Labour History Group (1984), “Organising at the Cape Town Docks”

This 1984 text, Organising at the Cape Town Docks, is notable for its discussion of the revolutionary syndicalist Industrial Workers of Africa in Cape Town from the late 1910s, and its links to the rise of the massive Industrial and Commercial Workers Union of Africa (ICU). The ICU was influenced by syndicalism (among other things).

Get the PDF here.

A Xhosa translation, Abasebenzi Basedokisini Ekapa, can be found here.

Organising at the Cape Town Docks was produced by the “Labour History Group” based in Cape Town. The Group issued a series of pamphlets on the history of the working class in South Africa in the early 1980s, covering the period from the 1910s into the 1970s.  The focus was on trade union history: presented in a clear, simple style, their accessibility was increased by translation from the English originals into Afrikaans, Xhosa and Zulu (with a few planned for Sotho). This was a project in historical memory: arming the wave of radical unions that surged from 1973 onward, with knowledge of its past and lessons for its future. Such publications were part of the great upsurge of popular and working class struggles from the late 1970s into the early 1990s, when a flourishing alternative media and network of radical education centres complemented and was part of mass movements.

The “Labour History Group” authors were not named although in hindsight its possible to make some shrewd guesses for specific texts. This text was probably written by anti-apartheid activist Debbie Budlender, who wrote a thesis roughly on the same issues, with the same arguments, as the pamphlet’s.