One pound a day for the factory worker who today cannot buy what he makes. One pound a day for the miner who earns his phthisis and goes home broken and to die. One pound a day for the farm labourer who today ploughs the bitter furrow of misery. One pound a day for the builder of mansions who lives in a shack. . . . A minimum wage of one pound a day for all the workers in the land. One pound a day. Five pounds a week. More food to eat, clothes, warmth. A little light in the deep night of poverty. Freedom from pass laws, freedom from the midnight police terror. Freedom from the ghost squads haunting the street corners. Freedom from prisons and forced farm labour - the horned fingers and welts ploughed into sorry flesh. Freedom to walk without fear as the companion of the heart.
The £1-a-Day Campaign is regarded as South Africa Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU's) most successful achievement in the 1950s and 1960s. Demanding a legislated, national minimum wage of £1-a-Day for all workers, the campaign touched a central nerve and pinpointed the cause of the misery suffered by the majority of the people: the perpetuation of the cheap labour policy fostered by the South African ruling class. The event, which provided the impetus for the prolonged campaign, was the Alexandra Bus Boycott of 1957, a spontaneous demonstration of mass resistance to increased exploitation in the form of higher bus fares. This action by the masses reflected a seething undercurrent of working class hostility and highlighted the need for significantly higher wages for African workers.
'Azikhwelwa' (We Will Not Ride!): The 1957 Transvaal Bus Boycott
On 7 January 1957, workers from Johannesburg and Pretoria townships refused to ride to work in buses owned by PUTCO (the Public Utility Transport Corporation) following a one-penny (25 per cent) increase in fares effective that day. This spontaneous act of defiance marked the start of a three-month period during which an estimated 70,000 workers boycotted the buses; amongst them, more than 20,000 African workers each walked a total of 2,000 miles. They walked in the heat and torrential rains of a South African summer, harassed, arrested and beaten up by the police. Women walked, with babies on their backs and bundles of washing on their beads. On one occasion, two young boys were found exhausted by the roadside after having collected a large load of washing from a home in one of the White suburbs several miles away. Police had apparently stopped them, accused them of stealing the washing and drove them back to the White woman's home to prove that they were telling the truth. After their story was confirmed, the police officers dropped them there, forcing them to walk the same distance back to Alexandra again - a total of 18 miles! Cyclists' tyres were punctured by arrogant policemen, reactionary Whites drove through puddles splashing the workers as they walked, and boycotters were constantly stopped and searched for no reason. Yet, despite all of this harassment, the people continued to walk.
The bus company, PUTCO, was established in 1945 when the state intervened in the transport system for African workers. Previous boycott actions had forced retractions of fare increases by private transport firms with the result that a single public company with direct government participation was formed. 2 This allowed the government to create conditions favourable to a low wage structure, a necessity for the rapid development of the manufacturing sector in the postwar era. Yet it was the very existence of Apartheid - which caused African townships to be located far from city centres and places of work - that created a continuous financial crisis for the Company. By 1957, £311,000 was required for PUTCO services. Rather than increasing employers' subsidies for African transport in a year of economic decline, the government allowed PUTC0 to increase fares and thus shift the burden onto the African proletariat.
The workers demonstrated, however, that they were not a passive African labour force to be exploited at will by the state in the interests of capital accumulation. This historic Bus Boycott showed that whatever improvements the African people have won have been the result of their own bitter and determined efforts in the face of overwhelming odds. With the announcement of the fare increase an Alexandra People's Transport Committee (PTC) was organised, including the ANC and other local township organisations. Activists began distributing protest leaflets and calling street-corner gatherings, culminating in a mass meeting of residents on 6 January. The boycott decision was taken and residents demanded:
(1) the immediate restoration of the old fares;
(2) an increase in the number of busses on the routes to eliminate the endless queues; and
(3) shelters at bus stops to protect people from bad weather.
