This paper was submitted to the 1973 Durban Strikes Celebrating 50 Years Conference
My existing exhibition on the Durban strikes is being refocused and upgraded to reflect on the resistance of African workers to the cheap labour system. The graphic narrative will include short term contracts, no urban rights, ultra low pay, brutal regime in compounds, rule by chiefs and Bantustans, police regimes and blacklisting reference books. The Wages Commission’s strategy of politicizing poverty wages is illustrated. There is also fresh material on how Wages Commission research on plantations led to international exposure of the starvation wages of British companies in rural communities which drove the Parliamentary investigation. The exhibition portrays the international impact of the wages exposures in solidarity and pressure on multinational companies such as Leyland, Natal Tanning Extract, Smith and Nephew etc. It works give character to undocumented leaders: there are pictures of a number of strikers who were later worker leaders; a step towards building their biographies. The exhibition will portray individuals and small groups in the crowd of pickets; giya-dancing strikers marching and the celebration of the dawn of workers’ democracy. The strikes in the docks, Coronation, Clover, CTM, Frametex, Alusaf and elsewhere are accompanied by key points of narrative. The exhibition is designed to contrast workers aspirations to the reality of conditions 50 years later.
David Hemson, pioneered Wages Commissions in South Africa in 1971 and, as union official, participated in Durban strikes in 1973. He helped found the textile, metal, furniture, dock unions before being house arrested in February 1974. He completed his doctorate on Durban dock workers at University of Warwick. In exile he was active in trade union organization in Zimbabwe and detained in Chikurubi maximum security prison in 1985. Later he was research director with HSRC and continues to research access to water, energy and improved agriculture. Author of a book and of chapters and articles on labour issues and history, he supports independent workers’ movements in Africa, Belarus and internationally.