1973 Durban Strikes

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The 1973 TUCSA Conference

The 1973 August TUCSA conference marked an important opportunity for the Council to become a representative worker organisation.  A week before TUCSA’s annual conference was due to get underway in Durban, five hundred textile workers were fired from the Frame group’s Wentex Mills in Jacobs. Dissatisfaction with wages and the inability to get a hearing from Frame’s management, stemming from similar grievances in June, had finally boiled over into a walk-out on the 8 August. According to Isisebenzi, workers had demanded increases of between five and seven Rand, and received less than a Rand increase. The workers were sent home and invited to reapply for their positions the following week. The majority were reemployed, but between sixty and eighty of them were not granted a position.75 Among those refused were nine out of the thirteen members of the factory’s Works Committee, who felt they had been victimised. Five of the workers were also charged with contravening the Bantu Labour (Settlement of Disputes) Act during the strike.

The textile union voted to set up a relief fund to help support those who were fired, as well as provide legal assistance to the workers facing charges. The GWCC pledged to support the textile workers during a meeting prior to the TUCSA conference.

It was at this conference that TUCSA finally committed itself to organising African workers into unions. However, they stopped short at inviting affiliation: this step was only taken a year later. TUCSA’s reputation was in tatters internationally.

Harriet Bolton, as TUCSA executive member, moved a resolution, which tasked individual unions with organising African workers.

Another resolution called for support of the Natal textile workers. The proposed resolution pledged TUCSA’s full support to the textile workers “in their just struggle for a decent and humane standard of living,” and unions were encouraged to generously support the relief fund, which had been set up by the union earlier in the week. Recognition of the TWIU at Frame factories was demanded, and the labour minister was called on to order an urgent Wage Board investigation in to the Cotton Section of the Textile Industry. A negotiated national agreement for all cotton workers was requested, and the resolution pledged TUCSA to make representations to the Labour Minister to pressure the Frame Group to reinstate the recently dismissed workers.

The proposed resolution was initially met with great hostility from TUCSA leadership, and was put on hold until the last day of the conference. The resolution was eventually passed on the final day of the conference.

TUCSA’s pledge to assist the TWIU marked any important turning point for the organisation, despite the executive’s initial fierce resistance to the proposal. 

Last updated : 04-Feb-2014

This article was produced for South African History Online on 04-Feb-2014