I am glad that South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU)has not listened to the ill advice that they should not be interested in politics. There is a Zulu saying that if you are pricked by a thorn you also have to use a thorn to get it out. Workers are oppressed by political action; they must take political action in reply.
Chief Lutuli's central message at the historic 1959 SACTU Conference was on the importance of the dialectical relationship between the trade union struggle and the political struggle. He emphasized the necessity for a stronger link between the two organizations, which embodied these, SACTU and the African National Congress. This conference was to have a profound effect on the working relationship between the two organizations in the ensuing years.
From its inception SACTU committed itself to an alliance with all other progressive forces fighting for the total liberation of their country. In turn, the ANC expressed their solidarity with the new organisation:
In the same speech, Oliver Tambo, Acting Secretary-General of the ANC, called for ANC members to become organizers in factories, farms, mines, vineyards and sugar plantations. Recalling the role of the ANC in the African Mine Workers Union he stressed that 'this must come to life again'.
A strong Trade Union movement will mean a strong Congress movement and the message of both the Trade Unions and the ANC must be carried into every factory and every workshop in the land. At SACTU's First Annual National Conference in March 1956, the President in his address to the delegates reiterated the position of the new body:
While the South African Congress of Trade Unions must thus pursue an independent policy in the interests of the workers, it must also participate unreservedly in the struggle to mobilize the people behind their demands as embodied in the Freedom Charter and must cooperate with all other organizations engaged in this struggle.
Even before SACTU was formed, however, the CNETU had also recognized that its role was 'not only to ask for daily bread, but to widen our interests and our activity in the political sphere.... We were a great intrument in supporting anything, which related to all spheres. This understanding of the inextricable link between economic and political power strengthened the political movements and added force to the campaigns initiated jointly by the movements in the 1940s and early 1950s. From 1912 to 1949, the African National Congress had pursued all constitutional and peaceful means possible to try to win basic changes in South African society, which would benefit the African masses. During the 1940s, however, the newly-formed Youth League of the ANC injected a fresh radicalism into the organization and the result was a significant change in leadership and a new blueprint for methods of resistance. A Programme of Action drawn up by Youth Leaguers such as Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, 0. R. Tambo and Anton Lembede was passed at the 1949 ANC Conference and outlined methods which included boycotts, strikes, civil disobedience and non-cooperation. The first step in the implementation of this Programme was a call for a 'national stoppage of work for one day as a mark of protest against the reactionary policy of the Government'. 1 May 1950 was chosen as the date for this first demonstration of protest. The issue was the impending Suppression of Communism Act and the restrictions placed on J. B. Marks, Moses Kotane and Yusuf Dadoo and others under the Riotous Assemblies Act . ( Please, please Lars link to it ) It also called for support of workers' wage demands and the CNETU played a crucial role in the organizational work leading up to the day of protest. The Nationalist Government prepared their response by placing a ban on demonstrations and meetings during this period. Despite this show of force, more than half of the African workforce in the Johannesburg area stayed at home on May Day and in several areas workers and residents defied the ban on meetings. The South African police reacted brutally, brandishing guns and bayonets against defenceless African protestors and at the end of the day 19 had been killed and 38 wounded. The police had demonstrated how effectively they could carry out the policies of the Apartheid state in crushing the people's resistance. Victimisation and harassment continued after the day of protest but in spite of this, the political leadership planned a new national strike for 26 June, to protest against the May Day police killings and raise the same issues as before.
'If ever there was a time when the African people were required to put their eight-million force behind the principles of democracy, in alliance with other freedom-loving members of the South African community, that time has come,' said ANC President Dr Moroka. Leaders of the other nation ally-oppressed groups like the Indian Congress, the African People's Organisation (representing Coloured People) and the Communist Party joined in. Dr Dadoo of the Indian Congress commented: 'Never before in the history of South Africa have the national leaders acted so swiftly and with complete oneness of purpose to beat back the fascist attack of the Government on the lives and liberties of the people. Unmistakable steps towards non-racial unity were clearly being taken.
The response on 26 June was widespread but uneven throughout the country. Port Elizabeth witnessed the most effective mass response from Africans, Indians and Coloureds affecting all industries in the area. Emergency preparations were required to ensure a steady supply of coal to the furnaces of the municipal power stations. In Durban, the Indian community responded to the call but amongst African workers the protest was not well-observed. In the Witwatersrand area also, the response was disappointing except in Alexandra and Evaton townships. The pattern of response seemed to reflect the strengths of the political movements in each area. Workers on the Rand were probably exhausted after the long build-up to the May Day action and the repression, which followed. The Port Elizabeth response stands out as an example of a close working relationship between ANC and the Black labour movement typical of the area. In Natal, the Indian Congress leadership had recognized the need for a grass-roots base amongst Indian workers.
The strike itself highlighted an important lesson for the political movement, the need to carefully gauge the mood of the working class before embarking on political mass action. It also pointed to the need for a national trade union coordinating body to appeal to workers throughout the country to respond to the political campaigns, a void which SACTU later filled. During this period the CNETU successfully organized Black workers in the Transvaal for the first protest strike, and in Port Elizabeth a high degree of class consciousness amongst Black workers existed largely as a result of the efforts of the FCWU, the AFCWU and on the political front, the ANC. Similarly, in Durban there was a tradition of militancy on the part of the Indian trade unionists. The time was ripe for a truly representative trade union movement, which could unite all of these various strands into one entity. In 1952, the ANC launched a Defiance Campaign against selected racial laws. During the course of the campaign, 8,000 volunteers in every corner of the country were jailed for deliberately defying Apartheid restrictions. Workers throughout the country responded to this call in large numbers and it was the first time that Africans, Indians, Coloured and Whites had participated together in such a massive display of resistance. As a result of this campaign membership in the ANC dramatically increased from 7,000 to 100,000 and it was an indication of the preparedness of the people for the unprecedented mass struggles carried out throughout the decade. As one ANC veteran recalls: 'Even those just out of jail were ready to go back. It looked like Freedom was very near. 1 thought that it would come by 1963 or 1964.
The Congress of the People
Following this successful campaign, a nation-wide movement was launched to convene a 'Congress of the People' bringing together South Africans of all races to put forward their demands for a free South Africa. The ANC formed an alliance with the South African Indian Congress (SAIC), SACPO, SACOD and SACTU to prepare for the most representative assembly ever held in the country. The actual Congress took place on 26 June 1955 in Kliptown, a town near Johannesburg, though the COP Committees were active for 16 months beforehand. Circulars went out asking people in the cities and the villages throughout the country: 'IF YOU COULD MAKE THE LAWS ... WHAT WOULD YOU DO? HOW WOULD YOU SET ABOUT MAKING SOUTH AFRICA A HAPPY PLACE FOR ALL THE PEOPLE WHO LIVE IN IT? SACTU had been formed only months before the COP took place, but many of its working class leaders were fully involved in the organizing committees, actively collecting demands from workers in the factories and townships, especially in Natal and the Eastern Cape. At its Inaugural Conference SACTU had welcomed the COP and endorsed the submission of workers' demands for inclusion in the Freedom Charter. Alven Bennie describes how the Port Elizabeth SACTU Local Committee mobilized workers around the campaign:
The workers responded with enthusiasm and we were working day and night preparing for the Congress of the People.... That campaign helped us a lot.... The workers would bring their demands to the offices after work. We worked till late and they would come in with their papers from different industries. We set up small committees, not only for the Congress, but we would organize a committee of workers so that they could continue with the work of organizing for the trade unions - in the dairies, laundries, road construction, with building workers, railway workers, etc.
The real organizing of the workers was boosted by the campaign.... You see, they had something to keep them together to discuss common problems. Some of their problems were those of higher wages, better working conditions, and then with the set up in South Africa this can only be solved by having a union. We explained that workers must unite, have a union to represent them. So, this gave us a chance to organize workers and explain to them that ' some of these problems would not be solved by the Congress of the People. Some workers were under the impression that by taking these demands to the Congress, when we came back these demands would be accepted by the bosses. So this also brought us nearer to the workers.
