22 January 1998: Email from WSF requesting solidarity against repression in Zimbabwe

The Workers Solidarity Federation (WSF) actively tried to build links with Zimbabwe, providing a free subscription of its paper Workers Solidarity to the library at the University of Zimbabwe (then still the site of a radical student movement), sending copies for sale at the late, lamented Grassroots  Books in Harare, and doing its best to distribute its analyses of the Zimbabwean situation to activists in Zimbabwe and in the Zim diaspora. Beyond this, it also did some solidarity work with various Zimbabwean struggles. Many people have now forgotten that the ZANU-PF/ Robert Mugabe regime was almost toppled in the late 1990s by massive student and worker protests: the nationalist myth of Mugabe as a progressive and popular radical — popular in recent years — is breaking down these days, but helped hide a history of massive repression against the povo (masses, the people), by simply writing the povo out of history while controlling the streets.

Below are two recently recovered emails — one sent by WSF to the international anarchist movement, and another to the South African left — to appeal for solidarity against the massive crackdowns that took place in early 1998:

 

EMAIL ONE:
Received: from […] 21 Jan 98 10:31:37 GMT +2:00
Return-path: <owner-organise@tao.ca>
Received: from […]
From: “Lucien W.” […]
Subject: org: EMERGENCY-defend Zimbabwe workers

Comrades,

Today Robert Mugabe, the ruler of Zimbabwe, a country next to South Africa, ordered soldiers into Harare, the capital. The soldiers have been sent to crush a spotaneous general strike and rioting by the workers.

The soldiers were sent in after riot polce failed to contain the situation. The soldiers have orders to “shoot to kill” anyone disturbing “law and order”. It is possible that a full State of Emergency will be declared later today.

The workers and the poor are protesting high prices and low wages.

The press presents the struggles as “isolated looting”. But it is a mass protest movement with widespread support.

The regime says it is the work of reactionary opponents of land reform and of the government- outrageous lies by a de facto one party state which has broken every promise of land reform it has ever made since independence in 1980.

The facts show otherwise. The 3 day revolt follows on weeks of consumer boycotts in the townships by the workers. These boycotts in turn follow the succesful general strike of 9 December 1997 for lower prices. The strikers were driven off the streets by riot police that day.

I will post more background on the simmering revolt in Zimbabwe tomorrow.

FOR NOW, I CALL ON ALL COMRADES TO SEND MESSAGES OF PROTEST TO THE ZIMBAWE GOVERNMENT. STATE YOUR OPPOSITION TO THE USE OF SOLDIERS EMPOWERED TO USE LETHAL FORCE BEING DEPLOYED AGAINST WORKERS WITH LEGITMATE GREVIANCES. TAKE OTHER ACTIONS IF YOU CAN. CALL ON THE REGIME TO DESIST FROM KILLING THE WORKERS.

PLEASE COMRADES- IF ANYONE HAS ADDRESSES, FAX NUMBERS, E-MAIL NUMBERS FOR THE ZIMBABWE GOVERNMENT SEND THEM TO ‘ORGANISE’ [list serv] NOW.

An Injury to One is an Injury to All!
Workers, unite!
Yours,
Lucien
WSF
South Africa

EMAIL 2:

Received: from […]
Return-path: <owner-debate@sunsite>[…]
22 Jan 98 09:02:55 GMT +2:00
From: “Lucien W.” […]
Subject: Defend Zimbabwe workers and poor
[…]

Comrades,

For those who would like to register their protests at the clampdown on protest in Zimbabwe, there is a web page
http://www.mediazw.com/gov/

with loads of phone, fax etc number for Zimbabwe state institutions, including at it happens a lot of the army barracks. The most relevant may be

Ministry of Public Service Labour & Social Welfare

HEAD OFFICE
12 TH Floor
CompensationHouse
CentralAvenue/ 4th Street
P/Bag
7707,
Causeway
(263-4) 790871/2/

Minister
263-4) 790871/2/
796451/0/796460/
707266-9

——-

Bye,
Lucien

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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, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, or “Wobblies”), were remarkable. A key revolutionary syndicalist current operating globally, aspiring to unite the world’s working class into a revolutionary One Big Union against capitalism, the state and economic and social inequality, the Wobblies operated in contexts characterized by white supremacy and deeply divided working classes. Yet they not only condemned racism and segregation in theory, but actively engaged in the challenging work of organizing workers of color including black Africans, African Americans, Asians, Coloureds and Latinos, against both economic exploitation and national/ racial oppression.

Although the literature on race, ethnicity, and labour in both countries is voluminous, remarkably little has been written regarding the IWW on race matters. Yet the Wobbly tradition’s impressive commitment and achievements largely unappreciated; the myth that left anti-racism started with Marxist communism in the 1920s remains pervasive. This article develops a comparative analysis of these two IWW experiences, bridging the North/South and industrialized/developing country divides in the (labor) historiography, and deepening our understanding of IWW politics and of labor, race and the left in countries with heterogeneous working classes. Given the centrality of sailors and dockers in the Wobbly movement, particular attention is paid to Philadelphia (US) and Cape Town (SA).

In short, this article seeks to correct omissions in the literature of both countries’ labor and left movements by exploring how and why the IWW did what so few other unions were willing or able to do-organize across the color line, reject working class and official racism, with both remarkable achievements (if some limitations) in its emancipatory project. In doing so, this paper recovers a history of revolutionary unionism and politics amongst workers of colour, and of their organisations, like the General Workers Union, IWW, Industrial Workers of Africa, Industrial Social League, and the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union of Africa. The broad anarchist tradition,including syndicalism, thus played an important role in struggles for national liberation and racial equality.

Key words: anarchism, Bakunin, Black struggles, Cape Town, communism, colonialism, dockers, Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), global labour, labor unions, Kropotkin, longshore workers, Philadelphia, race relations, sailors, strikes, South Africa, syndicalism, transnational labour, United States

“Education is a Right, Not a Privilege!”: WSF leaflet for university struggles (1997)

This was issued by the Workers Solidarity Federation (WSF) at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), in early 1997, and condemned proposed cuts by the state to public universities.  It holds up very well: 20 years onwards, the university system is underfunded, marked by job insecurity and outsourcing, and substantial exclusion of black working class students. The division between historically advantaged (“white”) and historically disadvantaged (“black”) universities is entrenched. Today, of course, white students are a minority in the universities, but the skewed transformation that resulted means that most black students in historically advantaged (“white”)  universities are middle and upper class.

Get the PDF here.

WSF poster for 1997 meeting: “What’s ‘Left’? Is there an Alternative to Capitalism Today? An Introduction to the politics of the WSF” (13 February 1997)

Talk was at the University  of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, where the Workers Solidarity Federation (WSF) was active. This was a public meeting for new members / supporters and for other interested people. WSF was the direct predecessor of today’s Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front (ZACF).