Citizen and labor leader of the Federation of Malaya, PALAYIL PATHAZAPURAYIL
NARAYANAN was born in South India at Tolanur, Kerala on February 15, 1923 to
Chettur Narayanan Nair and Palayil Janaki Amma. His early education was
acquired at Board High School, Cherokunnu, India, and, after his family
moved to Malaya in 1937, he attended the K.K.M., School of Commerce run by
his uncle in Kuala Lumpur. He intended to become an electrical engineer, but
his later studies at the Technical College in Kuala Lumpur were interrupted
by the arrival of Japanese invading forces.
Moving to Rawang, Selangor in 1942, he worked as apprentice winchman in a
tin mine at a daily wage of one Straits dollar. This first direct contact
with manual laborers of different nationalities was eventually to lead the
young NARAYANAN to his career in labor relations. As an immigrant boy of 14,
seeing the multiracial population and higher standard of living in Kuala
Lumpur, Malaya had seemed to him a land of opportunity. Now he found workers
living mean existences in a state of ignorance with little chance to improve
their lot. Gaining insight into their problems he determined to dedicate his
life to their emancipation. To insure that he does not forget the lessons of
the tin mine, he has kept the small pay slip and a photostat copy is carried
with him everywhere.
Liberation brought many new labor problems, arising from wartime
dislocations and lack of maintenance, disruption of the established order,
and a Communist design to take over the country. Most of the estate
laborers, many of whom were coerced by the Japanese into working on such
projects as the Siam railway, were undernourished and unused to fixed hours
of work. Abuses of their authority during the occupation had widened the
cleavage between estate Asian staff and the laborers. Low wages and
discrimination in payment between Indian and Chinese tappers contributed to
the general unrest. No labor organizations existed to redress grievances;
the only prewar groups were Chinese mutual aid societies and the Japanese
had suppressed all labor activity during their occupation.
The first effort to organize plantation workers on a non-Communist basis in
Malaya was a general union formed by P. P. NARAYANAN and 10 others at
Seremban, Negri Sembilan, on January 27, 1946. Called the Negri Sembilan
Indian Labor Union, it was by present standards poorly organized and
regulated and the early membership was a hodgepodge of rubber workers,
railwaymen, public works laborers, postmen, cigar makers, goldsmith
assistants and a few others. This mixed membership continued until a law in
1947 required workers to move into unions by trade. Initially composed only
of Indians and preponderantly rubber workers, the general union later became
the Negri Sembilan Plantation Workers' Union (NSPWU) and membership was
opened to estate workers of all nationalities. It remained independent of
the Communist-supported General Labor Union (GLIT) and P. P. NARAYANAN
became organizing secretary.
Upon consolidation of its position in Negri Sembilan, the NSPWU, in 1952,
took the name Plantation Workers' Union, Malaya, reflecting an expansion to
other States. With P. P. NARAYANAN serving as Secretary General, it became
the strongest of the plantation workers organizations in Malaya with a
membership of 45,000. In 1954, this group joined with four others in a
National Union of Plantation Workers (NUPW). NARAYANAN, to whose hard work
the successful merger was largely due, has been elected continuously
Secretary General of the national organization since its inception.
Incomparably the largest trade union in Malaya and with few peers in Asia,
the Union's progress has been significant in the development of the Malayan
Many other unions had been formed in 1946, and organized labor's first
activities were symptomatic of the restlessness and change in attitudes
brought by the war. Declining to accept the prewar standard of the Labor
Department prescribing wages and conditions of employment, there were many
strikes, with demands for increased wages, overtime raises, workmen's
compensation, sick pay, dismissal of unpopular staff, amendment of work
hours and improvement of living conditions. Dominating labor from 1945 to
1949 was the Malayan Communist Party, enjoying wide support due to its
important role in the underground against the Japanese and embarked upon an
attempt to gain power through political strikes, economic sabotage and
finally armed insurrection.
Due to the Emergency declared on June 19, 1948, building a bona fide
national union of plantation workers such as P. P. NARAYANAN envisaged was
fraught with difficulties. After June 16, 1948, when the Pan-Malayan
Federation of Trade Unions, successor to GLU, failed to qualify for
registration, Communist activities were underground and difficult to
recognize. While insurgents, operating from the jungle, used first
persuasion and then terrorism to enlist support on estates and in towns,
their confederates sought to infiltrate union ranks. At least 20 Malayan
trade union leaders were killed and plantation workers, because of their
exposed and often isolated work sites, were especially vulnerable to
intimidation. Infiltration was particularly successful in Chinese unions,
which were largest in the early postwar labor movement.
