HIGHLIGHTS

  • Starting with a group of 10 men at Seremban in 1946, he formed the nucleus that ultimately became the National Union of Plantation Workers (NUPW) of Malaya.
  • P. P. NARAYANAN began his undertaking in a period of insurgency when both managers and many estate workers held the common belief that trade unionists were professional troublemakers and union membership meant sympathizing with the terrorists.
  • The RMAF board of trustees recognizes “their championship of the workers’ cause through vigorous advancement of responsible and free trade unionism.”

 CITATION

In their respective countries, HARLEY KOESNA POERADIREDJA and PALAYIL PATHAZAPURAYIL NARAYANAN have guided labor organizations which have contributed significantly to community living.

In May, 13 years ago, Mr. KOESNA accepted the challenge of leading Indonesian railway workers who came to seek his help in developing a free trade union that would deal with vocational problems. Their concern was alliances between labor and political parties forged during the struggle for independence which were thwarting emergence of unions as instruments of effective economic action.

In building the Persatuan Buruh Kerata Api (PBKA), or Railways Workers’ Union of Indonesia, KOESNA adapted to Indonesian needs some methods used successfully by genuine trade unions elsewhere. The progressive and well-administered PBKA is solidly founded on monthly membership dues. Members now benefit from such joint enterprises as an accident insurance program, a savings and loan bank, a housing loan fund and a hospital.

Most notable have been the Union’s efforts to protect members in a prolonged period of more rapid increase in prices than wages. Through operation of rice mills, a clothing and shoe factory and a soap plant, prime need commodities are provided at low cost and workers’ incomes augmented by employing other family members.

Strict management of union funds permitted savings that financed construction of a modern four-story headquarters in Bandung and the purchase of a printing press for union publications. Insistent, well-substantiated representations on behalf of members to the Government-run Railway Administration have resulted in such improvements as safeguards to minimize unemployment, a pension fund which protects widows and orphans as well as retired railway personnel, and a Moslem New Year bonus.

Convinced that society should see to the welfare of the common man, KOESNA nevertheless insists that people must work to better themselves. Through the years he had remained humble but resolute; giving the workers what they want, not only what he thinks is best for them, he insists the PBKA must have no political domination.

Similar goals were being sought in Malaya by P. P. NARAYANAN, an immigrant from South India at the age of 14. Inspired by Malaya as a land of opportunity, hard labor in a tin mine and on a rubber plantation as an impressionable 19-year-old nurtured in him an intense desire to help workers share in the promising future.

Starting with a group of 10 men at Seremban in 1946, he formed the nucleus that ultimately became the National Union of Plantation Workers (NUPW) of Malaya. With a strength of 180,000 dues paying members, it is today one of the largest, richest, and best organized in Southeast Asia.

P. P. NARAYANAN began his undertaking in a period of insurgency when both managers and many estate workers held the common belief that trade unionists were professional troublemakers and union membership meant sympathizing with the terrorists. He had not only to win with the employers the case for labor’s legitimate aspirations but also prove to labor the benefits of organization.

Plantation workers measure the consequences of this effort today in a wage scale that is four times higher than before they were organized. Medical care for workers and their families, improved housing to meet new government standards, education for children and a respect for labor as an essential part of the community have become common features on Malayan plantations. The Union does not exist only to get more from management but concerns itself with education of workers on their responsibilities as trade unionists and citizens.

The NUPW today is esteemed both by men who sit across the bargaining table and abroad for its forthright conduct of workers’ interests. “Negotiate first” is the rule, and compromise is usually reached without stoppage of work. The Union discourages communal discrimination and maintains political affiliation is an individual matter for each member. It publishes the only labor paper in Malaya, in Tamil, Chinese and Malay editions. With strength in depth through second and third level officers trained in union management, NUPW leaders have traveled to share their experience with similar groups in other developing countries.

In electing HARLEY KOESNA POERADIREDJA and PALAYIL PATHAZAPURAYIL NARAYANAN as the 1962 Ramon Magsaysay Awardees for Community Leadership, the Board of Trustees recognizes their championship of the workers’ cause through vigorous advancement of responsible and free trade unionism.

 RESPONSE

I would like to begin my response with an enunciation of Newton’s second law of motion which states: “The rate of change of momentum is proportional to the impressed force and takes place in the direction in which the force acts.”

With your kind permission I would like to stretch this law in its application to human endeavor by stating that it is not only proportional but in this process of its interaction it becomes cumulative. And I believe that the Award should set in motion a chain reaction that would release an enormous force for positive action. This is what the Magsaysay Award means to me. It is my privilege and honor to announce here and now that I dedicate myself to spread the spirit of Magsaysay in my own country by setting apart half the amount of the award for a Workers’ Education Foundation. Sages of Asia have told us that any positive idea is like the tiny seed that produces the great banyan tree that provides shade and shelter to a multitude of people. This award you have bestowed on me today I believe is the first stone that would cause the ever-widening ripples of philanthropy in my country and, I venture to say, would soon find equal response in other parts of Asia.

I would like to recall now the words of wisdom by the great American, Harry Emerson Fosdick, who said: “Democracy is a conviction that there are extraordinary possibilities in ordinary people and if the doors of opportunities are opened surprising consequences will flow from unlikely sources.” I believe that the key to those doors is education, and we all know that democracy itself hinges on education, and it is towards that goal that this Workers’ Education Foundation will completely devote itself in the days to come.

Let me assure you that this Foundation I hope to create will to a great degree reincarnate the spirit, the faith and the philosophy of Ramon Magsaysay, who lived and toiled for the small man so that no person would be denied the opportunity for a full life contributing to the enrichment of the society whatever his station in life.

Now let me pause and look back on the events that pulled me into the vortex of the trade union movement that has thrust me before you. It was 16 years ago. That was the time when the Communist Party of Malaya decided to snatch the government by force. The first move in their operation was to subvert the trade unions. Things moved fast. Every trade unionist was suspect; we did not know where to look for guidance. Subversion was the order of the day. There was massacre and arson. The game was loaded against us. There were the workers insulated by the feudalistic employers on one side and on the other the threat of the terrorists, who were determined to wreck any democratic trade unions. Under the shadow of this threat 11 good and true men met. It was on January 27th, 1946, that they met in dismal surroundings, and it was at that meeting that the idea of a union germinated. Today, this union, the National Union of Plantation Workers, embraces a membership of over 180,000. But this was achieved only after years of hard work and series of meetings to convince the sectarian unions before they could realize the benefits of national integrated unions. We have now gone far from the days of our beginning. We have achieved something, but there is a lot more to be done. This recognition of what little we have achieved will spur us on to greater efforts to promote the welfare and well-being of the workers.

Now I stand here in all humility as a representative of Malayan workers to accept this great honor. To me the greatest significance of this moment is that for the first time in the history of Asia the worker has been elevated to a position that his humble representative has been chosen to receive this Award.

 BIOGRAPHY

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.

(For the complete biography, please email biographies@rmaf.org.ph)