Saturday, December 25, 2021

A Tribute To The Late Puan Nurashikin, The Former President Of The Transport Workers Union (the TWU).

 A Tribute To The Late Puan Nurashikin, The Former President Of The Transport Workers Union (the TWU).

In the morning of 24.12.2021 I was informed of the demise of Puan Nurashikin the former President of the Transport Workers Union. She was 89 years old. She is survived by relatives and friends -  her husband and only son having returned to God's abode in 2006 and 2009, respectively.

I am sure many of you are wondering who she was and why she is deserving of a tribute. 

She was a ticket conductor working with a bus company in Penang when she became involved with the Transport Workers Union which was, then, helmed by V. David and Zainal Rampak. From the humble job, of a ticket conductor, she ascended to the top position of the national President of the Transport Workers Union sometime in the 1970's.

That was a remarkable feat considering the fact that the transportation sector was male dominated. To the best of my knowledge she was the first, and only woman, to have been elected to the office of the President of a national trade union then. 

She was a down-to-earth person liked by all who had the privilege to have known her. She was, fondly, addressed as "Kak Nurashikin" as she had that sisterly, even a motherly, disposition. But, beneath that appearance there was this straight talking, blunt, frank and a I don't care the less approach in addressing issues concerning the welfare of the workers. She spoke from her heart without sugar coating issues confronting the workers. 

I, for one, had the good fortune to have known her since 1978 when I first started my full-time trade union work. Though she was the national President, of the TWU, she elected not to uproot herself to Kuala Lumpur but to function from a small office in Bishop Street, Penang together with the union's Industrial Relations Officer, the late Bro. V. Gopal. 

To almost all of us newbies in the movement, then, that office was our "port" on our learning curve. And, never once, were we made to feel unwelcomed there! 

Kakak was actively involved in the MTUC Penang Division going on to be elected as the Chairperson of the Division sometime in the 1980's. From recollection she was the first woman to lead a Division of the MTUC then. 

 Even after her retirement, her heart was still with the workers movement. She was a true unsung hero of the workers struggle. To her family who, stood witness to her immeasurable contributions to the working class struggle, we say thank you, thank you very much for gifting her to the worker's movement. May her soul rest in peace in the arms of God almighty. 

K.  Veeriah

Secretary MTUC Penang  Division 

016 4184520

Friday, December 3, 2021

Societal Transformation - The Need For The Trade Union Movement To Build Bridges With Civil Society Movement And Political Allies.

 Societal Transformation - The Need For The  Trade Union Movement To Build Bridges With Civil Society Movement And Political Allies.

The late trade union icon Dr. V. David once, candidly, told me that to sustain the spirit of the workers struggle burning, the working class must feel hunger in their bellies. In the early 80s I thought that his view was diametrically opposed to the philosophy of the  workers movement. 

Coming from a breed of grass roots leaders, having had the privilege of participating in a 6 month lock-out brought about in an orchestrated ploy to break the union by the company, I believe that I can, now, relate to what Dr. V. David said. 

During the said lock out we were a group of workers deprived of any source of income. Our bellies felt the hunger and our resolve to stand united to fight the injustice heaped upon us grew in strength. The camadararie, regardless of race, religion and culture was cemented in our quest to combat the injustice that we, collectively, were facing. Sadly, that epoch of undivided solidarity has been conscripted to memory. 

Over the decades I have have seen the gradual erosion of the comradeship that so prevailed amongst the workers in the 70s and 80s. Unfortunately, the evils of race centric politics seems to have crept into the trade union movement. That, in my view, is  the "Achilles heel" in the circumstances! 

In the heydays the trade union movement, including the leadership of the MTUC, forged a working relationship with civil society organisations like the Consumer Associate Of Penang (CAP), Friends Of The Earth (SAM), ALIRAN and the Muslim Youth Movement (ABIM). Networking with political parties such as the DAP and PSRM was the norm. Together we called for the emancipation of the people be it workers rights, consumerism, envoirentalism or concerns for socio-economic conditions. We had demanded for draconian, obnoxious policies and laws that infringe on fundamental rights be abolished. Clearly, there was a nexus between the trade union movement, civil society organisations and political parties for changes.

 In any full blooded attempt, to seek a transformation of the working class, the trade union movement cannot isolate itself for the simple reason that transformation of society is a holistic endeavour. The trade union movement cannot do it alone. It has no option but to network with civil society organisations in order to strive for a transformation of the social-economic land-scape of the working population of the country.

Unfortunately,  the trade union leadership, sadly in our country, seems to have adopted a holier than thou attitude in the matter. That, in itself, is a no brainer as history will stand testimony to the fact that changes were never achieved without a well thought out coordinated campaign mounted by all strata of civil society movements in the pursuit for changes. 

Hence, the trade union fraternity has no option but to make their choice - stay isolated and continue to play an ineffective role or reach out to like minded civil society organisations and political parties to endeavour, collectively, to strive for meaningful societal transformation of the predicament of the workers.

Opinion Piece 

K. Veeriah 

24, Jalan Goh Swee Huat 

Taman Bukit 

14000 Buku Mertajam 

016 4184520