On Saturday, 25 June 1955, on a large field in Kliptown, 3,000 delegates elected in COP Committees all over South Africa came together to coordinate their demands. The people arrived dressed in their colourful traditional dress or wearing the new Congress uniforms, people of all races and representing various class positions - doctors, ministers, shopkeepers, labourers, domestic servants, peasants, students and teachers. Throughout Saturday and on Sunday morning the Freedom Charter, drafted by the National Action Council representing the Congress Alliance was read in English, Sotho and Xhosa. The important part of the economic demands in the Freedom Charter reads:
The national wealth of our country, the heritage of all South Africans, shall be restored to the people; the mineral wealth beneath the soil, the banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole.
The speaker who moved this section of the Charter explained it to the Congress delegates in these words:
It says ownership of the mines will be transferred to the ownership of the people. It says wherever there is a Gold Mine there will no longer be a compound boss. There will be a committee of the workers to run the Gold Mines. Friends, we also say that wherever there is a factory and where there are workers who are exploited, we say that the workers will take over and run the factories. In other words, the ownership of the factories will come into the hands of the people.
Friends, there is one more thing.... Let the banks come back to the people, let us have a people's committee to run the banks.
The next speaker at the COP was Billy Nair of Durban, one of SACTUs most militant leaders. He stated:
Now, comrades, the biggest difficulty we are facing in South Africa is that one of capitalism in all its oppressive measures versus the ordinary people - the ordinary workers in the country. We find in this country ... the means of production, the factories, the lands, the industries, and everything possible is owned by a small group of people who are the capitalists in this country. They skin the people, as a matter of fact in exploitation. They oppress in order to keep them as slaves in the land of their birth. Now friends, this is a very important demand in the Freedom Charter. Now we would like to see a South Africa where the industries, the lands, the big businesses and the mines, and everything that is owned by a small group of people in this country, must be owned by all the people in this country. That is what we demand, and that is what we fight for and until we have achieved that we must not rest. 1 appeal to you all to fight and struggle towards this end until we have achieved it.
In this speech, Billy Nair articulated clearly the conditions of exploitation of the South African working class, particularly African workers. SACTU represented these workers and as a class-based organisation, differed from the other members of the Congress Alliance representing the various national groups. Nevertheless, the formation of the Congress Alliance was as important to the political struggle as SACTU's formation was to the trade union struggle. In both cases, tremendous advances were made in the struggle for non-racial unity and the fight for liberation. This was the first of many campaigns carried out jointly by SACTU and the Congress Alliance throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, campaigns which focused on both national and class oppression. SACTU held true to the belief that the struggle for immediate economic demands was inherently bound up with the struggle for political rights for all South Africans. However, SACTU also recognized the workers as the driving force in the liberation struggle, those who owned no property and had nothing to sell but their labour-power - and consequently, nothing to lose.
Out of the COP, a National Consultative Committee (NCC) was formed, incorporating representatives from each of the five Congresses. The stated aims of the NCC were firstly to popularize the aims and objectives of the Freedom Charter, and secondly, to coordinate the activities of the Congress Alliance on matters of common interest. During the Sunday afternoon session of the COP, the police, armed with sten guns, marched into the midst of the gathering and proceeded to confiscate all papers, documents, camera film, posters and banners. The meeting continued as Special Branch policemen harassed speakers and members of the audience. People finally drifted away from the field at dusk on Sunday evening, away from a historic conference, which gave birth to the Freedom Charter, encompassing the demands of the South African masses in their search for a new society based on equal rights for all its members.
The real essence of the Freedom Charter reflects the attitude or consciousness of the working class as a proletariat and reflects the immediate objectives of the working class.... The only way out, to eliminate all the problems in South Africa is through the ideas enshrined in the Freedom Charter. But the real instrument to bring this about should be the working class ... the Freedom Charter ... is not in itself a socialist document but it is the basis, the foundation stone for socialism because of the objective conditions in South Africa. SACTU pledged its wholehearted support to the demands incorporated in the Freedom Charter, stating that:
While the South African Congress of Trade Unions must pursue an independent policy in the interests of the workers, it must participate fully and unreservedly in their struggle to mobilize the people behind their demands as embodied in the 'Freedom Charter' and for the realisation of its aims and objectives, and must towards this end, cooperate with all other organizations engaged in the struggle.
The Boycott Strategy - A 'Silent Weapon'
In keeping with the aims set out by the ANC Youth League in the 1940s and incorporated into the Programme of Action in 1949, the boycott strategy became an important weapon in the struggle waged by the Congress Alliance during the 1950s. The consumer boycotts in particular proved to be very successful counter-attacks against the suffering inflicted by the Apartheid regime on the African people who were beginning to realize the might that lay in their purchasing power The first boycotts called for by the ANC in the 1940s were directed against various Apartheid institutions like the Native Representative Council, the Native Advisory Boards and White representation in Parliament. Abolition of these institutions was what the Youth League demanded as well as direct representation for the African masses. It was in 1954, however, that the boycott strategy was fully embarked upon and implemented in various ways.
Early in 1954, the New Brighton branch of the ANC in Port Elizabeth led a boycott of local shops where African customers were maltreated or where Africans were refused employment. A picket was organized and when anyone moved towards the door Africans would yell, 'Akungenwa' (Don't Enter). The boycott, although small in comparison with the major boycotts of the decade, was successful; several shopkeepers met the Congress requests and the boycott was withdrawn. The tobacco workers themselves called for such an action and were successful in affecting the profits of the Company, which was exploiting them, despite the retribution they suffered as a result of the strike.
With clear intentions of controlling the African people and ensuring the continuation of its cheap labour policy, the Nationalist Government passed the Bantu Education Act in 1953. According to the Nationalists, there was to be 'no place for him (the "Bantu") in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour'. It was a system of inferior education designed to keep the African masses in a subservient and subjugated role and signalled the ending of traditional missionary education. April 1955, the month chosen for the transfer of control of Bantu Education to the Department of Native Affairs, saw the beginning of a campaign to boycott this racist education system.
More than 7,000 children stayed away from school in various parts of the country, and the ANC organized alternative education in the form of 'cultural clubs' particularly in the Eastern Cape and the Transvaal. The leaders of these 'clubs' were teachers who opposed Bantu Education and provided the students with a political content that they never would receive elsewhere. In the Port Elizabeth area, SACTU took the lead in the boycott, even though it was initiated by the powerful ANC Branch there. Labour leaders and workers were strongly opposed to Bantu Education and assisted in the setting up of the 'cultural clubs', some of which survived for two to three years. Police repression, however, forced the closure of most of these throughout the country. The government introduced legislation making the running of independent schools a criminal offence, unless they were registered under and accepted the inferior syllabus of the Bantu Education Act. Such a campaign is difficult to sustain unless carried out on a mass scale and only if sufficient resources are available to provide alternative means of acquiring an education, which can prepare for liberation. As a strategy this boycott could never have been as successful as the economic boycotts carried out by the Congress Alliance.
Before detailing the economic, or consumer boycotts called by the progressive movement in South Africa it is helpful to briefly review other campaigns which were limited to certain localities but were nevertheless an attack on the total system of Apartheid and contributed towards the general struggle for liberation. Bus boycotts were carried out by the African people as early as 1945 in Alexandra township and 1949 in New Brighton; both were successful in preventing the imposition of increased transportation costs. Other campaigns include the boycott of beer-halls and dipping tanks, initiated by the militant women of Natal .
