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Labour Struggles in Southern Africa, 1919-1949: New Perspectives on the Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union

David Johnson, Noor Nieftagodien, and Lucien van der Walt, editors
Labour Struggles in Southern Africa, 1919-1949: New Perspectives on the Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union
ISBN: 978-0-7969-2641-8
2023/286 pages
Distributed for HSRC Press


The Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union (ICU)—the largest black political organization in southern Africa before the 1940s—was active in six African colonies, as well as in global trade union networks. Labour Struggles in Southern Africa provides fresh perspectives on the ICU, exploring its record in the 1920s and 1930s and assessing its achievements and failures in relation to the present.

In its One Big Union approach to protecting workers' rights, its emphasis on economic freedoms, its internationalism, and its robust protection of women and migrant workers, the ICU fundamentally challenged the axioms, tactics, and programs of rival organizations like the African National Congress. Reflecting that, this book demonstrates that the legacies of the ICU continue to be of crucial contemporary relevance. 


David Johnson is professor of literature at the Open University. Noor Nieftagodien is professor of history at the University of Witwatersrand. Lucien van der Walt is professor of economic and industrial sociology and director of the Neil Agget Labour Studies Unit at Rhodes University.


  • Introduction.
  • The ICU, the Mines, and the State in South West Africa, 1920–1926: Garveyism, Syndicalism, and Global Labor History—L. van der Walt.
  • The Rabble-Rouser: Robert Sambo's ICU Stint in Rhodesia—A. Daimon.
  • Organizing the Unorganized: ICU Internationalism and the Transnational Unionization of Migrant Workers—H. Dee.
  • The ICU in Free State Dorps and Dorpies—P. Limb and C. Twala.
  • The ICU and Local Politics: Kroonstad, From the Late 1920s to the 1930s—T. Moloi.
  • Trouble Brewing: The ICU, the 1925 Bloemfontein Riots, and the Women Question—N. Ulrich.
  • The ICU in the Western Transvaal, 1926–1934: Reimagining Ideological, Spatial, and Political Realities—L. Stewart.
  • The ICU in Port-Elizabeth: The Making of a Union-cum-Protest Movement, 1920–1931—N. Nieftagodien.
  • 'Home Truths' and the Political Discourse of the ICU—P. Bonner.
  • Leadership Contestations and Worker Mobilization in the Early Years of the Twentieth Century: Selby Msimang and the ICU, 1919–1921—S. Mkhize.
  • The Communist Party of South Africa and the ICU, 1923–1931—T. Lodge.
  • Illusion and Disillusion: White Women and the ICU—E. Van Heyningen.
  • The Romance and the Tragedy of the ICU—D. Johnson.