‘May 1st Struggles in South Africa’ by J.P. Sepeng (Johannesburg) from The Negro Worker. Vol. 1 No. 6. June, 1931.

‘May 1st Struggles in South Africa’ by J.P. Sepeng (Johannesburg) from The Negro Worker. Vol. 1 No. 6. June, 1931.

The First of May 1931 has shown a historical point in Johannesburg unknown before in the history of South Africa. In January of this year the United may Day Committee sent an invitation to the Communist Party and Native trade Unions asking delegates to attend their Committee. Four delegates were sent from various Unions, two being Europeans and two being natives. As soon as the members of the United May Day Committee saw the two native delegates, they became indifferent, and thereupon passed a resolution saying that no natives should be included in their Committee. As these native delegates left the meeting, some of the Europeans left with them in protest. A Conference was convened by the Communist Party, and African Federation of Trade Unions, and set up an all in all Committee called the African May Day Committee,

On Friday, May 1st., three meetings were held, at Newtown Square another at the Trades Hall, and the third at the City Hall. At about 11 a.m. the procession marched from the City Hall to the Trade Hall, and thence to the Newtown Square where the contingents met. The attendance was by that time about 6,000, white and black. Two platforms were set up and both black and white speakers addressed the huge gathering.

At 11:45 a.m. the meeting decided to march to the City Hall and sweep away the meeting of the reactionary United May Day Committee. The workers assembled under their respective banners such as the Communist Party, S.A. Unemployed Workers Union, Garment Workers Union, Furniture and Mattress Workers Union, Clothing Workers Union, Laundry Workers Union, Bakery Workers Union (Ikaka La Basebenzi), (Labour Defence) and such banners bearing the inscription: Down with starvation of the Government! Chisani Amapasi! (Burn the passes). Down with Pirow’s Slave Laws! — No Wage Cuts! — (Weg met werkeloosheid). — Down with Unemployment! and Defend the Soviet Union!

The demonstration organized by the African May Day Committee marched along to the Pass Office and hostile shouts and boos were made to the officials, accompanied by cries of “We Want Bread” — “We Want Work.” Thence to Marshall Square (Police Barracks) with the same hisses and cries. At the City Hall the meeting of the United May Day Committee was in progress, about 200 strong. The demonstrators crowded to suffocation round the platforms and were again addressed by black and white speakers, attacking and denouncing the Social Fascists meeting. After 10 minutes the reactionaries found it impossible for them to address their meeting, and finally they left, and the whole crowd came to the African May Day Committee. After 1 p.m. the demonstrators again formed themselves under their respective banners and marched along to the Carlton Hotel, rushed the doors, trying to gain admission, crying “We Want Food”, but the Police had already guarded the place. The demonstrators marched to the rich Rand Club with the same object. Here a collision took place between the demonstrators and the police resulting in 8 arrests, 6 being Europeans and 2 being natives. The demonstrators went to Marshall Square and demanded the release of their Comrades. The police victims appeared before the Magistrate, charged under the Riotous Assemblies Act, one of Pirow’s slave driving laws.

May Day 1931 in Johannesburg was one of the largest demonstrations ever witnessed in South Africa. Workers of all colours, Europeans Natives, Coloureds, and Asiatics demonstrated their solidarity against all forms of oppressive and repressive legislation.

The workers of South Africa are beginning to realize that for years they have been deceived by the rulers and that every one of these rulers who wants to satisfy his political ambition does so on the backs of the workers. But the revolutionary leaders are exposing these treacherous Social Fascists. The African workers are rising from their long sleep and will fight their enemies. Long live International solidarity of the Workers of the world. Defend the Soviet Union, the First Workers State. Down with British Imperialism.

First called The International Negro Workers’ Review and published in 1928, it was renamed The Negro Worker in 1931. Sponsored by the International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers (ITUCNW), a part of the Red International of Labor Unions and of the Communist International, its first editor was American Communist James W. Ford and included writers from Africa, the Caribbean, North America, Europe, and South America. Later, Trinidadian George Padmore was editor until his expulsion from the Party in 1934. The Negro Worker ceased publication in 1938. The journal is an important record of Black and Pan-African thought and debate from the 1930s. American writers Claude McKay, Harry Haywood, Langston Hughes, and others contributed.

PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/international/comintern/negro-worker/files/1931-v1n6-jun.pdf

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