Organisation of unorganised the first agenda for the working movement

Speech by Ketua Pembangkang and DAP Secretary- General Mr. Lim Kit Siang at a May Day Tea Party organised by the DAP Labour Bureau at the Pudu DAP Branch on 1st May 1973 at 10 a.m.

Although the government has declared May Day as a public holiday, the workers and the people must not allow themselves to be misled into thinking that the Alliance Government has turned overnight into a pro-labour government. This will be to mistake form for substance.

The Alliance Government’s laws, measures and polices remain anti-labour and pro-employer. The success of the workers to get the government to make May Day a public holiday in recognition of the workers’ place in national development is only the first step in a long struggle to achieve for the workers their rightful place in Malaysian society and the enjoyment of the just fruits for their labour.

In my view, one of the most outstanding problems in the working population is the problem of unorganised workers. Over 70 per cent of the workers are unorganised, completely at the tender mercies of the managements. We read in the press, and many go unreported, of the countless examples of workers being victimsed, intimidated and even dismissed for daring to exercise their basic right to form a union or to join a union. The Industrial Relations act 1967, which though enshrines the right of workers to unionise, does not provide any enforcement to uphold these rights.

I urge trade union leaders and movement to give urgent and deep attention to this problem of over 70 per cent of the workers outside the pale of organised labour, who eke out at the seated wage of $1, $1.50 or $2 a day.

The organised workers, with their collective strength, can go someway to protect and advance their legitimate rights to better wages and improved working conditions. But the unorganised workers are virtually helpless at the tender mercies, in many instances, of rapacious and exploitative labour.

If this problem is not tackled by organised labour and trade union leaders, I fear a day will come when there will be a deep division and gulf between the organised labour and unorganised labour.

Just as the world today is divided into developed and rich countries on the one hand, and undeveloped and poor countries on the other; there are in undeveloped and poor countries further division into the haves and have-nots.

Let not this pattern be repeated in the Malaysian labour class, where the organised workers become the have have-nots, while the unorganised and defenseless workers become ‘have- not have- nots’. When such a division emerges, then the organised workers will be regarded as the privileged workers by the unprivileged workers. This is unhealthy and undesirable to the labour movement as a whole.

The only way to prevent such harmful division in the labour movement from arising is for the organised workers and leaders to give priority attention to the unorganised workers in Malaysia, who comprise the overwhelming majority, so that they can be brought into the mainstream of trade unionism and shoulder-to shoulder join the ranks of organised workers in the collective and joint battle for better wages and improved working conditions for workers.