From: South Africa's Radical Tradition, a documentary history, Volume One 1907 - 1950, by Allison Drew

The origins and development of Trotskyism 171

Document 68 Letter from the Workers' Party of South Africa, Johannesburg, to the Cape Town branch, -26 February 1937





P.O. Box 2639,






26th February 1937




W .P.S.A.






Dear Comrade,




I write to keep you informed of the progress of the strike now occurring at Scaw Works. After months of secret preparations, our demands were presented and the developments took place with great rapidity, because we dared not give the bosses time to lay up a stock of their products upon which to keep going.

Our demands presented last Friday, were rejected on Saturday. Overtures made on Monday by the Labour Department on our suggestion were ineffectual, and on the same evening the decision to strike was taken and carried out the following morning by 100% of our members, who drew out half the non-union men with them leaving ten scabs behind.

We sought on Wednesday to open negotiations with the bosses through a deputation sent by the S.A. Trades and Labour Council, but with no success. The bosses declared themselves to be "supremely indifferent." On Thursday they thawed out sufficiently to approach some of the workers individually and now finally they have started to arrest the men they need most on trumped up charges of violence;: one was arrested yesterday and promised by the detective in charge withdrawal of charges and his job back at higher pay if he would scab. He refused. The others have just placed themselves in the hands of the Native Affairs Department. We await news of their arrest.

Up to now we have only placed persuasive pickets in the neighbourhood of the factory and at the Pass Office. The backwardness of African workers causes them to scab unintentionally and some are even being forced physically to continue to scab. The factory however is managing to limp along, thanks to the treachery of the European "trade union members" who are training and supervising the scabs, and the "European youths" who are actually themselves replacing strikers. We must agitate energetically against this, I have appealed to the S.A. Trades & Labour Council and the Unions concerned and as you might expect the bureaucrats shake their heads sadly, and offer us financial aid to appease their consciences (or whatever vestigial remains still persist of this faculty in these casehardened swine). If the strike fails it will be due to this stab in the back dealt us by "fellow workers."

We need every penny that can be raised to keep the men and their families housed and fed and for legal defence. Success in raising money will render us independent of the European Unions and enable us openly to label them as Pinkertons. The lesson must be drawn by the European workers and it is for us to hammer on this question till it gets home. Here is an opportunity to bring it forward and you will I am sure not be slow to bring every pressure at your disposal to bear on organisations and  individuals around  you.

News has just come that 8 more men have been arrested, bringing the total to 10. I suppose I am next in order, though I cannot imagine any charge they can possibly fake up against me. Money and agitation against European scabbing -it's up to you, Comrades.


                                               Yours for the Fourth International,

                                 R. Lee