This is a study about the trade union movement in colonial and early post-colonial Malaysia. This is done by examining the role and development of the country’s national labour centre, the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC), and in particular, its leadership from 1949 to 1981.
The central argument of the study is that the MTUC was a reformist organisation because of state control and the dominance of “moderate” and “responsible” leadership. It is also argued that the national centre was unable to effectively represent the interests of labour because the leadership lacked a working-class ideological perspective. These arguments are developed with reference to a number of ma j or themes or issues during the period under review Such as “responsible unionism”, government incorporation of the movement, politics, tripartism and industrial peace, “worker capitalism”, conflicts within the movement, and communalism. An essential part of the exercise has been to reinterpret the history of the national centre during its first three decades of existence.
After the first two introductory chapters, Chapters 3 and 4 discuss the formation and early development of the MTUC during the colonial era. The role of government and “moderate” labour leaders is highlighted. Chapters 5 and 6 consider the position and role of the MTUC with respect to labour disputes and politics under the post-colonial Alliance government. The following two chapters analyse the compromising ideology and divisions and split within the movement under the Barisan Nasional government. The study is an appraisal of the Malaysian trade union movement attempting to contribute to an understanding of trade unionism in an ex-colonial “Third World” setting.
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