The Neutralization of Labor Protest, 1953–1964
During the Federal period the mines followed new strategies to control black labor. In alliance with the state, the companies relied upon a combination of force and corporate paternalism to limit both industrial and political action by the African Mineworkers’ Union. The union became less and less active in national politics. This widened the chasm between the union and the African nationalist movement, and has been seen by scholars as further proof of miner parochialism.1
There was no real divergence between unionism and nationalism. Indeed, the struggle against the mining companies and the state increased both worker and political consciousness among the black miners, despite severe limitations placed on the expression of that consciousness. Furthermore, the growing alliance between mining capital and the newly triumphant African nationalist party, UNIP, gradually revealed the emerging class structure in Zambia, and the conflict of interest between the mineworkers and the dominant class fractions, whether black or white. The expression of this opposition, while varying with economic and political circumstances, continues to challenge Zambia ruling class dominance to this day.
In 1953, increasingly expensive black labor and rising production costs threatened the high profit margins of the copper companies.2 The need for trained black labor eliminated a return to cheap black labor, and the growing militancy of the African union raised the specter of future wage demands and labor unrest. The companies could see only one solution: African advancement. Management firmly believed that the advancement of skilled black miners into European jobs would reduce costs by replacing more expensive white labor and mollify the most militant members of the African union, who were generally more skilled and eligible for advancement. Thus advancement would both permit a restructuring of the work force that lowered labor costs,3 and would enlarge the number of supervisory black miners. Ronald Prain, director of RST, and to a lesser extent, Oppenheimer, believed the creation of a black group of supervisory miners would reduce class tensions and promote the development of an African middle class willing to support the Federation and its promise of multi-racial partnership.4
With the Federation safely established, and both Federal and Northern Rhodesian governments highly dependent upon copper revenues, the companies hoped to obtain support for their plans despite opposition from the white miners.5 Both firms had moved their headquarters to Salisbury by 1954 in order to more easily cultivate closer ties with Federal officials.6 They also counted on the growing support among liberal whites and Northern Rhodesian government officials for the establishment of a black middle class.7
The companies calculated well. While neither Federal nor Northern Rhodesian officials could openly support the companies’ struggle against the European miners, they agreed to ignore the controversy by declaring it solely an industrial matter.8 The Legislative Council passed a resolution in 1954 to the effect that “every lawful inhabitant of Northern Rhodesia had the right to progress according to his character, qualifications, training, ability, and industry, without distinction of race, colour, or creed.” The senior provincial commissioner even promised the Chamber that government would protect advancees if the mines formally recognized an association of higher-grade miners.9
When copper was released from British controls in April 1953, and consequently from British pressure to maintain production, the last stumbling block to African advancement was removed. Within ten days the first meeting to discuss advancement was held with the European union.10 The battle for advancement continued in February 1954 with four-way talks between the companies, the European union, the European salaried staff association (MOSSA), and the African union. The companies wanted to discuss the possibilities for fragmenting certain European jobs—i.e., dividing a job into several parts, with a black miner performing each fragment at wages appropriate to the existing African wage scale and standard of living. When the talks foundered in July over the issues of job division and equal pay, the government appointed a commission of inquiry under Sir John Forster, who had led the probe of the 1940 strike. Under pressure from the companies, the commission recommended advancement be started on the basis of a dual wage structure and the fragmentation of designated European jobs. With this endorsement, and support from American Metal Company,11 the companies demanded renegotiation of the European union’s recognition agreement. After months of bitter bargaining the European union finally agreed in January 1954 to transfer twenty-four categories of European jobs to African workers. These could be fragmented. Other European jobs in Schedule A, however, remained on the European wage scale, and the union agreed to accept such workers into its ranks. The union did try to retain a veto over transfers, but Rhodesian Selection Trust bitterly resisted. At the last minute, on September 27, the veto was dropped and the Anglo-American and Rhodesian Selection Trust mines negotiated a common agreement with the European union.12 Having won the first battle against white labor, the mining companies proclaimed a triumph for “partnership” between the races and the future of the Federation.
STABILIZATION AND CORPORATE LABOR STRATEGY
This victory, and the increasingly technical nature of copper production, resulted in growing stabilization of black mine labor. The number of black miners in the three lowest grade categories (1–3) fell from 74% in 1953 to 60% in 1960, whereas semiskilled black miners rose from 25% in 1948 to 31% in 1959; skilled workers (Grades 8–13) increased from 1% to 4% of the work force during those years. The mining companies encouraged trained black labor to live at the mines with their families for even longer periods. Married housing increased, and the percentage of married miners increased from 60% in 1951 to 87% in 1960.13 Labor turnover on all the Copperbelt mines fell to 27% in 1956, and to a mere 9.3% in 1962, not much higher than the rate for European labor.14
Stabilization left the companies with the problem of managing a fully industrialized and unionized African labor force still dissatisfied with the differential between European and African labor conditions. The companies failed to divide workers along ethnic lines, and lived in fear that miner politics would interfere with production.15 Management also anticipated demands for higher wages and better living conditions after the successful Guillebaud Arbitration.16 Behind these issues lurked the ever-present possibility of a multi-racial mineworkers’ union. Management, therefore, needed to formulate a strategy to insulate black miners from political influences, separate them from European miners, and minimize the power of the African union.
In search of such a strategy, the mines turned to established experts on African labor. In 1949 Ernest Oppenheimer hired J. D. Rheinnalt Jones as Advisor on Native Affairs for Anglo-American. Formerly president of the South African Race Relations Institute, Rheinnalt Jones was a world-renowned expert on African life, and an ardent exponent of the “Human Relations” movement pioneered by American managerial expert, Elton Mayo. Jones, like Mayo, emphasized the need for “counteracting, redirecting, and channeling the working class’s new-found organizational ability.” Stressing the need for harmony and esprit de corps among the workers, Rheinnalt Jones assured management that worker loyalty could be won from the union through corporate paternalism. A number of South African industrialists had already moved in this direction, and some of them formed the South African Institute of Personnel Management (later the National Institute for Personnel Research) to adapt these ideas to South African conditions.17 The institute gave Rheinnalt Jones’s advice wide currency.
