Document 139 - “The coming Anti-African Bill”. Workers’ Voice.6.2. December 1947

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

The Industrial Conciliation (Natives) Bill whic8 is to be discussed at the next session of Parliament must surely rank as the most viciously anti-Non-European piece of legislation ever to come before any Union Parliament. All other statutory acts pale into insignificance before the sweeping reaction of this Bill. Its character is oppressive and fascistic to the core. The Act of Union in 1910 wrote the colour bar into the statute books of South Africa and took away the political rights of the Non-Europeans except for restricted voting rights allowed for Non-Europeans in the Cape Province. The Native Land and Trust Act of 1913 and the anti-African Acts on 1936 deprived the Africans of their land and property rights as well as the political rights still allowed in the Cape, for which they were "compensated" by the right to elect three European Representatives to the House of Assembly and four to the Senate. The Industrial Conciliation (Natives) Act is in reality designed to suppress and destroy the rising movement of African workers to trade unionism as a means of struggle for their demands as workers. Reactionary as they were, none of these previous Acts is such a deathblow as this proposed new Bill.

Although the Bill is aimed primarily at the African people it is of vital importance to all the non-Europeans and heavily affects the white workers as well. While it is not the place in this editorial to go into detail regarding the terms of the Bill, let it be sufficient to say that if it becomes law then it will mean the end in South Africa of trade unionism for the Africans, or what little of it exists; and for the Coloured and White workers it will be a short step to total regimentation of their unions in the interests of the bosses and the State.

Far from granting recognition under a form of Industrial Conciliation Machinery, this Act seeks to deprive the African workers of the rights of free trade unions, as is traditionally understood by the working class.

For a union which must have its officials approved by the State, which is forbidden by law to strike, but must, irrespective of e demands and desires of its members, abide by the decisions of a "conciliation" board which comprises only representatives of the State and the employers, which may not be organised by Socialists and which must be constituted on racially exclusive lines, is really not a trade union at all but merely the instrument and tool of the power which deprives it of these fundamental union rights, in this case, the Union Government.

For, in effect, this is what the new Bill means for the African worker: to place him into organisations which are merely State agencies, part of the apparatus of the State of the white ruling class. State company unions are what the African unions must become, or be declared illegal and thus liable for prosecution. For unions which are not "registered" in terms of the Bill will be guilty of a criminal offence if they continue to function and exist.

It must be clear to every trade unionist that this Bill is intended to destroy completely what little power African unions enjoy, for at present, while unrecognised by the Government, they are still able to organise and co-operate and record gains for their members and indulge in strike action. Handicapped as they are by non-recognition, the Africans were nevertheless able to organise an African Mineworkers' Union which waged the biggest and most heroic strike in the history of this country. If this Act becomes law, the Smuts Government, in order to maintain "industrial peace" in the foundation of the South African economy, will prohibit the African Mineworkers' Union from existing even under the reactionary Industrial Conciliation (Natives) Bill. It is far better for the African worker to fight to retain the status quo than be "recognised" by Smuts in this form.

Let not the Coloured and White workers imagine that this is a matter which does not affect their unions. Already Smuts has indicated that he intends introducing legislation for separate unions for Coloured workers only. We know the Governments of White

South Africa too well to imagine that when the time is ripe they will not apply the same drastic restrictions to Coloured workers, too.

As for the White workers, although till the last they will be bribed by higher wages and better jobs through the notorious white labour policy, and in general receive preferential treatment in order to induce them to ally themselves with the white ruling class against the non-white workers -the time will surely come when, in a period of economic crisis, the South African ruling class will not be able to afford any longer the luxury of inflated wages for the white labour aristocracy, and when this time DOES come, it will suddenly be discovered how well the new Bill will have worked for African and Coloured workers, and white workers, too, will be compelled to "enjoy" the "superior working" and "administrative efficiency" conferred by it.

We repeat: this Bill cannot be dismissed as something which affects only the African workers and which does not concern other workers -it is of vital importance to the trade unions as a whole and indeed carries serious political implications for the whole working class. When non-European trade unions are gagged and bound, non-European political organisations are in real danger of being similarly outlawed and suppressed.

The time to awake is now, before it is too late. The main burden of opposition to the Bill must come from the African trade union movement itself, the leadership of which has been too complacent thus far about the whole matter. The Non-European trade unions must take instant and united action. A national conference similar to the one held in Bloemfontein in August, 1945, should be called immediately and the best methods of struggle hammered out by the workers' and trade union representatives. The South African Trades and Labour Council should be compelled to throw in its weight and work with the African unions in this struggle, but the main force behind the struggle of the African workers should be the whole non-European people themselves.

It is quite clear that existing political bodies of the non-Europeans cannot or refuse to see the grave implications of the Bill. The African working class cannot be destroyed while these organisations slumber.

There is a real and vital need for a unified national liberatory organisation to lead the oppressed peoples in South Africa. For while it is necessary to combat the new Industrial Conciliation (Natives) Bill in the industrial and trade union field, non-European bodies must wage a determined POLITICAL struggle against it as well, for the Bill has a dual anti-working class and anti-colour nature, and is therefore of the greatest importance to the non-European national movement as a whole.

The industrial development of South Africa which draws ever-increasing numbers of African workers into industry makes it necessary for the ruling class to possess the powers contained in this Bill in order to curb and control the African workers. This self-same industrial development should forge a militant and class-conscious African leadership to lead the African people in the gigantic struggles that lie ahead. If this is not done and the Bill becomes law then the African workers and ultimately the whole working class in this country will go under.

Not only the African workers but all the workers in South Africa must be made to realise and understand the real content and meaning of Mill, the passing of which constitutes the gravest and most sinister threat to working class liberties in this country. It inevitably brings to mind events in other countries which were preceded by Bills of just such a kind.