'We do not think that the Bantu is ready for labour unions': Remaking South Africa's Apartheid Workplace in the 1970s
This article explores the response of employers and the apartheid state to the Durban strikes of 1973, as they sought to remake industrial relations while preserving racial capitalism. After 1970, South African manufacturers faced a new set of challenges. Export markets shrank, while the domestic market remained severely limited because of dependence on low-wage black labour. Low productivity made it hard to compete globally, yet growth based on import substitution remained blocked by black poverty and low consumption. Finally, in 1973, manufacturers faced a mass revolt by underpaid African workers. Apartheid planners faced a dilemma: how to increase black labour productivity and domestic consumption, without emancipating the African working class and eroding the privileged position of the white working class in the labour market? Faced with this impasse, employers and the state sought to stabilise industrial relations by creating lines of 'communication' with black workers, enhance productivity by improving personnel relations, and boosted some wages, without promoting black unionisation. Despite these efforts to 'reform' industrial apartheid and to contain the black workers on this narrow terrain, by the end of the decade black workers took advantage of these changes to lay the groundwork for an independent union movement.