On Monday, 7 January, 50,000 Africans from Johannesburg townships refused to board PUTCO buses. An estimated 15,000 workers walked to work in Johannesburg. ' Azikwelwa ' ('We will not ride') became the catchword and reflected the solidarity of workers throughout the next three months. Seven days after the start of the boycott the buses were running empty, causing PUTCO a loss of £7,000 in the first week. A further 20,000 people from Moroka and Jabavu townships added strength to the campaign. Later in January, African workers and their families began boycotting the municipal beer-halls, attacking another very visible institution of oppression. Profits from beer-halls made up an important part of the Native Revenue Account responsible for township amenities and this action was regarded as a threat to municipal finance. The Non-European Affairs Department toured the townships in loudspeaker vans appealing to residents not to associate beer-halls with the Bus Boycott. Their efforts failed.
In early February, workers in other areas of the country, particularly the Eastern Cape, called sympathy boycotts and refused to ride local buses. 'We have to stand with our brothers in Johannesburg,' replied a worker as he walked from New Brighton on the morning of 11 February. A well-organised working class in Port Elizabeth and Uitenhage carried out a 90 per cent effective boycott for two weeks. In another Witwatersrand township, an estimated 4,000 residents not only boycotted the local bus service but also generated fresh demands against their local fare of sixpence. Similar acts of solidarity followed in Bloemfontein and Brakpan township. Two months passed and the solidarity of the people remained strong. Both the capitalist class and the government were forced to deal with the crisis by combining forces to protect their common interests against those of the workers. The employers, represented by the Chambers of Commerce and Industry, reversed earlier expressions of sympathy with the boycotters once production and efficiency in the workplace began to suffer. The Chambers realised that to grant basic wage increases, as demanded by SACTU, would only set a dangerous precedent that would jeopardize their position as exploiters of human labour-power.
The state, as protector of profits in general, took the lead in victimising boycotters and their supporters. Sympathetic White drivers offering rides to workers were fined under the Motor Carrier Transportation Act. Pass raids and imprisonment of boycotters increased with each passing week, including the arrest of 2,000 workers sleeping 'illegally' at Wemmer Mens' Hostel, Johannesburg. Police violence was demonstrated at a Lady Selbourne meeting outside Pretoria on 31 January, when Joel Ramothebe was killed. The workers' solidarity increased in the face of these tactics and by the end of February the government had failed completely in dividing the workers or co-opting the moderate leaders of the PTC.
PUTCO's financial situation was by now desperate and, as threatened, the Company closed down all services on 1 March. It was clear that the economic burden of Apartheid transport could no longer be strapped to the backs of an already super-exploited African working class. But on that day, boycott leaders, PUTCO representatives and members of the Chamber of Commerce met and discussed a proposal whereby the five-penny bus tickets could be cashed in for one penny apiece and the services would be temporarily subsidized by the Chamber through a special £25,000 fund. The suggestion was apparently acceptable to these boycott leaders but the final decision rested with the boycotters themselves. Even before the meetings had been convened, however, statements had been given to the press, which indicated that a 'settlement' had been reached.
The people stood strong in their commitment to ' Azikhwelwa ', not satisfied with the conditions of the 'settlement'. A deadlock lasted another four weeks as dissensions within the PTC between the Africanist faction and the ANC leadership were played out. In early April, the boycott began to break and decisions were taken by township residents, often with reluctance, to end the boycott. By 15 April, full services were running in all centres. Two months later the government passed the Native Services Levy Act, which required employers to make a monthly transport subsidy payment for each African employed in commerce and industry. The government also contributed to the fund. It had been a long and arduous struggle but the determination of the people had ensured an ultimate victory over attempts by the combined ruling class to impose additional financial burdens on the African workers.
The workers' militant response directly reflected their economic conditions and the boycott action signalled to the ruling class a heightened consciousness among workers of the nature of their exploitation. At the time the Bus Boycott was initiated, the average minimum wage for African workers amounted to £11 Os. 0d. per month. SAIRR surveys in 1953 and 1954 revealed that the essential minimum expenditure for an African family of five in Johannesburg was £23 1 Os. 4d., but that the total income of an urban African family of five averaged no more than £15 18s. I ld. By 1957, the situation had deteriorated.
