Prime Minister Liz Truss”

  • P Against People:

    Only pappy puppies call Singapore a success. A country with gov practicing “you die your business”, “waiting for pensioners to die”, and “suck as much money as you can” is not a success.

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  • xoxo:

    Before she stepped down,she apologised.
    Her successor,Sunak,says he will right the mistakes.
    No funny excuses.
    He subjects himself to public scrutiny.r

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  • Own goal:

    She score her own goal.
    Leadership need some some common sense and humility.
    There is safety in numbers of wise counsels.

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