Jones visited the Copperbelt in 1949, and again in 1952. In view of the general labor shortage, the need for experienced labor, and the strength of the African Mineworkers’ Union, he saw no alternative to improving facilities in the mine compounds. “The companies are doing all they can for their welfare,” he said. He recommended a highly publicized extension of welfare activities and housing in the compounds, and assured the companies that increased worker satisfaction and loyalty would more than repay the initial costs.18 Rheinnalt Jones was especially keen on special housing and job advancement for the African clerks. He predicted this would minimize discontent, and that “if a strong body of African clerks is built up and given appropriate authority, they will acquire a sense of responsibility towards management and comprise valuable emissaries for passing on information and countering ‘loose talk’ and adverse propaganda. They will ally themselves with management and function as a ‘go between’ with the mass of African workers. . . . To my mind there is no doubt that development on these lines would act as a valuable aid to industrial relations.”19
Prain of Rhodesian Selection Trust favored a more paternalistic labor strategy as well. Deeply influenced by the liberal ideas current among American and European managers, Prain believed stabilization and advancement would only work if African wages and living conditions improved. In 1951 he publicized a five-year plan for the improvement of African living conditions on the mines on the grounds that “enlightened management today recognizes that it is not sufficient merely to have employees; it must have employees who are contented and happy and likely to stay, and such employees need conditions of remuneration and health which will induce them to stay until the time of their retirement. This may involve investing the shareholders’ money in hospitals, good housing, recreational facilities and in providing not only good wages and other financial conditions while the employee works, but also the assurance of a pension at the end of it.” Prain insisted that the initial costs must be set against “the goodwill and industrial relations value of this recommended policy.”20
By 1953, upper-level management at both companies pursued a paternalistic labor policy on the Copperbelt as the best method to further their control. Prain and Oppenheimer confidently predicted this “enlightened self interest” would soon be repaid in increased productivity.21
Initially, the general managers and African personnel managers (formerly compound managers) on the Copperbelt opposed these changes. As late as July 1952, the executive committee of the Chamber stated unequivocably “that there was no intention of any change in the accepted scheme for African welfare.” And in August 1952, the African personnel committee of the Chamber rejected most of Rheinnalt Jones’s suggestions.22
However, direction from above prevailed, and experts were brought in from outside the Copperbelt to oversee the changes. These new men visited the mines and wrote up recommendations for improvements. Eric Bromwich, who became Chief of Study at RST in 1954, investigated housing, compound conditions, and industrial disputes. Rheinnalt Jones continued as chief advisor at Anglo-American. At all of the mines by 1954 “there were indications that the African Personnel Management were being pushed aside by Management. Labor Control, Job Study, etc., were being set up but entirely separated from the African Personnel Department.”23 Increasingly, the older personnel officers were reduced to location superintendents while the new staff organized and manned the new programs.
In a dramatic change of policy, the experts deliberately encouraged both social and organizational divisions between the higher-grade miners and the rest of the work force. They believed the African trade union would be less trouble if some of the leading trade unionists could be forced into a supervisory union like the European salaried staff association.24
In the past, both companies had deliberately minimized differences within the mine compounds for fear of “creating too wide class distinctions.” When the union began, management hoped that the higher-grade miners in the union would act as a moderating influence by turning the union into an organization for themselves.25 Efforts to divide the work force had always been made along ethnic rather than occupational lines.
However, African advancement, Federal support for a black middle class, and increasing disenchantment with the union leaders led to a change of policy. Corporate officials now worried that the union leaders had “obtained a wholly undesirable ascendancy over the mass of African workers,” and were “usurping the traditional position of tribal chiefs.”26 Since most trade union leaders were higher-grade workers, a separate union for them might isolate a large percentage of the leadership. Management hoped this would have “the effect of balancing the extremist in the present union.”27
After the completion of the first advancement negotiations, the companies began encouraging advanced workers to form a supervisory union. They had a receptive audience among some African clerks who had petitioned for a senior African union.28 They had become increasingly alienated from union leadership, and were resentful of it. The companies had subtly encouraged the idea at first and then openly supported it.29 A small number of interested miners soon set up the Mines African Salaried Staff Association (MASA). Most of them were long-term mine employees and many were clerks in the compound office. Many were Lozi or Nyasa, who felt their close association with Europeans and their ethnic identity blocked them from the union leadership.30 By October 1954 MAS A had 56 members at Mufulira, 120 at Nchanga, 105 at Rhokana, and 107 at Roan. This was out of a potential membership of 1,100 at Mufulira, 750 at Nchanga, 1,311 at Rhokana, and 1,606 at Roan.31
The new compound programs reinforced occupational divisions as well. Improvements focused on higher-grade workers, since maintaining equivalent conditions no longer mattered. For example, although housing improved dramatically for all workers, the mines put their greatest effort into housing for higher-grade workers. Between 1956 and 1964, the mines built 17,500 houses at a capital expenditure of over £11 million,32 and by 1960, all the mines had improved housing for most workers. In 1957 the special type of house built in 1953, with three rooms, kitchen, a spacious store-room, ceilings, and electric lights, was upgraded further. At Mufulira, for example, the best houses now had stoves, built-in shelves, larger rooms, steel windows, sinks, and lavatories, and lights. The mines grouped these houses together in order to encourage neighborhood ties among higher-grade workers and sharpen divisions within the work force along occupational lines.33
