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C. Van Gelderen

Britain’s Copperbelt in Africa Reaps
Gold from Exploited Labor

(May 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 19, 10 May 1941, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

LONDON, England – War has brought unprecedented prosperity to the British capitalists who have their money invested in the copper mines of Northern Rhodesia. The demand for copper is unlimited and profits are soaring. The great wealth which is being produced in the copper belt is being almost wholly drained away by the parasitic shareholders in the City.

According to the conservative Economist (March 22nd, 1941):

“In spite of possessing its rich copperfield, the Colony is very poor, even by colonial standards; the land still in the possession of the natives is deteriorating rapidly while large tracts reserved for Europeans lie: empty and unused. The strikes and rioting which took place on the copperbelt a year ago must, therefore, be regarded as a symptom of a deeper malaise than a wage dispute between the mines and the African workers.”

The strikes and disturbances in the copper belt, last year, seriously threatened Britain’s war program and the British Government, wise in the ways of dealing with trouble in the colonies, sent out a Commission to investigate. The Commission’s report has now been published.

It reveals that the Commission was not altogether satisfied with the conditions of the African workers or the relations between them and the Europeans. During the inquiry, the Africans put forward a claim that their work entitled them to a higher wage than they receive at present. The Commission accepted this contention and recommended that the basic starting wage of 12/6 (about $3) a month for surface and 22/6, (about $5.50 a month) for underground workers should be raised by 2/6 (62¢).

Of course the Commission did not concede the demands put forward by the African workers. This was not what they were sent to Northern Rhodesia for. Their real job was to protect the interests of the investors, not of the workers.

Thus, the Commission considers that the Africans’ claim that they can do the work of Europeans is unjustified at this stage. All it concedes is that they will progress and recommends that consultation should take place between the Government and the European workers’ trade union on what portion the African worker should be encouraged to regard as within his grasp.

Unions Outlawed

As for trade unions for the African workers, the Commission sees no immediate possibility of any. It holds that the policy of the Government should aim at the “eventual” establishment of African trade unions.

But “for trade unionism as it is generally understood by the British worker, the African worker in Northern Rhodesia is clearly not ready.” Meaning that the government will not permit it.

Unfortunately for the gentlemen of the Commission, the African worker is hardly likely to wait until they (the Commissioners) consider them ready for trade unionism. The young workers of the Copperbelt in Northern Rhodesia have a splendid tradition of struggle behind them, dating back to 1934 when the Government of the Union of South Africa lent the mineowners a few bombing planes when asked to subdue the striking copper workers. They will learn in the hard school of the class struggle how to make themselves “ready” for trade union organization and for the day of reckoning with British Imperialism and its Commissions.

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Last updated: 4 November 2015