Timeline of the Labour and Trade Union Movement in South Africa 1960 - 1979

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Workers on strike, Durban 1970sWorkers on strike, Durban 1970s

In the 1960s and 1970s labour and the trade union movement had to contend with a number developments that had a direct impact on their activities. Following the Sharpeville massacre in March 1960, the government declared a state of emergency. Consequently, a number of leading South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU) leaders were detained and those who escaped detention fled to exile. The government went further and banned more than 45 SACTU leaders and members under the General Law Amendment Act. Also in the early 60s, the armed struggle was launched by various organisations that embarked on sabotage campaigns. A number of trade union activists became operatives of uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC). The subsequent decade of the 1970s witnessed a revival of the trade union movement which began in Durban and spread to other parts of Natal and the country. SACTU leaders who just been released from Robben Island in the 1970s, National Union of South African Students (NUSAS), the General Workers Benefit Fund and the Urban Training Project (UTP) consolidated their activities in the trade union movement. All these activities brought the labour and the trade union movement into the centre of the struggle for democracy in South Africa.
1961
The ANC’s turn to the armed struggle draws most of SACTU’s leaders into the ranks of its armed wing, uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK). 
1963
December, Mark Shope arrives in Prague to work at the World Federation of Trade Union headquarters at the instructions of the ANC.
1965
May, SACTU holds its tenth Annual General Conference and elects a new national executive committee. Samuel Pholoto is elected as president; however he is immediately banned by the government.
1967
The National Union of Motor Assembly and Rubber Workers of South Africa (NUMARWOSA) is launched and represents about 4500 workers.
1969
The Trade Union Council of South Africa (TUCSA) expels Black trade unions.
April, A thousand dockworkers in Durban go on strike demanding higher wages. The employer rejects the workers’ demands and several striking workers are dismissed. 
2 March, SACTU leaders meet in exile in Zambia to map out a strategy to revive the union inside the country as its had been rendered in effective by the Apartheid government bans on its leadership
2 May, SACTU leadership meets in Tanzania and resolves to streamline the organisation’s activities abroad. It resolves to establish its African headquarters in Zambia. 
1970
The Urban Training Project (UTP) is formed by former TUCSA officials on the Witwatersrand, servicing members who had been expelled from TUCSA and helping in the formation several trade unions over the next few years.
The Western Province Advice Bureau is launched in Cape Town, setting up workers’ committees at factories and co-ordinating these in a rudimentary council structure. It membership increases to 5000 by 1976. It changes its name to the Western Province General Workers Union and is later renamed as the General Workers Union.
20 May, The Laundry and Dry Cleaning Workers’ Association (LDCWA) is established by the Urban Training Project (UTP).  Agnes Molefe is elected as its first secretary.
June, The Public Utility Transport Corporation (Putco) drivers go on strike.
July, The South African Student Organisation (SASO) at its third Annual Conference adopts a resolution to establish a national trade union.  
9 September, The General Factory Workers Benefit fund (GFWBF) is formed by Harriet Bolton, Rick Turner and others.  As it was illegal for black workers to belong to a registered trade union, the fund is established provide assistance to black workers. It has an executive of 20 members who are mostly from the Clothing and Furniture industries.
December, King Goodwill Zwelethini addresses workers in Durban, giving the workers the impression that their wages will be raised early in the next year.
1973
The Trade Union Advisory Co-ordinating Committee (TUACC) is formed, and gets a massive injection of members following the strike wave early in the year. By early 1976 the umbrella body had a collective membership of 14 000, but only a third of these were fully paid up.
The Black Labour Relations Regulations Act is passed in attempt by the government to stem the rising tide of militancy among workers.
The Black Allied Workers Union (BAWU) is launched, a Black Consciousness attempt to extend the movement beyond its predominantly student base. With financial support from the US labour movement’s AFL-CIO, BAWU was headed by Drake Koka, who had strong links especially with German social democrats.
The Transport and Allied Workers Union (TAWU) is formed.
The Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) is founded
8 January, Rumours of an upcoming strike at Coronation Brick and Tile in Durban prompts management to issue pamphlets warning workers that communist agitators were at work among them.
9 January, All 2000 workers at Coronation Brick and Tile launch a spontaneous strike. They demand that their weekly wage of R8,97 be increased to R20. King Goodwill Zwelethini intervenes, promising to represent the workers who refuse to put forward representatives for fear of arrest. Eventually, on 14 January, the workers appoint representatives, with Nathaniel Zulu chosen as their leader. The leaders meet with management and agree to a weekly wage of R11,50.
10 January, Workers at AJ Keeler stop work for 45 minutes.
11 January, Workers at TW Becket & Co, a tea packing company, go out on strike, demanding an increase of R3 a week. Police are called in and workers are told to return  to work or face dismissal.  Of the 150 strikers, about 100 decide to continue the strike. By 25 January the company agrees to raise wages by R3,00 and to reinstate most of the dismissed workers, but ‘troublemakers’ were not rehired.
22 January, Drivers at Motor-Via in Pinetown, near Durban, picket for wage increases.
22 -24 January, Long distance truck drivers go on strike demanding R40 a week, and 250 of them are dismissed when they refuse the management’s wage offer. Most return to work by 25 January but 100 are dismissed.
25 January, Workers at Frametex Textile Company go on strike, and are joined by workers at other Frame group companies, in total about 6,000 workers. Although many go back to work many others at other Frame companies go on strike, and the strike spreads to other textile companies.
