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Feb 12, 2008

Corporate giant defeated in 12-year struggle with Brooklands estate workers

Banting, 10 February 2008

It was a victory long over-due. The Corporate Giant - Lion Group could have sealed and resolved the issue a decade ago, but they choose the part of arrogance and sheer disregard to their toiling workers. The workers then took them to a protracted war which took 12 years to complete with the workers emerging victorious.

The victory parade started at a critical junction of this plantation. With drums and banners, they marched to the estate field, where a decorated stage was awaiting for the victory celebration to role on.

One of the most important speeches of the day was delivered by Comrade A.Sivarajan, who tirelessly struggled in the thick and thin with these workers. He laid down the various layers of victory accomplished over the years. It was an astonishing achievement if one looks at the picture in total.

The problem arised when Akurjaya Plantations (a subsidiary of Lion Group) bought the estate from Dunlop Estates to develop it into a township of luxury houses, shop-lots and bungalow lots.

This was the start of this long-drawn war, where the battles ere fought on many fronts. At each juncture of the struggle, the workers managed to counter the corporate giant. It took 12 years for the workers to finally get a permanent roof over their heads.


The first battle was between the Mill Workers and the Company. In August 1995, they were given notices, the mill was to be shut-down and the workers gave them till December 31st. 1995 to vacate their houses. They were only offered compensation of RM 100 per year of service. NUPW - the Plantation Union accepted the offer. But a number of workers led by Ramayah refused to accept the offer. They called in CDC activist and then, the real battle with the Lion Group started. The company disconnected the water and electricity supply, closed the road leading to their homes. A few more workers left but four workers - Ramaiah , Gunasakar, Manogaran and Muniandy did not budge. They stayed on for three years with severe hardship.


This prompted a fightback - with demonstration at the Lion headquarters, a court battle and various police reports. The State Government was dragged into the conflict to expose the inhumane attitude of the Company. Finally after three years, the company was defeated, when they withdrew the court case and relocated the four workers into the main division and restored water and electricity for them.

The second victory was when the Plantation Giant used the police to suppress the social activist from engaging with the people. The Company used guards to prevent the activist from entering the estate. The climax was when 3 activist - Sivarajan, Ganesan and myself were arrested which holding a meeting in the estate temple. We were put in the lock-up and later charged. Our arrest which was intended to create fear, back-fired when the entire work force went on a strike. Even the migrant workers joined the strike. It was a blow. In the court, the police charged the activist for criminal trespass. The case went on and we were found guilty and fined in the Magistrate court but later the High Court over-turned this judgment. The attempt to stop the activist from engaging was the second victory.

The third victory was when the Company build pigeon box flat houses for the workers which the workers refused to move in. Here we come to a stage where the main division workers were now given eviction notices as well. They used various tactics to pressure and persuade the workers to move. The Union was adamant - one of their leaders even said that he will cut his ears if the Company was willing to built terrace houses. Then the biggest victory came. Against the odds, the flats house built by the Company was left abandoned. They workers refused to move in and the Company was shocked. It tried individually dividing the workers but did not succeed. Finally with no choice, finally the company agreed to build low cost terrace houses near their plantation. It was a massive victory as it was an era when the only low cost homes officered are flats.

This low cost terrace houses offer did not fall from the sky. There were many more demonstration at the Company’s headquarters in Jalan Ampang, site office. Workers also prevented certain roads to be used and stopped development projects. They continued to raise issues on the bad condition of their homes.

Towards the end of the struggle, The Lion Group was brought to their knees. The owner Tan Sri William Cheng was given the award of ‘PROPERTY MAN OF THE YEAR’ but he failed to build houses for his workers. This campaign worked and finally the Plantation giant had to give in on this.

And the fourth victory was when the workers managed to get compensation from the company.
The last 6 months has been peace times when both parties decided to resolve the problem. Small outstanding issues were resolved and the Sales and purchase agreement was signed.

Today at the victory celebration, these stories were related in the form of sketches, songs, speeces and poem reading. Workers from other estates came to give solidarity with these workers and speeches were delivered among others by Comrade Nasir- PSM Chairperson and myself. PSM flag was everywhere along the road and at the stage. It has become the symbol of the peoples struggle in the last few years.

The 54 families who stood the test of time - received a souvenir of achievement. Many of them old and tears accopanied them as they received these souvenirs at the victory stage. The first to receive was Letchumy - the wife of Ramayah. Ramayah who died last month was missed by everyone and his name was mentioned many times. As Siva said, when we struggle, the price of the struggle cannot be counted, it is what we leave behind for the future generation. In the case of Ramayah, he has left behind a story and a history.

A story of how a small group of plantation workers can defeat a Giant.



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