Document 132 - “Our Programme”, Progressive Trade Union Bulletin, 11 February 1945

From: South Africa's Radical Tradition, a documentary history, Volume One 1907 - 1950, by Allison Drew


INTERNAL TRADE UNION DEMOCRACY All officials should be properly elected by their respective Unions and should be subject to recall by the Union. Executive Committee members should be directly elected by Council and all co-options should be placed before it for its approval or otherwise, and every Executive member should be subject to recall. It is also of the utmost importance that Economic Democracy be introduced t that each Trade Union official be paid at the prevailing rate of workers' wages in his Union. Economic democracy is one of the most effective ways of preventing bureaucracy amongst the leaders. It will do much to stop that process by which the better paid leader places himself in a class apart from the rank and file worker in his Union; rob him of the incentive to compromise with the employer, to be the "good boy" at all costs in order to retain his privileged economic position.


We demand the repeal of Emergency Regulations Numbers [-I and 145 which cripple our main working class weapon -the right to strike; and the repeal of the recent Emergency banning of meetings of more than 20 persons –a prohibition which renders T.U. organisational work, financial and other, impossible. We demand the right to picket.


It is a phenomenon of the present period of rapid decay in the capitalist system, and especially during the war, that all citizens, but particularly the workers who can least afford it, are confronted with a catastrophic rise in prices. Against this we can only fight with the introduction of the sliding scale of wages. This means that industrial agreements should ensure an automatic rise in wages in relation to the increase in prices. TO BEGIN WITH WE DEMAND A MINIMUM WAGE OF £3 A WEEK.


This is the only effective guarantee of every worker's right to employment in a society based upon exploitation. Trade Unions and other mass organisations should bind the workers and the unemployed together, they should be responsible to each other. In this way all the work on hand would be pided amongst all existing workers and the working week would be reduced for each worker respectively. The average wage of every worker must, of course, remain the same as it was under the old working week. TO BEGIN WITH WE DEMAND A 40 HOUR WEEK.


We advocate that present organisation of Unions on a craft basis that is the organisation of Unions on the basis of trades and occupations be superseded by the organisation of Unions on a basis that will embrace whole industries. We press for the transformation of craft union organisation into Industrial Union Organisation. We press for the introduction into all Unions of Shop Stewards and Factory Committees to be elected by all the factory employees. The Factory Committees elected by all the workers in the factories directly represent and organise the wishes of the rank and file workers and introduce a counter weight to the will of the Administration (the reactionary Labour Department and the Top layers of the workers in official positions.) The Factory Committee is a centre of struggle against the deadening weight of reactionary leaders. We strive to replace the present routine-functionaries, racketeers, and careerists, by new militant leaders.

PUBLIC RESPONSIBILITY for workers transport, medical services, hospitalisation, and housing, and that these services shall be on a scale large enough to meet the needs of the workers.


THERE is a growing tide of dissatisfaction among African workers with the present

organisation and composition of the Non-European Trade Union Council, and particularly with its Executive Committee. The Council leadership has developed far on the road of bureaucracy. The ordinary worker plays less and less part in its decisions, and the E.C. increasingly leans towards the methods of compromise and knuckling under to the employers. The E.C. in accordance with its character has appropriated to itself autocratic powers. The Council has come to exist merely in an advisory capacity. At the N.E.T.U.C. Conference in April, 1944, very significant changes in the constitution took place by which the E.C. has been able to play the dictator in the Unions. The E.C. alone makes the final decisions on all questions made by the Council, and it alone can decide whether to implement ornot, any decision made by the Council.

The President of the Council has full powers to co-opt any person to the E.C. whom he thinks fit, and the Council has no power to recall any member of the E.C.The co-options are not placed democratically before the General Council for approval and discussion.

This form of organisation has led to numerous abuses which it is the duty of all militants in the rank and file of the Unions and in the Council to remove. The militants must demand a democratic constitution to place control in the hands of the rank and file.

