Transvaal Miners General Strike 1913

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Timing
Time Period:  
10 May
1913
to
7 July
1913
Location and Goals
Country: 
South Africa
Location City/State/Province: 
Transvaal, South Africa
Location Description: 
The strike took place in various locations across South Africa.
Goals: 
The goals of the strike were to reinstate dismissed workers and establish working hours for miners to be from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. during weekdays and from 7 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturdays.
 

More workers from the New Kleinfontein Gold Mine in South Africa subscribed to the Transvaal Miner’s Association than workers from any other single mine. Underground workers at this mine, who were primarily white, were accustomed to working eight and a half hours daily and five and a half hours on Saturdays. In order to comply with the South African mining regulations (which stipulated that men should not work more than eight hours underground) managers had workers spend half an hour on the surface before transporting them underground.

On 1 May 1913, Edward Hensley Bulman (the manager appointed to the New Kleinfontein Mine near Benoni) announced that he would begin requiring workers to stay at the mine for a full eight hours on Saturday. Five of the mechanics were unhappy with this new policy, and left the mine on Saturday 10 May 1913. The Amalgamated Society of Engineers, a trade union, instructed its members not to accept the jobs of the workers that walked out. The manager replaced the mechanics with new workers (who were not members of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers), and refused to reinstate the employees that had left.

Other primarily white miners refused to work at New Kleinfontein on 26 May in support of the workers that had resigned in protest. The next day, all workers at the mine then declared a strike and appointed a strike committee composed of members of the three trade unions represented at the mine: The Amalgamated Society of Engineers, the Transvaal Miner’s Association and the Federation of Trade Unions of Traansvaal. The strike committee demanded reinstatement of all workers and a revised working schedule of 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on weekdays and 7 a.m. to 12:30 p.m on Saturdays.

The management of the mine refused to negotiate with the strike committee. After hiring non-union miners, it reopened the mine on 11 June 1913. General J.C. Smuts, a former minister of mines in South African and the current Minister of Defense and Finance and the acting minister of Justice in South Africa met with the strike committee on 19 and 22 June 1913 but was unwilling to concede to their demands. On 20 June, police arrested 5 strike leaders. Hundreds of strikers marched on the jail where the government held the leaders to demand their release. Mounted police protected the jail, and while some marchers threw rocks at policemen, no one was injured. On 21 June, workers at the nearby Van Ryn Estates Mine and at the New Modderfontein Mine, both under separate ownership from the New Kleinfontein Mine, went on strike in solidarity with the New Kleinfontein Miners.

On 27 June, Smut deployed approximately 2800 policemen, 1700 special constables, 2900 imperial troops, and 670 members of the citizen forces to the areas affected by the striking. On 28 June, the Federation of Trade Unions of Transvaal had a meeting to discuss the possibility of a general strike with the goals of reinstating all of the strikers, as well as achieving the demands of the New Kleinfontein miners. On 29 June, members of the Transvaal Labour Party, the Federation, and trade-union leaders held a mass public meeting in Benoni in which speakers called for a general strike. On Monday 30 June, the strike committee and strikers marched on the Brakpan mines, which were nearby, under a variety of ownership, and concentrated within a small area, to proclaim a general strike. This march traveled from mine to mine, and three mines and the Victoria Falls Power Company located in the surrounding area also joined the strike.

On 1 July the Transvaal Miner’s Association (T.M.A.) joined with the Federation of Trade Unions of Transvaal to create a Strike Governing board, and declared that a general strike of all South African miners would commence on 4 July. In addition, the executive of the Federation called upon all of its affiliated unions to cast their votes for a general strike for 4July. On 1 July four mines on the East Rand wend on strike. On 2 July the East Rand Proprietary Mines and five Randfontein mines went on strike. By 4 July, more than 18,000 men and 63 mines struck. By 5 July all of the mines and power stations on the Witwatersrand gold fields (around 19,000 workers) were on strike.

On 3 July, in an editorial, The Rand Daily Mail urged the prime minister and government of South Africa to intervene, and deal fairly with both the mine owners and strikers. On 3 July, the South African Engine Drivers’ Association joined the strike. By 4 July, nearly every trade union in South Africa except for the railway workers union was striking in solidarity with the miners.

On 4 July the railway workers at Germiston and Braamfontein went on strike, interrupting the railway lines between Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town, Natal, and the East Rand. Strikers and their families marched along the railway lines and engineers left their trains to join the march. On 4 July 1913, the strike leadership planned a meeting in Market Square in Johannesburg for all of the strikers at two o’clock in the afternoon. Smuts ordered the chief magistrate of Johannesburg to ban the meeting. He communicated this order to Johannesburg around 1:30 PM, by which time a huge crowd had already assembled. Strikers and protesters had held a mass meeting in Germiston earlier that day that government forces did not challenge. The crowd at Johannesburg refused to disperse in response to police and soldiers’ orders, until the police and soldiers charged at them. Later that day, some protesters, apparently not trade unionists, set fire to the goods shed at the railway premises and burned the premises of The Star, which was the mouthpiece for the Chamber of Mines. Military and police opened fire on a group engaging in property destruction in the “Corner House, ” and the mob retaliated with stones and bricks. The strike governing board condemned this violence. The Rand Daily Mail reported that the trade union strikers were well “dressed and wearing the red rosettes, and without a desperate look about them.”

On 5 July all businesses and shops in Johannesburg closed, joining the general strike. During the afternoon, more mobs of non-unionists created disturbances outside of the Rand club in Johannesburg, and police fired into the mob. These police shots killed 25 people including innocent bystanders. A number of others were injured. After members of the Federation addressed railway workers in the city of Pretoria, those workers unanimously passed a motion of sympathy with the strikers on the Witwatersrand. On Sunday 6 July H.J. Poutsma, the organizing secretary of the Amalgamated Society of Railway and Harbours Servants, and Frank Nettleton, the organizer of the newly-formed Transport Workers Union, addressed a mass meeting of 8000 people and openly aired the grievances of railway workers. The meeting then passed a similar resolution supporting the general strike.

On 7 July 1913, Smuts, the Minister of Defense and Finance as well as the acting Minister of Justice, and the Prime Minister Botha met with strike leaders Andrew Watson (President of the Federation), Bain, Matthews, and Hindman in the Carlton Hotel to reach a settlement. The mine owners reinstated all of the strikers, and the government appointed a judicial committee to investigate the strikers’ grievances. The mine owners dismissed the strikebreakers, but the government paid them a full year’s salary of 300 pounds.

Research Notes
Sources: 
Katz, Elaine. A Trade Union Aristocracy. 1. Johannesburg: African Studies Institute, 1976. Print.

Visser, Wessel. "The South African Labour Movement's Responses to Declarations of Martial Law, 1913-1922 ." \ South African Journal of Military Studies 31.2 (2003): 142-157. Scientia Militaria. Web. 12 Feb. 2014. <http://scientiamilitaria.journals.ac.za/pub/article/view/157>.

Nauright, J. (2005). Cornish miners and the Witwatersrand gold mines in South Africa 1886-1904. Cornish History (on-line journal). Available at: http://www.marjon.ac.uk/cornish-history/witwatersrand/index.htm.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Tom McGovern 16/02/2014