VIDEO: The Newtown power complex before the Workers Library and Museum

There is an interesting video, captured from a VHS, from a report on the TV station M-Net, on the Newtown power complex in what looks like the late 1980s. The Newtown power complex, in downtown Johannesburg, was the site of the old municipal power station. It was all but abandoned by the late 1980s: the state of the building attests to this, and so does the fact that the council’s main interest (in the video) is to move some old trees from the premises, to another owned by the municipality. The decrepit building visible from 03.34 (time on video) was the old housing section that was refurbished as the Workers Library and Museum (WLM) in the 1990s. (Below the video you can see a photo of how the building looked before used as the WLM, and how the WLM looked in its early years).

 

Before becoming the Workers Library and Museum…

The Workers Library and Museum in its early years

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Repost: “Notes and posters from the Workers’ Library & Museum that was…”

Several posts on the history of the Workers Library and Museum (WLM) and the role of anarchists in this body in the late 1990s and early 2000s can be found on this site: see here.

There is an interesting account of this period by a one-time member of the Bikisha Media Collective (BMC) here (off-site link).

ca. 2003: “Whose Town is Newtown?”

As noted elsewhere, anarchists from Bikisha Media Collective (BMC) played a key role in the Workers Library and Museum (WLM), a non-sectarian labour service organisation then based in Newtown Johannesburg, from the late 1990s into the early 2000s. The WLM was run by an elected committee, with various subcommittees, and BMC members were active in these structures. Some more information on this here and here. As the building used was the property of the Johannesburg town council (later the Greater Johannesburg Meropolian Council), use the buildings depended a good deal on the municipality’s goodwill. In the early and mid-1990s, the municipality was effectively willing to provide the building at a nominal cost (the users were charged for water and lights, and were responsible for maintenance and investment) . The building was part of a former power station complex, which had been closed in the 1970s: the redesign of the old housing section for use by the WLM was an award-winning project by left-wing architects Henry Paine and Alan Lipman.

As neo-liberalism kicked in, and the Newtown Precinct was rethought (by the municipality) as a Continue reading

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

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

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.

Get the PDF here.

Early 1990s reading groups — and “Vrye Weekblad”

The early 1990s saw a new interest in anarchism in South Africa, one expression of which was the emergence of reading and discussion groups. Elsewhere this site collects materials from the reading groups associated with a wing of the Anarchist Revolutionary Movement (ARM). But there was certainly some such groups in Durban. There was also reportedly a group around this time at Stellenbosch, among young Afrikaners, and evidence of interest in anarchism also emerged from Pretoria in the form of a long letter to published in the Vrye Weekblad, a liberal, anti-apartheid Afrikaans weekly newspaper (now defunct), 3-9 July 1992 (issue 181), from a P.M. de Kock in Pretoria. You can get a PDF of the original text here, with the text extracted below (sourced from the https://digital.lib.sun.ac.za/)

Vrye Weekblad, 3-9 July 1992 (issue 181), p. 4
ANARGIE IS ORDE!
PMde Kock van Pretoria skryf:
Na aanleidlng van 16 Junie dink ek onwillekeurig aan die woorde van Max Stirner:”Every state is a despotism, be
the despot one or many.” 16 Junie mag dalk die versinnebeelding van die draaipunt in Suid-Afrika se geskiedenis wees, maarwragtig, ons kan dit as dag van bevryding vier tot ons almal blou in die gesig is, maar dit sal nie die korrupte struktuur wat bo ons gestel is uit die kussings lig nie. En ook nie verhoed dat dit net weer vervang word met ‘n kabinet vol mooi, vetgevrete swart gesigte om die hele proses weer van veor af te laat begin nie.

Hier gaan dit nie vir my om swart of blank nie, dit gaan omdie idee — staat. As ek so kyk na wat die afgelope tyd in die pers verskyn het, besef ek al hoe meer dat die NP regering nou begin met’n proses van klou aan die rokspante van mag tot hy uiteindelik net met geweld daarvan afstand sal doen, en in die proses sal hy seker nog ‘n paar onskuldige mense saam neem (of eerder ‘n paar duisend).

Dis juis hierteen wat ons moet waak. Dis ‘n feit dat die ANC een of ander tyd die Uniegebou gaan betree en al die strukture, soos dit tans daar uitsien, net so sal oorneem. Maar meanwhile back at the ranch, sit ons steeds met ‘n staat.

Dis tyd dat die mense wakkerskrik uit hul gemaklike slaap, die staat het homself reeds keer op keer bawys as die grootste euwel wat die mens tot nog toe kon bedink. Of dit nou ‘n demokrasie of totalitêre regime is, dit het dieselfde effek– die verslawing van die mens tot daar niks van hom oorbly nie: Die hele opset is onlogles.Wat het geword van
baslese regering, die verskaffing van net die nodige dienste aan die gemeenskap, en daarmee bedoel ek nie op nasionale vlak nie, maar bloot op plaaslike v1ak?

Dit mag dalk na emosionele dagdromery klink, maar ek dink daar moet ‘n algehele omwenteling in die menslike bastaan kom. Kyk wat het die afgelope eeu gebeur? Die staat as entiteit het toenemend mag begin verkry, juis as gevolg van die verdelings konflikte wat binne elke gemeenskap afspeel. Politieke mag is die instrument wat gebruik word om rykdom te verdeel en die staat sal voortdurend daarna streef om die struktuur van mag tot eie voordeel te manipuleer.

Die wanverspreiding van rykdom is die staat se werk, maar dan moet die volgende groep wat die regeringsbootjie kaap, nie bloot voortgaan endieselfde doen deur net in ‘n ander rigting te roel nie.

Ek sien dié proses in Suid-Afrika afspeel. Swart strewes gaan nie vervul word di edag as daar ‘n nuwe swartregering is nie. 0 nee, hulle sal verdeel en aksies loods om die people op te hef.

Maar dit sal nie gebeur nie, omdat die hele proses verkeerd is. Ons verruil dan net blanke Afrikaner bevoordeling vir swart bevoordeling. Nie dat dit die sogenaamde Afrikaner gehelp het nie, hulle is nou, juis as gevolg van dié bevoordeling, in groter kak as ooit tevore. Ons moet vergeet van die staat, en terug kom na die mense toe,  laat
die mense op grondvlak beheer oor mekaar uitoefen en verhoudings só reël.

Ek sal enige staat, of hy nou wit of swart is, tot in alle ewigheid verwerp. Laat die gesag terug kom na die individu toe, soos die Anargisme ons leer, dan sal dié land uit die as uit opstaan!

Soos Pierre-Joseph Proudhon gesê het: “Anargie is orde.”

(Brief verkort – Red)