Govan Mbeki, ANC national leader from the Eastern Cape, once described the advantage of the boycott as follows: An economic boycott is one of those weapons which may be silently used by all without fear of victimization. Not all the police nor all the military are sufficiently powerful to compel one individual to spend one penny on a commodity he does not want. This is obviously one reason for the success of the Congress Alliance sponsored boycotts during the 1950s; the people could actively participate in the collective withdrawal of their purchasing power to cripple the ruling class without any fear of harassment or victimization. Furthermore, there was no legislation to prevent them from boycotting. Such actions are effective not only for their educational value but because they represent a direct attack on the basis of exploitation, the cheap labour policy under Apartheid. This is particularly the case for the potato boycott of 1959.
Before that, however, a mass boycott of the products of Nationalist-controlled business concerns was initiated. In 1957, the Congress organisations jointly announced a boycott of a number of brands of cigarettes, tea, coffee and clothing.' You attack me and degrade me in a thousand ways,' he says in effect, to the Government. 'You force my wages down and then increase my taxes. You throw me out of my job and my home. You deny my children education and force my wife to carry a pass. Why should 1 buy Nationalist cigarettes and jams? Why should 1 do business with Nationalist firms?
Among the products listed in the boycott were Rembrandt cigarette products, Senator Coffee, Braganza Tea, Glenryck Canned Fish, Neptune Canned Fish, Laaiplek Farm Feeds and Protea Canned Fish. In the case of Rembrandt products, there was a long-standing tradition of close ties between the company executives and the Afrikaner Broederbond. At the time the company attempted through an expensive newspaper and film-advertising campaign, to appear as 'British' (with its Rothmans of 'Pall Mall' brand) or as 'American' (Peter Stuyvesant, 'founder of New York') as possible. These attempts have continued to the present as Anton Rupert (head of Rembrandt and still a member of the Broederbond) and his cohorts try to ward off an international boycott of their products. Despite this, boycott campaigns have been initiated by anti-Apartheid groups in Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, directed against a variety of Rembrandt/Rothmans controlled tobacco and other products.
The Congress Alliance called for a national boycott of all these Nationalist products to begin on 26 June 1959. The announcement followed a victory over attempts by several of these companies to prevent the Congress from calling for such a boycott; a nine-month long court interdict against them for distribution of literature on the economic boycott was withdrawn. The Nationalist employers feared such a campaign, recognizing the power of mass action directed against them. The mere announcement of the boycott had induced one large company to reinstate its African workers who were victimized following the previous year's Stay-At-Home. At the 1958 SACTU Annual National Conference, the Management Committee expressed support for this kind of boycott, 'especially because of the anti-Trade Union policy of this Company' (Rembrandt). As an educational tool, this boycott was an important weapon in the struggle against Nationalist domination and exploitation. Though the potato boycott was launched during that same year. the boycott of Nationalist products continued into the early 1960s with renewed emphasis by the Congress Alliance from time to time. In general, it was considered an effective campaign. The potato boycott stands out as one of the most successful of all the joint Congress campaigns conducted during these years.
The effectiveness of this boycott was such that it paralysed the potato farming industry because this boycott was directed against a single product, the potato and was easy to carry out, unlike a boycott aimed at selected products of Nationalist firms which workers did not know. Back in the late 1930s and early 1940s, Gert Sibandewas active in organising farm workers in Bethal, Transvaal, where conditions on the farms were intolerable. Sibande, who came from a family of farm labourers, tried every avenue to plead for the lives of these exploited workers. He joined the ANC, formed a Bethal branch and became its Chairman in 1942.
In 1947, Sibande decided to try to publicize the conditions of workers there and called on a journalist and a priest to investigate conditions at Bethal. Ruth First and Michael Scott subsequently exposed the inhuman conditions on the Transvaal farms and their disclosures were taken up in New Ageand by various groups including a succession of magistrates, one of whom described the conditions as 'tantamount to slavery'. Following an inquiry, only a few foremen and 'boss-boys' (Black foremen) were charged with assault. Twelve years later at the 1959 ANC Conference, reports presented there indicated that conditions on maize and potato farms remained the same. In fact, the situation had become even worse since unemployed Africans and petty offenders of the pass laws were now forced to accept these slave conditions and labour on the farms. Under a so-called volunteer scheme, 'petty offenders' were given the option of prosecution or six to twelve months of farm labour. In practice, however, the alleged offenders were given no choice and were simply lined up and sent out to the farms.
Whilst his relatives hunt high and low for him, he may be groaning under the vicious clutches of a 'slave driver' in Bethal. He might return one day to present to his family the fruits of his labour - a network of wealds all over his body, blistered hands and a broken man. Many workers disappear and never return.
Over 3,000 labourers were supplied to farmers in 1947-48, and by 1953, the number had risen to 32,582. Other methods of recruitment including the use of convict labour subsequently replaced this scheme. A typical account of conditions for farm labourers stated: (1 was) taken to a brick building with only one entrance, consisting of a door constructed from iron bars, and all the windows were barred with iron. That first evening all my clothes except my trousers were taken back by one of the bossboys, who gave me a sack and told me to wear it. 1 soon found that the living conditions were of the most primitive kind and worse than anything 1 have ever heard of. We were only allowed water to drink on our return from the fields in the evenings and before we started work in the morning.... During the whole time that I was on the farm 1 was not able to wash or shower, and 1 never saw any other worker wash or bath himself... The building in which we slept was in a filthy condition. There were two half drums provided as a lavatory, and those two half drums remained inside the building where we slept. This was the only sanitary arrangement for approximately 60 workers employed on this farm. During the whole period I was there, the dilapidated blankets and sacks given to us were never washed or aired. There were bloodstains and they were infested with insects and smelled; the walls crawled with bugs and other insects, and they were never cleaned when 1 was there.... During the day, whilst we worked in the fields, we were continuously guarded by bossboys who carried knobkerries (clubs). They were 9 in number to guard 60 workers. The bossboys continuously assaulted the workers, more especially when they wanted the workers to do their work more hurriedly. On some occasions there appeared to be no reason whatsoever for the assaults other than to initiate newly arrived workers into a general pattern.
Conditions on the potato farms were particularly horrific. Young children and adults were forced to dig the potatoes with their bare hands and there are many accounts of workers being beaten to death and left to die and be buried in the fields. These accounts prompted the delegates at the ANC conference to unanimously support the call by Robert Resha to place a ban on the purchase of potatoes. This was the start of the potato boycott; the campaign itself was launched on 31 May in Johannesburg at a national Anti-Pass Conference and mass meetings were then held in various parts of the country. SACTU took a leading role, recognizing that the plight of these workers was the responsibility of all South African workers and that farm workers must be organized to resist low wages and the degrading living standards being forced upon them. Calls went out across South Africa: 'If you eat a potato, you are eating the blood of a fellow worker who has been killed and buried on these farms.' SACTU and the Congress Alliance saw the struggle as one, which was directed against both the state and agricultural capital. In actively encouraging the continuation of the forced labour system, the state assisted the White, racist farmers in their exploitation of Black workers and their families.
The boycott was a resounding success and demonstrated that African workers and consumers were prepared to sacrifice their cheap source of a staple food to fight together to end the exploitation of their brothers and sisters in the rural areas. Potatoes piled up in markets all over the country and rotted in the fields. Sympathetic merchants refused to stock their shelves. Fish and chip shops sold only fish as African workers stood strong in their refusal to eat potatoes. Many shopkeepers who continued to stock potatoes were forced to close down as the local people created angry scenes outside their stores. Despite government attempts to confuse the people with leaflets (for example, suggesting they should boycott mealie-meal (maize)), they could not break the solidarity and strength of the people in their commitment to the boycott.
POTATO BOYCOTT LIFTED. A VICTORY FOR THE PEOPLE. A WARNING FOR THE FARMERS.