With arrests of leftist trade unionists who openly defied the authorities
and supported the terrorists, the belief spread among estate workers that
membership in unions meant sympathizing with the insurgents or in any case
inviting trouble either from police or employers. Management, unable to
proceed with reconstruction and paying heavily in physical damage to
plantations and for security measures, was disposed to regard all labor
organizers as professional troublemakers. Men like NARAYANAN, who were
sincere in wanting to raise working standards and increase production, had
to win acceptance from both employers and workers. Through this period
welcome assistance came from the official Trade Union Adviser, a veteran of
the British Railwaymen's Union.
P. P. NARAYANAN was an energetic but careful organizer. To counter
infiltration of NUPW ranks, membership of estate committees was restricted
to men who had worked on the estate for two years—"During that period, we
can spot political leanings," Mr. NARAYANAN explained. To remove doubts from
workers' minds and explain to them what trade unionism meant, he traveled to
every plantation area of Malaya, enduring many privations and the constant
threat of death by the terrorists. Curfews at dusk and other Emergency
restrictions on travel hampered organizing activities, particularly in
remote areas. Holding back association was a regulation recognizing all
estates as private property and requiring organizers to obtain written or
verbal consent from management before entering. After 1954, because the NUPW
was well established, its organizers were generally not refused entry to
estates where the union had members, but a large number of estates today
remain to be organized.
Another obstacle was the communal life on estates. With Malay, Indian and
Chinese workers living in separate subcommunities, speaking different
languages and educated in separate schools, the tendency was for each ethnic
group to organize separate unions, rendering concerted action difficult.
After the Communist betrayal, many Chinese withdrew from unions and both
they and Malay workers are still often reluctant to join any union. Hence
the labor organizations that came to prominence after 1948 assumed a racial
character, though the Indians had no desire to organize on this basis.
Having become leaders of unions they had taken the initiative to organize,
Indians then found in seeking members that Chinese and Malays were
additionally reluctant to accept Indian domination. Compared to 1946 when 54
per cent of Malaya's trade unionists were Chinese, 25 per cent Indians and
one per cent Malays, in 1952 only 15 per cent were Chinese, 70 per cent were
Indians and 13 per cent Malays, yet Chinese workers outnumber Indians three
to one in Malaya's total labor force.
In early acknowledgement of labor's and P. P. NARAYANAN’s roles on the
national scene, he was appointed, in 1947, to the Malayan Labor Advisory
Board and, from 1948 to 1959 served as one of six labor members on the
Federal Legislative Council, chairing the Labor Group during that period. In
the highest councils of State his representations and those of his
colleagues on labor's behalf resulted in many improvements in legislation
and provisions for workers. In 1949, P. P. NARAYANAN and his colleagues
conceived and pressed through with the help of Government a social security
scheme culminating in the establishment of an Employee Provident Fund which
set a precedent in Asia.
When the Communist-controlled Pan-Malayan Federation of Trade Unions was
broken up in 1948, some representative organization was required to take its
place. The six Councilors representing labor in the Federal Legislative
Council took the initiative, and, spending their own money, convened a
delegates conference of all registered unions. A working committee was set
up to devise a Council, not permitting racial, occupational or industrial
domination, where problems affecting labor generally could be discussed and
policies mutually agreed upon. It was not to be a super-union, or federation
or an organization with power to participate in individual trade union
disputes, but to exercise moral authority and leadership. One of the
founding members of the Malayan Trade Union Congress (MTUC), P. P.
NARAYANAN, at the age of 27, became the first President in 1950, and was
reelected for two succeeding years and again in 1955.
When NARAYANAN and his colleagues first organized the union in Negri
Sembilan, rubber workers were getting between 60 and 70 Straits cents per
day (with independence, Straits dollars became Malayan dollars: M$3:US$1). A
weeder, the lowest paid worker on any estate, now gets M$3.25 a day and a
tapper who treats 450 trees receives M$3.65 or more according to production,
or some 450 per cent higher wages than before they were organized. Today's
improved pay and working conditions are in large part the result of
responsible trade unionism. A second, fortuitous factor has been the boom in
rubber price and the prosperity it has brought to Malaya and those connected
with the industry.
In the struggle to raise wages and improve conditions of plantation workers,
the first decisive phase began when the rubber selling price went down in
1949 to 36 Straits cents per pound. It was only then, when employers
threatened to reduce wages, that the 27 unions of rubber workers not
previously affiliated to the GLU came together, and a loosely federated
Pan-Malayan Rubber Workers' Union (P-M RWU) was formed to fight wage
reduction with P. P. NARAYANAN as Chairman and spokesman of an ad hoc
Negotiation Committee. The Committee's efforts resulted in the appointment
of the first Rubber Arbitration Board whose report accepted the principle of
tying wages of workers to the price of rubber and agreed to recommendations
of the Negotiation Committee that discussions would be reopened when the
price went above 46 Straits cents per pound. At this stage the Malayan
Planting Industries Employers' Association (MPIEA), in which nearly all
large estate owners had organized in 1947, signed an agreement granting an
overall wage increase of 12 per cent for tappers and weeders and other
categories of estate workers.