Welfare programs and staff were reorganized and expanded to fit the new labor strategy. The mines hired trained welfare officers. David Greig and Dick Howie transferred from the Luanshya and Kitwe Township Boards to Rhokana and Roan respectively. The African staff at the mines worked as welfare assistants, sports organizers, case workers, carpenters, clerks, and librarians, as well as manual laborers. Mine staff gradually took over most womens’ work, leaving UMCB missionaries in the schools and some of the womens’ programs.34
Welfare work was intended to promote loyalty to the companies, and to undermine political and trade union activities among the miners. The companies ordered welfare personnel to stay out of political and union activities to safeguard their role as company spokesmen. They were instructed to cultivate leading Africans in order “to obtain information as to what the African is thinking, especially in-so-far as Trade Union and political trends are concerned.”35 They tried to divert miners away from politics and towards social and economic advancement. Activities which developed political leanings were discontinued. Leadership training in clubs and other group activities fostered moderate thinking, in an effort to discourage political extremism. The clubs looked to “develop and train leaders . . . [to] be moderate in outlook, i.e., see the other man’s point of view.”36 Wherever possible, welfare personnel were to engage miners in conversations designed to counter malicious rumors about the companies. During industrial conflicts, welfare personnel were expected to help management by diverting employees with amusements and other activities.37
With the establishment of a predominantly stabilized work force, welfare programs increasingly focused on the problems of adjustment to prolonged urban living. At all times the goal was to contribute to Africans’ “induction into urban life.” Case workers counseled miners and their dependents with their personal problems. Classes for women continued to stress skills which augmented the miners’ salaries and facilitated adjustment to urban life. Self-improvement programs expanded as well, particularly the libraries and reading rooms.38
Special schools prepared sons of mine employees for future employment on the mines. The first of these youth training schemes began at Rhokana in 1953 under the leadership of David Greig. The Luansimba Training Scheme, as it was called, concentrated on “reclaiming and educating potential ‘dead-end kids’,” and it was so successful that similar schemes were set up at each of the other mines. They served the double purpose of occupying youth in the mine townships, and indoctrinating future recruits into the values and behavior patterns of industrial labor. These schools attracted miners, who welcomed the opportunity to guarantee their childrens’ future employment.39
These programs were accompanied by well-organized propaganda efforts reinforcing the benevolent image of the companies. Each mine started a newsletter explaining the mine and the world from the companies’ perspective. In 1953, Roan had an eight-page monthly, The Roan Antelope, to report on township events. “Its tone was personal, friendly, designed to spread a feeling of good will between management and workers and to encourage employees to take advantage of the many welfare activities.” The paper was in English and Bemba, and in 1953–54, 53% of the mine township read it. In 1956, Rhokana also sponsored a newspaper specializing in township news, Luntandaya, which was selling 3,668 copies per month by December. Luntandaya printed letters, and soon became a popular means for expressing opinion. Both papers countered trade union and political propaganda, and cast the firms in the best light.40
To further reinforce loyalty, as well as protect miners from undesirable political influences, the companies deliberately limited mine compound facilities to legal residents and their registered guests. The mines feared improved compound conditions would attract “hangers on,” lower the standard of living of the mineworkers, and possibly bring in subversive political ideas. They called for government regulation of the flow of Africans into the Copperbelt, and public officials, sympathetic though they were, could not do much other than agree to step up prosecutions of loafers. Regular raids by mine police, as well as an elaborate registration system at each mine, discouraged illegal visitors.41 These efforts, too, isolated the miners from other Africans, and emphasized the special privileges awarded mine employees.
THE STRUGGLE TO MAINTAIN THE UNION
The companies hoped their new labor strategy would fend off confrontation with black labor. They were quite ready, however, to use stronger methods to enforce change as well.
As events turned out, more forceful methods were necessary. Union leaders reacted strongly to the threatened secession of the supervisory level miners. They called meetings and asked friends and families to coax association members back into the fold. Union leaders accused the breakaways of trying to destroy the union. Staff association members were compared to makopa, or dead fish, a name soon spread throughout the Copperbelt. Those who refused to join the union were denigrated as “fools because even they will also be discharged one day. They are blind because they cannot realize that the Union is here to safeguard the freedom of future generations.” Anyone not entirely with the union was declared an enemy.42
Most of the miners responded to this call for unity. Throughout 1954 relations between some of the supervisory miners, particularly clerks, and the rest of the work force steadily deteriorated. In February of that year, the joint push for equal pay by the European and African unions had raised the hopes of higher-grade miners for dramatic pay increases. Potential advancees who spoke recklessly of buying cars and living like Europeans heated tensions and raised the prospect of desertions.43
The crisis brought a change in union leadership as well. The unity between lower- and higher-grade miners, particularly potential advancees, was shaken. Less-skilled miners feared that leaders in line for advancement would refuse to risk industrial conflict for their own job security. Some miners even dropped out of the union. Most reacted by voting for more militant leadership in the 1954 branch elections, unseating leaders in line for advancement. Men with well-known records of political activism and involvement in the Trade Union Congress, like Robinson Puta at Nchanga and Sylvester Nkoma at Roan, were elected.44
This victory suggests that the struggle against management was politicizing the black miners. Epstein discovered that the new branch leaders were partially elected for their reputation as ruthless negotiators,45 but it seems reasonable to assume that the victories reflected some support for political activism. This hypothesis is further strengthened by the continuing support for the African National Congress among miners, despite its decline soon after Federation. In fact, when Luanshya Africans established a Congress branch in late 1953, they solicited the assistance of Puta and Chapoloko.46 Miner militancy was growing.