This was the message on posters issued by the Congress Alliance in August 1959, explaining that the campaign which was planned as a short-term one, had been successful in calling attention to the conditions of farm labourers. Subsequently the government was forced to introduce changes in the farm labour system, even though limited, and White farmers could no longer get away with the same treatment of their workers. The boycott victory coincided with the close of the Transvaal potato season. A similar campaign, although on a smaller scale, took place in the Eastern Cape during this period. The ANC called for a boycott of oranges, highlighting the miserable wages paid by the local farmers.
Due to the strength and perseverance of this consumer boycott wages were raised slightly.
An extremely important outcome of the use of the boycott weapon by the Congress Alliance in the 1950s was its transferral to the international scene. By 1960, anti-Apartheid groupings in Britain called for a boycott of imported South African goods, encouraged to do so by the Congress Alliance. In January of the same year, the Second All African People's Conference resolved to boycott South African products. The WFTU had always supported the struggle of Black workers and this support included a commitment to the international boycott.
When the call for an international boycott of South African products was issued, the fruit and wine corporations reacted with instant panic. The state also sensed the potential threat to exports and profits and within one year passed the Liquor Amendment Act, No. 72 of 1961 . This Act reversed the previous restriction on the purchase of alcohol by Africans and subsequently permitted the purchase of hard liquor in licensed bottle stores in the 'White' parts of towns. As well, there was an immediate end to the degrading practice of liquor raids in African areas, where police would force their way into homes and terrorize the residents in the middle of the night.
As the international boycott campaign developed, it provided encouragement to the people of South Africa to continue their struggle against the exploitation of those who produced the wealth of their country. The African Food and Canning Workers Union and the FCWU, representing the heavily exploited food workers, realized the crucial importance of boycotts undertaken by the international community. It was these workers who themselves initiated the boycott of the goods which they produced - the tinned fruit, vegetables and fish, all commodities which embodied their very exploitation - and their plea was repeated each year at their national conferences.
Here then is the answer to the off-repeated question: 'Won't a boycott of South African goods hurt the African workers?' As SACTU articulated in a resolution passed at its Eighth Annual National Conference in 1963:
It is sometimes argued even by well-meaning people abroad, that if the world boycotts South Africa, we, the working people, will suffer most. Even if this were true - and we do not believe it - let us assure our well-wishers abroad that we do not shrink from any hardship in the cause of freedom. As it is, we are starving and our children are dying of hunger.
The working people of our country do not eat imported food or wear foreign made clothes; nor do we benefit from the export of South African mealies, wool, wine and gold. To our friends and well-wishers abroad we say that trafficking in the fruits of Apartheid can never be in the interests of the workers who suffer under Apartheid.
The consumer boycott strategy pursued by the Congress Alliance inside South Africa indicates to what lengths the masses will go to ensure that improvements in their objective conditions are realized. It is a powerful weapon against the ruling class attempts to increase the rate of exploitation of Black workers and extract greater profits at their expense. The boycott is an effective educational tool as well, as Walter Sisulu points out: In these boycotts our experience is that each time they have roused the political consciousness of the people, brought about a greater solidarity and unity among the masses. In this way they have raised the peoples' organizations to a higher level, demonstrating the correctness of the action.
The Political Strike or 'Stay-A t-Home'
Cold skies and drizzle. The closed shops in Market Street. The closed stalls at the Indian Market. The solitary watchman at the closed factory gate. An air of desolation hangs over the city. Not the bustling morning crowds leaving the city stations and the bus stops. Not the coffee drinkers at the coffee carts. But empty trains, and empty buses. The workers have stayed at home.
Inspired by the upsurge of militancy generated by the Alexandra Bus Boycott in January and February 1957, the NCC called for a day of protest, prayer and dedication' for 26 June, South Africa Freedom Day. There was renewed optimism regarding the power of mass action as an effective weapon against ruling class domination and so the preparations for a country-wide demonstration began.
Pamphlets were issued listing the demands of the people:
Asinamali! We want £1 0s. 0d. a day.
Asinamali! No increase in taxation.
Stand by our leaders.
No passes for women.
Stop the police raids.
Away with Group Areas.
No Bantu Education.
Withdraw the Native Laws Amendment Bill.
No interference with the freedom of worship.
Stop deportations, bannings, censorship.
Open universities for all.
No Apartheid in nursing.
Verwoerd must go.
Down with Apartheid.
Forward to a multi-racial conference.
These reflect both direct working class demands for 'Asinamali' and those which are less directly relevant to workers like open universities and freedom of worship. In the Johannesburg area, preparations were thorough with pamphlets and posters distributed throughout the townships on the Rand, urging workers to strike for £1 0s. 0d. a day and rejection of passes and permits. The only other area where a strike call was issued was in Port Elizabeth.
In Port Elizabeth and Uitenhage, thousands of workers walked to and from work and stood for one minute to pledge themselves to fight against Nationalist tyranny. In Durban and Pietermaritzburg mass demonstrations and torchlight processions were held in support of the call. Mass meetings, prayers and speeches in the evening were called by the Cape Town and Bloemfontein leadership and in Worcester meetings of workers in all the industrial sites were held between 11.00 a.m. and 12 noon with a mass demonstration that evening. Despite police intimidation, baton charges on peaceful demonstrators and a threat by the Transvaal Chamber of Industries that workers who stayed away would be summarily dismissed and banished, most of the industries in the city of Johannesburg came to a standstill and the strike was estimated to be 70-80 per cent effective. In Port Elizabeth, too, although the dockworkers failed to strike due to threats of repression, many other factories came to a halt.
The most radical response to the Congress Alliance call came from the Rand and Port Elizabeth where the workers had recently participated in the Bus Boycott, suggesting that involvement in mass action has a cumulative effect. Workers gain strength from previous victories and their collective class-consciousness is raised by each action taken along the way. The national strike, though not widespread in its effectiveness, did gain results in the form of some government concessions. From 1957 there was an increase in Wage Board activity, which was more than likely a response to both the Bus Boycott and the 26th June strike. The government recommended the re-investigation of the position of unskilled workers on the Rand, in Cape Town, Durban, Pretoria, Bloemfontein, East London, Port Elizabeth, Pietermaritzburg and Kimberley who fell under Wage Determination No. 105. This Determination had not been revised since November 1952, when the minimum wages payable were set at £1 7s. 0D. per week. New determinations were to be drafted for the laundry, cleaning and dyeing trade in all principal towns; the bread and confectionery industry on the Witwatersrand and Pietermaritzburg; stevedoring in the four main ports; the clothing industry in the Transvaal and uncontrolled areas; and for the meat trade in the principal centres. These determinations reversed the trend of declining real wages after 1957.
The 26 June actions were regarded as an overall success by the Congress Alliance, and it was on the basis of this assessment that the movement went ahead with the planning of an extended political strike to continue for three days in April 1958. Organizing support for a political strike or 'Stay-At-Home' (SAH) in South Africa is a much more difficult task than organizing workers to respond to a strike call which focuses on specific issues and concrete demands at the workplace. For workers to withdraw their labour power en masse they have to be well-organized, issues have to be extremely clear and relevant to the fives of the workers and they must be prepared for large scale intimidation and repression carried out by the state. The relationship between the trade union movement and the political movement is also a crucial factor in the dynamics of a call requiring mass response. All of these factors came into play during the 1958 SAH , which subsequently provided many lessons for the Congress Alliance in its bid for mass support against the state. In November 1957, in Congress Alliance discussions on how Blacks could influence the national elections to be held on 14 April 1958, Chief Lutuli called for the formation of a united front amongst all anti-Nationalist organizations, including the United Party. He suggested that the disenfranchised masses would influence the electorate through mass gatherings of prayer and dedication to freedom on election day. Pressure from SACTU pre-empted this form of action, however. SACTU called a National Workers Conference for 15 and 16 March, where worker delegates could, as Lutuli said, 'get together to speak their hearts about what steps they will take to win their demands from the employers and from the Government.... The steps to be taken by the workers to implement their demands will be decided by them, not us. At the same time, Chief Lutuli expressed the concerns of some ANC members regarding the National Workers Conference: Because of the name of the Conference, some people in our Congress organization are treating it as though it is to be a trade union affair, primarily concerning the active trade unionists and confined exclusively to delegations elected from the factories. Such conceptions are mistaken.
