This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
Through the Eyes of the Workers
This essay sketches, among other matters, the problem of trade union unity, the struggles of the workers and the trade union movement, and attempts to examine separate development from the workers' point of view.
The advent of capitalism in South Africa since the discovery of gold and diamonds in the 1860s brought with it the insatiable demand for labour. The central task of successive governments has been to ensure a smooth and steady flow of labour. To this end skilled labour was imported, while unskilled labour came from the blacks.
The Wars of Dispossession against the indigenous people that began in 1652, now took a more serious and desperate turn. The imperialists unleashed furious wars against the blacks, conquering, annexing their remaining lands, grabbing their cattle and other means of wealth, and converting the once proud owners of land into an industrial proletariat.
The skilled workers who arrived from Europe brought with them ideas of trade unionism. The first organised union, the Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers, formed in 1881, was a branch of its parent union in England. Soon unions were formed in the mines, railways, the printing and other industries.
From its inception, trade unionism in South Africa has been dogged by racism. The craft unions jealously preserved their positions and status by confining skills within a narrow group. They refused to train blacks or to agree to their apprenticeship under the pretext of maintaining a 'civilised labour policy' in terms of which the 'rate for the job' and so-called 'civilised standards' were defended. The closed shop1 and legislation bar blacks from skilled work.
A storm of protest broke loose when the government was forced to import 50 000 Chinese workers in 1904 to work on the mines, which had remained closed during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). The labour crisis was caused by the refusal of over a hundred thousand African workers to return to the mines, notwithstanding the increase in wages from 20 shillings to 30 shillings per month. India would not allow emigration of its citizens because of South Africa's discriminatory practices against Indians who had come to South Africa as indentured labourers. South Africa was at this point intent on repatriating the Indians. Almost all 50 000 Chinese workers were unceremoniously repatriated in 1910, by which time the mines had been put back on a profitable basis.
African labour supply to the mines improved only after stringent measures were taken by the authorities to break the last vestiges of independent livelihood of the Africans. Labour laws were tightened, a squatters' tax and poll tax were imposed. In addition, high rents were charged for those squatting on white-owned land and there were wholesale evictions of squatters. The poll tax was the last straw - it gave rise to the Bambata Rebellion in 1906. Twelve leaders were executed and many others were jailed.
The early twentieth century witnessed some of the most militant struggles of the workers. One of the earliest strikes was that of the white workers on the gold mines in 1897. Among those who struck work were Bill Andrews and Percy Bunting. Both lost their jobs and as leaders they were ejected from their compounds on the mines. Rather than return to England, they stayed and helped to organise their fellow workers into trade unions. They also played a prominent part in the formation of the Labour Party in 1907. Both helped to form the Transvaal Federation of Trades in 1905, the forerunner of the South African Industrial Federation established in 1913. Trade union membership grew from 3 836 in 1900 to 11 941 in 1914.
In 1907, at the height of the Depression, thousands of workers struck work on the mines. The government declared martial law. British regiments controlled the Rand. The strike was defeated because some of the English skilled workers, working with a large Afrikaner unskilled labour force, were prepared to work for a lower wage. The trade unions protested against the employment of cheap Afrikaner labour, but within the space of twenty years the Afrikaner workers flooded the mines and Afrikanerised the industry and thereby the labour movement.
A strike that erupted in New Kleinfontein mines in 1913 on the issue of the recognition of the mine union, became a general strike for the recognition of trade unions. Troops were called in and violence erupted. The workers scored a resounding victory in winning recognition for their trade unions.
In 1914, after a strike by the coal miners of Natal against wage cuts, the railway workers joined it. The South African Federation of Trades called out the gold miners and soon a general strike for higher wages had the country in its grip. Martial law was declared and 60 000 troops were called out. Nine syndicalist leaders of the strike were summarily deported to Europe. A storm of protest forced the government to allow the men back into the country. Only a few returned. The workers won wage protection, a phthisis allowance1 and other improvements.
The Labour Party, formed in 1907 by Bill Andrews, Percy Bunting, Ivor Jones, Robert Cresswell, among others, was increasingly dominated by the Transvaal unions, which were very colour-conscious. Cresswell, who became its leader, had advocated a white labour policy when he was a mine manager. He suggested that the mines employ white labour only. Through its agitation, the Mines and Works Act, which shut out blacks from skilled jobs on the grounds of 'safety, health and discipline', was passed in 1911.
The membership of the trade unions and the Labour Party was confined to whites. Bill Andrews and Percy Bunting fought to get the unions of the Federation of Trades to throw open their doors to the blacks. They opposed the colour bar tooth and nail, to the extent that Bunting advocated the establishment of a black republic as a solution to South Africa's problems.
Andrews, Bunting, Jones and some of their colleagues constituted the socialist wing in the Labour Party, which later formed itself into the War-on-War movement. They opposed participation in the imperialist war and advocated socialism. In 1915 they broke from the Labour Party, whose policies with regard to the First World War,2 and more particularly its colour policies, they found repugnant. They then formed the International Socialist League (ISL) in 1915.
The ISL set about organising the black workers into trade unions. It formed the Industrial Workers of Africa in 1915 and actively co-operated with the ANC and other black organisations. Sanitary workers downed buckets in Johannesburg in 1916. The ANC and ISL leaders were charged for instigating the strike. Strikes broke out at the Cape Town docks and at the Kimberley municipality. The pass burning on the Rand conducted by the ANC was followed in 1920 by a massive strike of 71 000 African miners in Johannesburg. The miners were cordoned off to give the police freedom to shoot. An ANC meeting at Vrededorp called to support the miners was fired on. Many were killed.
In 1920, the white municipal workers went on strike in Durban and occupied the City Hall for several days. Owing to the militant struggles of the white workers and, more particularly of members of the ISL like Andrews and Bunting, black workers were inspired into trade union activity. The formation of the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union (ICU) under Clements Kadalie in 1917 was a unique approach to trade unionism. The ICU grew into a mammoth organisation embracing workers, peasants, professionals, businessmen, tradesmen, and others. It was not a co-ordinating body of trade unions and it recruited its members individually. Herein lay its chief weakness: it was unable to take up the issue of the workers on an industrial basis effectively. Nevertheless, its membership grew to over 150 000 by 1930.
From the beginning many communists like Johnny La Guma (who was treasurer of the ICU) played an important part in organising the ICU. During the period of reaction in the 1920s when the State took action against the communists and other trade unionists and progressives, culminating in the promulgation of the Riotous Assemblies Act and the Native Administration Act of 1927, the ICU conducted its own witch-hunt against communists. The expulsions removed the most dedicated and upright members from the leadership. This weakened the ICU, which became inefficient, corrupt and bureaucratic and alienated itself from the general membership. Leadership troubles mingled with personality problems caused further splits. A.W.G. Champion broke away and formed a separate ICU wase Natal (ICU of Natal).
Both Smuts and Hertzog were prepared to meet the leaders of the ICU, but they were not prepared to accord it recognition. Under the pretext of the ICU 'causing hostility between blacks and whites' in terms of the Native Administration Act and of the Riotous Assemblies Act, the government banned the leaders and meetings of the union. Constant raids on the offices of the ICU, the use of police spies, who were used to bring false charges against the leaders, the use of force by the police and the physical smashing of the offices of the ICU seriously undermined its activities.
Mass unemployment, high prices, scarcity of goods, and mass starvation in the 1920s and 1930s were the main factors that set the workers on the revolutionary path. Black and white workers conducted some of the most militant battles. Unfortunately they conducted their struggles separately, although against a common enemy, who was exploiting them both, and had plunged the country into an imperialist war, for which the workers were being asked to make sacrifices in the form of higher productivity, lower wages and lower standards of living.
Andrews and Bunting led the workers towards socialism by founding the Communist Party in 1921. Their activities from the time of the formation of the Labour Party in 1907 show a conviction that the salvation of the workers lay in socialism. The formation of the Communist Party drew together the strands of the militant struggles waged throughout the preceding decade. Immediately after its founding it plunged itself into one of the most militant struggles of the workers.
Apologists of the bourgeoisie, and among these are many trade unionists, tend to write off the 1922 miners' rebellion as just another 'episode' in which workers made a foolish attempt to challenge authority. The truth is that it was an armed rebellion. The rebels took control of a large part of Johannesburg. The army failed the workers' cause by not joining it.
By that time the Soviet Union had emerged as the first Workers' Republic. The Soviets had just smashed the reactionary White Russians who were backed by the imperialist powers. This inspired the workers the world over, including South Africa. The communist party emerged as one of the largest single force in Germany and in other European countries.
What began as a strike to defeat the attempts of the Chamber of Mines to increase the ratio of black to white workers culminated in an armed struggle. The mines maintained that they were faced with falling premiums from 42 shillings to 19 shillings per ounce and that if the fall continued, 24 out of the 39 mines would be forced to close. This would lead to the retrenchment of 10 000 white and 100 000 black miners. The mine management therefore proposed that the ratio of white to black be changed from 3,5:1 to 10,5:1. In other words, it wanted to employ more blacks per white skilled workers so as to cut costs. The mines also wanted to increase the use of black semi-skilled workers. The white miners wanted the reverse.
The Chamber of Mines, working in close collaboration with the State, decided to provoke the workers into action. The Chamber began by deliberately cutting the wages of the coal miners. Gold and other workers were similarly threatened. The South African Federation of Trade Unions called the miners out on a general strike embracing the railways, mines and industrial workers.
Both the Chamber of Mines and the government stalled negotiations. Prime Minister General Jan Smuts declared martial law. This was about the sixth time the country was under martial law as a result of strikes over the 15 years from 1907 to 1922. This time the country was virtually engaged in a full-scale war footing.
When soldiers and police started shooting in Boksburg, the Federation of Trade Unions began to waver. It failed to act in the face of army provocations. The workers decided to form an Action Committee, which began military drill and prepared the workers to handle arms. They established headquarters that were well fortified. Within a matter of weeks Johannesburg and its environs (the mining and industrial hub of South Africa) fell into revolutionary hands.
Smuts and the Chamber of Mines were in constant consultation at the Rand Club throughout the rebellion. A few men sitting at the Rand Club were able to defeat the working class masses. They did this by detaching the army from the workers and using it against them. This problem has always stood in the way of victory for the workers the world over. The ruling class bribes the army with status, letters and ribbons. Unless the army and police are politicised, enlightened and trained and disciplined under a revolutionary code they always serve as the handmaidens of the ruling class.
