Monday, March 28, 2016

Chronology of Klang Strike 1941 - How "the Largest, Best Organised and Most Militant Strike" was brought to an end!

The most prominent Indian leaders who led the Klang Strike 1941 were R.H Nathan and Y.K Menon. Not much has been written about both these leaders. I have extracted here some of Tai Yuen's work from his  "Labour Unrest In Malaya, 1934 - 1941 - The Rise of the Workers' Movement", who described the strike as "the largest, best organised and most militant strike ever staged by Indian plantation workers in Malaya."

R. Halashiya Nathan was a South Indian Brahmin who came to Malaya in 1936 at the age of 24 and stayed with his brother, a police court interpreter in Klang. His first employment in 1937 as a clerk at Paterson & Simons in Port Swettenham. He was a supporter of The Socialist Party of the Indian National Congress. In March 1940, he was dismissed from Paterson & Simons and for a while was working for the Singapore Herald. He became a reporter for Tamil Nesan and later its assistant editor.
Yezhuvath Kesava (Y.K) Menon was an estate clerk who was active in the Indian community and labour activities. He was involved in the F.M.S Railway Central Workshop strike in 1939 along with R.H Nathan. His uncle Yezhuvath Subramanian (Y.S) Menon was a member of the Coastal Indian Association in Klang and founding member of Central Indian Association of Malaya (CIAM).

A.K Gopalan, the foremost socialist of Indian National Congress visited Malaya in 1939. In a reception organised by R.H Nathan and Y.K Menon, Gopalan urged the Indians in Malaya to support the Indian National Congress and the Independence Movement.

Image source: 
Class, Race, and Colonialism in West Malaysia: The Indian Case

Chronology of Klang Strike 1941    

July 1939 - Nathan and Menon instrumental to establish Klang District Indian Union (even though legislation provision for the recognition of trade unions did not come into effect until June 1941. It was the unofficial policy of the Malayan government "to strangle trade unionism at birth".
The President of the union was Y.K Menon. He was replaced by R.H Nathan in May 1941 when Menon was transferred to Singapore by his employer.  

29th Jan 1941 - Vellayan was ordered to do overtime. Vellayan refused and promptly he was dismissed on 1st Feb 1941. Vellayan, who was a rubber tapper in Midlands Estate was elected as Secretary of Sungei Rasau Estate Union (a branch of Klang District Indian Union).

2nd Feb 1941 - R.H Nathan met Vellayan on the estate and ordered a meeting of Klang District Indian Union committee in the evening. Vellayan, two representatives from Midlands Estate and two representatives from Sungei Rasah Estate attended the meeting. It was decided that a strike should be called in support of Vellayan.

3rd Feb 1941 - The manager of Midlands Estate called Vellayan to pay him off, but Vellayan refused to accept the one month's payment in-lieu of notice.

4th Feb 1941 - 300 workers of the West Division of Midlands Estate stopped work. Letters by Klang District Indian Union were sent to the Agent of the Indian Government, Controller of Labourers and management of Midlands Estate. Nathan and Menon were reported to have visited the labourers at night on 2nd February 1941. R.K Thangiah had assisted Nathan and Menon to find financial support for the strikers. The strikers received $20 from the Klang Rubber Manufacturing Workers Association and rice from other estate workers.

12th Feb 1941 - Strike ended. Workers returned to work.

13th Feb 1941- Vellayan, two representatives of Sg. Rasau, two representatives of Midlands Estate and 60 labourers attended meeting of Klang District Indian Union. In the end it was decided that the strikes will be staged simultaneously on six estates. The demands were higher wages and better living conditions. Nathan emphasized that each estate must have a strike committee with absolute power to negotiate with estate management and decide on the outcome.
In the meeting Nathan and Menon formulated a list of demands (as follows)

1. Parity of pay for Indian and Chinese workers
2. Removal of “brutal” Ceylon Tamil and Malayalee staff and replacement with Indian Tamils
3. Proper education for children
4. An end to the molestation of labourers’ womenfolk by Europeans and “Black Europeans"
5. Proper medical facilities
6. Closing of toddy shops
7. Freedom of speech and assembly
8. Free access to estates for family and friends
9. Labourers to remain mounted on bicycles in front of Europeans planters and Asian staff
10. Abolition of 10–12 hour daily working hours
11. No victimisation of those presenting grievances
12. Permission to form associations to represent their interests and to put forward their grievances

In the meeting, Nathan concluded:
"Menon and I will be arrested soon, we feel sure. When we have been arrested, you people must go on strike and agitate for our release" 

 ...(to be continued)       


  1. Something I have learned about history of Klang Indians

  2. Great news ...we made history but now our conditions......

  3. great ...we made history here but poor till now we are not recognized

  4. Nandri umaiyana Talaivergeleh.

  5. Wow interesting note of demands and note ofmolesting young indian woman by Englishman and Black European asumbly tje celonese and malayalee. The was also bribery undicated.
    This must be recorded in Gopio association in Kuala Lumpur for record upkeeping.
    Eric Sinnaya.

  6. Indians are experts at biting the hand that feeds them. They always have antagonistic attitude instead of a conciliatory approach. Anyway a rejoinder to these- pp Narayanan was placed as the plantation union leader by the colonial special branch

    1. Thank you for the comment Murali. I m just interested to know which feeding hand did the Indian bite?

  7. Very nicely written & explained. Kudos to you sir.History will repeat.

  8. Very informative! It's clear to me that an Indian's enemy is often another Indian. No wonder Dr. Mahathir brought an end to the Indian gangster-ism in the estates.


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