This essay, which first appeared in the South African Labour Bulletin, sought to draw the lessons of the spectacular rise and fall of the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union of Africa (ICU) in South Africa. Formed in 1919, merged soon afterwards with the syndicalist Industrial Workers of Africa, the ICU was influenced by syndicalism, Garveyism, liberalism and other currents. It was, in the 1920s, the single largest black protest movement in the country – reaching an estimated 100,000 members by 1927. It also spread into neighbouring colonies. Yet by 1931 the ICU – in South Africa, that is – was a shell of its former self. Bonner argued that the ICU failed because it lacked a clear strategy, a focus on shopfloor organising, and loose structures more generally – mindful of the ICU, the new generation of unionists in the 1970s and 1980s (Bonner among them) sought to build unions that avoided these pitfalls. Elements of their strategy would later be known as “workerism.” Continue reading “The Rise and Fall of the ICU: a Case of Self-Destruction? – Phil Bonner, 1978”
John Philip’s pioneering, hard-to-get study of syndicalism in South Africa, stressing the influence of the IWW. Despite some important factual errors and some gaps, this was for many years the most reliable text on the subject. It made use of American primary sources (such as the IWW’s Industrial Worker), and of South African secondary texts (like the Simons’ Class and Colour in South Africa). The PDF is the original version. The marked up version includes some insertions noting errors.
SOURCE: Ufahuma, volume 8, number 3 (1978) Continue reading “The South African Wobblies: The Origins of Industrial Unions in South Africa – John Philips, 1978”
Download PDF This paper by Evan Mantzaris deals with elements of the Indian trade unionism in Natal, South Africa, in the late 1910s and 1920s. These were events in which Indian syndicalists like B.L.E. Sigamoney of the (syndicalist) Indian Workers’ Industrial Union and (syndicalist) International Socialist League, along with white syndicalists, like Bill Andrews and David Ivon Jones, played an important role. Besides union work, … Continue reading The Indian Tobacco Workers Strike of 1920, Natal – E.A.Mantzaris, 1983
The Industrial and Commercial Workers Union of Africa (the ICU) was the largest black union and protest movement in 1920s South Africa, also spreading into neighbouring Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and South West Africa (now Namibia). It was influenced by IWW syndicalism, even adopting a version of the IWW constitution in 1925, and pushed for a general strike the next year. … Continue reading Kadalie and the ICU – graphic from South African radical journal “Africa Perspective” in 1981 (no. 19)
This pioneering article sheds light on the early impact of the IWW in South Africa, and on early black strikes and the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union (ICU). While not altogether accurate (for example, the ICU claimed to have white members, and David Ivon Jones was not part of 1920s night school where workers wrote “Workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains, and a world to win !”, and the IWW influence continued well after 1920), it is a commendable account. Continue reading “Digging into IWW History: South Africa – John Philips, Industrial Worker, October 1976, p. 8”
This article was published by Lucien van der Walt in Direct Action (Australia, Summer 2001) as “Many Races, One Union! The IWW, revolutionary syndicalism and working class struggle in South Africa, 1910-21.” It was reprinted in Bread and Roses (Britain, Autumn 2001) as “A History of the IWW in South Africa.”
Note: An incomplete version has also appeared on the internet under the title “1816-1939: Syndicalism in South Africa,” described as “a short history of radical trade unionism, class struggle and race in Southern Africa in the 19th and 20th centuries.” The dates are wrong (there was no syndicalism anywhere in 1816, and while the IWW-influenced ICU would last in Zimbabwe into the 1950s, there was no syndicalism in South Africa in 1939) and several paragraphs are missing, in that version.
For PDF of scanned Direct Action version: click here
For PDF of scanned Bread and Roses version: click here
Lucien van der Walt, Autumn 2001, “A History of the IWW in South Africa,” Bread and Roses
The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), and the ideas, goals and organisational practices for which it stood, had an important influence on the early labour movement and radical press in South Africa. It also had an impact on neighbouring Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Furthermore, at least five unions were founded on the IWW model in this period. Four of these unions pioneered the organisation of workers of colour, most notably the Industrial Workers of Africa, the first union for African workers in South African history Continue reading ““A History of the IWW in South Africa” – Lucien van der Walt, 2001”
Click here for PDF This paper examines the development of anarchism and syndicalism in early twentieth century Cape Town, South Africa, drawing attention to a crucial but neglected chapter of labor and left history. Central to this story were the anarchists in the local Social Democratic Federation (SDF), and the revolutionary syndicalists of the Industrial Socialist League, the Industrial Workers of Africa (IWA), and the … Continue reading “Anarchism and Syndicalism in an African Port City: the revolutionary traditions of Cape Town’s multiracial working class, 1904–1931” – by Lucien van der Walt, 2011
Revolutionary syndicalism – the strategy of bringing about a stateless socialist society through a revolutionary general strike in which organised labour, through its trade unions, seizes and places under self-management the means of production – played a central, but today, largely forgotten, role in the early twentieth-century South African labour movement.