In the rebellion 230 were killed, hundreds were injured. Smuts bombed and strafed the workers' HQ from the air. Three of the leaders who were hanged sang the "Red Flag" as they were marched to the gallows.
Smuts did a wonderful job for the mine owners. The 'status quo' agreement was scrapped and semi-skilled work was given to the blacks at low wage rates. The working costs were cut down by over 17% in December 1922.
A more important factor was that the white workers displayed a strong indifference to their black brothers. Although basically the action was a class war, it was distorted by anti-blackism. The slogan 'Workers of the World unite for a White South Africa' does violence to the militancy and heroism displayed by the workers.
After the strike hundreds of English people and other Europeans left the country, and thousands of Afrikaner workers flocked to the mines and industry. The white population of the 1920s had a few wealthy and prosperous agriculturalists, industrialists and mine magnates and financiers at the apex; at the base were the poverty stricken mass, especially Afrikaners. By 1923, 160 000 (10 per cent of the white population) was poor. Poor blacks and poor whites were the direct result of the process of land consolidation that went on following the advent of capitalism. The rapid conversion of the once independent farmers into proletarians became a nightmarish experience. Slipshod methods of production and the easy and carefree life gave way to new demands of a largely impersonal industrial society. This society demanded efficiency, it wanted profits, and it was a force that reduced blacks and the whites to a common denominator - a servile wage-labouring mass.
At first the landless Afrikaners squatted and sharecropped on large estates, but because of their antipathy for manual labour (the so-called 'kaffir' work), the Afrikaners became real squatters. Even in unskilled work in urban areas the blacks were in demand, and because industry and the mines preferred cheap black labour, the white workers attitude to their black brothers became more hostile.
Changes in the composition of the white labour force brought about changes in the composition of the Labour Party and other political parties, especially the National Party. The development of the Afrikaner labour force and the anti-working class image which Smuts earned, welded the NP and the LP into a powerful coalition that defeated Smuts in the 1924 general election.
Both the LP and the NP stood for a white South Africa, the colour bar, and a white labour policy. Although both parties claimed to be anti-capitalist, and particularly against the Chamber of Mines, there was no basic antagonism between them and the bourgeoisie.
The Labour-Nat coalition set about enacting legislation that protected the unionists and the white workers. The ruling class did not want a recurrence of the militant struggles of the years from 1913 to1922, which almost toppled the bourgeoisie from power. Although Labour coming to power on a joint ticket was a victory for the white workers, that power was used to advance the position of the white workers to the exclusion of the black workers.
While the Industrial Conciliation Act of 1924 accorded recognition to the trade unions of white, Coloured and Indian workers, it specifically barred African trade unions and prohibited strikes by African workers. Apprenticeship laws and the Mines and Works Act excluded blacks from skilled employment. The Native Administration Act and the Riotous Assemblies Act were used to cripple the ICU and the black trade union movement. Communist and progressive trade unionists were either banned and their movements restricted. Anybody fighting for freedom, democracy, equality, higher wages or trade union rights was charged for 'creating hostility' between blacks and whites.
The recognition of trade unions, social and job security, the colour bar and job reservation, rapid promotion to supervisory positions in the mines, industries and the civil service, and, in particular, higher wages, (sometimes totally incommensurate with the type of work done or the productivity of the worker) inculcated in the white worker a class collaborationist attitude. They identified themselves with the interests of the ruling class and were only antagonistic to it when their own interests were threatened. The government either quickly retracted anything against the white workers' interests or came to their aid, even if the best interests of the economy were not served, for instance in its refusal to admit blacks to skilled jobs although the pace of economic development demanded it.
The ruling class accordingly found a suitable vehicle in the white worker for the defence of the capitalist system. In turn the white worker saw the ruling class as his protector. The white worker used his vote to return the National Party to power in successive elections since 1948. The white worker is conscious that his high standards and supremacy are dependent mainly on the super-exploitation of the blacks. Besides the normal disparity in wages between the rural and urban areas, the white artisans earn wages that raise them to the status of aristocrats of labour. As far back as 1914 the average white coal miner enjoyed the highest standards in the British Empire.
In 1969 five of the wealthiest mines, four of which belong to the Anglo American group, accounted for half of the 306 million pounds stirling earned by 48 mines. All the mines belong to the Chamber of Mines, which enjoys labour monopoly in that individual mine employers do not compete among themselves for labour. This naturally depresses the black workers wages, which in any event cannot be raised through collective bargaining because black trade unions are not permitted. White trade unions virtually dictate labour policy of the mines. The result of this is:
Annual cash earnings
Earnings ratio: white to black
Other forms of discrimination include: only white workers enjoy a cost of living allowance; whites enjoy 18 to 30 days paid annual leave, while there is none for African workers; blacks are excluded from provident pension funds; in the case of permanent disablement as a result of injury on duty, black workers receive a lump sum payment that is less than the amount whites receive annually for disability; in the case of the Pthisis Fund, two-thirds of the annual payment of R10m goes to whites; there is no unemployment fund for the Africans; there are housing loans for whites, none for blacks; with regard to recreational facilities, 37 cricket fields, 63 football fields, 20 golf courses, 255 tennis courts, 80 bowling greens, and 38 swimming baths are provided for 46000 white miners; or the 291000 blacks there are 'bar lounges' in each compound, a total of 101 playing fields, two cycle tracks and 55 dance arenas.
In 1946, 75 000 African miners led by the African Mine Workers Union struck work. Thirteen mines were brought to a standstill. The workers were fired at, nine were killed and 1200 injured. The Mine Workers Union, and ANC and CPSA leaders were arrested and charged with sedition.
The Chamber of Mines refused, and still refuses, to recognise the African Mine Workers Union saying, 'in their tribal state the Africans are not ready for trade unions'. Meetings of trade unions are banned on the mines and spies abound to report any 'subversive' trade union activity. The Chamber of Mines, however, is keen to employ blacks because it is alleged that 'blacks thrive on wages that mean starvation to whites'. Africans required a smaller pthisis allowance and no unemployment or sick funds. They could be housed in compounds and could be criminally arraigned for striking. They do not have the vote and are not allowed to have trade unions.
White workers enjoy high wages and therefore higher purchasing power and high standards of living only because of the low wages paid to black workers. This gives whites an aura of racial and cultural superiority and concomitantly psychological and intellectual advantages over blacks. The myth of white superiority, which evolved out of superior economic position of the whites, is used by the ruling class to harness the white workers as defenders of the system of apartheid, thus making them aid and abet the exploitation of the blacks.
General Smuts, addressing a conference of the South African Institute of Race Relations in 1941 in the atmosphere of war, when black co-operation was needed, said that the African worker was 'carrying the country on his back. Smuts again, after rioting in 1950, said 'the government has squandered this country's greatest asset, the goodwill of her workers, by driving into those vast labour masses (the idea) that they were a menace to Eurocivilisation'.
The South African Trades and Labour Council (1930)
Since its formation, the CPSA and progressive trade unionists plunged themselves into organising and leading the workers in militant struggles for higher wages, trade union rights, democracy, socialism and a society free from exploitation and oppression.
At the same time the white workers, under the leadership of the Nat-Labour Pact Government began shifting to the right. Bribes and sops in the form of votes, trade union rights, skilled job monopoly, and thus protection against black employment in skilled jobs, made the white workers the aristocrats of labour.
The formation in 1930 of the South African Trades and Labour Council (SAT&LC) by Andrews and Bunting and others was a triumph for the progressive forces because the Council admitted bona fide trade unions irrespective of racial composition.
The valiant battles of communists and progressives during the 1920s and the 1930s in the face of state and state-inspired fascist opposition are a credit to their dedication to the cause of the working class. Trade unionists like Andrews, Bunting, Solly Sachs, Gana Makabeni, Benny Weinbren, H.A. Naidoo, Gladstone Tshume, Ray Alexander, Piet Huyser, George Poonen, and S.B. Mungal are among the many who contributed to building the progressive trade union movement.
Out of fear that the workers of their own country would create soviets similar to that of the Soviet Union, the ruling classes the world over aided and abetted the formation of fascist organisations to stem the tide of revolution. Side by side with Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, and Salazar in Europe, other 'little Hitlers' and Pirow in South Africa were given a free hand to organise stormtroopers who engaged in open acts of terrorism and violence against manifestations of change and progress.
The Broederbond, a secret Afrikaner organisation with '12 apostles' at the helm, took control of the NP. It infiltrated the fabric of Afrikaner life. Dr Albert Hertzog and Dr Nico Diedericks, founders of the Reform League, were sworn to freeing the Afrikaner workers from the 'Red menace'. The grey- and black-shirt fascists, swilling in anti-Semitism and anti-blackism, broke up workers' meetings in the 1930s and 1940s. They used force and terror to intimidate the workers. A relentless campaign was launched to detach the Afrikaner worker from the rest of the working class. To this end Diedericks and Hertzog infiltrated the mining, building, glass and other trade unions.
Pirow, the Minister of Justice, waged war on the trade unions. Meetings and leaders were banned, and offices raided. The police were incited by Pirow to use batons and fists freely. The dock-workers of Durban were beaten up and shot at in 1929. In 1938 Pirow air-freighted teargas bombs to the Rhodesian government to quell strikes there. Pirow, the little Fuhrer, was reaching out beyond the borders of South Africa.
The stance of the NP has always been anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist, but the party itself was undergoing changes. Initially a party of agricultural capitalists, it gradually became a spokesman for industrial, financial and banking interests. In the process it became enmeshed with the imperialists, serving their interests as well as advancing its own with imperialist aid.
When the NP came to power in 1948 it dedicated itself to implementing the programme of action of the Reform League adopted in the 1930s. It also carried out the task the Broederbond had set itself of establishing an Afrikaner-dominated Republic in which all other racial groups would be subordinate. The cornerstone of the programme was a war against communism. Under the pretext of fighting communism the government passed the Suppression of Communism Act in 1950, which defines communism and communist activity in such wide terms that even avowed anti-communists have fallen foul of that law.
Hundreds of people were subjected to bans, house arrest, deportations and imprisoned for offences designed to control the limited rights of the people. Seventy-five trade unionists were placed on the banned list by 1950 and they were forced to resign their trade union and other political positions. Twenty-three SACTU officials appeared on charges of High Treason in 1956. During 1963, 35 SACTU officials were held under the ninety-day detention law and large numbers were sentenced to long terms for so-called 'sabotage' and 'terrorism'. Between 1963 and 1965, 200 political trials were held, involving among others, trade unionists. Over 2 000 were brought before the courts. Altogether, 49 were sentenced to death, 15 to life imprisonment and about 1 300 to terms of imprisonment totalling 8 000 years.
