Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Selamat Hari Buruh

V. David, the man who made ‘May Day’ possible

V. David is a Malaysian trade unionist who was fearless and vocal in raising issues concerning the Indian community in Malaysia. In 1958, he was arrested under the Emergency Ordinance and detained under the Internal Security Act in 1964, 1969 (after May 13 racial riots) and 1987.

Raja Petra Kamarudin

Many Malaysians probably take the 1st May holiday for granted. It is a day to stay home or for going out with the family. Or maybe it is a day to sleep in late.

Whatever today may mean to you, did you know that Malaysia did not always celebrate May Day or declare 1st May a holiday? This was because Malaysia was still at ‘war’ with the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) and anything ‘labour’ or ‘socialist’ was regarded as ‘communist’. Malays were led to believe that anything ‘left wing’ is ‘budaya kominis’ and therefore an imported ideology from Mainland China and Russia, the two superpowers of those days that were sympathetic to the CPM cause. And Malays believed that communism is opposed to Islamic teachings.

Malays have of course come a long way since then, though they still have a longer way to go, and the perception of May Day is no longer one of an un-Islamic holiday associated with communism. But many probably do not know that getting Malaysia to endorse May Day as a workers’ holiday, and not a communist holiday, plus getting 1st May gazetted as a holiday, has to be credited to the renowned workers’ hero, V. David, who fought for many long years to get the Malaysian government to change its stand.

This is what Wikipedia has to say about V. David:

David V. (born 26 August 1932 - died 10 July 2005) is a Malaysian trade unionist and former opposition politician. He won a seat in the Malaysian parliament twice, representing the constituencies of Bangsar and Damansara. While in parliament, he was known to be fearless and vocal in raising issues concerning the Indian community in Malaysia.

David was a founding member and secretary of Selangor Factories Association, which he started in 1953. He was elected a Kuala Lumpur town councillor and became Transport Union secretary in 1958. In 1959, he was elected the Member of Parliament for Bangsar. In 1978, David defeated the Malaysian Indian Congress strongman, Deputy Minister S. Subramaniam, and became the Damansara Member of Parliament.

David was arrested under the Emergency Ordinance in 1958. He was also arrested under the Internal Security Act in 1964, 1969 (after May 13 racial riots) and 1987. In 1984, he became the Chairman of World Tamil Association.

To help you get a better insight into this unsung and forgotten hero called V. David, I would like to reproduced a 7 March 2004 article from the New Straits Times:

YBs (Yang Berharap) gearing up for the big day

By Ahmad A. Talib
The New Straits Times

Many years ago, when well-known labour leader V. David stood as a candidate in the general election, I would meet him and wish him luck. With his balding pate and the trademark thick spectacles and midriff, David would pace up and down the main hall of the Transport Workers Union and bark instructions to his supporters.

"Hurry up, we must get the manifesto distributed first thing in the morning. I don't have the whole day, you know!"

In 1978, David contested as a DAP candidate and won the Damansara parliamentary seat defeating the Barisan Nasional's Datuk S. Subramaniam, much to the delight of his party and supporters. As a fulltime trade unionist, David was a popular figure. It was difficult not to notice his bulk as he went from one meeting to another to get the best possible deal for his TWU members. With David at the helm of the union and Datuk Zainal Rampak as his running mate in the movement, members were generally happy with their collective agreements.

I would often drop in at the bilik gerakan of candidates I knew just to wish them good luck, and David was one of them. It was quite common to have the bilik gerakan manned by tough looking men or youths. I understand this was necessary as part of the security measures.

So, I was naturally quizzed by these toughies when I walked in to see David. In the elections of the `70s and part of the `80s, fistfights were not uncommon, forcing candidates to opt for their own security arrangement.

David's helpers were mostly Indians and they eyed me suspiciously as I looked around the hall trying to locate him. They must have been wondering why this young non-union like, skinny fellow wanted to see David. Is this fellow from the Special Branch? Or worse still, from the other political party trying to cause trouble! As they later found out, I was none of the above - just a reporter on his rounds to seek out bits and pieces for some political commentaries and news reports.

Well, that's that. The election is here again. March 21 has been set as polling day and March 13 fixed for nomination. These are days when every single member of any political party and every political leader waits for. This is D-Day! Every day in the last few months has been geared for the day when the ballot boxes are taken out, dusted and put to use again. All the homework they have done, the strategy they have formed, the plans and counter plans - they are being put to the big test.