In the second phase, when the agreement expired six months later, the
Negotiation Committee demanded more pay for both weeders and tappers. After
protracted negotiations, the MPIEA granted another 12 per cent increase
which came into effect on October 1, 1950. The P-M RWU accepted this
increase but pressed for still higher wages as rubber prices continued to
Negotiations ultimately broke down, and a second Arbitration Board was set
up early in 1951. The Board Chairman, Mr. Justice Taylor, introduced the
revolutionary scheme of a regular profit sharing system whereby the wage
packets of workers would reflect the world market price of rubber with wages
to be fixed quarterly on the combined effect of sliding scales which varied
with the cost of living and price of rubber. The Board's award, effective in
July 1951, by agreement between the MPIEA and the Negotiation Committee of
the P-M RWU, gave over S$14 million in back pay to 300,000 rubber estate
workers. For P. P. NARAYANAN, this award was a personal reward for five
years of untiring efforts. He credited the success of the negotiations to
the teamwork of the Committee and acknowledged "a very great debt" for the
friendly advice given by trade unionists and others in public life whose
names he could not disclose.
Always eager for advice but never ready to surrender his right to accept or
reject it, P. P. NARAYANAN had early in his career sought the counsel of
seasoned labor leaders. In addition to the Trade Union Adviser, a number of
experienced men from the British Trade Union Congress and the International
Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) came to help Malaya's trade union
movement because of its key position in the national struggle between
Communists and democratic elements.
NARAYANAN also had gained useful experience representing Malaya at the Asian
Relations Conference called by Prime Minister Nehru and later the Asian
Regional Conference of the International Labor Organization (ILO) in New
Delhi in 1947. Attending the ICFTU Inaugural Conference in London as one of
three Malayan observers in 1949, he took advantage of the opportunity to
study British unions. Subsequently, he and two other colleagues were
instrumental in bringing the MTUC into affiliation with the ICFTU. In 1950,
he was MTUC nominee in the British TUC delegation to the ILO Plantation
Committee at Bandung.
The birth of a national union of Malayan plantation workers was hastened by
the criticism of Mr. Justice Taylor in 1953 when the ad hoc and
self-appointed P-M RWU Negotiation Committee, pursuing its own terms of
reference, became involved in arbitration a second time with the
well-organized MPIEA over wages for rubber workers. The industry was then at
a low point, and the companies had decided it was necessary to reduce wages
below the minimum previously agreed upon because estates were working at an
actual loss. The workers contended these reductions were unjustified.
Censuring the union leaders for lack of a genuine central organization, the
Chairman rejected the workers' submission and his award reduced the pay
packet of rubber workers.
To P. P. NARAYANAN, Taylor’s decision and comments were "a challenge not
only to rubber workers but to the whole trade union movement in Malaya." His
eyes opened to the need for a unified group, he moved quickly. On November
2, 1954, the High Commissioner, Sir Donald MacGillivray opened the inaugural
meeting of the National Union of Plantation Workers (NUPW), an amalgamation
of the five estate workers unions then existing.
Whereas determination of wages and working conditions and putting up demands
was a crude process in the early days and negotiations often were followed
by strikes, the only serious labor dispute in the NUPW's brief history
occurred in May and June 1956, after a stalemate had been reached in
negotiations for higher wages and better working conditions for rubber
workers. Personally opposed to strike action, especially during the
Emergency, and also hesitant to risk the Union's structure and finances,
NARAYANAN carried the Executive Committee in calling a countrywide "go slow"
action that lasted 22 days. Members took a voluntary day of rest on Fridays,
refused to work overtime or after rain, and practiced "shallow tapping" of
rubber trees. Except for a few estates, the campaign was a complete success;
never before had so many thousands of Malayan workers given such an
exhibition of solidarity.
This action won for workers a 30 per cent increase in wages, overtime rates
at time and a half and double time on holidays or paid leave days, a day of
rest after six days' continuous work, an increase in paid holidays from
three to no less than 10—including four special and religious holidays and
six days' annual leave with pay, and withdrawal of employers' demand that
the day following rain must be considered a rest day. It also greatly
increased the Union's strength and popularity; breaking down the hard core
of antiunion employers and antiunion workers, relations between managers and
workers improved, and Chinese and Malay workers joined in large numbers.