The Nat government's onslaught against every vestige of opposition was a continuation and hardening of the process started by its predecessors. Legislative enactments and administrative measures apart, the Nats penetrated the trade unions, especially the larger ones. They captured the Mine Workers Union. After banning Piet Huyter, they successfully penetrated the Building Workers' Union. They formed the Blankebeskermingbond in 1948. A splinter Clothing Workers' Union was a direct result of the process of white-anting. It was the forerunner of the fragmentation of the trade unions that the Nat government prescribed through law after it came to power in 1948.
The wholesale banning order and the removal of dedicated communists from office weakened the trade union movement to such an extent that it paved the way for the triumph of the right wing.
The Trade Union Movement Cracks Under the Whip
Six Pretoria unions with 13 000 members disaffiliated from the Trades and Labour Council in April 1947 on the issue of African trade union affiliation. They formed a separate co-ordinating body. In 1950, after the Suppression of Communism Act was passed, 23 trade unions with a membership of 100 000 disaffiliated on the same issue, leaving the Trades and Labour Council with only 83 000 members.
A final breach occurred in 1954 when the Trades and Labour Council itself was dissolved on the race question and a co-ordinating body, the Trade Union Council of SA (TUCSA), exclusively for registered trade unions of whites, Indian and Coloureds, was formed. The crux again was the question of African workers.
Before the Trades and Labour Council was dissolved a mass so-called 'Unity Conference' of registered trade unions was held in Cape Town in 1954. It was the biggest conference of this kind and represented over 400 000 white, Indian and Coloured workers, ranging from mines and railways to industry, commerce and fisheries. The trade unions from the extreme right and the left attended to fight the proposed Industrial Conciliation Bill, which sought to mangle the trade unions by splitting them on racial lines, to prescribe job reservation and to set up an Industrial Tribunal to be the final arbiter on disputes between employers and workers. This measure was carefully thought out by the Nats and was consistent with their declared aims and that of the Broederbond way back in the 1930s to cripple the trade union movement and make it impotent.
George McCormack, leader of the South African Federation of Trade Unions, explained the treachery and shameless collusion of a ministerial committee of trade unionists that had been created in 1953. This committee not only accepted most of the contents of the Bill in principle, but also had actually collaborated in formulating parts of the Bill. McCormack said that it was therefore senseless to make any representations to the government because the content of the Bill was virtually inspired by the (white) trade unionists. Among those who served on the ministerial committee were George McCormack himself, Tommy Rutherford (Typographical Union), Ben Caddy (Engine Drivers), J. Ellis (Mines), and Tom Murray (Boilermakers). All the trade unionists were from the right or centre, which accepted the tenets of apartheid in the trade union movement as long as control of the movement remained in the hands of the whites. The conference elected a delegation of about 20, made up mainly of those very ministerial committee members, to meet the Minister of Labour to effect certain changes to the Bill. As was expected, the Minister refused to make the changes.
The white trade unionists and the white-led unions of Coloureds and Indian workers rejected strikes or any form of action to pressure the government to withdraw aspects of the Bill. Instead, the conference decided to issue leaflets to 'educate' the workers. Nothing more was heard of this process of 'education'.
The left trade unionists who attended conference fought hard to convince the delegates that it was incumbent on the white and black workers to unite to fight the drastic inroads the Nat government was making into the trade union movement. In 1953 the government passed the Native Labour (Settlement of Disputes) Act, which, according to the Minister of Labour, was intended to 'bleed the African trade unions to death'. But the trade union bureaucrats present at the conference, reared in the school of class collaboration and opportunism, would not hear of any fight. They shunned militant struggle and were ready to collaborate in meeting the wishes of the government to destroy trade union unity.
The Trades and Labour Council experienced a slow and agonizing death at the hands of the right-wing trade unionists through several breakaways. In 1954 it faced final strangulation, not by the right, but by centrists like Dulcie Hartwell, Johanna Cornelius, Anna Scheepers, Carl Meyer, Louis Nelson. Amid crocodile tears from these hypocrites, the Trades and Labour Council was laid to rest by a narrow card vote majority. The only co-ordinating body that opened its doors to blacks and whites on equal terms was dissolved. What is important is that there was no legal bar, even in the Industrial Conciliation Bill, preventing blacks and whites joining a single co-ordinating body.
The formation of TUCSA in 1954, which barred African trade unions from affiliation clearly demonstrated the readiness of white workers and some non-whites to sacrifice trade unions principles at the altar of apartheid.
The Federation of Free African Trade Unions of South Africa (FOFATUSA) formed in 1960, was a co-ordinating body which embraced mainly those African trade unions which were branches of trade unions affiliated to TUCSA, e.g. the African Tobacco Workers' Union and the African Clothing Workers' Union. Most of these unions are tied hand and foot to the registered parent unions. They occupy the same offices and depend heavily on their parent unions. In a policy declaration FOFATUSA stated that it was interested only in the economic problems of the workers and would not 'meddle in politics'. When SACTU refused to accept 30 000 pounds offered by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) because too many strings were attached to the offer, these funds were channelled to TUCSA to organise to organise African workers.
When FOFATUSA established a branch in Durban in 1960, SACTU met its leader, 'Dum-dum' Nyaose, 'expressed regret that FOFATUSA was organising African textile workers whose union was an affiliate of SACTU'. There were also a number of other cases of 'overlapping' due to Nyaose's deliberate attempt to 'organise' the already organised workers of SACTU. Serious conflict, which took on a racial character, arose among Indian and African workers in the textile industry. The problem was only solved by SACTU's intervention. Although Nyaose assured SACTU that he would refrain from any activities that may undermine SACTU, in practice he did the opposite.
SACTU at the time was at the height of its strength and all attempts to weaken it, whether these came from the employers, the police or disrupters, failed miserably. However, state action against SACTU and its affiliates, particularly through banning orders, imprisonment and police harassment, paved the way for the ascendancy of the right wing.
TUCSA and FOFATUSA
In 1970 TUCSA, which had a liaison committee with FOFATUSA, decided to admit FOFATUSA unions to demonstrate its 'non-racial' character with the object of regaining admission for South Africa to the ILO. Earlier the ILO had kicked out the country of its apartheid policies. Moreover, TUCSA credentials were challenged by SACTU delegates at the ILO on the basis that TUCSA was not representative of the workers of South Africa, as it excluded African workers.
The admission of African trade unions to TUCSA was no doubt a step forward and a victory for the progressive forces. But the TUCSA-FOFATUSA détente rankled with opportunism, because African trade unions were being admitted purely for the sake of expediency and would be sacrificed whenever it became expedient to do so.
TUCSA's adventure into 'non-racialism' ended in a tragi-comedy. Instead of appreciating the true intentions of the TUCSA leadership, which was to get South Africa back into the ILO, 23 affiliated unions with about 86 000 members immediately disaffiliated from TUCSA as they wanted no association whatsoever with African unions. The irony was doubled when the ILO refused to accept the ruse and continued its ban on South Africa. The TUCSA leadership was embarrassed and, thinking not of the principles involved but of the affiliation fees lost, decided to sacrifice the African workers. A number of FOFATUSA unions disaffiliated from TUCSA even before the axe fell on them to 'save the TUCSA embarrassment'. However, a few of the unions however to disaffiliate and preferred to be kicked out. African unions once again became a football in the apartheid game.
The Formation of SACTU
Although the Trades and Labour Council was non-racial, it did not enjoy the whole-hearted support of the African trade unions and the smaller trade unions of the Indian and Coloured workers. This was because these unions did not have the financial means to pay affiliation fees and other dues to the Trades and Labour Council. This raises an important question of the financial strength of black and white trade unions respective.
Most of the white unions have established Industrial Councils with employers in their respective trades and industries. These permanent bodies deal with all workers' problems and negotiate agreements for wages and other condition of work. Both employers and the unions pay equal amounts to maintain premises, full-time functionaries, inspectors, etc. of the Industrial Council. Workers' subscriptions are deducted from their pay packets through stop orders.
In many instances where the closed-shop principle operates (and even where it does not), the prospective employer insists on the trade union membership card before a worker can obtain work in an industry.
Union-employer relationships have to be good, otherwise the employer could easily conspire to smash the Industrial Council and thereby the closed-shop and stop order agreements.
Trade unions over the years have accumulated assets worth millions of rands. They own buildings, cars, and plush offices with furniture and equipment. Many full-time functionaries of the unions earn salaries that put them into the ranks of the upper-middle class. A few Coloured and Indian trade unions, especially those under white leadership, like the Garment Workers' Union, also own buildings and other assets. But many of the unions, while enjoying Industrial Council facilities, do not have large assets.
It is not a virtue to be a poor union with no assets. The workers are entitled to every facility that can be extracted from the employers to strengthen their collective bargaining position. Unfortunately some trade unionists regard accumulation of assets as an end in itself and not as a means to advance the cause of the workers to a better life. There are many trade unions with progressive leaderships that have waged militant struggles and yet were able to maintain their assets, the Industrial Councils and other privileges intact through sheer strength and strict adherence to working-class principle. Most union leaders, but by no means all of them, are full-time functionaries with an eye to keeping their lucrative positions. They do not want to antagonise the employers and the State. They are afraid of 'politics' or strikes or anything extra-parliamentary. They therefore take the line of least resistance. Some become cynical in their attitude towards the smaller black unions and sacrifice trade union principles and workers' unity.
The majority of unions of the African, Indian and Coloured workers are small. The African unions in particular are not legally recognised and do not enjoy any trade union facilities. The State and employers do everything to undermine the already precarious position of these unions. Trade union subscriptions collected by hand by shop stewards are not regular. The result is that functionaries are poorly paid or sometimes not paid at all, or that rent is not paid, which means eviction. Police raids, confiscation of documents, bans and arrest of leaders, and deportations are the order amongst black workers.
Because African trade unions were unable to afford the high affiliation fees, they remained outside the Trades and Labour Council and formed the Council of Non-European Trade Unions (CNETU) in 1940. Because the unions paid a nominal affiliation fee the membership CNETU grew to about 100 000 by 1946. The mineworkers' strike and, more particularly, the Nat government's onslaught reduced the membership of CNETU.
