1973 Durban Strikes

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1973 Durban Strikes – TUCSA – Harriet Bolton

Following the 1973, Durban strikes, TUCSA seemed unwilling to hold to book employers. TUCSA had long paid lip service to the ideal of African unions registered under the same legislation as White, Indian and Coloured unions, and the strikes provided another platform for this line. Buoyed by a mandate in favour of organising African unions from the overwhelming majority of affiliated unions, the TUCSA executive felt empowered to repeatedly call for government recognition of African trade unions in the months following the strikes.

Only Harriet’s furniture and textile union, as well as the tin workers union to a lesser degree, offered any assistance to workers during the 1973 strikes in Durban.

After the strikes, Harriet was involved in the formation of the Central Administration Services (CAS). Its objective was to provide clerical and organisational administration to the smaller worker organisations. CAS attempted to coordinate registered unions’ assistance to emerging African unions.

By 1973, Harriet’s role as a member of the TUCSA executive, focussed on making a distinction between TUCSA and the work that the Bolton Hall unions were doing. 

Harriet moved the TUCSA resolution, which tasked individual unions with organising African workers and she also called for the registered unions to organise African unions on an industry-wide basis.

In the 1980s, TUCSA unions, to which the majority of Indian workers belonged, attempted to establish African unions on a parallel basis. These unions, including the parallel to the Natal garment union, battled to survive.  By the late 1980s, they had mostly either fallen into ruin or had been absorbed into a more progressive union grouping.

By 1973 Harriet’s frustration with TUCSA’s inflexibility in the face of new worker activism reached the point where she began to criticise the organisation’s policies publicly for the first time.

As the year progressed, TUCSA publicly disassociated itself from Harriet’s work with the new unions, despite her position on the organisation’s executive committee.

Ostracised by her TUCSA colleagues and seemingly out of step with the leadership and membership of the GWIU, by mid-1974 Harriet had made the decision to resign from the union. Shortly afterwards, she announced her intention to quit all her union posts and leave for England with her children.

Last updated : 24-Oct-2016

This article was produced for South African History Online on 03-Feb-2014