The candidates and their supporters work just as hard to ensure victory. The adrenalin never stops pumping between the time when Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi announced to his colleagues and the nation that the Dewan Rakyat would be dissolved to pave the way for the 11th general election. In any general election, the Prime Minister calls the shot, and Pak Lah just did, setting in motion a series of events that will climax on March 21.

On another occasion I recall the formation of a new political party, Nasma, which seemingly had the support of social activists, some intellectuals and leaders from non-governmental organisations. Nasma's introduction to the media was held at one of the city's leading hotels. What attracted much attention then was the party had a woman as president, Zainab Yang, who was then more known as the `Lorry Woman' because she was head of the Pan Malaysian Lorry Operators' Association.

There was considerable attraction to the formation of Nasma. Its proponents had high hopes but this was not backed by real political acumen and, within a few years, Nasma receded into the political wilderness, never to engage in serious battles after a brief and disastrous encounter on the Malaysian scene. The simple lesson for Nasma and other like-minded proponents - don't go into politics if you are short on resources. Politics is not a romantic journey, neither is it a trip to test one's grandiose plans and vague images of undying loyalty and worship.

Bob, an American acquaintance, asked me a few days ago how the campaign was going to be like now that the polling date had been set. "What campaign?" I asked. He looked puzzled. "Bob, in places like Kelantan the campaign has never stopped. It's like a football match - the players never take off their jerseys, and that being so, treat everyday as match day!"

House calls are known to be more personal and popular these days, partly because political rallies, in the traditional sense of the word, is a thing of the past. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, this stopping of political rallies. As a schoolboy in 1969, I saw political rallies being turned into a stage for racial name-calling and bad-mouthing with bloody consequences. It is best forgotten, really...

Personal schedules, family gatherings and even business decisions have been put on the back-burner in these couple of weeks. It's politics, morning, day and night. At the Tanglin nasi lemak stall behind the National Mosque, customers were discussing who would be dropped, and whether new Menteris Besar would emerge from some States. Isa, in between sips of teh tarik, gave his theory why Pak Lah, and the BN, would win handsomely, echoed by his friend Shah, a pensioner.

Well, we'll soon know. In the meantime, make sure you know where you are voting. Every vote counts, your candidate will tell you. All the best YBs. That's Yang Berharap, mind you, not Yang Berhormat...


From village hero, V David rose to become a pillar of the Malaysian workers’ movement
by K George
Aliran Monthly Vol 25 (2005): Issue 6

All his life he committed himself to the struggle for workers’ rights, social justice, freedom and democracy.

K George

Born on 26 August 1932 in a squatter settlement at the 3rd mile, Klang Road, Kuala Lumpur, V David started his life in abject poverty. His father, S Vethamuthu, had a small farm and a herd of cattle for survival. As he grew older, David had to help his father by going to houses around the area delivering milk daily. Despite this, he managed to complete his Senior Cambridge. As the years rolled by, his mother became a widow, burdened with the task of bringing up her only son.

Under the circumstances, it was only natural that mother and son became inseparably close. Even after his mother’s demise, she remained close to his heart until the last day of his life. It is no exaggeration to say that David used to visit his mother’s grave very often — not only every year on the occasion of her birthday, death anniversary, etc but whenever he stood for election, started a union, contested for leadership position and even before embarking on other important event. To him, she was a saint whose blessing he sought before undertaking any venture.

In 1954, he enrolled with the University of Louisville, Kentucky, USA for a course in Economics, Political Science and Industrial Relations. At the same time, he also attended a course on Labour Unions organised by the AFL-CIO, the American National Trade Union Centre. Even when he was deeply involved in trade union and political activities, he continued his tertiary education. In 1980, he obtained a Masters in Commerce degree from the University of New Delhi. A few years later his thesis on international relations was accepted by Pacific Western University, California, USA, which awarded him a doctorate.

Compassion for the downtrodden

Even when David was in his teens, he was a hero in his village. The villagers often sought his advice and guidance. David’s compassion for the poor and downtrodden was natural, simply because of the condition in which he grew up. His first venture in 1953 was to form a trade union known as the Selangor Mill Workers Union (SMWU), which integrated with the Selangor Factory Workers Union. In 1955, the union’s name was changed to the National Union of Factory and General Workers (NUFGW). It was one of the “General Unions” that was recognised by the British colonial rulers.

On 31 August 1957, Malaya became independent. The NUFGW became so strong and popular under the leadership of the youthful V David that even the workers in the plantation industry preferred to be members of the new union. The Alliance government of independent Malaya detained David and amended the labour law to ensure the automatic deregistration of all existing general unions at that time. Since then, our 'democratic' government has never granted registration of general unions! David was subsequently released.

