Durban, South Africa, workers mass strike for a raise in wages, 1973

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Timing
Time Period:  
9 January
1973
to
February
1973
Location and Goals
Country: 
South Africa
Location City/State/Province: 
Durban
Goals: 
Raise in minimum wage, better working conditions
 

In Durban, South Africa, black African workers constituted one of the largest groups of industrial workers in South Africa with 165,000 workers. However, the minimum wage for black African workers was set considerably lower than the Poverty Datum Line.

On 9 January 1973, 2000 workers from the Coronation Brick and Tile Works went on strike. These workers marched to a nearby football stadium, shouting “Filumunti ufilusadikiza,” which means “Man is dead but his spirit still lives”. They demanded for a raise in the minimum wage, initially from R8.97 to R20 and then to R30. These strikers won the wage increase they demanded. The next day, on 10 January, workers at A.J. Keeper Transport Company went on strike as well, demanding a wage increase of R2 a week. However, the management rejected these workers’ demand for a raise in wages as they were already receiving R2 more than the government stipulated minimum wage. Therefore, this strike only lasted for 45 minutes before the strikers resumed their work. Workers at T.W. Beckett & Company, a tea company, also went on strike for a wage increase of R3 a week. The police intervened and the management of the company dismissed 100 workers. However, these workers were reinstated a week later and were given the R3 wage increase they demanded.

By 14 January 1973, the strikes were still fairly small and scattered throughout Durban, but the campaign gained more momentum as workers from Pinetown, New Germany, Jacobs, and Mobeni industrial complexes demanded higher wages and better working conditions as well. On 15 January, workers at J. H. Akitt & Company also went on strike. On 22 January, drivers at Motor-Via in Pinetown joined the strike movement and demanded wage increases as well. From 22 to 24 January 1973, 275 long-distance truckers picketed for a wage increase of R40 a week. The strikes spread to factories belonging to the British-owned Fame Group of Companies, South Africa’s largest textile employer located in New Germany and Jacobs. Fame Group was well known for paying employees low wages and having poor working conditions. More than 7000 workers went on strike, refusing to resume work until the management increased their wages, which was a low R6 a week.

By 26 January, workers at all of Durban’s major industrial complexes were on strike. Before the end of January 1973, more than 10,000 Durban City Corporation workers had joined the strike and by early February, some 30,000 South African workers, 16,000 of which were workers in Durban, were on strike demanding a raise in wages and picketing for better working conditions.

The media in South Africa, and the Durban press especially, gave the Durban strikes wide media coverage. The white public responded to the striking workers with sympathy at the shockingly low wages that black South African workers received. Even Prime Minister Vorster of South Africa spoke on the behalf of the striking workers, calling on employers to see their employees as “human beings with souls.” The Durban strikes catalyzed more strikes in cities all throughout South Africa, with workers demanding for raises in wages in Mandini, Richard’s Bay, Johannesburg, and other industrial centers in the country.

The Durban strikes were characterized as a wave, as workers of one factory would go on strike and resume work once their demands were met, but then workers of another company would come out on strike. One observer of the Durban strikes commented that the strikes would follow mass meetings at the workplace. Serious bargaining for wage increases did not occur, but demands were announced after the mass meetings. Commonly, the employers of the companies would reject the demands at the mass meetings, but would grant the workers a small increase in wages, usually around R2 a week after the workers went on strike.

Research Notes
Influences: 
The strikes that started off in Durban led to strikes in Pinetown, New Germany, Jacobs, Mobeni, Mandini, Richard's Bay, and Johannesburg. (2)
Sources: 
Davie, Grace. "After a General Strike." Waging Nonviolence. N.p., 2 May 2012. Web. 18 Nov. 2012. <http://wagingnonviolence.org/2012/05/after-a-general-strike/>.

Davie, Grace. "Strength in Numbers: The Durban Student Wages Commission, Dockworkers and the Poverty Datum Line, 1971-1973." Journal of Southern African Studies 33.2 (2007): 401-20. JSTOR. Web. 18 Nov. 2012.

"The Durban Strikes of 1973." South Africa: Overcoming Apartheid. Michigan State University, n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2012. <http://overcomingapartheid.msu.edu/sidebar.php?id=7>.

MacShane, Denis, Martin Plaut, and David Ward. Power!: Black Workers, Their Unions and the Struggle for Freedom in South Africa. Boston, MA: South End, 1984. Print.

South African Democracy Education Trust. The Road to Democracy in South Africa, Volume 2, 1970-1980. [S.l.]: UNISA, 2004. Print.

"Wanted, A Living Wage: The Durban Strikes of 1973." Wanted, A Living Wage: The Durban Strikes of 1973 | South African History Online. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2012. <http://www.sahistory.org.za/article/wanted-living-wage-durban-strikes-1973>.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Yein Pyo, 18/11/2012