When the Trades and Labour Council was dissolved and the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU) formed in March 1955, CNETU disbanded and its affiliated unions joined SACTU. While provision was made in SACTU's constitution for unions that could afford to pay full affiliation fees, those unions in financial difficulties were allowed to maintain their affiliation by paying a nominal fee. Financial considerations, while important to SACTU and its affiliates, were not the main criterion. SACTU set itself the task to organise and the lead the workers to higher wages, a better life and to freedom. All other factors were subsidiary. At the inaugural conference of SACTU it was decided to establish SACTU, which would identify itself closely with the struggle for freedom. After all, the workers were oppressed as blacks and exploited as slave labour these twin evils could only be resisted if the workers threw their full weight behind the political and economic battles.
Therefore SACTU became a member of the Congress Alliance, took part in the Congress of the People (COP) in 1955, in various general strikes and other national campaigns of the Alliance. Reciprocally, the fellow Congresses actively helped to organise the unorganised workers into SACTU under the slogan 'Trade union and Congress membership are the spear and shield of the workers'.
Why SACTU was Formed
The struggle of workers for political rights is not unusual. In 1913 Mahatma Gandhi led a passive resistance campaign, which involved a nation-wide strike of sugar, mine, railway and other workers. The loss of the municipal franchise, the threat to freehold land and citizenship rights, discrimination in jobs, the constant threat of repatriation to India and, above all, the three pounds poll tax were the issues that galvanised the workers into action. Thousands were jailed and victimised. The three pounds poll tax was withdrawn and other concessions were made.
The International Socialist League, and later the CPSA, were the political arm of the workers. In the 1922 Rand Strike the workers had to resort to arms to press their demands. The Nat-Labour coalition of 1924 is an example of political pressure by workers to gain economic advantages. The influence the workers enjoyed at the ballot box assured them a sympathetic ear in Parliament.
It would be tedious to enunciate the innumerable hardships of the black workers that make political action inevitable. Yet there are trade unionists, some of them are honest, who believe that trade union and political struggles should be kept apart. They blame SACTU for bringing the government down upon itself. As already shown, SACTU's policy was correct. If it adopted any other course it would have been no different to TUCSA or any social welfare institution.
To convince the protagonists of 'economic only' policy for the trade unions otherwise, here is an sample of the black workers' burden which makes political action a necessity:
Ø. Urban Areas Act: 'No Bantu shall remain for more than 72 hours in a prescribed area unless he produces proof ' - tens of thousands of Africans are prosecuted for infringements of this edict. In 1970, 621 000 were charged for pass law offences.
Ø. Bantu Labour Regulations: 'No African may leave his homeland unless he is registered at the Tribal Labour Office ' - this is the instrument that restricts freedom of movement.
Ø. Native Building Workers Act: Africans may become builders only in their own areas.
Ø. Native Labour (Settlement of Disputes) Act: ensures no right to collective bargaining by denying trade union rights to Africans. Only 'yellow' employer-chosen factory committees are allowed.
Ø. Industrial Conciliation Act: prescribes job reservation which has potentially affected 208 000 blacks since the determinations were made. This law encourages splinter unions, makes trade union donations to political parties illegal and makes strikes difficult.
. Through governmental pressure and through the medium of white-led trade unions, mixed unions either formed separate branches or split on the basis of race. The furniture, building, distributive, laundry, textile, engineering, motor, liquor and catering, electrical, woodworkers and many other unions agreed to split.
. The result of the splitting is that while white members and mixed unions decreased by 91 per cent, Coloured and Indian registered registered an increase of 80 per cent. The racial compartmentalisation of workers, typical of the divide and rule policy, is proceeding unabated.
Ø. Apprenticeship Law and Colour Bar: bars Africans from apprenticeship in skilled trades and occupations.
Ø. Physical Planning Act: gives the government powers to allocate or restrict African labour to certain areas and to certain employers.
Ø. Group Areas Act: all blacks are segregated into locations or townships, most built long distances away from work places. For about half the blacks no alternative accommodation was provided after removal.
Ø. Social and cultural: schools and universities are segregated. The best and most advanced are reserved for the whites while the blacks are allotted to institutions which are claimed to be commensurate with their 'state of civilisation'. Bantu Education envisages that Africans 'would not rise above certain forms of labour'. This sounds ludicrous after 325 years of white 'civilising mission'.
. Notwithstanding the recent token of lifting the ban on blacks in certain public places, most of the areas of culture, learning, art, music, entertainment and leisure remain closed to blacks. In any event, even if they were open, only a few blacks would benefit. The existing system of class exploitation, segregation and attendant degradation of most of the blacks to the status of low-paid labourers make it well-nigh impossible for the blacks to scale the heights that the majority of the whites have attained. Only the overthrow of the system, which denies the blacks basic human rights, will redress the wrongs and bring about a change in values.
The result of all these and other repressive measures is that the legal existence of SACTU has become virtually impossible. The trade union movement is not highly organised and is divided. Of the economically active population at the end of 1968 only 30,3 per cent of the whites, 16 per cent of the Coloureds, 21,2 per cent of the Indians and only 0,3 per cent of the Africans were organised into trade unions. Of the 582 927 organised workers 426 000 are whites, 108 000 Coloureds, 32 655 Indians and 16 040 Africans. One need not go far to seek reasons for the cheapness of black labour.
From the time of its formation SACTU realised that it was working against great odds. Because SACTU affiliates were largely the African unions, which were not recognised by law, the employers were encouraged by the Department of Labour and the police to ignore SACTU's demands and to dismiss its leading workers and in this way destroy the trade unions.
What was envisaged under the Native Labour (Settlement of Disputes) Act was a panoply of employer-chosen stooge workers' committees that would displace the trade unions, destroy collective bargaining and place the workers at the continued mercy of their employers. SACTU carried out one of the most well-organised and effective campaigns against these sham committees. The result was that from 1953 to 1970 only 24 such committees were formed and none of them ever functioned properly. The workers had no confidence in them.
Far from killing the African trade unions, SACTU membership grew from 16 000 in 1955 to 53 323 in 1961, and consisted of 498 whites, 12 384 Coloureds, 1 650 Indians and 38 791 Africans. In 1961 SACTU had 65 officials and functionaries. Its constituent bodies at all levels were non-racial and it remains the only non-racial trade union centre.
In the face of concerted employer and government hostility SACTU and its unions have had to resort to strikes and other weapons, but only after exhausting all attempts to bring employers to the negotiating table.
The food and canning and the textile workers in all major centres, the dock workers in Cape Town, Durban and Port Elizabeth, clothing workers in the border industrial areas, match, transport, municipal, nurses and hospital workers and many others engaged in numerous militant battles. The campaign for a minimum wage of one pound a day launched by SACTU in 1958 was met with a stock reply that the economy of the country would grind to a standstill if SACTU's 'preposterous demands' were met. Yet a number of workers are earning this today, and the economy has not collapsed.
Practically every strike brought together the police, the Department of Labour, the Industrial Council and even some trade unions into an unholy alliance. It was typical for the cause of a strike to be completely ignored. Instead, the workers were arrested, charged, fined or imprisoned, ejected from their homes or endorsed out of an area altogether. Often the police brutally assaulted the workers. The Durban dock workers and the Amato textile workers of Benoni were victims of such police brutality.
In the face of such concerted action SACTU, with the help of the Congress Alliance, had to resort to extra-trade union forms of struggle. One of the methods was the economic boycott. Blacks, who constitute the biggest market and therefore commanded a substantial purchasing power, were called upon to use this power in their economic and political battles.
Combining Trade Union and other Forms of Action.
Langeberg Kooperasie Beperk (LKB)
One of the earliest boycotts launched in 1957 by SACTU and the Congresses was against the Langeberg Kooperasie Beperk, a food and canning co-operative in the Cape. The Congresses held that LKB was controlled by members of the NP and as such aided and abetted apartheid. They demanded that the firm recognise the Food and Canning Workers Union, grant the union all facilities that are accorded to trade unions and that workers leaders employed in the factories should not be victimised. The people of South Africa were called upon to boycott the products of LKB until it met the union and settled the dispute with the workers. It was also demanded the firm repudiate apartheid and earn the support of the blacks.
Within a short while there was a country-wide boycott. LKB was panic-stricken and negotiated an agreement with the Congresses. They agreed to recognise African and registered unions and to accord them all trade union facilities. They agreed to reinstate workers who were dismissed after a strike in Port Elizabeth. The Congresses insisted that LKB negotiate directly with the union on all points agreed upon. It was only after such negotiations with the unions that the boycott was called off. The firm produced its share register to prove that, amongst others, it had Jewish and English shareholders and was therefore not a Nat-controlled body.
Beacon Sweet Workers
Perhaps the best example of Africa-wide trade union solidarity coming to the aid of South African workers was the case of workers employed at the Durban confectionery works of Beacon, which dismissed 500 Indian strikers and replaced them with African labour. The workers were striking for higher wages after attempts to negotiate a settlement had failed. The firm tried to play off African against Indian workers a notorious trick to create racial strife and confusion among the workers. But Africa was not fooled.
SACTU contacted trade unions in Africa, which in turn contacted employers in their respective countries dealing with Beacons to boycott the firm's products. Beacon faced the united protest of the continental union movement and also the importers of its products. The trade unions of Ghana, Tanzania, Malawi, Congo, Kenya and other countries demanded the immediate reinstatement of the dismissed workers and that the company address the workers' grievances. South African retailers also joined the campaign. Beacon beat a hasty retreat, reinstated the workers and made several concessions.
King George V TB Hospital
Black nurses employed at the King George V Hospital were not registered as nurses but as nurse aides. As a result they did not qualify for membership to the South African Nursing Council and the higher wages earned by its members. The Nursing Council, at that time, maintained a rigid colour bar and acquiesced in discriminatory practices such as differential salary scales for black and white nurses. SACTU organised the nurses into the Hospital Workers' Union in 1957. Within a year the union membership grew to embrace the nurses and other workers at King Edward and McCords hospitals and many nursing homes.
Apart from the low wages at King George, the quality of food was poor. Nurses complained of unauthorised deductions from their wages for minor infringements of rules. Above all they were made to do domestic work and gardening in the homes of the white senior staff. Their bitterest experience was the corporal punishment that some of the nurses received on their buttocks for infringement of arbitrary rules.
In 1959 the Hospital Workers Union took up the nurses' grievances with Dr Dormer, the Hospital Superintendent, who refused to negotiate. Attempts to use the good offices of the Catholic Church also failed to produce results.
