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.

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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.

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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

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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

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 history to the apartheid narrative; it highlighted popular struggles and resistance history. Much of its content was produced by the radical History Workshop at the University of the Witwatersrand; other was from the prolific Labour and Community Resources Project (LACOM) of the the South African Council for Higher Education (SACHED).  In 1989, the first three years of History Workshop materials were compiled into book, New Nation, New History: it was labelled volume one, but a second volume did not appear. This book included some material on the syndicalist-influenced Industrial and Commercial Workers Union (ICU)  in the 1920s, looking at the breakaway ICU led by A.W.G. Champion (who leaned to Zulu nationalism) and the activities of Stimela Jason Jingoes (an African traditionalist from a high-ranking lineage in Lesotho , who worked for a time as an ICU lawyer). These cases indicate the range of ideas at work in the ICU, which is better seen as a syncretic movement with an unstable mix of ideas, drawn from multiple sources and reworked in changing ways, than a syndicalist union.

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

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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, and one that allowed lessons to be drawn from the failures of the past. Previous unions centred on black labour — starting from the late 1910s, and going into eclipse in the repressive 1960s — had tended to be short-lived and vulnerable to state attacks.

The Industrial and Commercial Workers Union of Africa (ICU), formed in 1919, provided a spectacular example. Growing from a few hundred in Cape Town, it had well over 100,000 (some estimates suggest over 200,000) members by 1927, and had spread into neighbouring Namibia (then South West Africa) and Zimbabwe (then Southern Rhodesia). Within four years later, it was shattered beyond repair. This special issue of the South African Labour Bulletin — a paper set up to assist the new unions — provided a place to recover the history of the ICU and draw lessons from its successes and failures. It included analyses of the ICU, as well as primary materials: a talk by the ICU’s A.W.G. Champion, an interview with Champion, a text by the ICU’s Clements Kadalie, and ICU documents.

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.

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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 in South Africa in 1919, which had some syndicalist influences.  ISSA / Keep Left was/ is a Trostkyist Marxist  group in the International Socialist Tradition, associated with Tony Cliffe and Alex Callinicos.

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