Through its bureaucratic stranglehold on the Unions, for example, the E.C.has not infrequently sabotaged the fight of the worker for better conditions. There is an understanding that where an official organised Union exists, no rival or additional Union shall be allowed in that Trade. But, in fact, wherever the E.C.of the Council wants to break a Union which refuses to dance to its tune, it allows alternative Unions to arise. The fate of the Unions in the Laundry Industry and Catering and Liquor Trade, etc., are sufficient illustration of this policy.

Definite allegations of tribalism in the present leadership have also been made. Prominent leaders are mentioned in particular as being tribally inclined. It is claimed that before each conference, they carefully caucus the Xhosa members of the E.C.and the Council in order to make sure of a Xhosa majority.

Militants must be vigilant to expose these practices. pision on tribal lines, to say nothing of national lines, is exactly what the bosses want. The Chamber of Mines has always foster4 tribal distinctions in order to prevent the proper organisation of its workers. To-day it is certain that the Government will increasing1 y resort to this weapon to split Trade Unions and the African people as a whole.

73e only effective method of meeting the Government threat to smash the Unions in this and in other ways, and of achieving the demands of the workers, is organisation on a class basis.


An accusation brought against us Progressive Council members is that we are Trotskyists. They know that not all are Trotskyists.It is certainly not Trotskyism which needs watching, Trotskyism identifies itself completely with the interests of the working class. The sinister role of the Communist Party, however, needs exposure. At the moment, the C.P. has a number of members in the E.C. of the Council, and they follow the uncompromisingly reactionary policy of Stalinism. The Council leadership under the direction of the C.P.has frequently gone to the extreme of pacifying the Unions whose workers are in bad economic straits and who consequently are pressing for action. It is this type of C.P.leadership that has brought many a promising strike or Trade Union struggle to an ignominious end, as the workers involved in the Timber and Milling strikes can well testify. The milling strike is a particularly glaring example of the way in which the Council leadership meets situations with belated protests, instead of fulfilling its function of co-ordination and rallying the Unions to defend their common interests and to make their common demands. 

When the workers were advised to boycott the mills, the E.C. dissociated itself from the decision. Nor did they attempt to build up any support for Timber strikers in other Unions or in any other way, and this resulted in the isolation and arrest of 128workers who were sentenced to ten days hard labour and lost their jobs.


One of the chief obstacles that face the Unions today is the fact that they are not legally recognised. They have at present only indirect powers of negotiation. Where negotiations for higher wages are concerned, it is true that the Council can submit a Memorandum to the Minister and the local Department of Labour, and that it has direct verbal representation at public sittings to settle disputes of this kind, but in connection with industrial agreements under the Industrial Conciliation Act, the Non-European Trade Unions have no access to direct representation. Thus their demands can easily be mishandled or held up by the reactionary department and the Africans have no jurisdiction or powers of redress.

Recognition of the Non-European Trade Unions under the I.C. Act will be a tremendous advance, but it will never be achieved by the milk and water methods of the present leadership. The present leadership is thoroughly imbued with the dues-collecting mentality. As long as the dues are paid, they are satisfied. Actually, the demand for recognition is not a question of fighting an inpidual employer for higher wages, but a frontal attack on the entire segregation policy of the Government. The conditions of the African worker will not be improved until his Unions are recognised. His Unions will not be recognised until he has the united support of the African proletariat, and the entire African people in the common struggle for democratic rights. The present Council cannot give the fearless lead which is required. It constantly reveals its fossilised and bureaucratic character in its preference for mediation instead of direct strike action.


The lead in the fight will only come from the militants in the African working class, organised as a vanguard with the full consciousness of all the political implications involved in the struggle of the African worker against his burdens. This means that the militants in the Non-European Trade Unions must now actively fight for a new and democratic leadership in the Council, which will base itself on the needs and interests of the masses of the rank and file which will counter the present mediation policy and

C.P. obstructionism and sabotage, with bold class organisation aiming at recognition and full democratic rights. In this fight, the workers will find that their only ally is the Worker’s International League and that helping to build up the Fourth Internationalist Workers' Party is an urgent and imperative part of their battle to overthrow the capitalist system which oppresses them.