Since then, employers have elected to negotiate with the union rather than
driving it to the wall. P. P. NARAYANAN and his colleagues continue
forcefully to maintain that workers must be given a decent living wage but
also constantly warn workers not to "go astray" and resort to unnecessary
strikes to achieve their objectives. Good unions, he has preached, do not
put up pickets immediately after demands are stated. The hard bargaining
NUPW has proved its belief in conciliation.
In November 1957, the NUPW gave 18 months notice of cancellation of the 1956
agreement due to anomalies in calculation of tappers' wages. The Union's
position was clarified by Mr. NARAYANAN in a letter to the Association on
January 31, 1958 stating that the existing formula provided neither a proper
basic wage nor any proper incentive factor. Further, the present task
assessment of the number of trees tapped, combined with assessment by weight
of latex collected, meant the tapper often did not receive the agreed wage.
Some 20 meetings with the MPIEA ensued without agreement. A provocative
speech by an MPIEA branch president and an arbitrary cut in wages by the
Association resulted in sporadic work stoppages, but negotiations were
resumed through the intervention of the Ministry of Labor. The settlement
finally reached provided basic and price factors payable as guaranteed wages
for tappers. As incentive, an output factor was also introduced, with fields
categorized according to type and year of planting and yield per acre—i.e.,
a tapper's wage packet would not depend only on his own efforts or the price
of rubber but also on the productivity of the tree he tapped. Both tappers'
and field workers' wages would be calculated on a monthly instead of
quarterly average, a half hour break for lunch in eight hours of daily work
was allowed for field workers who previously had no break. The decision as
to whether a worker was ablebodied was to be decided at the estate level
instead of arbitrarily by managers, and a Board system was introduced to
record latex brought in by tappers. The NUPW, in April 1959, held group
meetings on all estates to explain to workers the new wage agreement to be
implemented the following month.
Only one official strike was called and supported by the Union between 1956
and 1959. Involving one estate, it resulted from a miscalculation of
workers' wages. Started in February 1959, the strike lasted 77 days, and was
broken by employers due to disunity among the 219 Chinese and Indian
workers. The NUPW spent M$6,972.50 on rations for the strikers.
The most recent agreement between estate owners and the NUPW formalized on
March 1, 1962, gave rubber estate workers M$35 million more per year. The
Secretary of the MPIEA signed for the Association and P. P. NARAYANAN for
the workers. Under the agreement tappers will receive 21 Malayan cents a day
more and all field workers 30 Malayan cents more when the average rubber
price is between 70-80 Malayan cents per pound as presently, and additional
increases as the price of rubber rises. Workers were also given an extra six
days' annual leave, bringing their paid leave to 16 days a year. Medical
leave was increased from 14 days to 60 days, and payment during that period
was extended from seven days to 30 days.
In 16 years, both the positions of the rubber plantation workers and
employee-employer relations have been stabilized. The former refusal of
employers to sit with employees for discussions on estate matters is seldom
encountered. Joint Consultative Councils of labor and management now confer
regularly at the national and state levels, and on 428 estates Councils have
been formed which meet every two or three months. On many estates, managers
meet the union committees oftener. Suspicion against Asian estate staff is
gradually dissipating due to close collaboration between the Asian staff
union and the NUPW. Some 90 per cent of disputes are settled at the estate
level, and on larger issues compromise usually is reached at the state or
national levels without stoppage of work. Much of the credit for this
achievement if given to P. P. NARAYANAN and S. P. S. Nathan, the President
of the NUPW, described by the retiring President of the MPIEA in 1960 as
"certainly not lacking in fighting qualities," but "capable of advancing the
cause of better terms and conditions of employment for their members with
reason, dignity and humor."
Employers who in 1946 were in no mood for trade unionism, believing it would
wreck the country, today admit the NUPW is one of the most progressive trade
unions in Southeast Asia. Starting with a membership of 50,000 in 1954, the
Union has today over 180,000 members, comprising nearly two-thirds of all
plantation workers and half of the total number of organized workers of all
occupations in the Federation. Well-organized, it has an annual income of
over M$1 million from subscriptions and a centrally controlled financial
system; the monthly dues of M$1 per member, less 10 per cent commission paid
to collectors, must be deposited weekly in a bank in each area and
transferred monthly to the account of the Union's bankers in Kuala Lumpur.
Broadly, the pattern of administration has been borrowed from unions in
Great Britain and Sweden and adapted to local conditions. Supreme authority
is vested in the Triennial Delegates Conference comprised of delegates
elected by Branches. On the national level is a 33-member Executive Council,
elected by secret ballot by all members, and a working committee of nine
attends to union affairs between Council meetings.
