The Marxist Workers’ Tendency (MWT) of the African National Congress (ANC) grew out of the coming together of comrades from the ANC, the emerging internal democratic trade unions, and the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) in Soweto and the Western Cape in the 1970s, together with comrades from the Mpondo revolt of the early 1960s. At its inception, it had a black majority membership. Among those from the ANC were George Peake and Nimrod Sejake, both former trade union leaders and treason trialists who had subsequently been forced into exile, as well as myself, who had worked throughout the 1960s with Mazisi Kunene, then ANC representative in Europe. Among those from the emerging unions were Dave Hemson, Rob Petersen and Paula Ensor, all three declared ‘banned persons’ and going into exile.
This chapter deals with the origins of the MWT and its early articulation of a programme and perspectives. It concludes with an examination of the MWT's approach to the National Question.
The South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU), a federation of non-racial trade unions, had become defunct through repression in the early 1960s. It survived only as a small rump of officials in exile, oriented to solidarity work (Sithole and Ndlovu, 2006; Legassick, 2008). In the post-Soweto strengthening of the ANC in London, however, Rob Petersen and Paula Ensor were employed by the SACTU office, the former as editor of the revived SACTU publication Workers’ Unity and the latter as personal assistant to general secretary John Gaetsewe. Dave Hemson and I also worked on the paper.
The first issues of the paper placed primacy on building SACTU among factory workers underground – to assist in building and to guide the work of the emerging democratic unions. These unions had already become schools of struggle, through which workers came together to discuss not merely factory issues but all the problems they faced and how to overcome them.
The independent trade unions, said Workers’ Unity (1977b), were ‘forced by repression to keep themselves cut off from the liberation struggle as a whole but we do not oppose them. Our policy is to fight for independent unions and to give these new organisations our support – in so far as they advance the workers’ struggle.’