History of Labour Movements in South Africa

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The Western Province Workers Advice Bureau (WPWAB)

The National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) activists at the University of Cape Town supported African workers through a wage commission, which they set up in 1972. They included activists such as Paula Ensor, John Frankish, Gordon Young and Jeannette Curtis.

Together with trade unionists such as Elijah Loza, Zola Mehlomakhulu, Wilson Sidina and Lucas Kukulela they formed the Western Province Workers Advice Bureau (WPWAB) in Cape Town in March 1973. The office where the WPWAB was launched belonged to a member of the Coloured Labour Party (CLP) in Athlone. An Executive Committee consisting exclusively of workers was established. Then a Board of Trustees consisting of registered trade unionists, academics and lawyers was set up.  By December 1973 the WPWAB had a constitution.

Initially, the WPWAB had single organiser but later increased to two organisers and an administrator who dealt with complaints of workers. Sidina became an organiser of the WPWAB. The same year they formed the Workers Advisory Project (WAP). WPWAB’s primary concern was organizing unions while WAP was directing at the legal, educational and literacy wings of the labour movement. Workers were encouraged to form factory committees and register them under the Black Labour Relations Regulation Act. Legal work committees were also established. By August 1973 the WPWAB had 11 works committee which increased to 14 by October of the same year.

As from October 1977 the WPWAB embarked launched training programs for workers, and some of the material was written in African languages. The involvement of the WPWAB in organising workers resulted in its members being harassed by the apartheid government.  For instance, the Bantu Administration Office refused to register their organiser while one the organisation’s assistant was arrested. This resulted in the temporal closure of the office of the WPWAB between January and September 1974.  This did not prevent workers from continuing to join the WPWAB or organising themselves leading to an increase of worker committees to 24 which increased to 34 by the end of the year.


References:
• 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.261-264.

Last updated : 11-Feb-2013

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