He went on to stress the necessity of avoiding two errors: firstly, of assuming that a 'Workers Conference' is the same thing as a trade union conference, something that it could not be with the overwhelming majority of workers not organized into trade unions. Secondly, he warned of the error of forgetting that Congress is not exclusively a workers' organization in that it has in its ranks businessmen, professionals, housewives, etc. Lutuli urged all elements to go out amongst the workers in factories, shops, farms and mines, taking care to work in the townships as well, 'where we are strong'.
In February, SACTU organized Regional Workers Conferences in the Transvaal, Natal, Eastern and Western Cape as a prelude to the National Conference; these were to mobilize workers around the £1-a Day slogan. Out of all the conferences came the message that workers wanted a national strike to coincide with the elections. As reported in New Age, 'the resentment and indignation of the workers was simmering to the boiling point'. The National Workers Conference was held at 'Congress Square' Newclare township, Johannesburg, attracting 1,673 delegates from Ladysmith, Middleburg, the Eastern and Western Cape, Bloemfontein, Durban and all the Johannesburg townships, as well as an estimated 3,000 observers. Conference resolved to organize a 'week of National stay at home, protest and demonstration in support of the people's demands'. The twin slogans, which came out of the discussions, were 'Forward to a £1-a-Day Victory' and 'The Nationalists Must Go'. It was the £1-a-Day demand, which was crucial for the Black workers, and the final Conference resolution reflects the heightened awareness of their naked exploitation:
We the workers of South Africa, whose labour creates the country's wealth, we do not share in that wealth. Our wages are so little that we cannot live. Our children are naked and starving. The pass laws are killing us. Day and night the police are raiding, arresting us from home and wife.
A list of demands, signifying a call for an end to the cheap labour system and for participation in the parliamentary process came out of the Conference:
We want higher wages for all workers, in factories and offices, on mines and on the farms, and in domestic service. We want a legal minimum of £ 1 Os. 0D. a day. - We want an immediate end to all pass laws, for women and for men.
We want Apartheid to be scrapped, including Group Areas and Job Reservation.
We want an end to the Nationalist Party Government.
We want a voice in the governing of the country.
Four weeks of preparation preceded the national strike called for 14-16 April, this time with a different focus from the 1957 SAH because of the impending elections. 30,000 pamphlets were printed for distribution to a representative section of the voters, describing the Nationalist Government as the worst ever imposed on South Africa and calling for it to be ousted as well as for the United Party to break with its past policies. The Congress Alliance publicized that the stoppage was not to be directed against commerce and industry but against the government in a bid to force it to make political concessions and to legislate a minimum wage of £1 0s. 0d. a day.
Black workers soon realized what forces were aligned against them as the state and the employers began their onslaught, fearing a repeat of the 1957 strike but on a national scale. Employers called their workers in, either appealing to their loyalty and good sense or threatening them with pay cuts, demotions and dismissals if they withdrew their labour for the 3-day strike. City Councils undertook compound visits to persuade workers not to participate in this 'illegal' action and not to destroy the 'growing goodwill' that was developing between employers and employees. An appeal by the Zulu Paramount Chief, Cyprian ka Dinizulu - who had been used against strikers before - went out to Natal workers.
Threats followed the appeals. The Minister of Labour promised a, counter-demonstration' which would show the 'non-White what was meant by White supremacy'; the Chief of Police, Major-General Rademeyer, promised stern action by the country's 23,000 police as he cancelled their leave and alerted them for election-week duty. It was also announced that the Union Defence Force would be on hand if needed. Lastly, a top-secret special committee was appointed by the Cabinet consisting of the Secretaries of Labour and Native Affairs and the Director of Prisons. They placed on standby a prison labour force of several thousand, within a short distance of all the major industrial centres to maintain essential services.
Next came the police raids throughout the townships and many workers were endorsed out of the urban areas. The Port Elizabeth leadership distributed leaflets in the reserves before the strike calling upon the people not to make themselves available for recruitment to industrial areas, a farsighted measure. Three weeks before the strike, the government placed a ban on meetings of more than ten Africans creating a further stranglehold on the preparations for the national demonstrations. A final factor inhibiting the struggle at this stage was the position taken by the Africanist elements within the ANC. Though constituting a small anti-White force in African politics at this time, these men attempted to thwart the strike and were actively dissuading the people from responding to the Congress Alliance call.
On the actual morning of 14 April, squads of police in riot vans and armed with sten guns entered the townships at 2.00 a.m. and U13F troop carriers were placed on alert. Many workers were assaulted and beaten by the police even before the protest began. All of these factors contributed to the disappointing overall response to the call for the SAH. In Port Elizabeth (New Brighton township), workers came out in large numbers but repression against strikers was fierce. 150 striking workers, including the entire executive of the FCWU from H. Jones Canning factory, were fired. Fifty-four women workers from the factory were arrested for constituting a crowd as they walked to New Brighton station. Melville Fletcher, Caleb Mayekiso and seven other Congress leaders were also arrested. In the city of Port Elizabeth itself, police charged striking workers who went to trade union offices with holding an illegal gathering. Despite this extensive harassment, it was estimated that the strike was 50 per cent effective in the Eastern Cape on the first day.
In Durban, major successes occurred in the textile, milling and public transport sectors and approximately 40 per cent of the workers (some 3 1,000 workers) responded, according to various reports. The most significant aspect of the strike in Durban was the support it received from the dockworkers where an estimated 75 per cent of the workforce went home to the reserves and on their return refused to work overtime until paid £ 1 Os. 0D. a day. These workers had forged the link between the political and economic demands voiced during the Stay-At-Home. In Johannesburg, the main response came from Sophiatown and Newclare townships. Laundry, milling and clothing workers came out in large numbers and most unions affiliated to SACTU showed a good response. Additional responses in areas outside the major cities were sporadic. Some examples were quoted in New Age: workers at two Ermelo farms stayed away, and large demonstrations in Pietersburg were crushed by police.
On the evening of Monday, 14 April, the ANC leadership called off the SAH, urging workers to return to work. They announced that the one-day stoppage had ensured that the grievances and aspirations of the people were considered while the country was engaged in the serious question of choosing a government. Whether or not the leadership should have taken the decision to end the protest after the first day became a much-debated issue within the Congress Alliance. Certainly the workers' leaders in Port Elizabeth, where momentum for the strike seemed to be picking up at the end of day one, were upset with the decision - especially as it had been made without their consultation. A similar response came from Durban, as Moses Mabhida recalls:
In Durban we thought that it was most successful. Dockers were out.... Billy Nair, M. P. Naickerand myself toured the city and we felt that it was a success. The Whites in the suburbs even supported us. The ANC leadership had not been involved enough in the organization of the campaign.
A more crucial factor in the ANC decision to call off the strike was the fact that the SACTU leadership had not been consulted. The Management Committee of SACTU reacted very strongly to this and the relationship between the ANC and SACTU suffered a temporary but serious strain. The question of SACTUs equality with its partners in the Alliance came to the fore, and SACTU leaders realized that many ANC members did not regard SACTU as an important force in the struggle. The decision also pointed to the need for SACTU to take a more independent stand on matters directly affecting the working class; since February, when the organisation had called the Workers Conference, the strike call had become less and less a SACTU-oriented campaign and more and more one focussing on the White elections.