THERE is not a single African worker who has not been hard hit by the war. The increase in the cost of living and the rise in prices especially on the black market to which the African is compelled to resort in order to obtain the most vital commodities falls particularly heavily on the African worker. In increasing numbers, workers rally to the Unions to fight for conditions under which they can live -then they discover that their Unions are unofficial, that they are hampered at every turn by laws and regulations, that the leadership is not seriously prepared to make a stand. 

What is the present position with regard to the non-European Trade Unions? In war-time, there has been increasing criticism of the compound system. In a number of important industries, workers have long been housed in compounds where they are under the constant control and supervision of the employers and where access is difficult. The mine-workers, hotel, boarding-house and flat workers, brick and tile workers, municipal workers; V.F.P. workers; timber workers; railway workers are all subject to the compound system. In addition, it has been extended in the past few years and there are indications that the ruling class will try to extend it further still, e.g. railway workers at Port Elizabeth. In certain trades, the bosses have started to capitalise on this situation by organising company unions, as on the railways and municipalities. The compound system which is designed to curb militancy and any form of independent workers' organisation at all, will have to be broken by the action of the workers themselves.


In addition to the present repressive legislation applying to the African worker, the war has unleashed a whole series of emergency regulations. The demand to break these has become very strong under the impact of war hardships. The struggle for recognition of the Unions is also the struggle for bread.

The Pass Laws (Law 40 of 1895) exclude anybody who is pass-bearing from being recognised asan employee and make him a servant under the Master and Servants' Act (Transvaal and Natal Code.) This legislation must be redrafted to grant the African worker the same status as the European. Equal pay for equal work must be the slogan of the Non-European masses through their Trade Unions. This will form part of the struggle for full democratic rights and the abolition of all discrimination based on colour prejudice.

It should be remembered, however, that although recognition under the I.C. Act would be a tremendous step forward, the Act has severe limitations in itself. It is an Act designed to hamper workers' direct action as much as possible -it is of a compromising character -it restricts strike action and encourages the settlement of disputes in such a way that the employer is heavily favoured.

In addition, the ruling class has used its dictatorial wartime powers to launch a ferocious attack on working-class organisation in other ways. Emergency regulations have been used indiscriminately to try and break the spirit of the workers. Strikes are forbidden under War Measure Number 145 of 1942 on pain of a penalty of 5 years imprisonment or £500 fine or both, e.g. arrest of Milling and Coal workers, etc. Organisers have been prevented from collecting Union dues under The Gold Law which forbids meetings of more than 20 on proclaimed land, e.g. Messrs. Marks, Tule and others. The Government hopes to deter the workers from organising by denying them access to funds. In the case of Pioneer Stone-Crushing Yards, again, men collecting funds were threatened with dismissal if they persisted.


These disabilities will never be removed by the bureaucrats who at present lead the Federation of Non-European Trade Unions. They must be ousted, and the general masses of workers must be educated in Trade Unionism along class struggle lines. The African people in the townships and at the pass-offices, where scab-labour is recruited, must be educated too as to the conditions of their fellow-workers in the different industries. This is one of the tasks which the Trade Union Bulletin will take up. Our purpose is to help in educating the uneducated, organising the unorganised, and to demonstrate that the struggle must inevitably become a political struggle the moment the most elementary demand for rights are raised. The fight against the reactionary Government offensive can only be met by the class action of the African masses under Marxist leadership.


The C.P. will attempt to hinder the attainment of these aims. Ever since 1941, the Stalinists have consistently encouraged support of the war effort and have attempted to curb any manifestation of militancy by the masses. They have discouraged and sabotaged strikes. Unions dominated by the C.P or which the C.P. has set out to break because they express the will of the workers, have deteriorated and gone out of existence altogether, as happened with the Tin and Metal workers. The C.P. not only has failed to give the masses, which it pretends to represent, a proper lead, but has tried to destroy their spirit by its hush-hush and scab tactics.

Owing to the lack of proper leadership, the African masses have been persuaded into giving unconditional support to the war and great numbers have even joined the army and given their lives for a reactionary Government and oppressing system of society. The present leadership of the Council, influenced by Stalinism, must undoubtedly be held responsible for these things, and it is clear that the workers' struggle will only advance if they are replaced by militants who truly represent the masses.