The NUPW has eight full-time branch offices in various parts of the country
and 120 full-time paid officials. Because of the language differences
between employers and employees, this staff is conversant in English and one
or more of the three vernaculars, enabling workers to speak to the managers
through a Union man rather than only estate staff to insure that the full
facts of any problem are disclosed.
To promote a Malayan outlook, for the last eight years Executive Council
meetings and various other conferences have been held in Malay, with
interpreters standing by to translate into Tamil, Chinese and English as the
situation requires. Also, an effort is being made to spread the Malay
language among the rank and file; at headquarters and branches, officers are
attending classes in Malay and now, in consultation with government, the
NUPW is providing facilities for workers to attend regular Malay classes in
With its multiracial membership, its leaders believe the Union cannot afford
the divisive effect of political interference. NARAYANAN feels strongly that
joining and supporting a political party must be strictly a personal matter
for each member, so that in a democratic Malaya the trade union will be free
to bring pressure on any Government. The NUPW operates on a purely trade
union basis and has concentrated upon building a formidable workers' weapon
that can be used aggressively, when circumstances require, but always
The NUPW surprised the Malayan trade union world when it announced, in 1955,
a campaign to collect funds to build its own headquarters. The building was
completed on the eve of Merdeka, or Malayan Independence, with M$209,306.07
raised in voluntary contributions of M$2 from members and M$209,838.09 paid
from general funds. A giant leap from the tiny room at the top of narrow
stairs over an odorous dried fish shop, Plantation House stands today in
Kuala Lumpur as a splendid monument to the pioneers in the rubber industry
and its trade union movement—the assembly hall with a seating capacity of
1,000 was named by the workers after H. N. Ridley, founder of the industry
in Malaya who died in 1957 at the age of 100. In Plantation House are the
Union's secretarial and administrative offices, industrial relations
department, executive council chamber, research section, public relations
department, photographic section, and union library. On the second floor are
air-conditioned guest rooms with six beds where visitors from international
trade unions come and stay. Members in Kuala Lumpur on private business are
accommodated similarly, with space for 40 of them at any one time. Similar
facilities are given when members come for residential trade union courses.
Aware of the necessity to keep in close touch with members, the NUPW is the
only union in Malaya today owning its own modern printing press and
publishing its own newspaper, both located in an annex to Plantation House.
The Tamil edition, Sangamani, sells some 16,000 copies an issue and is the
widest circulated Tamil paper in the Federation. First published weekly
beginning in May 1952, it became biweekly in 1956 when Suara Kesatuan and
Kong Sing Pau, the Malay and Chinese editions, were started. Circulation of
the latter two editions is now about 4,000. June 1957 was a black month when
45 newspaper employees went on strike; the unprecedented strike within a
union lasted 23 days. Previously sold for 15 Malayan cents per copy, in 1958
the newspapers were trimmed to minimum size so they could be distributed
free. A consequent reorganization took place, and some 30 employees were
relieved of their duties with three months ex gratia payment. A monthly
magazine in English, the Union Herald, was added in May 1958. Both
Government and employers watch these publications for criticisms and
complaints which are generally fair. Discovering writing talent among estate
workers, the newspaper editors are flooded with poems, short stories and
articles as well as many "letters to the editor." Political discussions are
included in the periodicals only when the subject affects workers in general
and plantation workers in particular.
An authoritative history of the NUPW, tracing its development from the
origins of the five unions amalgamated in 1954 was completed in 1959 by
Charles Gamba, lecturer in economics at the University of Malaya. The
Executive Council commissioned the work, providing a sum well over M$2,000
for one year of research writing. A sympathetic observer of the Malayan
trade union movement, Dr. Gamba agreed to assign the royalties to the
educational fund of the NUPW to benefit the children of estate workers. The
book is in print and is expected to be out by the first week of October
A project of the public relations department established in 1957 was a film
"Doing Nicely, Thank You," which has been shown in cinema houses and
plantations throughout the country. The industrial relations section,
sharing with the legal department responsibility for settling disputes, also
trains recruits and each state branch has a trained industrial relations
officer. An insurance scheme provides sick and accident benefits with a lump
sum available to workers at 55 years of age or to beneficiaries at death of
a policyholder. As of March 31, 1959, 2,476 members had availed themselves
of this protection. In 1960, the Union started a system of awarding
scholarships to needy but promising workers’ children. Mr. NARAYANAN went
against 2,000 years of tradition when he stopped accepting "garlands" on
ceremonial occasions and instead collected small payments as donations to
the education fund.
NARAYANAN considers research and education the two pillars for advancement
of trade unionism in Asia, and both have been given priority attention by
the NUPW. A research department, formed in 1955 and headed by an economist
graduated from Madras University, provides ammunition for wage negotiations
and watches vigilantly the trends in the plantation industries in Malaya and
abroad by analyzing company and government reports and financial statements.