THE 1955 STRIKE
The union leadership gradually closed ranks to save the union. Katilungu agreed to demand a 10s8d per shift across-the-board wage increase set up by Puta and Nkoma. This was to be for union members only, in an effort to stop miners from joining MASA or just leaving the union. While this demand was primarily designed to strengthen the appeal of the union, it had a political aspect as well since the 10s8d increase would qualify many African miners for the vote under current Northern Rhodesian franchise laws.47 The architects of the increase, Puta and Chapoloko, realized that this was a political as well as an industrial statement. Katilungu’s agreement, knowing full well it would be unacceptable to the companies, reveals a growing unity of purpose among the union leaders. In a branch meeting at Roan, Katilungu even supported the militants’ call for a long strike in defense of the union.48
During the next two months, miner support for militant union leaders grew steadily. When the companies rejected these demands, the workers almost unanimously voted for a strike action. In January 1955, all but 4,115 of the 34,000 African miners stopped work, and a bitter two-month struggle began.49 The union leaders adhered strictly to classical trade union regulations. Picketers marched, daily meetings solved problems; support systems supplied food and other necessities; and all essential services to the mines continued. When the companies threatened to dismiss all workers in late January, the strikers and their families “formed processions in the streets carrying branches of trees, waving cloths and singing, marched through the streets up to 10 A.M and converged at a public meeting where their leaders addressed them. These processions were organized as a demonstration of mass support for the strike and for the workers’ solidarity.” Efforts to intimidate workers through loudspeakers operating from vans in the township failed miserably, and attempts to import strike breakers backfired. Many of the 2,000 “scab workers” brought in by management joined the strike. The unity and determination of the work force held fast.50
By February, both government and company officials were thoroughly exasperated with the union. Government officials agreed with the companies that “the power of the Union must be broken, new leaders found and a new means of negotiating with the Africans set up.”51 Neither Federal nor Northern Rhodesian treasuries could afford the loss in revenue. Now that African opinion no longer had to be conciliated in order to establish Federation, government officials willingly used state power to control the union.
The companies went a step further and schemed to dismantle the union. They suggested a return to wage councils or some other form of worker representation, for as far as they were concerned, “trade unionism for Africans has been tried, and has failed. It was artificially created and is rotten to the core. . . . The leaders are at best, lacking in intelligence and experience, and the mass of the workers is but little removed from primitive savagery.”52
Only the timely intervention of Ronald Williams, legal advisor of the National Union of Mineworkers (U.K.), kept the companies and government from destroying the union. Williams, who had presented the African case to the Guillebaud Tribunal, was supported by the European Mineworkers’ Union, perhaps in hopes that continued talks about amalgamation with the African Mineworkers’ Union might succeed.53 Williams threatened adverse publicity if the companies continued hiring scab labor, and prevailed upon the African union to drop its wage demand provided the strikers were rehired. After considering an effort to bluff Williams, the head offices relented. They instructed the local general managers “to re-engage the strikers at their previous rates of pay, and to ignore the strike discharges as far as pensions and leave rights, dependent on uninterrupted service were concerned.” Miners who had been replaced by new recruits were placed in a labor pool, with the promise that they would be reabsorbed into the work force within two months.54
The settlement did not alter management’s hostility to the union or its determination to strengthen the staff association. In no mood for compromise, they declined to discuss dismissals even in cases of alleged victimization, and inaugurated a labor rationalization scheme which impeded reabsorption of the labor pool. As a result, a number of union activists in the labor pool were kept at manual labor, and some workers were not reinstated at all.55 In June 1955, the companies offered all supervisory and staff category miners the option of transfering to monthly pay at an increase of 14% per year,56 and four months later, the African union reluctantly agreed to recognize MASA. They came to regret this decision when the companies announced the MASA members held 62 of the 75 newly advanced jobs, with another two for the Mines African Police Association.57
The union vigorously renewed its campaign against MASA. It cancelled the October 1955 agreement to recognize the association, and at meetings throughout the Copperbelt union leaders ridiculed staff miners, accusing them of being “the child of the mining companies.” They warned members that the companies were out to destroy the union, and called for unity in the struggle to save it. They reminded members that “the companies established the Staff Association so those people with the top jobs would not join the industrial union.”58 “[The companies] are taking away the ones with education, the ones who understood things, the ones close to records, the ones who understood production problems, and you have the trade union in the hands of people who are not so good, the uneducated people.”59 Union leaders instructed members, whenever they saw a staff miner, to “shout at him and laugh at him and call him a makopa.”60 Miners were to boycott any activities organized by staff members, and to pressure friends or relatives who had joined the association to return.
The miners quickly responded to the call for unity. Wherever MASA members and their families went, hostile compound inhabitants followed, jeering and singing insulting songs. One informant recalled getting stoned occasionally, and seeing children shouting insults at the children of staff members.61 Union members refused to use African interpreters in the compound offices, and boycotted welfare and feeding stations, all run primarily by staff members. Occasional violence broke out. Feelings ran so high that when three union men were jailed for intimidating staff miners, 400 to 500 fellow workers went to the Boma and insisted upon being jailed also. A riot squad had to disperse them.62 One participant recalled: “The miners themselves decided that if men were taken out of the union to form another splinter then they would have nothing to do with these scabs. You wouldn’t even talk to a man; you’d have nothing to do with them.” Hostility reached a point where “it was only a very bold man who could go up and greet a man on monthly contract.”63
Many potential staff members refused to accept staff status out of loyalty to the union. A few staff members even returned to the union because of social pressures. An Ngoni clerk told Epstein that he rejoined the union “because I found that the Association did very little for the ordinary members. In fact it does nothing at all. . . . Another thing that is bad is that all people hate you as soon as they hear you are a member, even women. My wife used to quarrel with me for not attending Union public meetings. She forced me to attend because all her friends were laughing at her, and saying that her husband was an informer.”64 By May 1954, only 279 miners out of a potential membership of 4,160 belonged to MASA, and by March 1955, only 469 out of 3,535 eligible miners had joined the association. Lameck Chisanga reported that the staff association was not really functioning at this time and that many of the miners who joined refused to participate because of loyalty to the union. Indeed, in the spring of 1956, MASA leaders still complained about their small membership.65
Thus, rather than destroying the union, the struggle to protect the union appeared to be strengthening it. Except for a small number of advancees, the black miners stood firmly by their oganization. Bates attributes their solidarity to the homogenizing effect of the mine compounds and the pervasive pattern of racial stratification on the mines.66 Such conditions doubtless made a difference, but the fact remains that miner solidarity transcended racial divisions. Worker unity, not racial unity, was the clarion of the fight against MASA. The miners clearly understood this. They saw the attack on the union as an attack on their collective interests as workers. If anything, the struggle to protect the union deepened worker consciousness.
