The Industrial Aid Society

The Industrial Aid Society (IAS) started out as a project of the Wage and Economic Commission, which operated under NUSAS at the University of the Witwatersrand. The Inaugural Meeting of the Steering Committee was held in December 1973.

The IAS set up a legal advice centre and complaints service. An education and literacy programme was also developed.

Division between the SACTU stalwarts and radical students was further entrenched by the way in which the IAS was structured. Older SACTU activists all served on the Steering Committee of the organisation, but radical students in the education group carried out the day-to-day running of the organisation.

Worker education also became contentious. Some argued that general trade unions were inherently political, but without guidance could fall prey to reformism. Workers’ education would have to ensure that workers developed the appropriate level of consciousness before trade unions developed. Consequently, the IAS decided not to affiliate to the IIE because it did not approve of the separation between organisation and education and questioned ‘the value of workers receiving diplomas recognised by employers.

The restructuring of the IAS facilitated TUACC’s expansion into the Transvaal and further developed workers’ control in important ways.

This ultimately allowed the pro-industrial trade union faction to develop closer links with MAWU. The IAS executive decided to set up ‘union structures in the field of metal’ and appointed temporary office bearers for MAWU. This fuelled a bitter conflict within the IAS and as a compromise, mediated by Philip Bonner; it was decided to form a ‘metal wing’ instead. In so doing, it was agreed that the formation of a union would be delayed until five functioning shop steward committees had been established and a deputation would be sent to TUACC to discuss possible points of disagreement in approach and strategy.

By June 1974, the metal wing and representatives from MAWU had also established a coordinating committee as a forerunner to a national union.

The initial success of the metal section fed tensions within the IAS. Activists fought over financial controls, the accountability of subcommittees and, perhaps most importantly, the establishment of a metal versus a transport and general union. Matters came to a head at beginning of July 1975 and those activists who favoured the WPWAB stance on general unionism resigned. This allowed for the organisation of metalworkers to begin in earnest and for relations with MAWU and TUACC to solidify.

Through the development of MAWU on the Witwatersrand, the IAS started to develop a worker base. 

Last updated : 04-Feb-2014

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