William H. ‘Bill” Andrews

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Biographical information

William H."Bill" Andrews


Pioneer of the trade union movement and first General Secretary of the Communist Party of South Africa.

First name: 
Middle name: 
Henry "Bill"
Last name: 
Date of birth: 
Location of birth: 
Suffolk ,England
Date of death: 
December 1950
Location of death: 
South Africa

Born in Suffolk, England, in 1870 into a working-class family, he immigrated to South Africa in 1893. He became a railway fitter and in 1902 helped found the first trades and Labour Council.

In 1909 he became the first chairman of the South African Labour Party and three years later was elected to parliament on the Labour ticket. He was widely admired as an energetic organiser and forceful speaker. After breaking with the Labour Party on the war issue, he was not re-elected to Parliament in 1915 and turned to organising the anti-war International Socialist League, which in 1921 joined with other organisations to form the CPSA. Andrews served as secretary and editor of The International.

In November 1922 he was elected to the executive committee of the Communist International and spent most of the following year in Moscow.

In 1924 he was elected the first general secretary of the South African Association of Employees' Organizations, which later renamed the South African Trade Congress. Although Andrews supported the cause of trade unions for Africans, he did not in the 1920s believe that the CPSA should direct its primary energies into organising blacks. This put him into conflict with Sidney Bunting and led to his partial withdrawal from party politics about 1925.

During the "Native Republic" phase of the early 1930s he was officially expelled from the CPSA, but in 1938 he was readmitted, and throughout most of the 1940s he served as chairman of the party's central committee. He died in December 1950. His biography, Comrade Bill, by R.K. Cope, was published in 1944.

Last updated : 20-Jun-2018

This article was produced for South African History Online on 17-Feb-2011