Source: Verbatim Testimony, Branigan Commission, 24–25 October 1956, and 1 November 1956.
Note: Roan figures not available.
The struggle for the union increased political consciousness among the miners as well. As Chisata recalled, “People [the miners] began to realize that no matter how much we fight for our rights we cannot succeed entirely if we don’t change the government set up.”67 Before the 1955 strike, government officials had appeared reasonably impartial in industrial disputes. Indeed, in the early years union leaders had looked to government labor officers for aid and assistance against the companies. The 1955 strike destroyed that illusion. The police protection for company propaganda vans as they toured the compounds during the strike, government support for the staff association, and the realization that only Ronald Williams’ intervention prevented a government attempt to weaken the union, clarified the alliance between the state and the companies. Indignities suffered by miners in the labor pools after the strike further exacerbated miner resentment against both company and government officials. More and more miners began to understand that industrial action availed little if not joined with political activity to secure class interests. One informant affirmed that “some miners even began to feel more anti-government than anti-mine, believing the biggest enemy was the government.”68
In 1955, militant union leaders further consolidated their hold on the Trade Union Congress. Dixon Konkola, President of the Northern Rhodesian Railway African Worker’s Trade Union and an active African National Congress organizer in 1952–53, wrested the presidency of the Trade Union Congress away from Katilungu. He created a subcommittee of nine, headed by himself and Nkoloma, to deal with political matters. These leaders maintained connections with the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU).69 They publicly announced their support for joint action by Congress and African unions. Konkola openly condemned the staff association, and called for political and industrial action against the association.70
Congress became increasingly involved in the union’s fight against MASA. This comes as no surprise since the leadership of both organizations continued to overlap. By 1956, twenty out of a total of fifty-nine branch officials of the African union were officers in Congress and thirty-two were full members. African National Congress leaders occasionally made political speeches at union meetings and union leaders did the same at Congress meetings.71 Congress saw the staff association as part of the hated Federal plan for an African middle class, and its assault on the staff association fit neatly with the general nationalist rhetoric: the economic objectives of the union and nationalist goals coincided. Union and party leaders could readily join forces in their condemnation of the Federation. Katilungu even began speaking of Nkumbula as Northern Rhodesia’s national leader.72 On 11 June 1956 Katilungu attended an African National Congress meeting in Lusaka where Nkumbula accused the companies of trying to break the union. On June 23, African National Congress and the African Mineworkers’ Union held a public meeting to discuss trade union issues, and Congress supported the union’s demands on both the leg-guard issue and the termination of the staff association.73
THE ROLLING STRIKES AND THE STATE OF EMERGENCY
The growing tension between the union and the companies came to a head in the summer of 1956 with the infamous rolling strikes. Throughout the spring the union had tried unsuccessfully to rescind its 1955 recognition of MASA. Instead of cooperating with the union, the Chamber announced in June that all employees eligible for the association must go on monthly pay and leave the union by July 1. Miners who refused to cooperate faced demotion or discharge. The union reacted swiftly, organizing a series of strikes, which culminated in a series of “rolling strikes” at the end of the summer.
These strikes were organized by the supreme council on July 30. Each mine shut down for three days: first a big mine, then a small mine, and so forth. The series began at Roan on August 2, followed by Broken Hill on August 9, and through it all, the union demanded the termination of the 1955 agreement and the dissolution of MASA. When the strikes ended, the union banned overtime as a protest against monthly pay, and on 3 September informed the companies that miners would not work on Saturdays, nor would they wear leg-guards or present identification discs when going underground. (Leg-guards were disliked because they wore out clothes and Europeans did not have to wear them.) The mining companies refused to permit unprotected workers underground, thus continuing the work stoppage.74
The strikes were well organized and solidly supported. Strikers stopped going to the welfare centers to express their hostility to staff miners. Small groups of friends pooled savings to help one another, garden produce was bartered to obtain necessities, and union leaders drew up plans to feed everyone if rations were withdrawn.75 Frequent meetings in the compounds facilitated organization. Union leaders used songs and slogans to spread the influence of the union. According to a prominent leader, “Two or three of these songs sung and repeated at general meetings were enough to consolidate workers’ opinions.”76 Occasional open-air mass meetings supplemented local communication. Disciplined orderly behavior predominated, with the union leaders clearly in control.
The 1956 strike has been seen correctly as an industrial dispute. Some scholars, however, have played down its political aspects. They assert that the strike, coupled with the Branigan Commission’s rejection of Congress’s control over the union, and later apolitical behavior of the miners, indicate worker disinterest in political affairs.77 The issue, however, is not the degree of Congress’ control over the union, but the degree to which the miners had come to accept political action in pursuit of class interests. Viewed this way, there is evidence of a growing willingness by the union to use political action in the struggle against management. After all, the nationalist leaders publicly supported the strike effort, and Congress and union leaders were in close touch throughout. The union framed accusations against the staff association in nationalist as well as industrial terms in their call for an end to MASA and the Federation.78
Company and government officials themselves did not doubt the political dimension of the strikes. They believed “the rolling strikes were the first stirrings against the Federal solution of a black middle class . . . and a rejection of the class of blacks who wanted Federation.”79
Having failed at negotiations the companies turned to the Northern Rhodesian government. By August, both company and government officials were ready to purge the union of its leaders on the assumption that they were responsible for its militancy and political connections. On 10 September 1956, a state of emergency was declared; officials arrested thirty-two union leaders, declared martial law, and sent contingents of Northern Rhodesian police into the townships. Within a few more days, police arrested fifty-five miners, forty-five of whom were union officials, who were “rusticated” with their families to the rural areas, and banned from the Copperbelt.80 The companies and the government hoped this would bring the union under control.