After careful consideration the union decided that a strike would hit the patients all TB sufferers more than it would the authorities. In addition, the nurses might incur the wrath of the public at large. A simple and unique form of action was embarked up. The nurses would be able to remain at work to carry out their duties as usual. But they would refuse to accept their monthly wages. They would also boycott the hospital canteen.
SACTU and the union mounted one of the biggest campaigns to obtain public support. SACTU collected food daily and the nurses were roped into the preparation. At the end of the first month a long procession of hundreds of nurses marched past the pay offices but refused to accept the wages proffered. The disciplined column of nurses marching like soldiers going into battle, proud and determined in their bearing, captivated the hearts of the public throughout the world. The photographs were published in numerous countries.
The response was electric. The trade union and nursing bodies in England, France, USA, Canada, the socialist countries, Asia, Africa and Australia inundated the hospital with telegrams and protests. For three months the nurses refused their pay and food. Dr Dormer, an international expert on TB, was refused a visa to Uganda to address a conference on TB due to be held in Kampala.
World pressure forced the government to appoint a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the grievances of the nurses. Higher wages, improved food and other circumstances in working conditions followed.
King Edward VIII and McCords Hospitals
The militant struggle of the King George V nurses inspired the King Edward VIII Hospital. There was a 100 per cent boycott of the meals supplied to them. After three months the hospital superintendent settled the dispute by improving food and other working conditions.
The non-nursing hospital workers at McCords, the most poorly paid workers in the hospitals, were inspired into action. Mass pressure forced the superintendent to agree to improve the wages and working conditions.
On 26 June 1959 SACTU, together with the Congresses, launched a national potato boycott. Over 60 000 people attended the floodlit rally at Currie's Fountain in Durban for the launch. Open-air meetings were held in all the major centres.
The boycott was a protest against slave labour conditions on the farms. There was abundant evidence that the pass laws and other petty law offenders were hired to farmers in areas like Bethal where they were treated inhumanly. The food was miserable and the workers slept on cold concrete floors covered in sacks. They wore sacks for clothing. Disease and death were common. Those who tried to escape were flogged, sometimes to death, to intimidate others. Those who died were buried in the potato fields. The blood and bones of these bewildered prisoners and workers grew the potatoes on which the populace fed.
There were angry protests. Eyewitness accounts of the atrocities were given wide publicity by Ruth First in New Age, Henry Nxumalo in the Drum and in the Rand Daily Mail. The State persisted in hiring out prison labour to the farmers, who in turn were its supporters. This goes on to this day, albeit on a slightly reduced scale with perhaps greater finesse.
Through the mass boycott potatoes, a staple diet of the black masses, were rotting on the farms and in warehouses. The government appointed a Commission of Inquiry into farm labour conditions. Farmers themselves began to effect changes. The boycott was called off after three months.
United Tobacco Co. Ltd
One of the first boycott campaigns launched by SACTU and the Congress movement was against the products of the United Tobacco Company in 1957.
In the 1950s the Durban branch of the UTC employed only African staff, while administration was wholly white. The Durban workers were paid the lowest wages in the industry. By virtue of the organisational strength of the white and Coloured workers in the registered unions in the rest of the country, they and the African workers in these areas commanded a relatively higher wage. (Agreements arrived at by the registered unions are automatically extended to cover African workers to prevent unfair competition.) But because the Durban workers were all Africans, their union was not recognised and wages remained low.
All attempts by the African Tobacco Workers' Union to obtain higher wages and recognition failed. The Department of Labour stood behind the UTC. The workers decided to remain at the workbenches but to cut production. After all, no law said that a worker had to produce a certain quantity of cigarettes.
The managing director dismissed all the workers and called the police, who promptly arrested them for illegally striking. In reality the firm should have been charged for locking out the workers. The workers were found guilty and sentenced to a fine or imprisonment. The case was taken on appeal, but this failed too.
During the protracted trial, the UTC shifted its production to its Cape Town and Johannesburg branches. Although some of the workers in these two cities refused overtime for a while, their action was insufficient to help the Durban workers. The registered union raised funds and paid the legal fees, but did not call upon its members for a solidarity strike.
The firm dismissed a large number of workers. These workers were hounded by the police and endorsed out of Durban. Many had their passes endorsed 'striker', so that could not get jobs elsewhere.
SACTU and the Congresses launched a nation-wide boycott of UTC's products. The strike, followed by the boycott, shook the firm's shares on the stock exchange. Because it was an auxiliary of an international combine with headquarters in London, this had repercussions overseas. London started investigations into the Durban branch. The Managing Director was fired. Improved wages and conditions of work followed. UTC reinstated a number of workers whose skills it needed very much.
Although many of the workers were dismissed, the workers were at least happy that their class brothers benefited from their struggle.
Since its formation in 1957, the African Baking Workers Union was confronted with the problem of securing employer recognition for the union. The company dismissed leading trade unionists to intimidate the other workers and prevent them from joining the union.
Dismissed workers, especially those taking part in trade union activity or strikes and go slows, are endorsed out of the urban areas and sent back to the Reserves. This may result in the loss of a home in the urban township and in becoming a 'marked man' in the eyes of the labour bureau. Collective action, executed consciously and with determination, is the only answer and guarantee of success.
After painstaking organising over two years the union succeeded in uniting the majority of the workers in Durban and Pietermaritzburg. It then served demands on the employer for recognition of the union, higher wages and other improvements. It also sought direct representation on the Industrial Council. The firm resisted negotiating with the union and SACTU intervened.
Bakers Ltd then agreed to meet SACTU and the unions. The background of this particular meeting is essential. The period from 1958, which culminated in the country-wide crises in 1960, was one of the most revolutionary in the country's history. These years also saw SACTU's growth into a dynamic and militant movement. SACTU membership in Durban alone increased by over 16 000 and Congress membership also grew by the same amount, which showed that the workers joined both the trade unions and Congress. SACTU and its affiliated unions won increased wages throughout 1959. Pressure for national action for higher wages, trade union rights and a better life was mounting. The anti-pass campaign was hotting up. The Potato Boycott launched on 26 June 1959 spread over the country like wildfire. This was the atmosphere in which the meeting between SACTU, the union and Bakers Ltd took place.
Bakers Ltd. agreed to the principal demands of the union and proposed that the union present its demand for higher wages directly to the Industrial Council.
It came as a surprise to the union when, instead of implementing the terms of the agreement, the firm blandly informed the union that it could not accord it recognition and that it would entertain no further correspondence with it.
Although the baking industry was a so-called 'essential industry' in which all strikes were prohibited, the workers were now clamouring for action. Finally it was decided that a boycott of the firm's products be launched.
The boycott was launched at a mass rally. In the few days it spread rapidly. People refused to buy Bakers' bread, biscuits and cakes. Overnight the people switched their preferences. The white residents of Durban were compelled to join the boycott because their domestic servants refused to buy Bakers' products. The Domestic Workers' Union played an important part in spreading the boycott campaign in the white areas by switching products without their employer's knowledge or permission. The boycott was complete throughout Natal. Support came from the rest of the country.
Government stepped in. Initially it restricted the supply of yeast and wheat quotas allocated to firms the previous year. All the firms, except Bakers, exhausted their yeast and wheat supplies within weeks. With the new restrictions they had to cut back production or close down altogether for lack of supplies. Their specific areas of delivery were prescribed for each bakery. No exceptions of the rule were permitted. It appears that the government control boards heavily subsidised Bakers for the losses it sustained through the boycott, so much so that it recorded normal profits in that particular financial year. However, Bakers' shares took a plunge. Without state help it would been in grave financial difficulties.
An ironic situation arose when those detained under the Emergency Regulations in 1960 had to eat Bakers' products throughout their five months detention. No other products were available. The prisons, hospitals, police stations and other government institutions as well as welfare organisations bought Bakers' products to save the firm.
The boycott shook all the employers and the government and forced companies to recognise the importance of black purchasing power.
Although Bakers Ltd. did not recognise the union, the workers received higher wages and conditions of work improved. Fortunately for Bakers, the State of Emergency intervened and a large number of SACTU leaders were arrested. State repression against SACTU and its unions and the banning of the ANC weakened the trade union movement and the Congress movement. A period of reaction set in.
Hammarsdale and Charlestown.
The Hammarsdale Clothing Manufacturers are situated in a 'border area'4 and employed over 500 workers in 1958 when SACTU organised them into the African Clothing Workers Union.
The workers earned wages that ranged from 50 cents per week to the princely sum of R3 per week. The company boasted that it gave the workers a half a pint of milk with bread and jam for breakfast. It held that the workers were learners and their productivity was low as compared with urban workers.
The company firm closed two of its factories in Durban to open a single factory in Hammarsdale. The factory enjoyed large government subsidies, and tax and railway concessions. It received loans at low interest rates from the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC). It had plans for expansion, which were entirely dependent on the rate of profitability of the existing enterprise.
The union submitted a memorandum to the employers showing that the low wages forced the workers into perpetual state of starvation. When the firm failed to respond to their demands and threatened reprisals against the 'agitators', the workers went on strike. The company, with the backing of the entire state machinery, decided against any negotiations with the union or SACTU.
The workers were arrested and charged with illegally striking. Two officers of SACTU, Moses Mabida and myself, were arrested and charged with inciting the strike. The company threatened to move its factory back to Durban if the workers did not return to work unconditionally. To sow confusion, officials of the African Clothing Workers' Union in Johannesburg, who had nothing to do with the workers' strike, appeared on the scene and alleged that I was personally intent on ensuring that the factory in Hammarsdale closed and moved to Durban so that 'my brothers and sisters could get a job there'. These two disrupters from Johannesburg, Lucy Mvubelo and Sarah Chicha, both members of FOFATUSA, did everything to incite people to racial strife and begged the workers to return to work. The workers were infuriated at the lies spread by these two women and threatened to assault them. The two hastily returned to Johannesburg.
Government was not going to allow its border industries scheme, which was still in the experimental stage and closely tied to its policy of separate development and decentralisation of industry, to collapse.
The company played tough for twelve days. During this time it railed some of its machinery and equipment to Durban. Workers were told that their cause was lost. The intimidation tactic did not work. The twelve scabs in the factory dwindled to six. The workers remained steadfast. For rural workers with little trade union experience this was remarkable achievement.
At the end of these twelve days the firm capitulated. During the negotiations, attended by the unions, SACTU and the Congresses, the company granted higher wages and improved conditions of work, as well as union recognition. It re-employed all the striking workers.