In its memorandum presented to the employers, SACTU demonstrated how the real wages of African workers had declined in the previous decade. In a comparison of wage rates paid to the lowest category of workers, they focused attention on the desperate and urgent plight of the African workers. Some examples of wages (including COLA) for 'unskilled' work in 1948 and 1957 were as follows:
|Building||£2 3s. 4d.||£3 4s. 2d.|
|Chemical||£2 7s. 0d.||£2 18s. 3d.||in certain areas|
|£1 13s. 0d.||£2 11s.9d.||1950-51 Wage Determination|
|£1 16s. 4d.||juniors, under 18|
|Distributive/||£2 8s. 0d.||£1 19s. 9d.||Jhb; under18|
|Commercial||£3 0s. 9d.||Jhb; over20|
|£1 17s. 6d.||Germiston; under 18|
|£2 15s. 9d.||Germiston; over 18|
|Meat||£1 16s. 3d.||£2 11s. 9d.|
|Engineering||£1 18s. 0d.||£2 11s. 3d.||Iron and Steel|
|Motor||£2 7s. 0d.||£2 16s. 7d.|
|facturing||£2 6s. 3d.||£3 12s. 6d.|
|Textile||£2 3s. 9d.||£3 8s. 9d.||weaving|
|£2 14s. 0d||canvas|
|£2 1s. 3d.||flock|
|Garment||£2 3s. 9d.||£3 17s. 0d.|
|Furniture||£2 9s. 6d.||£3 6s. 9d.|
|Laundry||£2 1s. 3d.||£3 0s. 0d.|
|£2 5s. 0d.||juniors; under 18|
Even if one considered the Retail Price Index calculated by the SA Bureau of Census and Statistics, it is obvious that living standards for African workers had declined steeply. This Index was based on a study of middle-income European family budgets. However, while the Index reflects an increase of 44 per cent (on all items) and 56 per cent (food) between 1948 and 1957, 'the actual increase as it affected the average non-European" family is far steeper. It would not be an exaggeration to place it between 65 and 70 per cent.' SACTU examined the wages of workers in four fairly representative industries - chemicals, commercial and distributive, engineering and motor. They found that the average wage of the African workers in 1948 was £2 4s. 0d. per week; by 1957, this had only increased to £2 15s. 1d. The increase in money wage amounted to 25 per cent. However, the increase in the cost of living, according to the Index, was 44 per cent and the calculated real increase in cost of living for African workers in the Rand-Pretoria-Vereeniging area was 65 per cent. The conclusion drawn for these workers was that wages had failed miserably to keep pace with increased prices and expenses by between 20 and 40 per cent.
Even some employers' organisations had recognised that there was a need to improve the deplorable rates of pay for 'unskilled' African workers. The March 1957 issue of Commercial Opinion , an employers' journal, declared that there was an average shortfall of £7 11s. 5d between the monthly income of unskilled workers and their minimum necessary expenditures. It commented:
These figures are stark and simple. There is no way of juggling them to belie the story they tell.... In general the consequences are misery, malnutrition and a dangerous state of mind.
Early in 1957 also, the newspaper Umteteli wa Bantu , owned and published by the Chamber of Mines, conducted a survey of income and expenditure of African families. The conclusion was that an income of £31 per month was necessary for adequate and decent living for a family of five living in Johannesburg African townships. In the course of the Bus Boycott, African workers succeeded in drawing attention to their poverty wages and employers and the government were compelled to take notice of their situation. Many promises were rhetorically made, including one by the Minister of Labour de Klerk, who announced that he had drawn up a list of 45 trades and industries for immediate investigation by the Wage Board. More than one year later, the Wage Board had reported on only one of the 45 undertakings, revealing the callous disregard government bodies held for African workers and their poverty-stricken families. The following statement is more indicative of the policy put into practice: To plead that you must pay the Natives who are employees a 'civilised' wage means only one thing in this country - White wages. To want to pay Natives White wages fails in the first place to take account of their productivity; in the second place it does not take their living standard into account. Both the employers and the state continued to evade the real issue of class exploitation by crying out for increased productivity. SACTU clearly responded to this distraction in a 1961 memorandum: Our rank and file members find it difficult to understand the numerous articles and discussions which the press reports on the need for increased productivity in South Africa and employers should clarify their concept of productivity as this is open to various interpretations. Workers, for instance, interpret the employers' demand for increased productivity to mean an indirect speeding up of productivity and of one worker doing the job of two or more to compensate the employer for the increased wage bill arising from general wage increases. This has caused the workers to be most suspicious of the call for increased productivity, as they cannot interpret it in any other way.
