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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“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.

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Hattingh, 2014, “Exploding Anger: Workers’ Struggles and Self-Organization in South Africa’s Mining Industry”

Shawn Hattingh, 2014, “Exploding Anger: Workers’ Struggles and Self-Organization in South Africa’s Mining Industry,” in Immanuel Ness, editor, 2014, New Forms of Worker Organization: The Syndicalist and Autonomist Restoration of Class-Struggle Unionism, PM Press, Oakland, CA.

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WSF (1999): “Zimbabwe Unions to Launch Workers Party: Is This the Way Forward?”

WSF (1999): “Zimbabwe Unions to Launch Workers Party: Is This the Way Forward?”

From Workers Solidarity, magazine of the Workers Solidarity Federation, volume 5, number 1, second quarter 1999. Complete PDF is here

It was announced in March 1999 that the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions is planning to launch a workers party to contest the 2000 elections. According to the announcement, the unions want a “strong and vigorous political party that could address these issues affecting us”. Clearly, this party is designed to intervene primarily in elections.

Workers Solidarity magazine has always covered the Zimbabwe workers’ movement in detail because we admire and respect the struggles of our fellow workers against hardships, the war in the Congo (costing 6 milion Zim dollars a day), and the repressive Mugabe regime. In March 1998, the unions organised a two-day stay-away against VAT. In August, September and October 1998, there were general strikes on a weekly basis against rises in the fuel price.

When DRC dictator Laurent Kabila arrived in early November 1998, he had to be protected from the working class with riot cops.The country is in a deep crisis — it is here that the working class must act to win a decent future: land, bread and peace.


The call for a workers political party reflects the growing power of the working class. It is quite clear that the unions are strong enough to launch a mass party that could win the elections. However, is a workers party the way forward in Zimbabwe?

We do believe in the importance of workers having political organisations to fight for socialism. In our view, the role of a revolutionary political organisation is to win the leadership of ideas: to win the majority of workers to the struggle for workers control, land and freedom. Won to such a programme, the working class can make the revolution through its mass organisations, such as the trade unions.


However, the ZCTU’s proposed party is seen simply as an electioneering organisation, Continue reading

WSF (1999): “Reclaim Our Unions! No! to the ‘Checkoff'”

WSF (1999): “Reclaim Our Unions! No! to the ‘Checkoff'”

From Workers Solidarity, magazine of the Workers Solidarity Federation, volume 5, number 1, second quarter 1999. Complete PDF is here


The checkoff system is the system where the bosses act as bankers for the union by taking union fees out of our wages and handing them over to the union. This is “protected” in the Labour Relations Act (LRA).


The checkoff system is a sign of the present position of the unions and their relationship with the bosses. Firstly, the checkoff breaks direct contact between union members in the workplace and the union officials. Secondly, it makes the union seem more like an outside thing that we hire, rather than our own organisation that we take part in and control and thirdly, it involves management in internal relationships that are none of its business.

If union treasurers receive money from the company for fees collected by checkoff, they might be more worried about the happiness of the company than our happiness

When we pay our fees, how do we know Continue reading

WSF (1999): “Your Boss Is A Killer! Figures Show 3 People a Day Die in Work-related Accidents”

WSF (1999): “Your Boss Is A Killer! Figures Show 3 People a Day Die in Work-related Accidents”

From Workers Solidarity, magazine of the Workers Solidarity Federation, volume 5, number 1, second quarter 1999. Complete PDF is here

Figures show that 3 people die every day from accidents at work. This is according to the Department of Labour. Yet this same Department does nothing to stop this slaughter on the shop-floor. It just turns a blind eye.

In 1997, 863 workers died at work.  666 workers lost an arm or a leg. 1606 workers had bones broken. 1 out of 4 workers injured were so badly hurt that they were off work for 4 weeks or more. In 1993, more than 22 million person-days were lost at work due to accidents – this is 5 times more days than were lost to strike action. These figures are too low. Many more accidents do not get reported.

Also, these figures do not include injuries from the mines. Up to 50,000 workers have died on the mines in the last 80 years. Also, the figures do not include ailments that take longer to show up, such as the effects of exposure to poisons at work over a long period.

The bosses are criminals! These figures are from the Department of Labour’s (DoL)own reports. The DoL also admits that most accidents involving machinery are due to “failure by management to ensure the correct operational procedures being applied to workers”.

But the DoL is not going to help us workers. In fact, in 1996, prosecutions for breaking health and safety laws fell by 66%. There are only 93 inspectors to enforce health and safety regulations in the whole country. Even where these inspectors find infringements of the law, they usually do not take further action. The worst that happens in a first offence is usually that a letter is sent to the boss in question asking him or her to obey the law. We should have no illusions in the Department of labour. It pretends to be a friend to the workers but is in fact a supporter of the bosses.

We must ORGANISE OR DIE! – only through strong unions can we challenge the slaughter on the shop-floor by fighting for better conditions.

Your boss is a health hazard! Health before profits! Organise or die!

WSF (1999): “Victory! BTR-SARMCOL Workers Win 13-year Battle”

WSF (1999): “Victory! BTR-SARMCOL Workers Win 13-year Battle”

From Workers Solidarity, magazine of the Workers Solidarity Federation, volume 5, number 1, second quarter 1999. Complete PDF is here

ON MAY DAY 1985, workers at the BTR-Sarmcol rubber factory at Howick outside Maritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal, embarked on a wildcat strike. The following day, the bosses fired all 970 strikers, members of the then Metal and Allied Workers Union, which was not recognised by plant management. And so began the longest and one of the bloodiest labour battles in South African history. The community of Mophomeni was torn apart by the resulting conflict between strikers and the scabs hired by management to replace them. Since 1985, 39 people have been killed in fighting related to the dismissals. The dispute came at a very dangerous time in the province, when the first Inkatha units were returning from secret death-squad training in the Caprivi Strip in Namibia. The IFP-ANC battle for the heartland was about to begin and the laid-off workers at Mophomeni were in the thick of things.


In December 1985, MAWU chief shop-steward Phineas Sibiya, a key Continue reading