Veka Clothing Manifacturers
Veka Clothing Manufacturers, owned by Dr Albert Wessels, was originally established in Standerton, where it employed about 600 Afrikaner women. The firm closed the Standerton factory and dismissed the 600 women to establish itself in Charlestown a border industrial area. In Charlestown it employed a small White administration staff and over 600 African workers. Its shift to the Charlestown border industrial area meant freedom from union rates of pay. It also meant longer working hours, less holidays and tougher working conditions. Above all, the firm did not have to bother with trade unions as Africans could not be legally organised. The employers try to justify harsher conditions with the 'lower productivity' of rural workers. Trainee workers undoubtedly produced less but they could not be expected to be trainees in perpetuity.
The dismissed Afrikaner women begged in the streets of Johannesburg in protest against their unemployment. The Garment Workers' Union campaigned to close border industry factories. But SACTU felt that the union movement should recognise border areas as an inevitable result of decentralisation. As such, workers had to be organised into trade unions and their skills improved to the level of urban workers. SACTU organised the clothing workers at Charlestown and improved their wages and working conditions. During the general strikes of 1958 and 1961 the Charlestown workers registered a 100 per cent work stoppage.
Match Workers Union
Since its formation in 1957 the Match Workers' Union struggled for recognition of its union. Lion Match Co. refused. When the union submitted demands for higher wages in 1959, the employers rejected these.
Instead of striking the union decided the workers should en masse seek an interview to press their demands with their management during lunch hour. While the workers and management were locked in a discussion, a factory siren summoned the workers back to work. The manager abruptly ended the interview and ordered his workers to go back to work. Instead of continuing with the negotiations, the manager summoned the police. They came in huge trucks, scores of cars and vans, fully armed with guns and truncheons. The Special Branch and the Department of Labour added to the mighty show of force. The police and government officials ordered the workers back to work. They ignored the workers' demand that the discussions should be allowed to continue until a settlement was reached. The police gave the workers the usual three-minute warning. Even before the three minutes were over, the workers were arrested en masse. Some of the workers trickled back to work. Some did so when they saw their colleagues being arrested. This was a fatal error on the part of the workers.
The company offered sleeping accommodation on the factory premises for those who went back to work. This was a device to beat the pickets. Management worked day and night to get the new workers trained. The firm's branches in Johannesburg and Cape Town made up lost production. Meanwhile hundreds of workers were charged with striking, found guilty and fined.
Although a large number of workers were dismissed the firm granted higher wages and improved conditions of work. This was a victory. Lion Match Co. was a subsidiary of a large listed company. As a result of the strike, its share price plunged. This induced a British firm to make a successful bid to buy a large chunk of the firm's shares. Management changes followed.
Municipal Workers' Union
A placard demonstration was conducted by the Municipal Workers' Union to back their demands for recognition and improvements. The Durban Municipality, reputed to be liberal towards its employees, flatly refused to recognise the African Municipal Workers Union. In 1959 it was one of the lowest paying employers of black labour.
The union posted a copy of its memorandum to the City Council to welfare organisations, ratepayers' organisations and prominent individuals, (in fact everyone who enjoyed the municipal vote) and urged them to pressure the Council. The campaign received wide publicity. The workers did not strike, as they were concerned about losing public support, but they did gear themselves for action should it become necessary.
Pressure mounted. The municipal authorities ultimately granted increases and improvements. At the instigation of the Special Branch of the police and the Department of Labour the municipality chose a works committee which would represent the workers. Along with 23 other employer-chosen Works Committees throughout South Africa this committee provided another dummy institution. The union continued to grow in strength until the mass arrests under the State of Emergency led to its officials being arrested and later banned.
When unemployment became acute in 1960, SACTU organised the unemployed into a 'union of unemployed', which recruited members, and held mass rallies and demonstrations to expose the harsh conditions of the unemployed.
African workers earning below R10 did not receive any benefits, and farm labourers and domestic servants were excluded altogether. Unemployment pay for those who received it was unsatisfactory. The workers wanted jobs, social security or alternatively decent benefits, which would keep them and their families alive.
In accordance with these demands, the union sought an interview with the Minister of Labour, who promptly arranged by telegram for such a meeting to be held in Pretoria. The delegation left for Pretoria amid a blaze of publicity because it was unusual for a government Minister to meet a delegation of blacks - unemployed blacks at that.
Never did the government get into such a diplomatic muddle. The delegation, led by SACTU chairman Steven Dlamini, was made up of four black men and one black woman. When the delegation was already on its way to Pretoria the Minister informed the union that he had another appointment and would therefore not be available. The delegates, who had met SACTU officials in Johannesburg first, got a police reception. SACTU offices were raided and documents and the memorandum that the union had prepared for the Minister were confiscated. When the delegates arrived at Laboria Buildings in Pretoria, the entire building and surrounding area was teeming with policemen. As the press from abroad and foreign ambassadors were present, the police were prevented from arresting the delegates and creating an international scandal. No action was taken against the delegates when they used the 'Whites Only' entrance to the building, although they had been directed to use the side 'Black' entrance.
The delegates were told what the Minister had publicly announced that he had another appointment. Nevertheless, the delegates presented a copy of the memorandum to the Secretary for Labour.
Shortly thereafter unemployed white workers in Johannesburg were organised into a similar union by SACTU. At the inaugural meeting held at the Trades Hall many Afrikaner workers tore up their NP membership cards. When they sought an interview, the Minister granted it. But the white delegates pressed home the same demands the black workers had made earlier. In their discussion with the Minister they raised the problem of the black unemployed as well, especially the plight of Africans, who enjoyed no unemployment benefits.
By their action these white unemployed workers did far more than the organised white workers had ever done in a lifetime of trade unionism. The unemployed demonstrated that unity between white and black workers was possible and necessary for saving the working class from exploitation. The unemployed received increased benefits and were paid for a longer period.
When 2 000 dock-workers went on strike for higher wages in 1959 the police retaliated by beating the workers with batons and truncheons. Workers were thrown out of their compounds and the government deported them out of the area. SACTU obtained photos of these police brutalities and had them published in many parts of the world.
In 1942, Johannes 'Zulu' Phungula, a militant leader of the dock-workers, was deported to a lonely area in northern Transvaal and never allowed to return to an urban area. The workers revere him to this day. Since then, the workers have gone on strike several times, but never did they reveal their leaders.
A constant problem was that scab labour from the rural areas filled their places during a strike. Unemployment and starvation in the reserves have made the poor unemployed an easy prey for the labour-recruiting agents and the government's Labour Bureau. The greater the reserve of labour, the lower the wage rates and the easier it became to replace unskilled labour.
In 1959 SACTU appealed to the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU), the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), the British Trade Union Congress (TUC), the All India Federation and other federations for moral and financial help for the dock workers.
Messrs Millard and De Jonge, two representatives of the ICFTU, met SACTU in the presence of senior members of the Liberal Party, among them Mr Alan Paton and Professor Leo Kuper. The ICFTU made any help they would render to SACTU or its affiliates conditional upon their not taking part in 'party politics'. They alleged that, by becoming a member of the Congress Alliance, SACTU was committing its membership to a particular political philosophy. They also alleged that Leslie Messina, the General Secretary of SACTU at the time, as member of the WFTU Executive Committee, committed SACTU to supporting a communist-controlled body. They wanted SACTU to break from these bodies before they would render any help. An offer of 30 000 pounds stirling and other aid was made on these conditions.
SACTU made it clear that its membership of the Congress Alliance was based on the wishes of its affiliated unions and that only its affiliates are free to change the policies and the constitution of SACTU. Nobody from outside should dictate policy to SACTU affiliates and, in any event, the workers should be entitled to take part in political activities in the same way as the British TUC or the American AFL-CIO supported political parties and lobbied members of parliament. Why deny the unions of black workers the same rights? SACTU gave an outline of the political situation in South Africa that made it incumbent on black workers to fight just as hard for their freedom and liberation as for higher wages and trade union rights. SACTU also made it clear that it was honoured to serve on the WFTU Executive Committee. It would gladly accept a similar offer from the ICFTU. SACTU was prepared to co-operate with any trade union body and was prepared to accept any help, provided no strings were attached.
SACTU, a member of the African Trade Union Federation, drew attention to the continental trade unions and the activities of the ICFTU officials. A number of African federations protested and some disaffiliated from the ICFTU.
Recently strenuous efforts were made by TUCSA, represented by Mrs Lucy Mvubelo and Mr Edgar Deane, to get the ICFTU not to support sanctions against South Africa. Both Mvubelo (FOFATUSA) and Deane (TUCSA) are black and were deliberately chosen with government blessing to project a non-racial image abroad and to make the sanctions-busting appeal as effective as possible. These toadies lamented that the black worker would be hardest hit by sanctions. Black workers are in any event hard hit in every possible way without any sanctions. The ICFTU rejected their pleas and called upon members not to emigrate to South Africa or take up skilled work that they said should be given to the blacks.
It is to the credit of the ICFTU that it refused to entertain TUCSA, saying that it was 'neither proper nor productive' for its representative to visit the headquarters of the ICFTU. Obviously bodies like TUCSA have tainted themselves too much with the apartheid brush to be acceptable as the workers' spokesmen.
Responses by Employers and the State
The various forms of struggle of the workers strikes, go-slows, placards demonstrations, mass interviews with employers were by no means the only ones workers used. But the strike however was the common method of struggle.
In the years 1958-1961 the country was in the grip of a series of crises. The economy was in depression, unemployment was rife, inflation was surging, consumers were hits by rising prices and there was pressure for higher wages. During this period there were the general strikes in 1958 and 1961 and a huge number of factory strikes. Natal, Pondoland and Sekhukhuneland were in revolt in 1959. Dipping tanks were smashed, the rural areas were in revolt against the culling of cattle and the betterment schemes, beerhalls and busses were boycotted and Bantu Authorities came under fire. Women demonstrated against pass laws. Workers fearlessly downed tools. The ANC was preparing for a pass-burning campaign. A defiant fervour gripped the country.
It was in this revolutionary atmosphere that employers granted increased wages to avoid the outbreak of a general strike. Even a small firm employing as few as five to ten workers granted its workers between seven shillings and six pence to ten shillings to 'keep them quiet'.
Government intervention by means of the State of Emergency, the banning of the Congresses, the wholesale banning of trade unionists through house arrest and restrictions on their movement followed by wholesale prosecution for sabotage weakened the extra-parliamentary opposition and blunted extra-parliamentary forms of struggle. The State made boycotts or 'economic sabotage' a punishable offence.
