Sunday, 7 December 2014

Book on pioneer unionist Ho See Beng launched on 5 December 2014

Growing interest in Singapore history 'heartening'
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 6 Dec 2014

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong finds it heartening that Singaporeans, especially the young, are showing a growing interest in the country's history.

As Singapore turns 50 next year, he observes that they are asking questions like why Singapore turned out the way it did.

But "as we look back on our history, it is useful both to celebrate our successes as well as to consider how differently things might have turned out," Mr Lee said yesterday.

He was speaking at the launch of a book on the life of the late pioneer unionist Ho See Beng.

Such books, he added, can help Singaporeans learn about the country's formative years and the choices and actions of pioneers like Mr Ho, he said.

Mr Ho, who died in 2008 at age 90, was the first chairman of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) from 1962 to 1964, its president from 1964 to 1966, and its secretary-general from 1966 to 1967.

He was also a member of the People's Action Party (PAP) and an MP between 1963 and 1984.

However, his crucial contribution was in the leading role he played in the labour movement.

He and the late Devan Nair led the NTUC during its fledgling years after the 1961 split of the Singapore Trades Union Congress into the Barisan Sosialis-linked Singapore Association of Trade Unions (Satu) and the PAP-backed NTUC.

Mr Nair, a former president of Singapore, was NTUC's first secretary-general.

In his speech, Mr Lee said Mr Ho stood by the PAP and NTUC despite thinking that the PAP was bound to lose as the communists seemed "so overwhelming" then."If not for cadres like him, the PAP and NTUC might not have prevailed," he added.

Unionists like Mr Ho also contributed to economic development, said Mr Lee, by turning adversarial unions into willing partners with the Government and companies to create jobs.

He recounted how Mr Ho's daughter Geok Choo followed in her father's footsteps and entered politics in 2001.

Madam Ho, then aged 45, told an interview panel of which Mr Lee was a member that her father advised her that should she enter politics, she must put her heart and soul into it.

"Her answer left a deep impression on me," Mr Lee said.

Madam Ho, an MP for West Coast GRC from 2001 to 2011, was present yesterday with several family members, including her elder brother Cheow Teck, 69.

The 140-page book, Ho See Beng: The Washerwoman's Son, was commissioned by former Singapore president S R Nathan and sponsored by the NTUC and several companies and associations.

Published by The Straits Times Press, it is available in bookshops from today at $28, excluding GST.

"Stories of pioneer unionists are inspiring," said Ms Shirley Goi, 51, a union leader at the launch who will be buying the book to read.

Also at the launch was Mr Ho's granddaughter Waheeda A. Gapar. Her mother, Madam Aminah Hussin, was Mr Ho's third child and eldest daughter, who was given at birth to a Malay family and raised as a Muslim.

When asked whether the adoption affected her relationship with her grandfather, the 48-year-old lecturer replied without hesitation: "With Ah Gong? No. We have always been close."

"It is nice to know that his efforts didn't go unacknowledged," she said of the book.

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