Australian Left Review

Article Title

The West and South African trade unionism


The South African working class represents a unique process in the history of Africa. Because South Africa developed a much higher level of productive forces than occurred elsewhere on the continent, the creation of a massive African proletariat has been a crucial feature in the evolution of the state. Throughout this century, the country’s ruling class has felt compelled to base its political calculations on the constantly expanding presence of African workers in the cities and rural areas. With the discovery of gold and diamonds in the nineteenth century, the South African economy was hurled into the international capitalist system. In particular, investment by foreign capital since the 1920s into the manufacturing sector led to the growth of a large urban working class. Due to the superexploitation of cheap and poorly organised black labor, foreign capitalists enjoyed returns on their investment which ranked among the highest in the world. At the same time, the increasing integration of the country’s economy with world capitalism made it increasingly subject to the vagaries of the world market and the influence of the major imperialist powers.