This paper was submitted to the 1973 Durban Strikes Celebrating 50 Years Conference
The history of the African working class is symbiotic with migrant labour, first in the mines, with regional migration, followed by internal migration of men from the countryside to the mines. Rural-urban migration intensified in the second half of the 20th century, with the growth of industrial and manufacturing factories in South Africa, characterised by the massive movement of men, women, and children from the countryside in search of industrial and domestic work in the cities.
Many of the militant industrial working-class struggles by African workers infused rural-urban linkages and histories of migration. The popular Culture and Working Life Project by Dunlop workers in Durban became the clearest articulation of rural-urban linkages, migrant labour, and shop floor struggles through poetry, ingoma, isicathamiya and cultural plays. The research I conducted among workers at Dunlop factory in Durban between 2007 and 2010 showed the salience of both rural-urban linkages, migrant labour, as well as shop floor struggles, which played out through traditional cultural means.
In 2015 Dunlop factory in Durban was shut down, as well as several other clothing and textile, sugar milling and production, and rubber and chemical plants industrial factories. These have been replaced by multinational logistics and warehousing companies, which largely require and produced a different category of workers, as opposed to historical migrant industrial and, or mining working-class. The paper draws from the developing research on the changing nature of the African working class, new constructions of rural-urban linkages and new terrains of struggle for a changing African worker.