Trade Unions

South African EssayIn the Western Cape, the Food and Canning Workers Union organized a “mixed” labor union that brought together African and Coloured workers. The FCWU was unusually integrated by both race and gender. “Mixed unions are of course fought tooth and nail by the government,” Bourke-White observed.

Visible in the top left corner is FCWU stalwart and Communist organizer, Ray Alexander (1913-2004), eventually “banned” from trade union work under the Suppression of Communism Act.  By 1956 new apartheid legislation outlawed such integrated unions.

Only a few months before her South African assignment, Bourke-White photographed a similar effort to breach the color line in segregated Alabama, as part of a Life story on the “New South.” While nominally joined in an integrated union, black and white workers in the southern Steelworkers’ local in Ensley, Alabama still sat separately at meetings and used segregated bathrooms in the union hall. In the photograph below, taken by Bourke-White in October 1949 outside the union hall, they sit separately as well.

The New South


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