This paper was submitted to the 1973 Durban Strikes Celebrating 50 Years Conference
When the Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union (ICU) was formed in Cape Town in 1909 there was much hope for the improvement of worker rights. In Durban the ICU branch was established in 1925 and it appealed to many Zulu workers. Yet by the end of 1927 the union’s popularity started to wane as the leader, AWG Champion faced a number of challenges. Later though, in the late 1940s, the ANC started to mobilise and grew its muscle from the working people. Then in 1950s the South African Congress of Trade Unions (Sactu) organised militant workers. The union realised that worker struggles are linked to political struggles against the apartheid government. Yet, with the banning of political organisations in the 1960s Sactu’s influence also diminished. Others cautioned that one of Sactu’s mistakes was to involve itself in political matters rather than worker issues. This paper explores the Durban strikes of 1973 and its paradoxes where unorganised workers began the fight effectively for worker rights. Many still believe that without the Durban strike, there would never have been the political organisation in South Africa that amounted to the establishment of huge trade union formations. Furthermore, it was the worker resistance that enhanced the fight for political rights. Additionally, unions like the Natal and Allied Workers Union (Nawu) and National Union of Textile Workers Union (NUTW) were established after the strikes. This presentation examines the role of the Durban strikes in mobilising the workers as well as their communities. Several people still argue that the Durban strikes initiated not only the rebirth of black labour movement in South Africa but they strengthened the liberation struggles.
Black labour; Democracy; Mass resistance; Militancy; Political mobilisation