One of NTUC's founders and stalwart in fight against communists dies

Mr Mahmud Awang, one of the founders of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and its first caretaker president, died on Monday. He was 93.

Mr Mahmud, a former People's Action Party (PAP) MP, was a prominent unionist who laid the foundations for Singapore's pragmatic approach to union issues and helped workers here improve their wages and working conditions.

In a condolence letter yesterday to Mr Mahmud's son Endut, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Mr Mahmud was one of Singapore's founding leaders and a stalwart in the fight against the communists.

Mr Mahmud joined the Singapore Traction Company (STC) after World War II as a bus conductor. He got involved in union work at STC and was elected president of the Singapore Traction Company Employees' Union, and later became president of the Singapore Trades Union Congress (STUC).

When the MP for Anson, Mr Baharuddin Ariff, died in 1961, Mr Mahmud was approached by Mr Ahmad Ibrahim, a Cabinet minister, to stand as a candidate in the by-election.

He agreed, and narrowly lost to former chief minister David Marshall after six of the 10-member STUC secretariat issued a statement that called into question the PAP government.

That precipitated the split in the PAP, when 13 PAP assemblymen crossed the floor to form the Barisan Sosialis, PM Lee wrote in his letter.

The STUC also split, with the pro-PAP unions - including the Singapore Traction Company Employees' Union - forming the NTUC. Mr Mahmud became chairman of the NTUC's pro tem committee.

"He belonged to the small group of unionists who held the line against the leftists, and eventually persuaded workers to cast their lot with the PAP," PM Lee said.

In 1963, Mr Mahmud again stood for election to the legislative assembly in Kampong Kapor, and won the seat for the PAP. He served as an MP for five years, stepping down in 1968.

In the two years when Singapore was part of Malaysia, Mr Mahmud was among the Malay PAP leaders who came under "fierce and relentless pressure" by Umno politicians to choose race over nation, PM Lee said.

"But Encik Mahmud and his comrades embraced the nobler dream and held firm in their conviction."

Singapore's first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew was forever grateful for Mr Mahmud's stout-hearted support.

"We were honoured that Encik Mahmud was one of the pallbearers at Mr Lee's funeral in 2015."