Historian Suggest That British Authorities Blamed PAP For Hock Lee Bus Riots
Dr Thum Ping Tjin, known affectionately as PJ Thum, is back.
And this time, he’s got another jaw-dropping allegation to make.
Once again, it’s in a submission to the fake news committee convened by Parliament (also known as the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods if you want to be lor sor).
Released on Friday (4 May) on Medium, the 2,700-word report touches on many things.
But most interesting are Dr Thum’s comments on the Hock Lee bus riots.
Understanding Hock Lee bus riots
During the committee’s hearing in March, Law Minister K Shanmugam and Dr Thum disagreed over each other’s interpretation of the riots, which broke out in 1955.
They most notably crossed swords over the role of the Communist Party of Malaya (MCP) in the riots, which killed 4 and injured 31.
In his earlier written submission, Dr Thum argued that because evidence showed that the riots took the CPM “by surprise”, they had little to do with the riots.
Mr Shanmugam vehemently disagreed.
Nobody’s denying that the workers were unhappy – they definitely were.
But what Dr Thum and the Government disagree on is who stoked this tension for political gain: the MCP, as is generally accepted by the establishment, or the People’s Action Party (PAP).
In response, Dr Thum has now made shocking allegations that the then-fledgling PAP had far more to do with the riots than currently believed.
The Police Intelligence Journal
In support of his allegations, Dr Thum refers to a report by the British Special Branch, a division of the police.
It’s likely this was sent monthly to the British government to update it of domestic situations in its colonies.
Titled Police Intelligence Journal (4/1955), it highlights the British view that the PAP was tapping on growing industrial unrest for its own political gain.
The PAP have continued to seize every opportunity to exploit industrial unrest … the extent to which the workers and the students have formed a united front and the influence of PAP with these two groups is particularly significant.
Dated 30 Apr 1955, the report was written nearly 2 weeks before the Hock Lee bus riots broke out at Alexandra.
But as the report suggests, industrial unrest had been brewing for some time.
According to the National Library Board’s Singapore Infopedia, the unrest was sparked by a decision by 250 workers to join a trade union.
It culminated in a riot on 12 May, with police taking on workers and the Chinese students who had come to the workers’ aid.
After the riots
The report released in the weeks following the riots suggests that the PAP did – and that party leaders directed the United Front (of students and workers) during the Hock Lee riots.
The journal claims,
…the recent labour unrest … was directed by leaders of the People’s Action Party
But the report also notes that the MCP had set out a policy to “instigat[e]the ‘masses’ to take joint action against new and old regulations”.
Commenting on this, Dr Thum writes,
Official reports believed that the grievances were genuine, rooted in ‘workers dissatisfaction with conditions of service’ but the riot was created by People’s Action Party utilising ‘the classic Communist type of labour agitation.’
The historian says that these reports support his claims, concluding,
As requested, I submit the British documents cited above.
A continuing argument
While it’s unclear if the ruling party finds that the presented reports hold water, they do add a new perspective to one of Singapore’s most serious industrial disputes.
Dr Thum’s latest allegations will undoubtedly see a response from the PAP in the coming days.