Industrial and Commercial Workers Union of Africa

A Brief History of South Africa’s Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union (1919-1931)

ICU membership card

The Industrial & Commercial Workers’ Union (ICU) – a trade union, rural peasant movement, and urban squatters’ movement – formed on the docks in Cape Town in 1919. Within a decade, the ICU had expanded across Southern Africa without regard for national borders and counted people from various African countries and the Caribbean in its leadership, as well as people who were Indian and mixed race. The largely forgotten history of the ICU is well worth recovering in a time of escalating chauvinism and xenophobia. Our Dossier #20 offers an introduction to this extraordinary popular movement.

South Africa: Land Expropriation from Below Faces Brutal Repression

The Women's Riot in Cato Manor, Durban, 1959

As the ruling African National Congress promises, with an eye on a coming election and the collapse in its popular support under Jacob Zuma, to expropriate land without compensation urban land occupations continue, and continue to face serious repression from the ruling party and the state.

The First Globalisation and Transnational Labour Activism in Southern Africa: White Labourism, the IWW, and the ICU, 1904–1934

South African coal miners, 1920s.

Lucien van der Walt on transnational labour activism in Southern Africa in the first half of the twentieth century.

Class Contradictions and Class Alliances: The Social Nature of ICU Leadership, 1924-1929

ICU

An examination of the class character of the leadership of the ICU by Helen Bradford.

The South African Wobblies: The Origins of Industrial Unions in South Africa - John Philips

John Philip’s pioneering, hard-to-get study of syndicalism in South Africa, stressing the influence of the IWW.

The Rise and Fall of the ICU: a Case of Self-Destruction? - Phil Bonner

This essay, which first appeared in the South African Labour Bulletin, sought to draw the lessons of the spectacular rise and fall of the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union of Africa (ICU) in South Africa, which in the 1920s was the biggest black protest movement in the country.