Before the 1920s, it was revolutionary syndicalism, which is rooted in the classical anarchism of Mikhail Bakunin, rather than the dry Marxism of the Second International, which dominated the thought and actions of the radical left in South Africa. And so it was, ultimately, classical anarchism that pioneered labour organising and anti-racist work amongst workers of colour in South Africa: the nationally oppressed Coloured, Indian and African proletariat. Continue reading ““‘Sifuna Zonke!’: Revolutionary Syndicalism, the IWA and the fight against racial capitalism, 1915-1921” – Lucien van der Walt / BMC, undated”
Click here for PDF The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), and the ideas, goals and organisational practices for which it stood, had an important influence on the early labour movement and radical press in South Africa. It also had an impact on neighbouring Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Furthermore, at least five unions were founded on the IWW model in this period. Four of these … Continue reading “The IWW, Revolutionary Syndicalism and Working Class Struggle in SA, 1910 – 1920” – Lucien van der Walt / BMC, undated
Christians Slaughter Their Christian Brethren. Great Empire Day Celebration.
How appropriate and how much in keeping with the Matabele Massacre and other of their brutal empire-building tactics. And the Bullhoek tragedy was either by fate or circumstances enacted on their very Empire Day.
We accuse the responsible Government, whose forces are headed by a brutal assassin, of murdering unarmed strikers in Johannesburg, 1913, slaughtering unarmed Natives in Port Elizabeth, 192o, and their latest debauch is the gruesome mutilation of hundreds of Natives who were Christians and a passive community. Continue reading ““Murder! Murder! Murder!!! The Bullhoek Massacre” – W.H. Harrision, 1921″
Whereas the interest of the workers and those of the employers are opposed to each other, the former living by selling their labour, receiving for its labour only part of the wealth they produce; and the latter living by exploiting the labour of the workers; depriving the workers of a part of the product of their labour in the form of profit, no peace can … Continue reading “Revised Constitution of the ICU” – Industrial and Commercial Workers Union of Africa, 1925
… The Council of Action, as an industrial body, [is not an] inspiration or a brain wave of the moment, but is an attempt to formulate a scheme of things likened to the Workers’ Committee movement in Britain, which, in an unofficial way, is doing a great and useful work. The method is to work within and without the official Trade Union movement, with the object of abolishing Capitalism and establishing control of industry by the worker for the worker.
The Council of Action, as an indutrial [sic] body, claims that the purpose of production, distribution and exchange, under Capitalism, is to serve class interests. Under this system of society, the working class is dependent upon the capitalist class, because the latter owns and controls the means of production, distribution and exchange, and thus the two classes have nothing in common. From this opposition of class interests there arises an antagonism which manifests itself in the class struggle; one class organising and fighting to hold the power of ownership and control, whilst the working class is compelled to organise to capture the means of production, distribution and exchange to be worked in the interests of society as a whole. Continue reading ““Manifesto of the Mine Workers” – Council of Action, Johannesburg, 1921”
The interests of the Working Class and of the Employing Class are diametrically opposed. There can be no peace as long as hunger and want are found among millions of working people, and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life.
Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the all the toilers come together on the industrial field, and take and hold what they produce by their labour, through an economic organisation of the working class, without affiliation to any political party. The rapid gathering of wealth in and the centring of the management of industries into fewer and fewer hands make the Trades Unions unable to cope with the ever-growing power of the employing class, because the Trades Unions foster a state of things which allows one set of workers to be pitted against another set of workers in the same industry, thereby helping defeat one another in wage wars. The Trades Unions aid the employing class to mislead the workers into the belief that the working class have interests in common with their employers.
These sad conditions can be only be changed, and the interests of the working class upheld by an organisation formed in such a way that all its members in any one industry – or in all industries if necessary – cease work whenever a strike or lockout is on in any department thereof, thus making an injury to one an injury to all. Continue reading ““Where WE Stand” – IndSL, Cape Town, February 1920”