In the 1980s it was not uncommon to find workers being exploited and abused by their employers, some getting paid as little as $4.40 for eight hours of work. The PAP Government did nothing about this. One man tried to address this situation by working to empower these workers. He was Vincent Cheng.
For the first time since he was detained under the Internal Security Actin 1987, Mr Cheng has told his side of the story. He did this during the SDP’s pre-election rally held at the Speakers’ Corner last Saturday.
He told an enthralled audience the reasons for his arrest and how he was treated while under detention.
In the early 1970s Mr Cheng was working with low-income workers in Taman Jurong, educating them about their rights and training them how to take their cases to the authorities. He took up a job and worked alongside the workers to experience the hardship for himself and to see if what they were sayng were true. They were true, he told his audience.
In the 1980s he worked at the Geylang Catholic Centre and later with the Justice and Peace Comission, dealing with domestic helpers and foreign workers.
In 1986, Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos was overthrown in a people power revolution. The Catholic church there, led by Cardinal Jaime Sin, was influential in the ouster.
Mr Lee Kuan Yew was afraid that what happened in the Philippines would take place in Singapore. He had Mr Cheng and 21 others arrested on 21 May 1987.
While under detention, Mr Cheng was deprived of sleep for days and interrogated in a cold room where he was assaulted. ISD officers repeatedly hit him in the face and punched him in his back and chest. He succumbed to the beating and was forced to confess on television that he was a Marxist conspirator.
During his televised confession and unbeknownst to his captors at that time, Mr Cheng told the crowd that he had, as a sign of protest, combed his hair to look like Mr Lee Kuan Yew. The audience roared with laughter.
Off camera, the ISD officers were present at the taping to ensure that the detainees adhered to the approved script. And the “journalists” at Caldecott Hill went along with this nonsense to mislead the public.
“If we do not redress history, history will repeat itself,” Mr Cheng told the crowd at the rally. “The first step towards redress is for victims to open their mouths or pick up their pens.
“Hundreds of other detainees who suffered much much more without the chance of seeking redress especially those who have gone to their grave in a blanket of silence. We, who are still alive, owe them the duty to to speak out the truth and accordingly provide their contribution to the true history of Singapore.”
To the support of everyone listening, Mr Cheng ended: “The SDP encourages and fully supports this move.”
Today workers continue to be exploited. They have little recourse as trade unions are banned. There is no minimum wage and the NTUC is headed by Minister Lim Swee Say who tells workers to work “cheaper, faster and better.”
Earlier this year Mr Cheng was invited to speak at a seminar at the National Library. However, the authorities banned it. They forget that there’s always more than one way to skin a cat.
The truth must be spoken and Mr Cheng is showing the way.
Click here for the video recording of Mr Cheng’s speech: Part I and Part II.
Text of Vincet Cheng’s speech: