Latest News From South Africa – Tom Mann, September 1914

British syndicalist Tom Mann (1856-1941) was a major influence on South African syndicalism. His South African tour in 1910 galvanised local militants, helping inspire the emergence that year of the local IWW and Socialist Labour Party. He returned to South Africa in 1914, to assist the unions after the repression of the planned 1914 general strike, and returned again in the wake of the 1922 Rand Revolt. He was a lifelong friend of W.H. “Bill” Andrews (1870-1950), a British-born emigrant to South Africa who played a key role in the syndicalist International Socialist League and later (like Mann), moved from syndicalism to Marxist Communism.

Here is a 1914 article by Mann on “Latest News from South Africa.”

Readers of THE REVIEW may be interested in learning what developments are taking place in South Africa following upon the wholesale imprisonments and the deportations of January last. It will be in the minds of regular readers that in July of 1913 an industrial crisis arose which resulted in favor of the men. Representatives of the Government at that time, particularly Generals Botha and Smuts, entered into undertakings with delegates of the unions which resulted in a stoppage of hostilities. Subsequent events have once more demonstrated the foolishness of relying upon statesmen. Immediately work was resumed, not only did those gentlemen ignore all the apparently sacred promises and pledges they had given, but they immediately proceeded to prepare the military forces at their disposal and to bring others into existence, and as soon as ready these Cabinet Ministers proceeded to provoke the men to the point of active retaliation.

The railways are state owned, and the railway men were amongst those who had very serious grievances which they desired rectified. Many railway men average about fourteen shillings a day (two dollars), whilst thousands of railway men — white men at that — do not receive more than one dollar a day for full pay, and the purchasing power of money here is less than in the U.S.A.

As a result of the very deliberate maneuvering of the railway departmental administration, it reached the stage when a section of the men determined to resist, and they struck before others could be communicated with. Martial law was declared, shooting, killing, imprisonments and deportings took place.

When I arrived in South Africa at the end of March I found that the unions had suffered seriously as the result of what they had passed through, for, concurrently with the direction of forces of the government hostile to the workers — particularly the trade unionists — almost every group of employers instructed their managers to institute a policy of victimization. Many hundreds of men were refused work at the mines. Miners, engineers, general workers, whoever had been known to be identified with the unions, were not only refused work, but were blacklisted as well. The railway department issued a list of five hundred and sixty men who are not to be re-employed. This policy, on top of the imprisonment of the most capable of the men, naturally disheartened many, but the militants were more militant still, and are so at this hour, and they are saddled with the heavy work of reorganizing the union forces. The Defense Force, which the political Labor Party had helped to bring into existence, was the chief agency used against the men.

Had real working class solidarity been a fact, neither this force nor any other could have interfered with the success of the men. But real solidarity was not within the mental compass of any but the merest handful, as, for instance, the 15,000 men of all grades and colors in Cape Town. There has never been more than 2,500 organized, and those have never had any organized relationship with other districts except in cases where the union itself covered a larger area. The same is true of Durban in Natal. I have found the greatest contrasts here. Never in my somewhat lengthy experience have I found men more callous and in some instances more cowardly, whilst the militant few are splendidly courageous.

I have had excellent meetings in every district of a public character. It is when I get down to the actual meeting for organizing that I reach bed rock and find obstacles in the way. However, I am glad to say as regards the railway men that there is now a healthy upward tendency for reorganization and in spite of heaps of difficulties there will soon be a powerful body of well organized railway men and harbor workers.

Internationalism has received a fillip. The British and Australian organized railway workers have not only sent messages of good will but have also sent substantial sums of money to enable the rail, way here to solidify their forces.

It is hoped that in a few weeks the deportees will return on the invitation of the organized workers here who, meantime, are relating themselves with their comrades in Europe to prepare for future action.

Not only is reorganization of the unions receiving special attention, but efforts at co-operation are also being made. Thus in Pretoria and several other places cooperative societies have been started and the organized bakers of Johannesburg are now about to launch a co-operative bakery as a preliminary to a reduction of hours and increase of pay to be demanded by them throughout the trade.

Some of the labor politicians have been somewhat scared by my propagandist efforts. They had been urging the workers to the view that everything could be obtained by the ballot, and some of them had never belonged to a trade union. Finding this was a hindrance to political advance, they are now joining the unions, but their influence on the movement is harmful as they are really worshippers of the “state” and have no conception of the control of industry by the men directly engaged in industry.

I am encouraging the men to rely entirely upon themselves, to build up their industrial organizations so correctly that through them and by them they will themselves decide the conditions under which industry shall be run.

Allowance must be made for the large number of workers not of European origin. In British South Africa there are one and a quarter million of whites, almost the same number of colored, i.e., having some white in them, and nearly six millions of blacks. Still the colored men are showing a disposition and capacity to organize, and with increasing intelligence on the part of the whites, the solidarity on the part of all workers as a class becomes necessary and possible and will be achieved.

Source: “Latest News From South Africa” by Tom Mann, International Socialist Review (United States) September 1914, Vol. XV no.3, pp.159-160;