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ESSAY ONE: Page 4 of 9

image: 
Year: 
1983
Description: 

At around 5 o’clock each morning, when the fruit bats cease their ringing, and all creatures that scuttle about in the night making a din, become quiet on this coastline, a new intensive *screeching starts. It cuts the dawn’s lull to shreds. It is the voice of the lourie, the Gwala-Gwala Bird. Its name, I am told, originates from these shrieks, of horror. From the Nkandla forests to Durban’s coastline, from Khosi Bay to Port Edward, the din starts.

Body: 

TABLE 1 : THE RACIAL COMPOSITION OF WAGE EARNERS IN DURBAN/PINETOWN FROM 1923/4-1953/4 (PRIVATE INDUSTRY)

(No of employees and % distribution)

YEAR

NUMBER

WHITE

AFRICAN

INDIAN

COLOURED

1924/5

16294

24

47

25

4

1929/30

18680

27

46

23

4

1934/5

21116

28

43

25

4

1939/40

31110

23

47

26

5

1944/5

46038

17

54

24

5

1948/50

60585

18

56

22

5

1953/4

75280

17

57

21

5

 

Table No II in contradistinction shows Indian and African worker wages over the same period of time: they started from the low “average” of £46 and £35 per annum respectively, gradually rising to their highest ceiling by 1947/8 and decreasing in the period thereafter:

TABLE II : AVERAGE ANNUAL EARNINGS FOR INDIAN AND AFRICAN WORKERS IN DURBAN/PINETOWN AREA 1923/4-1953/4 AT CONSTANT 1937/8 PRICES

EARNINGS -- POUNDS PER ANNUM

YEAR

AFRICAN

INDIAN

COLOURED

1924/5

35

46

93

1929/30

41

65

124

1934/5

46

67

119

1939/40

51

77

123

1944/45

77

109

164

1945/46

79

114

164

1946/7

80

120

165

1947/8

76

120

157

1948/9

75

119

159

1949/50

73

116

154

1950/1

72

115

157

1953/4

71

118

154

(Includes overtime and payments in kind) (37)

Consistently throughout this thirty-year period, African and Indian workers were paid low wages and were earning below the ‘poverty datum line” calculations of the time. (38) Employers were able to pay such rates for a variety of reasons. The precarious nature of Natal’s industrial base marked by uneven development and in some cases acute international and national competition necessitated a cheap labour system. Furthermore the same precarious base weakened attempts by trade unions to sustain a concerted drive for higher wages. This was further exacerbated by the ability of Natal’s employers to utilize one captive labour force against another. When trade unions began making significant breakthroughs the State invariably resorted to bannings and repression. In addition, the nature of Natal’s industrialization proscribed until the 1960s the emergence of sturdy industrial union structures. For the purposes of the argument it is imperative to outline nine examples that capture the main features of this long and complex process:

Weakness of Trade Unions

Trade union formation in Natal began, like in the rest of Southern Africa on the basis of craft principles. Skilled white workers organized themselves into such craft unions from the late 19th century onwards. (39) But unlike the Witwatersrand and the Cape, Natal unions subsisted on a very narrow industrial base, with jobbing fabrication much smaller than in the rest of South Africa. (40) Consequently the Trades and Labour Council of Natal had a very small resource base. Attempts to substitute white for Indian labour were resisted. Later when Indian workers were recognized as “employees” under the 1924 Industrial Conciliation Act they were incorporated into the craft unions to form a minuscule minority.

 

 In contradistinction, unskilled and semi-skilled white workers were hostile to Indian “encroachment” in the first two periods of industrialization. They rallied around appeals for the “civilized labour policy” and attempted to exclude them from occupations designated as “white”. It was only in the 1920s under the leadership of members of the International Socialist League and later the Communist Party that Indian workers begun to be organized on industrial lines. (41) But from the 1910s to the 1930s, our second period of industrialization, a viable base for strong organization was absent.