Black Allied Workers Union (BAWU)

The Black Consciousness Movement put its weight behind the labour movement, following a resolution to establish a national trade union project that was adopted at the third Annual Conference of the South African Student Organisation (SASO) in July 1972. Drake Koka a leading member of the Black Peoples' Convention (BPC) working closely with Essau Tshehlo Mokhethi spearheaded the formation of the Black Allied Workers Union (BAWU) which was established in 1972.  

Thus, BAWU was initially a union led by Black Consciousness Movement activists with close ties to SASO and the BPC. Saths Cooper was instrumental in setting up the union’s offices in Durban and in enabling the union to open a bank account. The Union followed a Blacks-only policy and stressed that it is basically concerned with African workers.

It no longer has any ties with Black Consciousness groupings, and seems to keep a low profile; at least it's not known to overtly identify itself with political or community issues outside the shop-floor. BAWU is, however, very much against the involvement of whites at any level in the independent union movement. It also has severe reservations about the current federation, COSATU.

The union was viewed as a federation of industrial unions as it was affiliated with many trade unions.BAWU suffered several setbacks during the second half of the 1970s, as many of its members broke away to form community-based trade unions in various parts of the country. For instance, some members who broke away formed the South African Allied Workers’ Union (SAAWU) broke away from BAWU in March 1979.

• 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.243-314.
Mzamane, M.V,  Maaba, B & Biko, N,  ‘The Black Consciousness Movement’ in The Road to Democracy in South Africa, Volume 2, 1970-1980, (Pretoria ”“UNISA), p.137
Bendix, S, (1989), Industrial Relations in South Africa, (Cape Town), p.74

Last updated : 05-Feb-2013

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

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