The article takes an historic perspective on contemporary issues of trade union revival in Malaysia, focusing on the challenge of raising union density and analysing the process of organizing employees in the strategically important electronics industry. It concludes that the political support for transnational corporations in the electronics industry is declining. This strategic shift enables union activists to bypass enterprise and state-based unions and to establish larger, regionally based unions. However, newly organized unions have not yet overcome resistance from global corporations, nor have trade unions been included in the larger politics of development strategies. Unions must be part of a larger socio-political movement and regime change in order to overcome the restrictive labour laws as well as the anti-union practices of transnational corporations. Yet the majority of the peak union organizations prefer non-partisan engagement. In order to revitalize themselves, the unions must demonstrate to the Malaysian public that they are both relevant and important for increased productivity and that they can play a significant role in enabling Malaysia to move beyond the middle-income ‘trap’ towards a more developed market economy.