TUACC and the Formation of National Unions, 1976- 1978

On 6 January 1974, the new independent organisations, GFWBF and IIE, established the Trade Union Advisory Coordinating Council (TUACC). TUACC was initially created to formalise relations with the KwaZulu government and it is was only after Chief Mangosuthu G. Buthelezi withdrew his support that the TUACC was reconstituted as a coordinating body that centralised union resources and the formulation of policy.

TUACC was formed because the new unions needed to act collectively if they wanted to grow and survive and the unions needed a body that could ‘enter into dialogue with homeland governments, academics and other institutions concerned with the problems faced by the masses of unorganised workers’. TUACC called for the unions to remain independent of party influences.

TUACC aimed to unite the new unions in Natal into a ‘tight’ structure that would allow the unions to develop common policies. It provided a framework that enabled the unions to share ideas, consolidate their principles and organisational strategies, pool their resources and extend into other parts of the country. 

TUACC played a crucial role in providing a forum through which the unions could refine their methods, tighten up organisation and develop new tactics.

TUACC was structured to ensure that the elected representatives of workers dominated the organization.

One of the most distinctive of TUACC’s policies was that only ‘open’ trade unions would be allowed to affiliate. Open trade unions were defined as those that accepted all workers regardless of race, religion or sex. By insisting that workers of all race groups be organised into the same trade union, the TUACC challenged the long established practice of organising African workers separately and fundamentally defied racial segregation within the trade union movement that had long been promoted the government. 

TUACC supported the formation of broad based industrial unions. Unregistered industrial unions would be able to cooperate with registered trade unions and thereby take advantage of the rights under the existing legislation.

TUACC emphasised the development of worker leaders and the creation of shop stewards structures.

In the run up to TUCSA’s annual conference in 1975, TUACC called on all the unregistered trade unions to attend a national meeting to develop a common position. TUACC condemned TUCSA’s parallelism and argued that by forcing African workers to organise along ‘lines arbitrarily decided by the state and existing registered trade unions’, the working class would be splintered along provincial lines and into minor industrial sections, which would undermine the bargaining position of workers. TUACC argued the trade union movement should aim to organise broad based industrial unions that were national in character. Delegates from the open unions were barred from attending TUCSA’s conference, but TUACC still issued a memorandum calling for debate on TUCSA’s approach to African workers and for workers to unite across the unregistered- registered divide.

Between 1974 and 1975, the TUACC unions had to come to grips with the various difficulties associated with unionising Black workers in Apartheid South Africa. As the economy slowed down, the open unions had to face opposition from employers and managers, who went to great lengths to undermine independent worker organisation (through the use of lockouts, dismissals and redundancies) and aimed to thwart any demands for recognition and instil discipline through the introduction of liaison committees. Similarly the state, colluded with employers to undermine the new unions through various departments, continually harassed unionists and workers.

In May 1978, a new draft constitution for the national TUACC was circulated and a month later, the CIWW and TUACC merged.

The TUACC continued to coordinate the unions until 1979, until the formation of FOSATU. 

Last updated : 04-Feb-2014

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