A concomitant of the State's action is that it has placed workers at the continued mercy of employers without giving them any countervailing powers to fight exploitation. Employers who used to take notice of their workers' problems during strikes and boycotts have been given the freedom to exploit them. The workers, who have no redress, may be referred to the machinery of the Settlement of Disputes Act. But the workers want nothing to do with dummy institutions that are intended to 'bleed them to death'.
This essay deals at length with boycotts and demonstrations as instruments of struggle to indicate to the workers and the masses at large the methods of struggle that SACTU, deprived of trade union rights and of recognition for its affiliates, had to resort to, to win improvements. The workers may draw some useful lessons from these struggles to advance their cause.
The workers must be cautioned that boycotts, which imply reliance on the public for support, should be used sparingly and called off when the campaign is at its height. Boycotts should be regarded as instruments and not ends in themselves.
The organising of workers is the urgent task that faces the movement. The recent strikes in Natal, Port Elizabeth and Namibia show clearly that given proper leadership the workers will respond. The building of trade unions is a painstaking job and should be undertaken by all those interested in alleviating the sufferings of the workers.
The workers must pressure the homeland governments to grant them trade union rights, which must be extended to cover workers not only in the homelands, but in the Republic as well. Labour is the chief export of the homelands and remittances earned by these workers keep the fires in the homelands burning. At present, labour is exported cheaply to swell the profits of those who employ it. The challenge for the homeland authorities is whether they will continue to connive at the exploitation of their citizens as slave labour.
The Task of the Workers
The key challenge facing us is the building of working class unity. The registered trade unions of white, Coloured and Indian workers is concentrated in TUCSA and the South African Federation of Trade Unions. Both these bodies have sacrificed the African workers to appease apartheid's masters. Yet thousands of Indian and Coloured workers are still affiliated to TUCSA, presumably to maintain trade union unity.
Apartheid in the trade union movement must be scrapped if the workers are to play any significant role in the shaping of a new South Africa. The white workers are intent on maintaining apartheid and white supremacy, while the black workers want it overthrown.
A weak African trade union movement may excuse the Indian and Coloured affiliates of bodies like TUCSA. But their task must not be to passively accept white baasskap and other monstrosities. They must challenge and lay bare every shade of discrimination and apartheid in these bodies. In this connection it is necessary for the black trade unions to organise the unorganised workers and to resuscitate SACTU and its affiliated union and inject new life into them so that SACTU may play once again the proper role as South Africa's premier non-racial trade union centre. This is the urgent task of all class-conscious workers. The political situation is rapidly changing and the workers must not be found napping, since their influence is absolutely necessary to reshape South Africa's destiny.
It is important for the black workers to remember that although white workers are aristocrats of labour and are privileged, they are basically workers. They do not own the means of production, nonetheless they identify themselves so closely with the ruling class that they have become almost indistinguishable from the ruling class itself. They will therefore have to be fought until they are brought to their senses. Only then is unity on a national scale possible with them. But the black workers must be prepared to work with any genuine white trade unionist on the basis of complete equality, not baasskap.
Black Workers' Convention
The emergence of the Black Workers' Convention is a manifestation of the black-white confrontation that apartheid forges. Blacks must inevitably band themselves together in a united front. Ultimately the sheer might of unity of the black trade union movement could help to bring black-white worker unity. A good example is that of the African Mine Workers' Union in pre-independence Zambia only after it grew into a powerful union was unity possible between black and white workers. Respect for the dignity of the black man can only be attained from strength, and not from weakness. Black workers must realise that workers the world over have always been confronted with ruling class hostility. Anti-combination laws of England were used to transport workers to far-off lands for trivial offences. Although South African workers are not hanged for organising trade unions, they and their families are slowly tortured to death by low wages that result from the lack of a right to collective bargaining. The fate of the workers is tenuous as long as the system of exploitation of man by man is allowed to continue. To halt the exploitation the workers will have to organise themselves into powerful trade unions.
Arrests, court action, fines, imprisonment, and victimisation are inevitable in any struggle. The workers must realise that they are many and the employers few, that without them the machines cannot run. Solidarity is their only route to a better life. Recently the workers in Natal, Namibia and Port Elizabeth showed in no uncertain terms their unwillingness to accept poverty wages.
Economic pressure has thrown open doors to skilled and semi-skilled jobs to Indian and Coloured workers. Many are employed in clerical and supervisory work. They are fortunate in that they can organise themselves into trade unions and thus bargain for higher wages. Separate development aims to inculcate in them a herd mentality, a race ego similar to that of the whites, but separate and therefore at a lower plane. But they must quickly disabuse themselves of false privileges and avoid becoming dupes in the race game.
The Indian workers have a militant and progressive past. From the time of Gandhi's leadership of the Natal Indian Congress they have consistently fought discrimination, exploitation and oppression. In 1945, 34 000 workers stood behind the Natal Indian Congress and overthrew the collaborationist Indian leaders. They participated overwhelmingly in the 1946-1948 Passive Resistance Campaign. After the worst race riots in the history of South Africa, fanned by anti-Indian propaganda and the Nat government, which was intent on repatriating the Indians to India, Indian and African workers in 1950 jointly participated in the national stoppage of work in protest against the Suppression of Communism Act and the shooting of workers on May Day 1950. In the Defiance Campaign of 1952, the Congress of the People in 1955, and in the general strikes of 1958 and 1961, the Indian, Coloured and African, as well as some white workers, combined into an even broader front against apartheid.
The Coloured workers, especially of the Western Cape, have had a militant past from the time of Dr Abdurahman and Jimmy la Guma. Their struggles to preserve their voting rights, the fight against dummy institutions and the militant struggles of the workers and their unions are indelibly written into history.
Workers must, of course, accept the skilled jobs and privileges that are available to them. After all, it is their due - the result of years of struggle. But these concessions must not lull the workers into a false sense of security. Job reservation particularly threatens over 108 000 workers who would be fired and replaced by white workers in any crisis situation. Wages between white workers and black workers employed in the same category differ widely. Residential segregation and other forms of discrimination exist. Blacks are condemned to develop separately, which means that they are never to enjoy the fruits of their own creation in a South Africa that they helped to build.
It is therefore incumbent for the Indian and Coloured workers to join hands with their African brothers to fight for a united trade union movement, irrespective of race or colour, and for a truly free and democratic South Africa.
Consistent with the ruling class's divide and rule policy, each African tribal group is being compartmentalised into its own separate homeland with the promise of independence for each. In this context the various tribes working together in the mines, factories and farms are to divide themselves and think ethnically. One is to be a proud Zulu, Xhosa, etc., a proud Indian, a proud Coloured and a proud white. This race and group thinking is not only chauvinistic but also backward. It also conflicts with the demands of a modern economy such as ours.
Tribalism will tear asunder the various tribes, which capitalism has drawn together over the past one hundred years. The African people must not fall into the trap of tribal or group thinking. While a tribal organisation may help to weld the people together it must be utilised as a means to forge greater unity among all workers. Zulus may band themselves together, but this is insufficient until they forge links with the African workers; and until they join hands with Coloured, Indian and white workers. The workers have an excellent opportunity to transcend the tribal set-up by setting in motion trade union organisations in the homelands and urban areas and gradually building them on a national scale.
The white workers, the most highly organised of the working class, are lacking in class-consciousness. Their vote is used to return reactionaries to power only because they preserve the white workers' privileges. The white workers are called upon to defend with their blood the system that relies for its sustenance on the exploitation of the black workers. Their selfishness ipso facto calls forth cruelty and inhumanity perpetrated against blacks.
If the white workers went into the townships and see black children rummaging through dustbins for crumbs, if they saw children with bloated stomachs suffering from kwashiorkor, or if they knew the illiteracy, hunger and constant harassment through efflux and influx controls, arrests, harsh and nightmarish laws, the lack of the most simple amenities, they would understand why the blacks are forging links to fight these hardships. If the Whites could only join on a limited scale the throng demanding freedom and human rights for all irrespective of colour, there would be a change overnight in the entire set up in South Africa. Are white workers prepared to accept the challenge? Posterity will judge them on their present actions.
From a narrow chauvinistic representative of the agricultural community the Nat government has evolved into the foremost spokesman of mining, industrial and financial capitalists. It has used its political power to coax the reluctant mining, banking, agricultural and industrial sectors to toe the apartheid line. They have acquiesced at the balkanisation of South Africa, albeit reluctantly, since apartheid is against their best interests.
Separate development has many facets. Politically it is aimed at keeping the blacks satisfied with exercising political rights in their own areas. Economically it serves to decentralise industry, which hitherto has been concentrated in four major areas. It is envisaged that the homelands would be a reservoir of cheap but trained labour serving the border industries and the greater South Africa.
Over-arching separate development is the perpetuation of the colonial relationship that characterises black-white relationship in South Africa. The white metropolis, controlling as it does the wealthiest areas, rich in resources, worked by both black and white labour and commanding all the communications and strategic networks, places the homelands at the continued mercy of the mother country. In Mangope's Boputhatswana, platinum, copper, fertilisers and other minerals are exploited by South African companies in return for a small tax allowance. Woe betide any homeland if oil or coal were to be found beneath its soil. It is not difficult to guess that two great enticements, mineral wealth and fisheries, are keeping back Namibian independence.
In terms of the Urban Areas and the Physical Planning Acts and in pursuit of separate development the government removed large numbers of Africans from the urban areas to the homelands. Consequently the pressure for labour was so great that in the western Cape, especially after the Coloured labour was attracted to the urban areas by higher wages, farm jails built to supply convict labour. By 1960 there were 23 such jails, 10 of which were in the Western Cape. Similarly in Bethal, African labour comes from the south-east Transvaal, buttressed by nine long-term jails. Besides this, a number of recruiting corporations such as Philadelphia Boere Group (which recruits in the Transkei with government blessing and handles 1 000 to 1 500 contract labourers) were established to recruit labour. Although the Western Cape deported large numbers of Africans between 1967 and 1971, hostels were built to accommodate 56 000 immigrants. This figure is expected to double by 1980. The removals of the black residents from the Western Cape made migrant labour necessary.
Tens of thousands of Africans in the main urban areas are housed in hostels and compounds, e.g. 100 000 in Johannesburg and 15 000 in Durban. The number of people in registered employment in South Africa was 2 490 000 and of these, over 1,3 million were migrants.
People subjected to forced removals are settled in close by rural areas. Poverty mounts as the population density increases. Fourteen municipalities in the Transversal, for instance, used all kinds of pressures to remove the Africans from their own townships to Isoteng (which is regarded as a 'rubbish dump') in Bophuthatswana. Similarly, Vendaland is poor and a farm labourer is regarded as fortunate if he earns 25 cents a day, without food or housing. Witsieshoek is crowded, the soil exhausted and so denuded that it cannot support its populace.