SACTU rejected these ruling class diversions and instead insisted that the central issue was the necessity of wage increases for the majority of South African workers. Only by demanding a greater share in the economic wealth that they had produced could the 'living standard' of the African workers improve.
'Azikwelwa' to 'Asinamali ' Workers! You know your wages are too little. Your children are hungry. Prices are. too high. You have no money for food, for rent, for transport. Workers, only unity can help us. This is what we must learn from the boycott. When we stand together we can make our voices heard.
If we want more money we must have strong Trade Unions.
If all workers join with SACTU we can win these demands.
Not promises, but your own unity can get our demands.... Let's all stand together - for £1-a-Day - for an immediate increase in wages.
Trade Unions make us strong. In the midst of the Bus Boycott when the militancy of the masses reached its highest peak, SACTU, sensing that the workers were ready to be mobilized around broader issues, seized the moment to introduce the national working class demand of £1-a-Day.
On 10 February 1957, SACTU convened a Workers' Conference attracting some 300 trade union delegates and thousands of unorganised workers. Leaflets distributed beforehand drew the link between the fare increase and the general poverty of the African workers created by the profit system. Leslie Massina, General Secretary, emphasized this point at the conference: The Bus Boycotters have shown up, as never before, the terrible hardships of African families on their present wage scales . . . ASINAMALI (WE HAVE NO MONEY) exactly states the position of the workers today. They simply cannot live on the miserable wages they are getting.
'Asinamali-Sifun' Imali' became the slogan of the campaign - 'We have no money - We want more money!' The Conference resolutions articulated clearly the workers' demands: (a) the average minimum wage of £11 0s. 0d . a month was totally inadequate; (b) the COLA, pegged since March 1953, bore no relation to the actual cost of living; (c) the government claim that £15 0s. 0d. per month represented a living wage was 'absolutely unrealistic'; and (d) the majority of workers earn wages which were below the Poverty Datum Line (PDL) and are ill and undernourished. The major resolution passed determined the direction of SACTU's major work throughout the rest of the 1950s and 1960s.
(We) demand a minimum wage of £1 per day, including the cost of living allowance for all workers throughout the country, and (SACTU) pledges itself to struggle for the achievement of this aim.
An intensive campaign began and was carried out on every possible level. Deputations and memoranda demanding £1-a-Day were served on employers; strikes, mass rallies and demonstrations, distribution of hundreds of thousands of leaflets and press coverage occurred in all corners of the country.
From the beginning, the £1-a-Day campaign converged with SACTU's plan for organizing the unorganised. The 'Plans for a Mass Enrolment into the Trade Unions adopted by the SACTU MC after the Workers' Conference reflected the realization that workers need to be organised into trade unions or even some lesser form of organisation (such as factory committees) in order to win their demands on the wage front. A definite sense of immediacy characterized the campaign. The Bus Boycott had aroused the militancy of the people and they were now searching for a way forward. SACTU saw it as the duty of the democratic movement to keep up the initiative and 'prevent the mass spirit from frittering itself away in disillusionment and false paths'. The proposal was to launch an immediate drive for 20,000 new members and the emphasis was placed on recruiting all workers into SACTU first, and then allocating them to industrial unions as soon as possible.
SACTU recruitment forms - in all languages - Were printed as well as 15,000 badges and stickers. Speaker's notes were issued to all local committees, which were given the responsibility of organizing mass meetings and local recruitment programmes. At the national level, John Gaetsewe became the principal spokesperson for the overall campaign and at each NEC and Annual Conference meeting emphasized the necessity for organizing workers at the point of production:
If we do nothing when the (recruitment) forms are completed we will make a laughing stock of ourselves and will disillusion the workers. We must help workers frame their demands and take up all complaints at the factories. Factory committees should be formed wherever possible. Existing unions are asked to be as generous as possible with office space for newly formed unions and officials must also give advice and assistance to new organisers.