Recently cited by the MTUC as the only Malayan union equipped for running
training programs, the NUPW has devoted a major effort to education of its
officers and members. Forming the nucleus of teachers are 10 officials who
have taken the three months course for union officers at the ICFTU Asian
Trade Union College in Calcutta. Six of these men later received Colombo
Plan scholarships to attend a three-months industrial relations course in
the United Kingdom and another two completed a Training Within Industry
course given by the Ministry of Labor in Singapore. One of the Calcutta
graduates made a study tour of Australia, a senior officer made a UNESCO
study tour of unions in Japan and the Philippines, and one attended the
three-months course at the Labor Education Center, University of the
Philippines. Similar training opportunities are extended to other leaders as
a matter of policy.
Since 1954 the NPUW Director of Education, who is also Deputy Secretary
General, has conducted three-day courses for union estate committeemen on
how they should attend to the affairs of members. To these men NARAYANAN
stresses: "Break with the old tradition that a trade union exists only to
improve wages. There are other aspects of life and times of a unionist which
we must look after—his home, the welfare of his wife and children, his own
Weekend courses for the rank and file, in Malay, Chinese and Tamil, were
arranged with the help of the Training Section of the Federation Ministry of
Labor and Industrial Relations and the organizer of trade union classes of
the MTUC. Subjects include the practice and principles of trade unionism;
the structure, organization and aims of the NUPW; industrial relations;
economics for trade unionists; negotiation machinery; and civic
responsibilities. Workers' classes on estates also cover care of a home,
hygiene, child care and vegetable and poultry raising. Officers attend
seminars, consultative sessions and refresher courses. They are also called
upon to lecture at universities, high schools and by civic organizations
from time to time. The Union has purchased a bus at a cost of M$35,000 for
transporting staff and members from all over the Federation to Plantation
House to attend these classes, and a sum of M$25,000 a year was earmarked
for education work since 1961.
Not only contributing to Malayan development, several of the NUPW's second
and third level leaders made Malayan trade union history when they went out
to help plantation workers improve their organizations in Indonesia,
Vietnam, Ceylon, India and West Africa.
NARAYANAN hopes for a Trade Union Education Fund at the MTUC level to spread
education in Malaya. Meanwhile, the Council is intensifying training at all
levels to encourage leadership from industry itself, and the NUPW has made
Plantation House available for classes sponsored by MTUC and assisted with
materials. "Knowledge is power." is the slogan of NUPW.
In a plantation industry where 60 per cent of the workers are of Indian
origin, the NUPW is making every endeavor to increase the number of Chinese
and Malay members, and the psychological barriers are gradually being
overcome. NARAYANAN’s goal is ultimately to bring together the 300,000
workers of all plantations in Malaya. The Union is now developing a plan of
action for tea and oil palm workers. Coconut and coffee plantation workers
are next on the agenda. Meanwhile, collective bargaining based on mutual
respect has been established on an industry-wide basis between the MPIEA and
the NUPW, and improvements achieved in these negotiations benefit all
In addition to higher wages, common practices on Malayan plantations today
are severance pay and workmen's compensation, medical attention and
maternity benefits and education for workers' children. The barracks in
which workers' families once lived and brackish wells where they drew water
have given way on many estates to homes with piped water and electricity,
with radios, newspapers and good food. Some are situated outside of the
estate, giving workers freedom to live their own lives after working hours.
The Union now is urging attention to a Federal citizenship campaign for
noncitizen members, land settlement schemes for employees, improvement of
health facilities, provision for aged and unemployed workers and
kindergartens for workers' children. A pressing concern is introduction of
legislation to check fragmentation of estates, which in recent years has
caused loss of work to a settled labor force of 12,000. Acutely conscious
that natural rubber must be competitive with synthetic, Mr. NARAYANAN feels
a minimum wage plus an incentive scheme is imperative if workers are to
produce more, and the idea has been accepted by the rubber industry. The
NUPW favors rates linked to overall productivity rather than the price of
rubber, but does not want to apply this principle until young high yielding
trees come into production.
A keen observer of union progress in other occupations and a strong
supporter of the MTUC, P. P. NARAYANAN believes Malaya's soundly based free
trade unions have important duties to discharge in terms of the country's
future: "Trade unions are concerned with the nature and extent of plans for
economic development of a country. They can make effective contributions to
increased productivity which can help meet requirements of capital formation
for economic development, they can help in effective utilization of physical
and material resources, they can help create stable economic and political
conditions, and they encourage and promote skill formation and give vital
inspiration to workers."