Natal, which is exempt from the restrictive provisions of the Physical Planning Act, may employ any number of African workers. To increase labour supply, the system of African labour tenants (on white farms) who worked without wages but held some land was abolished. About 300 000 to 400 000 had to give up their independence and work on contract on the farm or border industries. Labour is the watchword in separate development.
Transkei, which is to become independent on 1 October 1976, depends heavily on migrant earnings. The total number of migrants working in South Africa was in the region of 200 000, the mines absorbed about 73 000 and agriculture 43 000.
The government is decentralising the location of industry along the periphery of the homelands in Hammarsdale, Charlestown, Rosslyn, Pietermaritzburg, Brits, Rustenburg, Pietersburg, King Williams Town, East London, Newcastle and Richards Bay through massive subsidies and infrastructure such as water, railways, electricity, etc. Investment in border areas is lucrative simply because labour there is cheap. No wage determinations apply in the homelands. Firms may pay virtually what they like.
White trade unions have insisted that job reservation be applied in border areas, as they are part of the white areas. Moreover they have refused to train black labour to handle skilled jobs in the homelands, which means that white labour and know-how have to accompany white capital into the homelands.
That separate development is closely tied with black labour exploitation is not unprecedented in South African history. The Constitution of the Transvaal Republic describes, among other things, a 'kaffir chief's duty' as 'keeping his people in order and requiring them to furnish labour as and when required'.
The place of the African in the white man's world cannot be more clearly put than in the words of the Transvaal Local Government Commission of 1921: 'The native should only be allowed to enter the urban areas, which are essentially the white man's criterion, to minister to the needs of the white man, and should depart therefrom when he ceases to so minister.'
It is claimed that the system of separate development with its in-built migratory labour system prevents urban slums. But it creates slums in the rural areas. Without doubt, the cheapness of labour helps capital accumulation and investment and reduces the cost of housing, sewerage, etc. But cheap labour breeds malnutrition and disease and it dehumanises man. It is also claimed that the migratory system makes labour control easier. Indeed it does! It is used to bludgeon labour into being cheap and menial, and to pressure and terrorise the workers with deportation if they went on strike.
Separate development is the antithesis of the panacea required to cure South Africa's ills. Capitalism has over the past century drummed in tribal, linguistic, political, social, racial, and communal barriers. Since the discovery of gold and diamonds and the advent of mining and industrial capitalism, Englishmen and Afrikaners first came together, overcoming the enmity that existed between them since the pre-trek times. The various white minority groups joined them. Tribalism among the African people was shaken when the various tribes were brought together in the mines, the factory floor, in the shops, offices, etc. The Coloured and Malay people became a part of the skilled and semi-skilled labour force over decades. Gradually the Indians were forced to leave their farm and market gardens and move to the factories. The trickle became a torrent especially after the economic take-off since the end of the Second World War.
About 1 400 000 whites and 5 700 000 blacks were economically active in 1969. But there was a shortage of over 70 000 artisans. Commerce had 35 000 vacancies. At the same time over 100 000 blacks were unemployed. Practically every sector of the economy wants the colour bar removed, but the white workers remain opposed to this.
Cracks in the Colour Bar
The further development of capitalism is fettered by the lack of skilled manpower as a result of the colour bar. Competition among the various sectors of the economy for the limited supply of white skilled labour has pressured employers and government to throw overboard the colour bar and admit blacks into the sepulchre of skills acquisition. It is, of course, done at a price. A sufficiently large bounty is paid to the white workers for making the concessions to their black brethren.
In 1964, the management and white employees of 12 mines agreed that black 'boss boys' may inspect the work area after blasting and that they need not wait for the white supervisor to certify clearance. Although this simple operation would have saved hundreds of man-hours and meant big pay increases for the whites for less work, rebel miners took strike action and swore to resist the 'kaffir onslaught'. Political pressure on the government, which had originally blessed the scheme, forced it to retreat.
But economic necessity forced subtle negotiations and ultimate agreement in 1967, that blacks could now handle explosives, drive locomotives and examine blasted areas. The lion's share of the increased wages was to go to the white worker, although it was really the black workers' productivity that increased. The white workers not only get a higher wage. They also to get improved pensions, phthisis allowance and provident fund increments, which would raise wages by 11 per cent. Whites secured an 80 per cent pay increase. The white workers were guaranteed permanent employment. A similar agreement for 'black advancement' was concluded with the coal mines.
A striking example of the desperate labour situation is when Roberts Construction's attempted to employ African builders to do block laying at lower rates than artisans. The Department of Labour stopped the company from doing so. Soon thereafter, and with the knowledge of the Department, the firm re-employed the Africans. This time it overcame the job reservation restrictions by not issuing specialised tools. It issued garden trowels instead of bricklayer's trowels, axe handles instead of hammers, etc to lay blocks.
Despite protests from white shoppers, OK Bazaars employed 35 black women as cashiers. The conditions of employment were that no white employees were to be dismissed, separate facilities were to be provided and no white workers were to work under black supervision.
Barclays Bank employed 31 Coloured women as receptionists. Other banks and building societies did the same.
Altogether 88 Coloureds, 101 Indians and 122 Africans were employed to do work previously done by white railway flagmen, stokers and trade hands. In addition, 1 371 Coloureds, 140 Indians and 12 698 Africans are performing work formerly done by upgraded white workers.
Apart from employing increasing numbers of black skilled workers, the employers are forced to dilute skilled work in another way by employing labour-saving machines and have operated manned by blacks. Labour is also fragmented through sub-division of work, e.g. there are now welder's assistants, shunter's assistants and mechanics' assistants. As this expedient becomes universal with the growth of the economy, white skilled workers will start feeling the pressure and develop a need to join hands with blacks to defend class instead of race interests.
When the Mine Workers' Union in 1970 refused to train African mine workers in the homelands, TUCSA, comprising Coloured, Indian and white workers, stood by the white Mine Workers Union. Although the white workers were assured of permanent employment, huge pay increases and other guarantees, they refused to yield. What common interests did Coloured and Indian workers in TUCSA have with the supporters of racism?
The ICFTU's ban of its 50 million members on emigration to South Africa, the pressure on the government by overseas investors to lift the ban on blacks, the demands of the economy and, above all, the pressure of blacks for freedom, equality and democratic rights have forced the government to close its eyes to unions negotiating with employers for black advancement.
The unions in the mines, in the building, iron and steel and the motor industries, as well as in the commercial, banking and civil service sectors have agreed to black advancement with the aim of advancing themselves at the expense of blacks. Whites are upgraded to fill the positions of technicians, foremen, managers, charge hands and supervisors - captains of the black proletarian army.
All talk of 'rate for the job' without equality of opportunity for the blacks is a sham. It involves hypocrisy of the worst type when blacks are made to do skilled jobs at lesser rates of pay on condition that the difference is paid to the whites. This is open treachery and no amount of humbugging about black advancement will to conceal it.
How could any policy that shuts out blacks from every position of privilege be in the interests of the blacks? How could the blacks who together with whites laboured and built the South African economy be told now that they have to develop along their own lines? Are they merely to continue to serve the mines, the farms, commerce and industry at sweated wages only to be told that they have no place in the body politic of South Africa?
Africans are expected to exercise citizenship rights in their homelands and to regard themselves as temporary sojourners in the white areas. Urban Africans, like the Indians and Coloureds, want to express their aims and aspirations and to exercise themselves on the issue of wages, housing, work, culture, education and other issues that confront them daily in the areas in which they live and work - not in some remote homeland. If the blacks are to develop along their own lines, white South Africa must be serious about it it must not rely on black labour. The inevitable would follow the economy would grind to a halt. It is clear that white South Africa wants it both ways. It wants black labour desperately but is not prepared to accord blacks the basic human rights that go with it.
Certain sections of the black population have opted for separate development, probably on the basis of 'half a loaf is better than none'. No doubt some may be genuinely motivated to alleviate the suffering of the people via separate development. But separation means discrimination and the acceptance of black inferiority. The question all lovers of a free and democratic life, and fair play and justice, need to answer is why the black man, who contributes so much to the economic well-being of the country, should not also enjoy political rights? The answer is perhaps that it will cause animosity and friction between the races. But the races work together. Recently they played soccer and rugby together; they took part in multi-racial gymnastics, tennis, athletics, and cycling. Soccer and cricket are to become non-racial. A number of non-racial international seminars and conferences were held. Church mass is non-racial. The industrial colour bar is slowly cracking under the economic whip. Public places of entertainment are being thrown open, although the campaign is slow to develop into a flood.
International pressure and the recent liberation of Mozambique and Angola, the imminent collapse of Rhodesia and Namibia, and the constant threat of the outbreak of violence against South Africa have forced the government to grant independence to the Transkei. Similar promises have been made to the other homelands. Mixed sports and skilled labour for blacks are obviously intended to appease the world-wide anti-apartheid movement with which it is anxiously seeking détente.
But the foundations of apartheid remain intact. Territorial segregation, the colour bar, mass arrests and imprisonment, the suppression of freedom of speech, movement and assembly, the ban on black political organisations, the non-recognition of black trade unions, low wages for blacks, the high infant mortality rate, and the starvation of millions of men, women and children continue unabated.
Black and white can and should co-exist. No responsible black wants to drive the whites into the sea. As a matter of fact, the reverse is the truth. The Freedom Charter, unlike the present South African Constitution, envisages a South Africa in which black and white would live in brotherhood and harmony. It also envisages a South Africa in which the land, with its abundant wealth, would be shared by all. It prescribes work, comfort, security, education, political rights, the freedom of speech and assembly, music, art all that mankind has been endowed with for all its people, irrespective of colour, race or creed, and on the basis of complete equality.
But to attain the principles enshrined in the Freedom Charter there will have to be, unfortunately, a confrontation between the blacks who suffer so much under apartheid, and the whites, who gain so much by its perpetuation. The white edifice has to be blown sky high before South Africa and its people are driven to sanity. Any patchwork is not going to suffice.
The backward feudal relations of serf and master the government is imposing is incongruous, especially to the demands of modern capitalist economy, in which increasing black and white cohesion is evident. Everything suggests therefore that the present system of apartheid and black exploitation should be scrapped and that black and white should undertake to build a South Africa free from the present evils. This must be done before it is too late.