Fonds AL2420 - South African Tin Workers' Union (SATWU) Collection

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South African Tin Workers' Union (SATWU) Collection


  • 1937 - 1978 (Accumulation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

0.2 linear metres (2 archival boxes)

Context area

Name of creator

Biographical history

The South African Tin Workers' Union (SATWU) was founded in August 1937. The initiative for the formation of this union came after workers at the Durban Falkirk Industries went on strike for higher wages. Prominent trade unionists, such as H.A. Naidoo, were at the launch of the union. In 1939 the Union was registered under the Industrial Conciliation Act and as a result organised mainly the Coloured and Indian workers.

In 1941, the first agreement between the employers and the union was reached, giving the workers a substantial rise in wages. During the 1946 Passive Resistance Campaign launched by the South African Indian Congress, leading unionists from SATWU served terms of imprisonment.

SATWU affiliated to the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU) upon its formation in 1955. During the 1950s, Ray Alexander, Gus Coe and Ismail Bhoola, secretary's of the Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg branches respectively, were banned under the Suppression of Communism Act. also, under this Act, in July 1953, S.V. Reddy, the General Secretary was banned from attending all gatherings and was forced to resign from the Union. He was succeeded by Billy Nair as secretary of the Union.

After strong pressure from SATWU, the Minister of Labour appointed a Wage Board to investigate the tin industry. This resulted in the Wage Determination No. 173 in 1956 which laid down the minimum wage for the industry. This was a slight improvement on the wages earned at that time.

In 1956, Billy Nair was arrested with 155 others on charges of High Treason. D Thambiran was elected Durban Branch secretary in 1957, and General Secretary of the Union in 1960. In February 1960, the workers at Metal Box in Durban boycotted the canteen in protest against the conditions. Although many trade unionists were detained during the State of Emergency, declared in 1960, SATWU managed to negotiate two wage increases for its members during this period.

Throughout the 60s and 70s SATWU strove to improve the working conditions and wages for those employed in the tin industry. SATWU also petitioned international metal workers union and the British Trade Union Congress to apply pressure on the parent companies of the South African subsidiaries.

COSATU - Congress of South African Trade Unions

IMF - International Metalworkers Federation

SATWU - South African Tin Workers' Union

Archival history

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Scope and content

The collection is very small, 0.3 linear metres. SAHA received it as part of the Natal Indian Congress (NIC) collection, but it is clear that it constitutes an archive in its own and was added to the NIC collection by mistake.

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This collection is open for research

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