In Sophiatownand Newclare townships, the workers stayed at home for the entire three days, ignoring the call to end the SAH after the first day. Riots had erupted in both of these townships on the first day and police actions resulted in injuries to several residents. Throughout the second day tension mounted and violence continued. 'In this atmosphere of brooding trouble, Sophiatown and Newclare spent the three days of the Stay-At-Home, a solitary pocket of resistance. We must not underestimate the effect of the mass media in influencing workers to disregard the call to stay away from work. The SA Broadcasting Corporation and newspapers falsely reported that large numbers of workers were turning up for work. Workers who heard this on radio before they left for work were confused and leaders too were influenced to some degree. This is yet another reason for the failure of the strike.
In its own analysis of the failure, the National Executive Committee of the ANC gave the following reasons: firstly, inadequate preparation. Criticisms were mainly that there was a lack of tight organization and specifically a failure to implement the 'M-Plan'; also little attention had been given to political education. Secondly, the NEC pointed to the disunity within the Transvaal ANC and the non-participation of sections of the ANC because they regarded it as purely a SACTU trade union affair. Banned trade union and ANC leader, Dan Tloome, in an article on the 'Lessons of the Stay-Away', pointed to additional factors that would explain the failure. One important lesson, he stressed, was that for mass industrial action to succeed it was vital that trade union and factory organization should be strong. (The relative strength of the Durban and Port Elizabeth SACTU Committees and their attention to organizing the unorganized was most probably a factor in the greater participation in their areas.) Tloome suggested that ANC branches still did not fully understand the importance of trade unions and factory committees as vitally necessary for the freedom struggle.
Yet another weakness which Tloome and others recognized was the confusion of issues on which the political strike was based: Why did the Stay-At-Home fail, when the bus boycott and the June 26 protest strike were spectacularly successful? Apparently there was confusion in the average African's mind over the nature of the demonstration he was being called upon to make. He had been told that the intention was to dissuade White voters from electing another Nationalist Government; he had been told that the struggle was for £1 a day; he had been told that the demonstration was an anti Apartheid one. No doubt he supported each specific issue, but the trilogy of pleas was too complex.
Tloome was more specific in his analysis of the issues:
It must be conceded that the slogan: 'DEFEAT THE NATS' was wrong and misleading. It is highly probable that, taken on its face value, the slogan led a considerable section of the people to believe that the Congresses were in favour of the United Party coming into power, as a party capable of solving our problems in South Africa. Yet, taken more profoundly, it is clear that the use of the slogan was intended to place emphasis on the ruthlessness of the present ruling party, and to focus attention of the country to the impoverishment and the relentless and incessant persecution imposed upon the vast majority of South Africans in the name of Apartheid.
Although there was no comparative analysis of the involvement of organized and unorganized workers in the strike, the Communist Party's post-mortem on the SAH failure concluded that mass action depended on the level of working class organization. Participation by the Black proletariat in the national strikes was seen as an index of maturing political consciousness which recognized the need for concrete action against the state, but SACTU began to realize that organizing and agitating around specific demands at the point of production as a transition stage was vital, providing a firm basis for undertaking national strike action. In general, the reasons for the failure of the 1958 SAH can be divided into two areas: firstly, the ruling class attack on the organizers and participants; and secondly, the weaknesses within the Congress Alliance itself. However, no such demonstration of protest on the part of the exploited masses, even if participation was less than expected, can ever be termed a complete failure. Those who heeded the call displayed their refusal to be ignored while the Whites went to the polls, and instead put forward the demands of the voteless and voiceless masses for an end to class exploitation and Apartheid, a legislated minimum wage of £ 1 -a Day and an equal say in the future of their country.
The effect on the Congress movement itself was very encouraging. A great deal of internal discussion and analysis of the campaign followed the SAH. Though the SACTU-ANC relationship at one level had suffered a setback, the strike was to be the impetus for building a much stronger relationship based on the recognition of the importance of organizing the working class in the struggle for liberation. The emphasis changed to more basic methods of mobilizing the people with the important areas of concentration being the organization of workers at the factory level and in particular in the basic industries and organizing people in the townships under the M-Plan. The most positive outcome was the joint campaign by ANC and SACTU to organize the African working class, given added impetus by a call from Chief Lutuli to this effect at the 1959 SACTU Conference.
Another effect of the SAH was less positive in nature. Arrests of workers' leaders followed in each area, and victimization by employers was common. Twenty-five leaders in the Johannesburg area alone, many of them SACTU activists like Mabel Balfour, John Tsele and Christina Matthews, were charged with incitement to strike and given sentences varying from 10 or 15 days to 12 months' imprisonment with hard labour (later reduced to 6 months). In Cape Town too, workers and their leaders suffered heavy penalties, and in certain areas trials continued for a year after the Stay-At-Home. Despite these setbacks, South African workers gained valuable experience in carrying out advanced political action against the ruling class and went on to participate in more successful political strikes in 1960 and 196 1. Before analysing those SAHs, however, it is necessary to discuss the SACTU Conference that provided a turning point for both SACTU itself and for SACTU-ANC relations in many industrial areas.
The 1959 SACTU Conference
SACTU is the spear, ANC the shield. - Chief Lutuli, Guest speaker
This was the message delivered by ANC President Chief Lutuli to the workers' delegates at the 1959 SACTU Conference, a message which had far-reaching implications for the relationship between SACTU and the ANC.
Walter Sisulu, ANC leader, wrote the following in the August 1955 issue of SACTU's Workers Unity:
... The victory can only be won and imperialism uprooted by forging strong ties of alliance between the liberation movements and the trade union movements, by correcting any misconceptions that the trade unions had nothing to do with politics. Similarly, political leaders must know that the struggle of the people depends on the workers, and therefore it must be their duty to organize workers into trade union movement.
Chief Lutuli echoed this in his speech to the delegates and emphasized that,' No worker is a good member of Congress unless he is also a Trade Unionist. No Trade Unionist is a good Trade Unionist unless he is also a member of Congress.' Veteran trade unionists recall Chief Lutuli insisting that workers must have two membership cards, one from the ANC and one from SACTU. At the same time, he stressed the importance of the working class as a major force in the struggle; in this context, he coined the expression 'SACTU is the spear and ANC the shield!'
It was fitting that Chief Lutuli was the one to bring this message to the SACTU delegates on 29 March 1959. Since the 1930s when tribal elders urged him to accept the Groutville chieftainship, Chief Albert Lutuli, formerly a teacher at Adams College, had served the people as a conscientious chief and was highly respected in the rural area in the heartland of Natal's sugar plantations. After he joined the ANC he was quickly promoted to President of the Natal ANC in 195 1, and participated actively in the 195 2 Defiance Campaign. This involvement led to his dismissal from the chieftainship by the government. Still regarded by the African masses as their 'Chief', however, he was elected President-General of the ANC by a large majority in 1952. Throughout the 1950s, he was shackled with one banning order after another, and in 1956 was arrested for High Treason along with 155 other Congress members. At the time of the SACTU Conference in March 1959, the Chief's latest ban had expired. Moses Mabhida, strongly influenced by Chief Lutuli's exceptional leadership, recalled the changes that took place in the Chief's attitude to working class people: The ANC was no longer the organization of chiefs and nobles. It was now an organization of ordinary people (and) the Chief himself had participated in reconstructing this part of the ANC. Therefore, he had a high regard for workers in a practical sense and for their participation in the struggle and 1 think he had made the proper assessment. The very fact that they are the spear, the fighting side, indicated that he understood their role in the struggle.
Banned for five years again in May 1959, Lutuli was confined to the Groutville reserve. His powerful influence, considered a danger by the Apartheid regime, continued to be felt from then until his accidental death in 1967. His messages to go forward in the struggle were relayed to the people as the repression mounted in the early 1960s. In October 196 1, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize at the time when the ANC realized that lasting peace and freedom could be achieved only through armed struggle against the state. The Chief's address to SACTU members had far-reaching consequences. Armed with his mandate, and determined to prevent another failure like the 1958 SAH, SACTU and the ANC went forward to organize the African masses into stronger organizations, which would more directly challenge the regime. For SACTU, the emphasis was to be on organizing new trade unions in the basic industries of metals, mining, transport and agriculture, in all cases around the £1-a-Day campaign. Organizing the unorganized achieved great victories, especially in Natal, as new unions emerged at the turn of the decade.
