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Tomorrow It Could Be You

Strikes and Boycotts in South Africa, 1978-1982

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Tracy Carson

Tomorrow It Could Be You unearths the historical significance of strikes and boycotts between 1978 and 1982 in South Africa’s Cape Province and explores their vital role in strengthening the country’s growing political movement. Drawing on archival research and interviews with union leaders, community activists, employers and workers, the author critically analyses a linchpin period between the early rise of independent unionism, following the Durban strikes of 1973, and the growth of mass political unionism in South Africa in the shape of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (1985). The book traces the evolution of political alliances between labour organisations and community activists through careful examination of four key strikes and boycotts: Eveready Battery (1978), Fatti’s & Moni’s (1979), red meat (1980) and Wilson-Rowntree (1981-1982). The author’s analysis reveals how these initial events changed the nature of South African protest, laying the groundwork for larger, more successful uprisings against the apartheid regime.

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2 ‘The bitter battery boycott’: The Eveready strike and boycottand the emergence of alliance politics in the Cape Province -19

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Chapter 2 ‘The bitter battery boycott’: The Eveready strike and boycott and the emergence of alliance politics in the Cape Province By 1978, independent trade unions around the country were employing unconventional tactics in ef forts to force recalcitrant employers to recognise their unions. Workers from the National Union of Motor Assembly and Rubber Workers of South Africa (NUMARWOSA) in Port Elizabeth in the eastern Cape Province were amongst the first to undertake the consumer boycott. The union’s leaders – most of whom were former workers in Port Elizabeth’s factories – had only ascended to power in 1971, following a fero- cious internal dispute with an older TUCSA-based faction of the union over non-racialism. Unlike the better known unions in the western Cape Province, NUMARWOSA was not greatly inf luenced by white intellectuals or former SACTU operatives. Nonetheless, the union forged important national and international alliances with trade unions and community organisations, which helped to revive the boycott as a political weapon in industrial disputes in the Cape and raise important questions surrounding the viability of international support for South African workers. The boycott followed a decision by Eveready South Africa, a battery manufacturing company, to dismiss 230 coloured women members of NUMARWOSA in October 1978 for initiating a work stoppage – one of the first legal strikes in the country for more than twenty years. The mass dismissal was unexpected. NUMARWOSA possessed only coloured mem- bers, whom the union’s organisers believed were protected from punitive action following the walkout, due to the...

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