oa Historia - Early trade unionism on the gold mines in South Africa and Australia : a comparison

Volume 35, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 0018-229X



South African and Australian societies share many common elements and experiences including a British settler heritage, gold, similar British trade union impetus, and a colonial period which was roughly contemporaneous. Despite this, the mining trade unionism which evolved in the first few decades after the discovery of gold in each country, was markedly different: South African trade unionism remained weak in its organization and adhered to a thoroughly exclusive and ""old unionist"" policy; in Australia on the other hand, where the gold-digger was not faced with large-scale organized capital, gold-mining trade unionism ironically attained formidable membership and moved in the direction of ""new unionism"" by embracing the idea of a broader worker alliance. The reasons for this include various specific local material conditions in the respective countries, such as the geological nature of the gold reefs, the methods of gold extraction, the structure of the labour force, the origin of capital and its control, as well as the political dispensation. These factors shaped a trade unionism which was unique to each country and fully indigenized.

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