Throughout the first year of the campaign, £1-a-Day Committees were formed in all major centres and industrial areas were zoned to facilitate organisational work. Educational work assumed a priority and local committees began to print their own leaflets and to hold mass rallies to mobilize workers around the £1-a-Day demand. The July 1957, Asinamali Rally held in Johannesburg, the fifth of its kind throughout the country, drew 500 workers from Klerksdorp, Pretoria, Johannesburg, the East and West Rand, representing some 60,000 workers in total. At this meeting, a worker from Benoni spoke for all African workers when he told the crowd:
It is not because we are stupid that our children fall ill, but because we have no money. It is not because we do not know how to look after our money that we cannot pay our rent or transport fares but because our wages are so low that they do not cover the cost of our most urgent needs.
At this rally, Gaetsewe pointed out that it was not only Black workers who earned less than £1 -a-Day but that many White women workers in the tobacco, distributive, sweet, laundry and textile industries as well were often paid below SACTU's minimum wage demand. He stressed the need for unity of all workers in the struggle for higher wages.
SACTU's consistent attempts to achieve this unity with other trade union coordinating bodies met with the same response on the £1-a Day campaign as with all other issues. However, there were some individual unions not affiliated to SACTU, which expressed support for the campaign. The National Union of Distributive Workers (NUDW) and Garment Workers Union (No. 2 Branch) in particular voiced their approval of SACTU's initiative. 'Whatever differences there are among us, none can fail to support the demand for £1 a day,' said Mrs B. Flusk, GWU No. 2 Branch?
SACTU affiliated unions threw their whole-hearted support behind the wage campaign. By the end of 1957 workers in the metal, milling, garment, textile, laundry and food and canning industries, led by their SACTU unions, were advancing demands for £1-a-Day. Their enthusiasm for the campaign reflected the urgency and correctness of these demands:
Our workers have come to look to the £1-a-Day campaign to end their sufferings and hardships of their low wages. But they feel that work for the campaign is far too slow. There should be a conference for delegates from all factories in order to study and discuss reports on the campaign and make plans to push it. Everywhere the call went out for a National Conference, which would add momentum to the campaign.
A National Conference on the £1-a-Day demand will help the campaign considerably. Action is better than words. The campaign will create a higher degree of unity in the Trade Union movement than we have yet seen.
The campaign to organise 20,000 workers is our most urgent task. It has been proved that when the organised give the unorganised a lead, the latter will fight with the same courage and unity in demanding higher wages.
Subsequent to these calls, Workers' Conferences were convened in the Western and Eastern Cape areas, the Transvaal, Natal, Klerksdorp, and Kimberley in February 1958. In turn, they prompted a National Workers' Conference in March of that year. At this stage of the campaign there had been little response from the ruling class. In June 1957, the MC had approved a memorandum prepared for circulation entitled: 'The Urgent Need for a General Increase in Wages Particularly for the Lower Paid Categories of Workers, and a National Minimum Wage of £1-a-Day.'After its approval by SACTU affiliated unions and meetings of rank-and-file workers, it was circulated to the SA Federated Chamber of Industries (SAFCI), the Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce and the Transvaal and OFS Chamber of Mines. The SAFCI assured SACTU that they would send SACTU proposals to its member organisations for comment from different geographical areas and that they would take SACTU's suggestion for a joint meeting to their Non-European Affairs Committee in November. Nothing more was ever heard from the SACTU. The Johannesburg Chamber responded as follows: 'while interested in the matter of Non-European earnings, it (the Chamber) is not a registered employers' organisation, nor does it deal with specific requests or demands related to conditions of employment. As long as profits were not threatened and the cheap labour system was intact, the bosses ignored the SACTU demands and the interests of Black workers.