A commission under the chairmanship of Patrick Branigan investigated the strike. Unlike the Guillebaud Tribunal, the commission did not concern itself with conciliating African opinion over federation. The commission ignored African National Congress testimony that “negotiations have failed mostly due to the uncompromising attitude of the employer and the I-am-not-concerned reaction of the Government.” The commission rejected the companies’ claim of African National Congress involvement, and chastized the companies for misjudging African feelings about MASA, but agreed with the companies that changes were needed in union structure and negotiating procedures in order to minimize future disturbances.81
Buttressed by these recommendations, government officials decided to weaken the union and return to earlier forms of worker representation.82 Meanwhile, Katilungu, who had been out of the country during most of August and early September, returned to Northern Rhodesia in the midst of the controversy. Faced with the threat of dismantlement, Katilungu had no choice but to cooperate with government and company demands, and agreed to fewer full-time paid officials and supreme council members. (The presidency and general-secretaryship were combined.) He also conceded to arbitrate the wage demands, and drop the demand for dues check-off. Katilungu advised branch committees to cooperate with township advisory committees, withdrew the request for shop stewards, and directed members “to stop calling monthly-paid employees such names as ‘informers’ or ‘makopa.’” He advised miners that “the union has no enmity against the staff association.” In addition he accepted a moratorium on wage claims, and consented to turn his attention to improving the general work and living conditions of the work force, while assuring the companies that “the union would also campaign among its own members to improve their manner of living and to keep their houses and gardens clean and in good order.”83
The union also promised to stay out of politics. In 1957, some of the younger more politicized union leaders tried to maintain both political and union offices,84 but management and the labor department opposed this. In 1958, the companies offered to collect union subscriptions in return for a promise that the union would use neither its funds nor its organizational structures for political purposes. Again, Katilungu agreed. He resigned from the Constitution Party, and the one Congress official elected to a union post promptly quit his political position. One year later, the companies imposed even more stringent conditions against political activism in the mine townships.85
THE CREATION OF A LABOR ENCLAVE
Thus, after the rolling strikes, the black mineworkers appear to have accepted the futility of aggressive trade union and political action. They turned inward and concentrated on maintaining and enjoying their relatively privileged economic status. As we have seen, most studies of the copper miners in this period have taken this behavior as evidence of an absence of both trade union and political consciousness. This is erroneous.
In the first place, the behavior of the miners and the union must be examined in the context of both the industrial environment and the larger political economy of the period. After the rolling strikes the union was like a “weak kitten.”86 Katilungu had promised the miners that “when production comes to normal and general life is decently maintained, then we are going to find new ways of approaching on all problems and grievances as a whole.”87 However, little came of these promises. The union could not stop company dismissals, nor could it even secure a small wage increase to restore confidence in its own leadership. The state of emergency struck fear in the hearts of unionists and put the union in a very poor bargaining position. Membership dropped precipitously.88
Furthermore, the events of 1955 and 1956 had destroyed an illusion miners might have had about gaining government help against management. The lesson was clear—management could and would ally with the state in order to maintain industrial peace on their terms. The labor department’s acceptance of continuing dismissals of strike activists only served to emphasize this fact. The government had come down clearly on the side of the companies, and the miners knew it. Overt union activism was a quick way to lose one’s job, which dampened whatever enthusiasm for labor protest existed after the rolling strikes.89
The nature of the mine compounds also increased vulnerability to managerial discipline. The very factors which facilitated the development of worker solidarity and collective action also permitted management to weed out “trouble-makers” in the compounds. The visibility of the workers, and the presence of all black miners within the compounds, enabled management to keep a close watch over its work force. Compound officials and their aides, the mine police, maintained close surveillance of the compounds. Company spies reported meetings and other possible “irregularities.”90 Direct confrontation with management became correspondingly more difficult.
This was nowhere more evident than the political sphere. The companies discouraged political meetings in the mine compounds, and Rhokana even banned the Congress district secretary from the mine township. District level ANC meetings and Congressional youth leagues were forbidden, and transgressors were fired. For example, Nkana’s (Rhokana) leading Congress supporter, Chiyendi, was discharged in February 1958 for seditious statements about the Queen and propaganda against the missionaries. A number of Congress leaders at Rhokana were deliberately allowed to become redundant,91 and then be dismissed. Miners had to get permits for political meetings, and when meetings were held, speakers were guarded, wary of the inevitable informers in the audience. As one informant recalled, “You could find yourself in an awkward position, you could land yourself in trouble.” Caution became the price of survival.92
At the same time, rewards for cooperation increased. The companies offered to help build up union membership if the union eschewed nationalist politics. Compound welfare programs were expanded once again as was case work. Case workers counseled miners and their dependents with their personal problems, and classes for women and children continued to stress skills which helped adjustment to urban life. Self-improvement facilities, such as libraries and reading rooms, multiplied. Carefully orchestrated propaganda repeatedly reminded the mineworkers and their families how lucky they were to have such a high standard of living. Management warned miners that this prosperity depended upon their cooperation and productivity.93
The companies also tried to divert worker energies into the mine communities, rather than national politics or union activities. Area committees were set up in the mine townships to “harness the political social aspirations of the African community to community development projects.” They were designed “to give people a greater interest and pride in the running of Township affairs as well as fostering the idea of voluntary welfare work in the community.” Welfare services aimed to divert miners from more controversial organizations.94
Special privileges for staff miners and mine police reinforced divisions within the work force. Living in staff housing sections became a badge of supervisory status, and exclusive clubs sheltered staff members from the mockery of union miners. Special classes for wives of advancing Africans taught these women more “middle class” living habits.95 All such programs isolated supervisory miners and reinforced their dependence upon management.
These changes took place in a period of increasing rationalization of the mine work force, and of unemployment in the economy at large. The mines found it difficult to maintain profits with the fall in copper prices in 1957. The high cost of both black and white labor forced management to further rationalize production, and wherever possible, men were replaced with machines. From February 1957 to September 1958, Nkana’s labor force was reduced by 25%, Roan’s by 16.5%, Mufulira’s by 20%, and Nchanga’s by 11%. Turnover on the mines decreased correspondingly, falling to 20% in 1958. Competition for employment on the mines grew. The practice of hiring employees’ children only aggravated matters. By 1960, Nchanga reported over 1,000 job applicants per week for only 20 to 30 positions, and similar figures were reported at the other mines.96 Such conditions reinforced corporate propaganda about the lucky mine employee. Once again market factors favored the employers.