In early 1962, Mr. NARAYANAN was chairman of a three-man mission of the
ICFTU Asian Regional Organization to make contact with trade unions in North
Borneo, Sarawak and Brunei, the three territories envisaged in plans for
Greater Malaysia: "While politicians go on consulting concerning
constitutional changes, we in the free trade unions will have to think in
terms of solidifying workers' movements in these regions . . . and endeavor
to have useful contacts. Workers should guard against being made scapegoats
by powerful industries and power politics."
P. P. NARAYANAN also has broadened his perspective by studying conditions of
plantation workers in other areas beginning with Singapore where, in 1952,
he collected data on the number of workers employed, those without work, pay
scales and benefits. In 1954, he made a study tour of plantation areas in
Sumatra and, in 1955, of India and Ceylon.
In 1953, he was one of four representatives of the Federal Legislative
Council to attend the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and thereafter
studied trade unions in Europe before representing the MTUC at the ICFTU
Conference and the Malayan Labor Party at the 3rd Socialist International
Conference in Stockholm. In 1955, he was elected Chairman of the First
Southeast Asia Plantation Conference called in Malaya by the ICFTU. He
toured the United States on a Leader Grant from the United States
Information Service, visiting enroute Japan and the Philippines, where he
presented diplomas to trainees at the University of the Philippines Labor
Education Center. Later, he attended the ILO Conference in Geneva as Adviser
to the British Delegation. In the same year he attended the 5th ICFTU World
Congress in Tunis as Chief Workers Delegate from Malaya, the ICFTU
Plantation Conference and the Afro-Asian Conference also in Tunis. He
represented Malaya again at the 6th World Congress of the ICFTU in Geneva in
1959 and also attended the inaugural Conference of International Plantation,
Agriculture and Allied Workers Conference in Brussels where he was
unanimously elected as the first Asian member on the Executive Board.
Leading the Malayan delegation to the ICFTU Asian Regional Organization
Conference (ARO) at Manila in 1960, he was elected unanimously ARO Chairman
by delegates from 15 countries representing 6.5 million workers, succeeding
Jose V. Hernandez of the Philippines who had held the post for six years.
Urging a change of policy, he proposed the ICFTU-ARO "waste no more effort
on a negative anti-Communist approach and instead emphasize what democracy
can deliver to the people." On this theme, he later added: "The concern of
trade unions with democracy is obvious—they can hardly exist or properly
function under a dictatorship or a totalitarian regime, they have a vested
interest in democracy; on the other hand they are indispensable to democracy
and its bulwark, their action an extension of political and economic
democracy for the people as a whole."
A policy statement for the ARO was drawn up in Kuala Lumpur and adopted in
Saigon in 1960. The slogan adopted by the ICFTU-ARO under his chairmanship
the same year was "dedication, dynamism, drive and dues." At the conference
he emphasized that Asian affiliates must pay their affiliation fees and keep
only dues-paying members on the registers. Whereas during the political
struggle many voluntary workers came forward to assist the unions and
financial resources were poor, this tradition should be discontinued so that
unions could be independent of political domination and able to conduct
agitation, after taking into consideration the economic position of the
industries concerned, ascertained through careful economic research.
In 1961, Mr. NARAYANAN again visited Stockholm for the Swedish Labor
Conference in his capacity as the Chairman of ARO. In early 1962, he made a
lecture tour of the United States as guest of Michigan State University.
During this tour he met Vice President Lyndon Johnson and Senator Stewart
Symington and discussed with them U.S. stockpile releases of tin and rubber
and the adverse effects on the Malayan economy. Later in June he attended
the ICFTU-ARO Education Committee meeting in Calcutta and the 7th ICFTU
World Congress in Berlin.
In Malaya, he serves as member and leader of the workers group in the
National Joint Labor Advisory Council formed in 1957 of 19 representatives
each of trade unions and employers, the Port Swettenham Board and the
Government Housing Trust and Central Electricity Board. One of the Governors
of the Lady Templar Tuberculosis Hospital, he also was a founder-member of
the Pure Life Society orphanage which looks after about 860 children at
Puchong. A good mixer, he was the first Malayan trade unionist to be elected
president of a Rotary Club at Seremban, Negri Sembilan in 1950.
Married in 1947 to Sreemathi M. K. Dukshayani, he has two sons and one
daughter. An avid reader of philosophy, his avocations, "apart from
improving conditions of workers," are short story writing and painting, and
lately he has tried his hand at composing. Two of his short story books in
Malayalam, Kudi Kascha (The Interview) and Iruttile Velicham (Light in
Darkness), have been published, and his poems have appeared in Jaya Kahalam,
Kairali and Prabha, Malayalam journals published in Singapore and Malaya. He
also regularly contributes articles to union publications in Malaya and
other countries A linguist, in addition to his mother tongue, Malayalam, he
speaks Malay, Tamil, Hindustani and English.