From the beginning of the campaign, however, SACTU activists were extremely clear on the role of the bosses and stressed that they should not be believed when they claim an inability to pay a minimum wage of £1-a-Day. Moses Mabhida, for instance, pointed out that these employers had paid White European labour to come to South Africa with the assurance of receiving much higher wages than their Black counterparts. 'The African worker has been crucified on the cross of gold in the Transvaal and on the mealie stalk in the Orange Free State,' said Mabhida, focussing on the wage discrepancy in various industries and pointing to the £36,000,000 profits realised in the gold mines - all of this made possible only by the availability and exploitation of cheap Black labour.
In 1959, the campaign was strengthened by the exciting events of that year, the year in which the militancy of the masses once again reached a high point. Women's demonstrations against passes, beerhalls and dipping tanks (all described in Chapter 9) highlighted the need for stronger organisation amongst the masses. After the 1959 SACTU Annual Conference, a much closer working relationship was forged between SACTU and the ANC, with both recognizing the urgent necessity of organizing workers and peasants into their respective organisations. Out of the SACTU Conference came renewed emphasis on forming new unions in the basic industries. The £1-a-Day campaign was to be conducted in the following manner: (a) by building powerful unions in the transport and metal industries, (b) by creating workers' factory committees as a step towards the formation of trade unions, and (c) by demanding a minimum wage of £1-a-Day and higher wages for all workers.
Some members of the SACTU-MC felt that by 1959 the demand for £1-a-Day was outdated as it was well below the subsistence level. Suggestions were advanced, for example, that the call be for '30 bob a day', but it was finally agreed that the demand for £1-a-Day for every day of the week (as compared with every working day) be advanced. An updated memorandum was prepared for distribution and a set of £1-a-Day lectures written for educational use.
In 1960, the fruits of the previous year's organizing work were realised:
We announce with the greatest possible pride that the period April 1959 to October 1960 has been the period of our greatest achievement. We have grown in stature both nationally and internationally. Through our consistent £1-a Day campaign, we have forced the entire country to recognise the need for increased wages and we have scored notable victories in the metal, distributive, textile, laundering, furniture and other industries. In some industries, the minimum wage has leapt in the past year from £2 18s. 3d. per week to £4 0s. 0d. per week. Our membership figure (52,583) is the highest it has been in the five years of our existence.
In Natal especially, SACTU's organizing campaign had borne results; over 5,000 new members had been recruited since the political upsurge of 1959. The victories on the wage front, though significant, still left the workers' wages below the subsistence level as the PDL had increased to approximately £27 0s. 0d. per month. In contrast, the majority of workers still earned less than £15 per month. The £1-a-Day slogan remained relevant and the organizing of workers into the trade union movement a necessity for strengthening the collective struggle against poverty wages.
As a result of SACTU's persistent efforts to approach employers, some breakthroughs occurred in 1959. After the circulation of updated memoranda to all employers' organisations, the SAFCI asked for 274 copies for distribution to all its affiliated members and members of ASSCOM (Associated Chambers of Commerce) agreed to meet with SACTU at a round-table conference (though they stressed that they would be acting in their private capacities and not as ASSCOM members). At the meeting the employers asked SACTU 'not to go too fast', 'not to undo all the good, which was being done (sic), and tried to prove that the £1-a-Day demand was frivolous and unrealistic'. SACTU refused to accept their contention and continued to demand that the workers who produced the wealth of South Africa be paid a living wage.
Successful Workers' Conferences were organised once again in February 1960 and held simultaneously throughout the country. Even during the five-month declared State of Emergency following the tragic Sharpeville massacre, SACTU Head Office again served demands on all national employer organisations for increased wages. Local committees too, continued to present workers' demands to the bosses: Durban LC submitted a memorandum to all provincial employers' groups in November 1961, focussing attention on unemployment, low wages, poverty and the problems facing the rural people; in Port Elizabeth, the LC circulated a memorandum directed towards the City Council in November 1961, concentrating on rents, police raids, Labour Bureaux, passes, unemployment and the need for a national minimum wage. In all areas the demand for a living wage had been linked with the related issues of class exploitation and national oppression.
