First Plantation Labour Protest in Malaya Staged by the Telugus in 1912
As we look into the records of first Indian plantation labour strikes in Malaya, we shall come across an incident which took place in December 1912, where 1500 Telugu labourers of the Rantau Panjang – Sungai Tinggi Estate stopped work and marched toward Klang.
The main causes of the desertion were due non-payment of wages for six months and harsh treatment of the labourers. The Singapore Free Press dated 19 December 1912 reported that 400 Telegu workers were absconded from their estates – Rantau Panjang and Siginting. They were reported refused to return to their estates and subsequently 250 of them had been detailed.
|The Singapore Free Press - 19 December 1912|
However, the Deputy Controller of Labour was not pleased with this action because the alleged offences were committed before the Labour Code 1912 came into force! He sorted the Resident of Selangor to intervene to release the labourers. But the Resident refused. Later, when the labourers about to be released, the Assistant Commissioner of Labour for Klang approached the labourers to return to their former estates, the labourer refused. They told the Assistant Commissioner that they would prefer to stay in the jail or “even walk into the sea and be drowned.” One could imagine the harsh treatment that they have gone through living in those estates!
(Most information provided in the article was taken from Prof.P. Ramasamy's work - Labour Control and Resistance in Colonial Malaya published in Plantations, Proletarians, and Peasants in Colonial Asia edited by E. Valentine Daniel, Henry Bernstein, Tom Brass - Frank Cass and Co., 1992)