The Relevance of the ICU of Africa for Modern Day Unions and Liberation Movements

The Relevance of the ICU of Africa for Modern Day Unions and Liberation Movements by Warren McGregor

Author: Warren McGregor

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The history of the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union of Africa (ICU), formed in South Africa in 1919, is replete with lessons for today’s movements. The ICU, which also spread into neighbouring colonies like Basutoland (now Lesotho), Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and Southwest Africa (now Namibia) was by far the largest protest movement and organisation of black African and Coloured people of its time. Influenced by a range of ideas, including revolutionary syndicalism, the ICU had both amazing strengths and spectacular failings. This piece explains.

Presentation at the launch of the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union of Africa (ICU) Centennial Exhibition, William Cullen Library, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, 17 August 2019
Author’s note: the following is based on a 15 minute spoken presentation delivered by the author at the event. It was not meant and should not be read as an exhaustive historical or critical account of the ICU.

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