He became even more popular - loved by the working masses and disliked by the capitalists. Soon, he was approached by the Transport Workers Union (TWU) to be its executive secretary. He travelled by truck and enrolled thousands and thousands of workers in the transport industry. Soon he was elected the General Secretary of the TWU and held on to that position unchallenged even after he had suffered two strokes.

Youngest MP at 26

In the 1959 General Election, David, already a member of the Labour Party, which formed a coalition with other opposition parties known as the Socialist Front, contested and won, becoming a Member of Parliament for Bangsar as well as Selangor State Assembly member. At 26, he was the youngest Member of Parliament – bold, vigorous and committed.

By mid 1960s, the registration of the Labour Party was cancelled. Its leaders like Dr Tan Chee Khoon, Veerappan, Tan Pock Kin, David and others decided to seek the registration of another party. I was then the General Secretary of the Federation of Armed Forces Civilian Staff Union as well as Vice-President of the MTUC and of CUEPACS. Like David, I too believed that trade unions had to involve themselves in politics. It was not an unusual phenomenon but a fact that was visible all over the world.

I was invited by the group to join and help with the formation of Gerakan. It was during this period that I grew closer to David. I am proud to claim that both of us knew what poverty was and that our commitment to struggle for the welfare of workers became a passion. David stood on a Gerakan ticket in the General Elections in 1969 and was elected to Parliament as MP for Datuk Keramat in Penang. However, being a civil servant and father of three young children, I decided to carry on with my job and union activity.

Gerakan became a very popular party and received multiracial support. In the May 1969 General Election, the party captured the state of Penang and formed the government with Dr Lim Chong Eu as Chief Minister. But within two years, it was embroiled in a leadership crisis, resulting in Dr Lim taking full control of Gerakan. Professor Alatas, Dr Tan Chee Khoon, David and other leaders left Gerakan and formed Pekemas, which contested in the 1974 General Election. Out of over 90 candidates, only Dr Tan Chee Khoon retained his seat as the MP for Kepong constituency. Pekemas did not last long. Subsequently, David joined the DAP.

He was elected to parliament on the DAP ticket in 1978 for Damansara and was successfully returned in 1986 and 1990 for Puchong. But in 1995, David did not contest because of health reasons.

Indomitable spirit

While holding the post of TWU General Secretary, he represented the union in the Executive Council and the Working Committee of the MTUC. He was elected as one of its Vice-Presidents in 1971 - a position he held until 1976. Two years later, he was elected the Secretary General of the MTUC. In 1979, he was elected to the governing body of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). He held on to this prestigious position and the post of Secretary General of the MTUC until 1992.
Apart from the above positions, he was also a Council Member of the International Transport Federation and President of the World Tamil Federation for some time.

David became the “guest” of the government for the fourth time in October 1987 along with 105 others - innocent victims of Operation Lalang under the obnoxious Internal Security Act. This time he had to spend 222 days in the Kamunting Detention Camp. It could not break his indomitable spirit which remained intact. All his life he committed himself to the struggle for workers’ rights, social justice, freedom and democracy. He had been a persistent critic of the government’s capitalistic policies and its unjust refusal to grant citizenship to the Indian plantation workers who were born in this country in spite of their pioneering economic contribution to this nation.

In his final three years, he became bed-ridden. His wife, Grace Sivapakiam, took special care of her husband until the last day on July 10, 2005. Their only son, Norman David 22, who is studying medicine in Bangalore, India, was present at the time of his father’s demise.

V David will be remembered as a pillar of the Malaysian workers’ movement for many years to come. His memory will be cherished and recalled with fondness as someone who had given his best for the workers and who had sacrificed the best part of his life in the struggle to uplift the poor and the downtrodden.

1 comment:

catherine wong said...

This is something I would like to share with all friends.When I first went into Lim Kit Siang's blog (, the first thing I read is him calling Mukhriz (Jerlun MP) and Tan Keng Liang (gerakan kedah youth chief) as people "lack of grey matters" and silly. That was about 2 weeks ago. Today, I read that he said "the IQ of the Health Minister, Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai, who is MCA Vice President and Penang MCA State chief, is highly suspect when he could not understand simple English". The problem is that the more Lim Kit Siang branding that he is smarter than the rest of the people in the world (which I don't belief), the more people will just see him as a person barking on the wrong tree. I support DAP but I wish that our party's chairman can be more polite when addressing other leaders (whether they are Barisan or Pakatan). Otherwise, this will set bad example to the new generation of Malaysians.