P. P. NARAYANAN is readily approachable and likes hard work. He does not
measure success in money but takes satisfaction in being employed full time
by the NUPW. In 16 years of dedication to the proposition that workers
deserve to be treated with fairness and respect, he has demonstrated in his
relations with both employer and worker an abiding faith in social justice
and the dignity of man.
Chandran, Bala. " 'Mr. Trade Union' Does not Measure Success by Money."
Malay Mail. November 24, 1958.
Cherian, M.P. "At 37 He Is the Chosen Leader of Six Million." Malay Mail.
November 18, 1960.
Federation of Malaya. Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare. Annual Report.
Kuala Lumpur, 1957.
Federation Yearbook. Kuala Lumpur, Malay Mail Press Co., Ltd., 1956.
Gamba, Charles. Labour Law in Malaya. Singapore, Malaya Publishing House,
Ghosh, Subratesh. "Trade Unionism in South and South-East Asia: A Study in
Recent Trends." United Asia. Vol. 12, no. 3, 1960.
International Cooperation Administration. Summary of the Labor Situation in
Malaya. Office of Labor Affairs, May, 1958.
Josey, Alex. Trade Unionism in Malaya. 2d. rev. ed. Singapore, Malaya
Publishing House, Ltd., 1958.
Letter from J.A.T. Perera, Secretary, M.P.I.E.A., February 28, 1958,
responding to letter of P.P. Narayanan, January 31, 1958.
"Many Estate Workers Now Have Real Homes." Malayan Monthly. March, 1957.
Martin, Benjamin. "Doing Nicely, Thank You." Union Herald. Vol. 1, no 12/13,
Mathur, V.S. "Trade Union Movement in Asia—Their Problems and Goals." Union
Herald. Vol. I, no. II, March, 1959.
Meyer, Elias, "Narayanan's Reward;" a profile. Sunday Times. July 8, 1951.
Miller, Harry. "Malaya's Biggest Union." Malayan Monthly. March, 1957.
"N.U.P.W. History." Union Herald. Vol. 1, no. 14, June, 1959.
Narayanan, P.P. N.U.P.W. Blue Print Three year Plan, 1957-59. Kuala Lumpur,
______. "The Challenge Before Us, The Asian Workers." Suara Buroh. Vol. 9,
no. 1, September, 1961.
______. "How to Organize a Trade Union." Malay Mail. November 20, 1958.
______. "Malayan Workers and their Future." United Asia. Vol. 12, no. 3,
______. "Principles and Practice of Trade Unionism." Union Herald Vol. 1,
no. II, March, 1959.
______. "Role of Labour in Developing and Utilizing Human Resources in
Economic Growth in Asia." (Paper presented to Conference in National
Observance of . . . ) East Lansing, Michigan State University, 1962.
______. Address Delivered to ICFTU Sixth World Congress. Brussels, December,
1959. Suara Buroh. Vol. 4, nos. 10 & 11, October-November, 1959.
______. "Speech to Students Upon Completion of One-Week Trade Union
Residential Course." Petaling Jaya, Plantation House, February, 1960.
______. "Trade Union Education—Quo Vadis." Suara Buroh. Vol. 9, no. 3,
______. "The Way To Build Up Sound Union Leadership." Malay Mail. September
______. "A Word or Two . . . If I May . . .," Malayan Trade Union Congress
Report on Education Work 1959-1961. Presented to 11th Annual Delegates
Conference, December 8-10, 1961.
National Union of Plantation Workers (N.U.P.W.). 1st Biennial Report:
1954-56. Kuala Lumpur, 1956.
______. Program for Official Opening of Plantation House, Kuala Lumpur,
August 30, 1957.
______. Constitution. n.d.
Parmer, J. Norman. Trade Unions in Malaya. Ithaca, N.Y., Cornell University.
(Reprint series, no. 58)
"Rubber," in Malaya; a Guide for Businessmen and Visitors, 1959/60.
Federation of Malaya. Ministry of Culture, 1960.
Straits Times. August 27 & September 15, 1951; June 9, 1952; February 15 &
24; March 3, June 4, 11, 23, 1960; December 9 & 12, 1961; February 4 & 9,
March 1, 1962.
"Unrest on the Estate," in Charles Gamba. The Origins of Trade Unionism in
Malaya. Singapore, Eastern Universities Press, Ltd., 1962.
Personal Interview with P. P. Narayanan. Radio Malaya, Federal Government
Press Statement, February 27, 1955.
Interviews with P. P. Narayanan and persons acquainted with him or his work.