By the end of January newspapers list 29 firms affected by strikes throughout Durban. The media, unusually, point to ‘shocking’ wage levels and uncaring industrialists as the cause of the strikes.
5 February, 3000 cleaners and other staff at Durban Corporation go out on strike, and are joined the next day by 16,000 workers at other Durban Corporation departments, the total rising to 30,000 by the third day. They return to work by 8 February.
5 March, The Western Province Workers’ Advice Bureau (WPWAB) is established and an executive committee consisting of exclusively workers in elected.  
April, Industrial strikes erupt at the Mandini and Richard’s Bay industrial areas.
April, The Metal and Allied Workers Union (MAWU) is established and launched in Pietermaritzburg with the assistance of the General Workers Benefit Fund (GFWBF). Alpheus Mthethwa, an employee of the GFWBF is elected branch secretary.
11 September, Mine workers at Western Deep levels on strike against poverty wagesare shot by the police while protesting. As a result 12 miners are killed and 38 are wounded.
September, The National Union of Textile Workers (NUTW) is established at James Bolton Hall in Durban with the help of the GFWBF.  The government launches a crackdown on the union banning and detaining its leaders. For instance, acting general secretary Hitlon Cheadle is detained and banned.
September, The Workers Advisory Project (WAP) is established.
NUSAS members such as Steven Friedman and Jeanette Curtis together with SACTU members such as Mirriam Sithole and Phindile Mfeti form the Industrial Aid Society (IAS) in Witwatersrand. Amongst other aims, it sought to disseminate information, provide training and information service for workers and organizers.  
The Institute of Industrial Education (IIE) is founded in Durban and aims to serve as a correspondence school for trade unionists and also provide basic information and skills for effective trade Union activity for all races. The institute also establishes the South Africa Labour Bulletin with Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi as its Chancellor and Lawrence Schlemme as its chairperson.
1974
MAWU’s Pietermaritzburg organiser Jeanette Cunningham-Brown is banned.
The Industrial Aid Society is formed in Johannesburg and begins to recruit workers and build factory committees, especially in the metal engineering sector because of its economic significance. The body organises classes at Wits University, where workers debate ‘the reasons why the ICU and SACTU failed’. The body develops close ties with TUACC.
31January, David Davis the administrative officer of the GFWBF is banned and prohibited from working in any trade union movement.
20May, The Commercial Branch (C.I.D) raid branches of the GFWBF in Durban and Pietermaritzburg where they confiscate the fund’s records and never return them.  
The Chemical Workers Industrial Union (CWIU) is founded and Omar Badsha is elected as its secretary. The Union establishes branches in Pinetown, Jacobs and Dalbridge in Durban.
The Sweet Food and Allied Workers Union (SFAWU) is established with assistance from the UTP, and Shakes Sikhakhane is elected as its first Secretary. 
31 May, The Paper Wood and Allied Workers’ Union (PWAWU) is established with assistance from the UTP. Benjy Mngoma is elected as its first secretary. The union organizes workers in the paper and pulp, paper printing and packaging, wood, sawmills and furniture sectors.
22 July- 3 August, A strike by over 5000 workers sweeps across East London. It begins at Car Distributor Assemblies and engulfs 20 other companies.
2 December, A bus boycott begins in East London and lasts a month and half.
1975
5 April, The Glass and Allied Workers’ Union (GAWU) is formed. 
1 March, The Building Construction and Allied Workers’ Union (BCAWU) is formed with Shakes Sikhakhane of the SFAWU’s as its acting secretary. He was later replaced by Frank Mohlala.
The Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union of South Africa (CCAWUSA) is established with Emma Mashinini as General Secretary and M Ledwaba as President. Later, the union changes its name to the Commercial Catering and Allied Workers’ Union (CCAWU). 
1976
Sipho Kubheka and Gavin Anderson are banned.
November, Several trade unionists are banned by the government.
December, Obed Zuma a leading SACTU trade unionist is released from detention and becomes the General Secretary of NUTW.
1977
June, The Wiehahn Commission is established by the government in the wake of labour unrest and the Soweto uprisings of 1976 to look at industrial relations system in South Africa.
August, MAWU becomes a national union after the amalgamation of the Natal and Transvaal branches.
1978
30 October, Strike at Eveready, a British manufacturer of car batteries, becomes the first legal strike in 20 years. The company fires several workers after they refuse to heed a call to return to work.
1979
March, The SA Allied Workers Union (SAAWU) is launched in March 1979 after splits in BAWU, the Black Consciousness union. The faction that became SAAWU disagreed with the BAWU policy of racial exclusivity. SAAWU was based in Durban but began to organise in the East London area in 1980, becoming the fastest growing union in the period, reaching a membership of 70,000 by the end of 1981.
Job reservation is scrapped.
14-15 April, The Federation of South African Trade Unions (FOSATU) is launched at its inaugural meeting in Hammanskraal, north of Pretoria. According to historian Phil Bonner, it was the ‘first genuinely national non-racial federation of trade unions to have been formed in South Africa’. Emphasising ‘strong factory floor organisation, democratic workers’ control and tactical finesse’, FOSATU became the leading worker organisation in the country until the formation of COSATU in 1985/6.
1 May, The first interim report of the Wiehahn Commission is tabled in Parliament. 

References:
• Sithole, J, and Ndlovu, S., ‘The Revival of the Labour Movement, 1970”“1980’ in the Road to Democracy in South Africa, Volume 2, 1970-1980, (Pretoria ”“UNISA), pp.187-241
•  Hemson, D., Legassick, M., and Ulrich, N., White Activists in the Revival of the Worker’s Movement in The Road to Democracy in South Africa, Volume 2, 1970-1980, (Pretoria ”“UNISA), pp.243-314.
•  http://vimeo.com/15599177Video of the Durban Strikes 

Last updated : 20-Feb-2013

This article was produced for South African History Online on 29-Nov-2012