It was in this environment of decreasing economic opportunities, increasing dependence upon wage labor, and more stringent corporate discipline, that the behavior of the black miners must be examined. By the late 1950s, most miners were fully proletarianized and depended on wages and pensions for their long-term security. Many had lost or severely loosened the ties with their rural homelands. The unemployment threatened these workers severely. Underground miners could not find comparable work outside the mines, making them even more vulnerable to the possibility of dismissal. As in the Depression years, the miners responded to job insecurity by increasing their cooperation with the employers, but this time the companies offered the miners the opportunity to become permanent industrial workers. The firms were willing to pay for a smaller more skilled and stable work force.97 Absenteeism, always a good indicator of employee commitment, continued to fall throughout the 1950s, reaching levels below those of British coal workers and the U.K as a whole. For most miners, the rewards of cooperation simply outweighed the possible gains of collective action. The rewards of mine employment were tangible, and in a tight wage labor market, they overrode larger considerations for most workers. Harry Franklin sensed this when investigating African absenteeism in 1960. He concluded that the widening gap in living standards of mine employees and other Africans, and the difficulties securing mine employment, made the mine workers “value their job very considerably.”98
This refusal to jeapardize employment security limited the behavior of both staff and union mineworkers, forcing a conservative isolationism and economistic strategy on the work force. The mines were too powerful, and the rewards for cooperation too great, to allow any other course of action. Consequently, both union and staff members accepted small but steady improvements negotiated within the industrial structure, rather than the dramatic protests of the past. The miners became increasingly absorbed in maintaining the “good life” in the mine townships. The union was expected to protect living standards, not extract new concessions. Political activity in the compounds assumed less importance than films, football games, and other sports and dances which drew large crowds. Men and women jammed the beer halls, consuming large quantities of beer. Elite miners socialized together in their clubs. Both staff and daily-paid miners concentrated on maximizing the material advantages of mine employment. Some leading miners even asked government and the mines to “take action against loafers and unemployed persons living in the mine compounds at the expense of their friends and relatives.” As long as some economic progress could be seen, the miners willingly limited their demands. They accepted small increments in their standard of living in return for industrial peace.99 Considering the options available at the time, their behavior is understandable.
CLASS CONSCIOUSNESS IN A LABOR ENCLAVE
The question arises whether this economistic behavior reflected a change in class consciousness among the black miners as well. Certainly in the case of the supervisory miners, management did everything it could to encourage a feeling of being “separate and superior from the rest of the workers.” Some of these miners did align themselves with the Federation, even joining the multi-racial United Federal Party and running for political office. This alienated the rest of the miners, bringing all supervisory workers into question as “informers.” Sandford Chiwila recalled “a lot of strong feeling about this.” He claimed that “some of the elite were still concerned about the average worker, but found it difficult being accepted by the workers.”100 This hostility isolated the staff miners increasing their dependence upon managerial favor,101 and their need to cooperate with management. Thus, a vicious circle developed which pushed staff miners to behave as a “labor aristocracy.”
However, there is evidence that for most miners the class consciousness developed before 1955 remained intact. Most, for example, rejected the middle-class orientation of staff members. More to the point, after an initial setback, union membership revived. By 1958, about 15,000 miners belonged to the union, and by 1963 membership had risen to over 30,000. Kambafwile, who helped revive the Mufulira branch after 1957, reported that the willingness to limit worker demands did not diminish commitment to collective action.102
The union once again transcended racial and occupational divisions in the mine work force. The African and European unions joined forces against the Honeyman proposals (intended to muzzle the European union), and in 1961 the European union supported the African demand for a unitary wage scale.103 The staff and daily-paid black miners resented the gap between European and African wages, and in 1961 they formed a Liaison Committee to pressure the companies into abolishing it. Only strong opposition from management and a 10% salary increase convinced MASA to settle separately with the companies. In the subsequent strike, the union demanded MASA’s abolition, not because of feelings of irrevocable differences, but because staff members could not be relied on as allies in industrial disputes. The union wanted advancement for all rather than the few, a unitary wage scale, and reincorporation of the advancees into the union.104 These demands revealed a continuing desire to unify the work force, and a perception of the common interests of staff and daily-paid miners despite management’s opposition.
Within the constraints set by management, most miners and their dependents also continued to support the nationalist political parties. In 1958 miners flocked to the more radical Zambian African National Congress (ZANC), and later, its successor, the United National Independence Party (UNIP).105 As the tempo of political conflict increased, so did political activity in the mine townships. Mine inhabitants obtained permission to hold political meetings, and the rallies drew large crowds despite competition from corporate welfare activities and the pressure of company spies. Speakers were understandably cautious, but rebelliousness surfaced occasionally. For example, one informant reported sneaking an African nationalist leader into the opening ceremony of a mine welfare hall, where he stood up and shouted “ZANC,” much to the consternation of mine officials.106 In the turbulent years before independence, competition between ANC and UNIP created havoc in the townships. Women and youths joined political brigades in support of their parties, and opposition between UNIP and ANC, exacerbated by the fact that most staff miners belonged to ANC, was rife, and sometimes flashed into violence. In Mufulira a club manager only escaped serious injury from an ANC youth group by locking himself in the pantry until rescued.107 Unrest reached such a point that the Whelan Commission was set up to investigate the situation.