The ANC turned its attention to strengthening mass organizations through implementation of the M (Mandela)-Plan in the townships; the goal was to build up membership and to prepare the people for the conditions of underground organizing and illegality. In each township a network of cells would exist, each cell incorporating the residents of perhaps ten houses on one street. The township itself was zoned into blocks of ten streets, with four zones forming a ward. Each ward then elected leaders who formed the ANC branch committee with authority flowing downwards from the branch. The person who was the overall leader became 'like a helicopter hovering over the whole township.
This organizational strategy was very effective in mobilizing workers for meetings on short notice. Within an hour a meeting with everyone in attendance could be convened. For example, in one Cape Town township, Thomas Nkobi arrived once on his way to Port Elizabeth and asked to see a 'few volunteers'. Within thirty minutes he was surrounded by over two hundred people and understandably surprised by this impressive accomplishment. The Plan worked very well in the Western and Eastern Cape regions, and although leaders from these regions went to Natal and Transvaal to implement the Plan there the same degree of organization was never achieved. The banning of the ANC in 1960 made this kind of organizational base even more important in the transition to underground work.
Together, the Congress organizations planned to implement industrial area committees to assist SACTU in strengthening its organizing campaign. In the Port Elizabeth, Durban and Pietermaritzburg areas, the plan had already been effectively carried out. William Khanyile, SACTU organizer for the region, explained: SACTU organizers trained these area committee workers to move as a team. They were responsible for an area encompassing a certain number of streets. They moved as a team to factories and places of employment, including shops, to meet the workers of the area during lunch hour. In this way SACTU's influence would spread well beyond the area because workers in shops and factories would be drawn from many different residential areas.
At NCC meetings in 1961, the Plan was discussed extensively and taken up at SACTU-MC meetings as well, emphasizing the need to tackle the various industrial areas in Johannesburg. A special Action sub-committee was appointed to implement the plan, which was scheduled to begin with a 'Trade Union Week'. During this week there would be placard demonstrations at bus stops and at other locations exhorting workers to join unions, house-to-house campaigns and preparations for a Workers' Conference in each province. In Johannesburg, the plan was to tackle each industrial area on a given day - Industria one day, then Jeppe, etc. Workers would be addressed during lunch hours and they could then either elect or nominate members of the area committee.
Although the plan had been adopted within the NCC, there were some SACTU MC members who objected to it on the grounds that this kind of campaign should definitely be controlled by SACTU. At SACTU-NEC meetings held in November 1961, one speaker emphasized that the people appointed should be trade unionists and that the Action Committee should be solely responsible to the SACTU NEC or MC, not the NCC of the Congress Alliance. His main point, a valid one in the wake of the confusion during the 195 8 SAH, was that at all costs SACTU's identity had to be preserved. These fears were largely placated after the whole issue of the relationship between Congress Alliance groups was discussed in an Action Committee meeting. At subsequent meetings of the NCC it became clear that the campaign would be led by SAC TU. Uriah Maleka, SACTU-NEC member in Johannesburg, has commented on this concern of preserving SACTU's identity:
SACTU was very much conscious of itself being a labour organization and didn't want to lose its identity. We thought we should work together but we must know the demarcation. We are a labour body with our own constitution and with affiliated unions, whereas if we say the directives come from somewhere else to the Trade Union movement, SACTU would lose its identity.
The Congress Alliance regarded this industrial area campaign as well as the campaign to boycott all 'durnmy institutions' of Apartheid as part of the second phase of the campaign for a National Convention, which would draft a Constitution representing the interests of all South Africans. Within the campaign, SACTU's role was clarified: It is SACTU's function to play a leading role in both these sections of the campaign, but its main emphasis will be to take the lead in realizing the plan to organize thousands of workers into the Trade Union movement (NCC Document, 1961).
The Action Committee made four recommendations. Firstly, since the campaign was designed to strengthen the trade union movement, it was felt that SACTU machinery should be used to further this campaign and that additional machinery would be created where none existed. Secondly, the four National Organizing Committees (in metals, mines, transport and agriculture) already established by the SACTU-MC would be directed by the Action Committee to increase the number of members so as to include Congress Alliance persons. Thirdly, the Action Committee would ensure that each SACTU Local Committee established an industrial area committee for the purpose of recruiting workers from other industries into the movement. The Action Committee was also suggesting to Local Committees, NOCs and industrial area committees that Workers' Conferences be held on specific days on a national scale to highlight the need for organization and action in respect of workers' grievances and demands. The fourth recommendation was that the Action Committee supply guide notes to all activists on how to organize workers into trade unions, factory or area committees. The slogans for the campaign were: ORGANIZE OR STARVE; EVERY FACTORY A FORTRESS; FORWARD TO £1-A-DAY; TRADE UNIONS MAKE US STRONG; and JOBS FOR ALL.
We need not stress here the fact that the workers' demands for the slightest improvements in their conditions and to organize freely are political demands too, and those rights must be fought for and linked to the demand for a National Convention where workers' rights can be written into a Constitution. The campaign began in earnest on 7 February 1962, the Day of International Solidarity with the Workers of South Africa. At the 1962 SACTU Conference, a resolution was passed which expressed the organization's gratitude for the Congress Alliance assistance:
This Seventh Annual National Conference ... welcomes the campaign of the Congresses to strengthen existing trade unions, to establish new trade unions, to recruit new members and to organize the unorganized workers. It fully realizes that only the united efforts of the Congresses can enable us to achieve the liberation of the workers and oppressed peoples of South Africa from White domination and capitalist exploitation.
The successful implementation of this joint campaign on the trade union front was pre-empted by the various forms of repression directed against the Congress Alliance organizations and members in the early 1960s. As well, there was still a certain degree of reluctance on the part of some Congress Alliance members to participate fully in a specifically working class campaign. However, it had been implemented on an initial basis in several areas throughout the country where the campaign reportedly contributed to a greater degree of participation in the Stay At-Homes of 1960 and 196 1. Most importantly, it represented a commitment to the role of the working class by the Congress Alliance and a realization of the workers' strategic role in any mass actions planned.
A brief examination of the response of workers to the Congress calls for political strike action in the early 1960s is now in order. The mass response to the call for a National Day of Mourning after the Sharpeville Massacre on 21 March 1960, constituted an unexpected display of militancy on the part of workers who were angered by the vicious response of the state. In Cape Town, strikes spread from one factory to the next, beginning on 21 March and continuing for a week. In Vereeniging and Vanderbijl Park a similar reaction occurred. On Monday, 28 March, the day of mourning called by Chief Lutuli, African workers throughout South Africa stayed away from work to protest the massacres at Sharpeville and Langa. In many cases they extended the one day SAH into a prolonged strike and organized marches through the townships and into the cities. Tension was high and violence flared up in several areas. The workers were demonstrating that they were prepared to act collectively and extend their opposition beyond the original call. It was a bold and militant stand.
On Wednesday, 30 March, the ANC and PAC were banned and nation-wide arrests of leaders and supporters of the campaign took place. In Cape Town, police entered Langa and Nyanga townships, rounding up ANC and PAC leaders and beating up striking workers. The workers responded to a PAC call by gathering in Langa township and moving in a broad column of 15,000 people along the ten-mile route to the city centre, swelling to some 30,000 as they entered the city. On their arrival, they demanded an interview with the Minister of Justice and eventually dispersed only when they were assured of such a meeting. Strikes continued in Cape Town until 4 April, with 60,000 workers out on strike on the peak days of 30 March and 1 April. A significant aspect was the solidarity of Coloured workers, resulting in a disruption of industry, commerce, shipping and supplies of fresh foodstuffs. In Durban, about 5,000 people marched from Cato Manorto the Bantu Affairs offices in the city and demanded the release of arrested leaders. Cato Manor workers, representing approximately 20 per cent of the workforce, stayed on strike for ten days causing major difficulties in industry and commerce. Lamontville workers clashed with police who fired shots killing one person and wounding two others. All of these actions reveal the readiness of the Black working class to move spontaneously beyond the Congress Alliance leadership into further resistance in the form of political strike action.
