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 … Continue reading Labour history Group (1984), “Organising at the Cape Town Docks”

Labour History Group, 1984, “Abasebenzi Basedokisini Ekapa” (Xhosa translation of “Organising at the Cape Town Docks”)

The “Labour History Group” based in Cape Town issued a series of pamphlets on the history of the working class in South Africa — more precisely, on some notable events in trade union history. For more on this group and its context, see here. This particular pamphlet, entitled Abasebenzi Basedokisini Ekapa is a Xhosa translation of Organising at the Cape Town Docks, which you can … Continue reading Labour History Group, 1984, “Abasebenzi Basedokisini Ekapa” (Xhosa translation of “Organising at the Cape Town Docks”)

A. Lerumo, 1971, “Kadalie of the ICU” – ‘African Communist’ no. 44

Reference: A. Lerumo, 1971, “Kadalie of the ICU,” African Communist number 44.  Get the PDF here. This piece is a lengthy, insightful review of My Life and the ICU, the posthumously published autobiography of Clements Kadalie (1896-1951). Kadalie, a Malawian immigrant and ex-school teacher, was a leading figure in the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union of Africa (ICU). Founded in 1919, the ICU spread like … Continue reading A. Lerumo, 1971, “Kadalie of the ICU” – ‘African Communist’ no. 44

New Nation (1990): “South African Working Class Organisation and the Downfall of the Smuts Government”

New Nation, 1990, “South African working class organisation and the downfall of the Smuts government,” 10-16 August, Matric History section of Learning Nation supplement. A discussion of the struggles of the working class movement from 1920-1924 which examines the role of the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union (ICU) from 1919, the 1920 Bulhoek Massacre, and the 1922 Rand Revolt in the fall of the Jan … Continue reading New Nation (1990): “South African Working Class Organisation and the Downfall of the Smuts Government”

Biography: Lucien van der Walt, 2011, “Thibedi, Thibedi William (1888–1960), South African revolutionary syndicalist and Communist,” in DAB

Lucien van der Walt, 2011, “Thibedi, Thibedi William (1888–1960), South African revolutionary syndicalist and Communist,” in Emmanuel K. Akyeampong and Henry Louis Gates, Jr (eds.), Oxford Dictionary of African Biography, Oxford University Press. Get the PDF here. Continue reading Biography: Lucien van der Walt, 2011, “Thibedi, Thibedi William (1888–1960), South African revolutionary syndicalist and Communist,” in DAB

Biography: Noor Nieftagodien, 2011, “Clements Kadalie,” in DAB

Noor Nieftagodien, 2011, “Clements Kadalie,” in Emmanuel K. Akyeampong and Henry Louis Gates, Jr (eds.), Oxford Dictionary of African Biography, Oxford University Press. Get the PDF here. Continue reading Biography: Noor Nieftagodien, 2011, “Clements Kadalie,” in DAB

Peter Cole & Lucien van der Walt, 2011, “Crossing the Color Lines, Crossing the Continents: Comparing the Racial Politics of the IWW in South Africa and the United States, 1905-1925”

Peter Cole & Lucien van der Walt, 2011, “Crossing the Color Lines, Crossing the Continents: Comparing the Racial Politics of the IWW in South Africa and the United States, 1905-1925,” Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Studies, Vol. 12, No. 1, January 2011, 69-96 PDF is here ABSTRACT: In two of the planet’s most highly racialized countries, South Africa and the United States, … Continue reading Peter Cole & Lucien van der Walt, 2011, “Crossing the Color Lines, Crossing the Continents: Comparing the Racial Politics of the IWW in South Africa and the United States, 1905-1925”

Material on the ICU, from “New Nation, New History” volume 1 (1989)

The 1970s and 1980s anti-apartheid movement was marked by he explosion of an alternative press. A notable example was the mass-distribution weekly New Nation newspaper. Launched in 1986 with the backing of the South African Catholic Bishops Conference, it championed the black working class, and ran a series called “Learning Nation”: produced to assist high school learners, ths was notable for providing a radical alternative … Continue reading Material on the ICU, from “New Nation, New History” volume 1 (1989)

“South African Labour Bulletin”: 1974 special issue on the ICU

Get the PDF here. The rise of a new, independent trade union movement in South Africa from the 1970s — a movement centred on black workers — revived interest in labour history. Activists and academics linked to the new unions and labour service organisations were interested in the recovery of a useful working class history, meaning one that enabled a class-based understanding of South Africa, … Continue reading “South African Labour Bulletin”: 1974 special issue on the ICU

Analysis of the ICU: Bradford, ‘Strikes in the Natal Midlands: landlords, labour tenants and the ICU’ (‘Africa Perspective’)

Helen Bradford, 1983, “Strikes in the Natal Midlands: landlords, labour tenants and the ICU,” Africa Perspective, number 22, pp. 2-25. Drawn from Bradford’s classic social history work on the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union (ICU) in the South African countryside in the 1920s. The ICU had some syndicalist influences. Get the PDF here. Continue reading Analysis of the ICU: Bradford, ‘Strikes in the Natal Midlands: landlords, labour tenants and the ICU’ (‘Africa Perspective’)

Analysis of the ICU: Goatley, ‘The ICU,’ from ‘The Socialist’

Lisa Goatley,1993, “The ICU,” The Socialist: Journal of the International Socialists of South Africa (ISSA), June/July, number 11, p. 15. This short analysis was the first in a series on working class history in South Africa in the paper of the International Socialists of South Africa (ISSA, now the group Keep Left). The Industrial and Commercial Workers Union (ICU) was a mass general union formed … Continue reading Analysis of the ICU: Goatley, ‘The ICU,’ from ‘The Socialist’

Photo: ICU poem at Workers Museum (Newtown, Johannesburg, 2014)

After years of neglect, the Workers Museum at the old municipal workers compound in Johannesburg has been upgraded. The story of working class movements presented there is, SAASHA is reliably informed, is selective, with (for example) FOSATU completely absent. Nonetheless, the Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union (ICU) does get mentioned. The photo below, of an ICU poem in the display, was provided by Warren McGregor. … Continue reading Photo: ICU poem at Workers Museum (Newtown, Johannesburg, 2014)

The Rise and Fall of the ICU: a Case of Self-Destruction? – Phil Bonner, 1978

The Rise and Fall of the ICU: a Case of Self-Destruction?
The Rise and Fall of the ICU: a Case of Self-Destruction?

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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”

Kadalie and the ICU – graphic from South African radical journal “Africa Perspective” in 1981 (no. 19)

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)