Miner commitment to UNIP and the nationalists affected the union as well. The growing collaboration between Nkumbula and a number of English organizations and companies harmed ANC’s legitimacy for most Northern Rhodesians, and Katilungu’s growing involvement in ANC during 1959 proved unpopular. Hostility towards Katilungu increased when he accepted the Federal government’s invitation to serve on the hated Monckton Commission.108 The miners accused Katilungu of neglecting the union for politics. Several informants claimed this was the primary reason for his downfall. Mwendapole believed “Katilungu had become unpopular, especially his part in the Monckton Commission. He took part in the Monckton Commission totally against the opinion of the people of the country.”109 Also, after Katilungu’s dismissal, most union leaders with ANC sympathies were purged from the union. The next union president, John Chisata, was an avid UNIP supporter. He brought the union back into the TUC, and in 1962 even agreed, although reluctantly, to an unsatisfactory settlement with the mines in order to facilitate UNIP’s chances in the upcoming election.110
Still there were persistent strains between the union and UNIP. Chisata clearly disliked calling off the 1962 strike for political reasons, and he warned Kaunda that further UNIP interference in the union would not be tolerated. Despite his cooperation with the pro-UNIP faction of the TUC, Chisata continued to stress the political independence of the AMWU.111 His refusal to cooperate with UNIP angered party officials, who accused union leaders of being “opportunists with no national interests at heart.”112 Accusations of this kind only aggravated the situation.
In 1963 relations between UNIP and the union deteriorated further when the party openly supported a staff association plan to establish a single new union for the black miners, the United Mineworkers’ Union (UMU). As the Federation crumbled, and the mining companies, particularly RST, moved closer to Kaunda, the staff miners realized they could no longer count on protection as the “middle-class buffer group” of the Federal government. Some other form of protection had to be found. A number of the staff association leaders had long cherished the hope of establishing a single union, and they persuaded the membership to establish the UMU in close alliance with UNIP and the United Trade Union Congress (UTUC). UNIP leaders decided to support the new union in the hope that it would be more amenable to party direction than the present union, and allowed the United Mineworkers’ Union to use party platforms throughout the Copperbelt. The new union leaders adopted the party’s method of door to door canvassing and held rallies at which leaders called for worker unity, claiming that “we are not like the African Mineworkers’ Union. We want those underground to join with the educated levels so that we can fight together. It is practically impossible today to challenge the companies and win alone.”113 Some miners found the union attractive because of UNIP support against management after Northern Rhodesia’s independence.114
The African Mineworkers’ Union broke with the UTUC once again, and launched a vitriolic campaign against the United Mineworkers’ Union. The African Mineworkers’ Union fought against the new union not because it opposed a single union, which it did not, but because it opposed a union which could be controlled by politicians. The AMWU leaders spread through the Copperbelt urging a boycott of the UMU. “Only fools,” they claimed, “could now support leaders who had proved so treacherous in the past.” As if to prove their dedication to the entire work force, the AMWU agreed to a new manning structure and local wage scale in return for a general wage increase.115 The companies helped the AMWU also, for despite growing cooperation with UNIP, management preferred a union free from party politics. They agreed to make membership transfers from the African Mineworkers’ Union to the United Mineworkers’ Union a complicated and very public procedure. Each dissident had to wait in highly visible queues, and publicly declare his desire for cancellation. The companies also refused to recognize the UMU as a legitimate employee organization. Gradually these efforts paid off, and in June of 1964, the UMU disbanded, and a new Mines Local Staff Association was formed.116
Relations between the African union and UNIP continued to deteriorate after independence. Both staff and daily-paid miners resented the local wage structure which the mines had pushed through during the 1964 crisis over the UMU. The new agreement tied wages of local employees (Zambians) to the local economy, rather than the European wage scale, thus destroying the unitary wage scale so painfully worked out in 1961. It limited the wage ceiling for black miners, and even lowered the wages of some higher-grade miners. In 1966 miner dissatisfaction finally exploded in a strike. Staff and daily-paid miners joined forces, demanding a return to the unitary wage scale. Undaunted by nationalist rhetoric, the strikers accused the Zambian government of colluding with management in order to oppress the workers.117 Once again the miners were able to transcend racial divisions, and to identify themselves and their opposition in class terms.
How can we explain this discord? Having argued for the commitment of the black miners to the nationalist cause despite corporate restrictions on political behavior, we cannot attribute the hostility between union and UNIP leaders to the absence of populist political consciousness among the miners. Instead, the answer lies in the nature of miner political consciousness. Participation in industrial labor created a sense of identity among the copper miners, an awareness of the alliance between the state and management, and recognition of the need to engage in political activity in order to protect worker interests. Union leaders and the mineworkers expected political action to create conditions that would secure their class interests. The miners believed they played a critical role in the economy, and were entitled to adequate rewards. As Mwalwanda recalled, “The miners looked forward to when this would be their own government. The government are the people, especially working people are the government, because when you don’t have working men you cannot have a government.118 When UNIP leaders tried to use the union for national goals, they were sharply rebuffed. From the point of view of the nationalists, union leaders were simply being selfish and uncooperative. UNIP leaders accused the miners of being “a committed bunch who, if left alone would cripple the economy of the country to nothingness.”119
The contradiction between the class-based political goals of the union and the national concerns of UNIP deepened after 1962, when the newly elected nationalist ministers faced the problem of establishing a black government. The demands of the African miners conflicted with the new government’s need for copper revenues and its program for rural development. To promote these policies, government opposed wage increases, and the UNIP-dominated TUC pressured the miners not to strike. This aggravated the miners, who increasingly felt they had lost out since independence and that UNIP had abandoned them in favor of the companies.120 The political alliance which had originally offered a better life for African workers along with that of all Africans now appeared little better than the colonial regime. It was this commitment to political action for the benefit of workers that caused the rift between UNIP and the union, and the possibility of its resurgence has continued to fuel the tension between the union and the party.
We have seen that the mines finally recognized the need to adapt their labor strategy to the realities of their stabilized well-organized black labor force. The resulting arrangements were particularly effective because of both limited economic opportunities outside the mines and the alliance between the mining companies and the state. The resulting divisions within the work force, the failure of the union to engage in embryonic nationalist politics, and the acceptance of limited gains within the industrial context showed that management’s strategy did modify worker behavior to some extent. Still, the occasional cooperation among both European and African staff and daily-paid miners revealed the persistance of class consciousness among workers. Their understanding of the need for class-based political action also endured, despite constraints on political behavior.