By 196 1, the Congress Alliance had come to the realization that armed force was necessary against the state; no longer could the people merely stand by helplessly and watch their comrades being shot down in the streets by the police and the military. However, before embarking on any campaigns of armed resistance, the Congress Alliance was trying in the early months of 1961 to pressure the government into calling a National Convention of all political leaders to work out an alternative to a 'White's only' Republic. Another protest strike was called for 29-31 May, on the eve of the celebrations surrounding South African Republic Day. Meticulous preparations ensued and efforts were made to reach out to all, including rural and urban workers, peasants on the reserves and compound workers. SACTU played a crucial role in organizing workers in various areas, preparing them for collective strike action. As the workers came out on strike, the state reacted with greater force than ever before and 10,000 Blacks were arrested in raids (supposedly for pass and tax defaulters). A new law was passed entitling the government to detain a person for 12 days without bail; this was but the prelude to the massive repression of the months that followed.
Despite predictable state repression, the 1961 strike was considered an important and successful demonstration of the people's attitude towards White South Africa's new Republic status and their demand for freedom and self-determination in their own country. One report sums this up: The Nationalists huddled in the rain in Pretoria to install their new President in a South Africa where all gatherings but their own were banned; where martial law had been proclaimed in all but name; where for three days past a large proportion of the country's industry had slowed to a trickle; where empty lecture theatres and classrooms were an eloquent testimony to the contemptuous rejection by the youth to the 'Republic' from which every vestige of the noble principles of republicanism had been deleted by the Verwoerdites ...
By passing from words to action (the African people) dramatically exposed, as nothing else could have done, the people's rejection of state forms decided on by a minority in its own interests; their unequivocal claim for government of the people, by the people and for the people .Painstaking organizing efforts by SACTU and the Congress Alliance paid off as workers responded in all the major centres. A survey based on organizers' reports indicated the strong areas and industries affected; this is reproduced in the table on pages 366-7. The report drew the following conclusion, which pointed to the importance of SACTUs role in mass campaigns:
Workers who are organized into trade unions are more responsive to a political call than unorganized workers. Their trade union activity has given them heightened political consciousness and they also respond more readily when the appeal is made on a factory as opposed to a residential basis as they feel that there is less chance of dismissal if the whole factory is involved.
Once again, the response of Coloured and Indian workers was encouraging and can be credited to the efforts of the Congress Alliance in its relentless pursuit of unity between national groups throughout the 1950s. Edward Ramsdale recalls a particular incident in Cape Town where armed police converged on factories in the industrial areas, attempting to intimidate workers and prevent them from striking: I recall the police outside one factory, Robinson's Paper factory, urging Coloured women workers not to come out because they would be raped by the African men. I'll never forget how those women came out. It was a national general strike to remember and the NCC had realized that the advantage of organizing people at their places of work is that it enables us to mobilize them at short notice and to effectively bring a halt to the industrial life of the country at any appropriate time'
This was the last general strike called by the Congress Alliance before it was fragmented by the Apartheid regime and driven underground. The political movement embarked on a sabotage campaign shortly after the strike. By the early 1960s, the fun force of the state, protecting the interests of White capital, was mobilized and used against the oppressed peoples of South Africa (see Chapter 12). However, the non-racial unity achieved by the members of the Congress Alliance could never be shattered entirely and the welding of the trade union movement with the general political struggle for liberation forged a permanent bond, which remains unbroken to this day.
After the ANC had been banned it became important for SACTU to expand its role and to extend the message of Congress further afield, embracing other sections of the exploited African masses. It is for this reason that SACTU, especially in Natal, was instrumental in organizing several very successful Workers and Peasants Conferences. These focussed on more general issues affecting the oppressed, issues such as housing, rent, pass laws, unemployment as well as poverty wages and poor working conditions. In this way SACTU mobilized more people for greater participation in the political campaigns until its own leaders were silenced by the regime.
Survey of Responses to the Strike Call
Sample response of
100% strike out of 250
First four factories
45 workers out of 50
closed for all 3 days.
495 workers out of 500
No response at Amato
495 workers out of 500
where Union suffered
16 workers out of 17
after the 1957 strike.
100% all 3 days
In addition to the 3
6 of 40 drivers attended
surveyed here, 9 factories
employing 1,000 workers
100% strike out of 300
closed down for the
76 workers out of 80
Food and canning
325 workers out of 500
No response at LKB in
100% strike out of 80
100% strike out of 50
100% strike out of 60
100% strike out of 100
3 00 workers out of 400
154 workers out of 160
In all provinces. One
factor: clothing industries,
hit by border industries.
Many on short time. Many
manufacturers did not
mind closing down
Vereeniging / Van der Bij1/Pretoria
Except Lady Selbourne
township, Pretoria, 80%
on Monday. All beer halls
closed. Alexandra township
(between Johannesburg and
Pretoria) 85% response
Monday; 65% Tuesday j of
PUTCO driversfrom town
70% of Malays respond
40% of Coloureds respond
Sample response of
Both African and Coloured
workers. Strike gained
momentum on 2nd and 3rd
80% for 3 days
70-80% lst and 2nd
50% 1st day only
70-80% 1st and 2nd
70-80%; 50% 1st and
50-60% 1st day only
Twine and bag
80%; 40% 1 st and 2nd
60% 1 st day only
100% for 3 days
60-70% Bata Shoe Co;
closed 3 days
Warnings of dismissal
Docks and railways
Police and army cordoned
off compounds and workers
were forced to work
Total response on 1 st day
All 1,500 workers on
Throughout the mass campaigns of the 1950s and early 1960s, SACTU remained clear on its specific tasks in the struggle against South African capitalism. An article in the August 1955 issue of Workers Unity sums up this dialectical relationship between the trade union and political movements:
Why then do we find trade unionists discussing larger political questions? We are workers and we have our own points of view - the industrial workers' point of view - and it is not always the view of shopkeepers or teachers - it is the view of those who have no property stake in the country, of those whose only property is their hands and their ability to put these hands to work. Others may differ because they have property - a shop, a farm or a taxi of their own. This often makes them think differently.
So, sometimes it happens that where we are ready to act, bold, ready to sacrifice for what we want, others amongst us hesitate, hold back and retreat. That is why it is necessary always for us to discuss our point of view, the point of view of the working class. And therefore we must put it forward strongly and determinedly in the broad political field in which Congress works. That is why it is necessary for every trade unionist to be a Congress member and an active Congress worker. This is so that the working class point of view is not ours alone, but is accepted by the whole Congress Movement and all classes can go forward under our working class slogans. The close working relationship between the ANC and SACTU was best expressed in Port Elizabeth and Natal. In both cases, an overlapping membership amongst the leadership, coupled with a solid working class perspective, not only minimized any potential conflict but, more importantly, resulted in a model of militancy necessary for the South African struggle. Here is how Sampson Mbatha , a young SACTU-ANC activist in Durban in the early 1960s, described this relationship: ANC is a mass political organization. SACTU is an organization for the whole working class in South Africa. Workers themselves are a force. The workers are the people who know what they are doing. They work; they go to the factories and sell their labour-power. They know they are being exploited and have nothing to lose; only the chains they'll cut off their hands. We have seen this in other countries ... that the working class are the decisive factor in any liberation movement because they are the people who are clear, conscious, know what they are doing ... they form alliances with other groups but they are the spearhead because they control the industries, the towns, the whole economy. Without the working class there will be no successful revolution.
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