In addition, the demand for a legislated, national minimum wage was put forward in memoranda submitted or in oral evidence to Wage Boards by the Witwatersrand (Wits), Durban, Cape Western Province Local Committees and the FCWU and TWIU affiliated unions. The demand had also been the subject of negotiations by individual unions and their employers when discussing wage increases. In Durban, this was done by the Tin, Twine & Bag, Municipal and Match Workers Unions; in the Transvaal, by the Farm, Plantation and Allied Workers Union and the Printing and Tobacco Factory Committees. In Port Elizabeth, the Transport Workers Union demanded £1-a-Day for all workers in the industry.
SACTU's insistence on the need for legislation had been in their own words 'like a yeast fermenting in the industrial life of South Africa'. In January 1962, SACTU prepared a Draft Bill and presented it to the Minister of Labour. Copies were also sent to Members of Parliament and the Bill was given national press publicity. So great was the pressure that the all-White Parliament was forced for the first time to debate the issue. The demand was rejected largely on the advice of Professor Steenkamp, Chairman of the Wage Board, who had been consulted by the Cabinet. This merely confirmed SACTU's position that the Wage Board served the class interests of the bosses, not the workers.
Despite the increasing repression against SACTU activists in 1962 and 1963, SACTU continued to place great emphasis on the £1-a-Day campaign. In 1963, 'with a tremendous blast of press publicity', the Rembrandt Tobacco Company announced that it was paying a minimum wage of R2 (£1) a day to all its employees. No credit was given to SACTU for its relentless campaign, but SACTU correctly claimed this as their victory, even though limited. In the same year TUCSA stated that it had always supported the demand for a national minimum wage. SACTU.
We ask them how? Did they take the struggle to the factories and workshops? Did they expose their officials to jail and other penalties, or did they simply pass pious resolutions at conferences and submit demands to that slow, ponderous body, the Wage Board?
We do not regard R2 a day as a living wage, but as a minimum wage only, and we resolve to continue to fight, with whatever resources remain to us, for all workers of all races. These resources were dwindling, however, with the increasing attacks by the ruling class against SACTU leaders and rank-and-file workers. This led many to pose the question: 'Are we being smashed because we dared to demand living wages for the workers who have built South Africa into this great industrial state? Certainly the £1-a-Day campaign would have been part of the reason for the extent of state retribution against the progressive movement as it was this campaign above all others that directly challenged the basis of exploitation and Apartheid in South Africa. At its 1963 Conference, SACTU defiantly resolved that it would 'continue to fight the system of cheap labour and call upon all affiliated unions to continue their active struggle for immediate increases for all workers and a national minimum wage of R2 a day'.
In summary, the £1-a-Day campaign is viewed as a tremendous success by those who were involved in its implementation. Perhaps the only differences of opinion concerned the emphasis of the campaign. Some have suggested that too much emphasis was placed on trying to influence the state rather than focussing on the capitalist class. 'Looking back I think we were flogging the wrong horse. We should have focussed it against the employers, not the government that wouldn't change the wage structure. Others, however, believe that the emphasis was correctly placed because companies were waiting for a law to be passed before they would act. John Gaetsewe, active leader of the campaign at the national level, felt that the emphasis was evenly balanced, that the demands were being placed on both the employers and the state, but that 'the pressure at the point of production was the key strategy as our only strength was in the factories'. Even during the campaign there were those who were critical of unions that did not demand £1-a-Day in their negotiations with their employers, stressing the need to confront the problem at the point of production (and exploitation) instead of waiting for legislation to be enacted.
The call for a legislated minimum wage awakened the state and the capitalist class to the realization that they could not continue to extract such super-profits from the workers without a further sharpening of the class struggle. Some important gains were achieved in this struggle and many workers were paid higher wages as a result. But the main victory in the campaign was in the education of workers about the nature of racial capitalism in South Africa and the organisation of thousands of new trade unionists. The successes of the 1960 and 1961 Stay-At Homes pointed to the fact that the most militant response to the strike call came from those industries where SACTU's organizing campaign had made the most inroads. This was undoubtedly one of the reasons why the state stepped in to crush the workers' movement in the next few years.