The Urban Training Project (UTP)

UTP was one of the first groups to help form black trade unions, following the PUTCO strike in June 1972. The Laundry and Dry Cleaning Workers’ Association (LDCWA) was the first African trade union established with UTP help. It was formally inaugurated on 20 May 1972 with Agnes Molefe as its first secretary.

It was followed by the Transport and Allied Workers Union (TAWU) which was formed in 1973. In 1975, UTP had also helped organise and establish the Sweets, Food and Allied Workers Union (SFAWU), Paper Wood and Allied Workers’ Union (PWAWU), the Building Construction and Allied Workers’ Union (BCAWU), the South African Chemical Workers’ Union (SACWU), the Commercial Catering and Allied Workers’ Union (CCAWUSA), and the Glass and Allied Workers’ Union (GAWU).

UTP became one of the leading forces in the establishment of black trade unions during the 1970s. Its initial plan was not to be a trade union or worker-controlled organisation; it assumed this role only when money, provided by foreign sources to assist existing as well as new African worker organisations, was pumped into it. Jabulani Sithole and Sifiso Ndlovu note

“The ideological drive of overseas financial sponsors, mainly the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and the British Trades Union Council (TUC), was primarily behind the UTP’s economic reductionism and workerism. A condition for funding was that recipients should keep African workers away from politics. Its ‘economism’ and hostility towards politics alienated the UTP from other groups that were involved in the revival of trade unions during this period. Among those repulsed by the UTP’s ‘economism’ were trade unionists of Black Consciousness persuasion such as Drake Koka.” (The Revival of the Labour Movement, 1970–1980, p.200)

The number of UTP-assisted trade unions grew until, by the end of 1975, it was servicing ten different African-strong unions. By the mid 1980s some of the unions that had previously been assisted by the UTP claimed membership of between 40 000 and 51 000 each.

• 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.198-201.

Last updated : 14-Feb-2013

This article was produced for South African History Online on 05-Feb-2013