PRESS RELEASE: IMMEDIATE
The Southern African Clothing & Textile Workers Union (SACTWU) celebrates its 20th anniversary. SACTWU was launched at its inaugural founding National Congress held from 16-17 September 1989 at the University of Western Cape in Cape Town. It was formed in a merger, on 16-17 September 1989, of the Amalagamated Clothing & Textile Workers' Union of South Africa (ACTWUSA) and the Garment Workers' Union (GAWU).
But the history of the union goes back much further than that. ACTWUSA and GAWU respectively were themselves the result of a series of mergers of long established trade union's in the clothing, textile and leather industries. The roots of the union goes back more than 90 years, with the formation of the Witwatersrand Tailors' Association (WTA). This was a craft union, because it organised members from the same industry with the same skill. The WTA later transformed itself into the Garment Workers' Union of South Africa (GWUSA) which became a registered trade union in 1928, under the leadership of Solly Sachs as General Secretary. Solly Sachs is the father of Constitutional Court judge Albie Sachs. Most workers employed in the industry at the time were white Afrikaner women. Solly Sachs remained General Secretary of this union for 44 years, from 1928 until his banning in 1952.
GAWU was the result of a merger, in 1987, of the Natal-based Garment Workers' Industrial Union (GWIU) and the Cape-based Garment Workers' Union (GWU), both of which also ranked among the oldest trade union's in South Africa. For example, GWU was informally formed in the early 1920's and first registered in 1933. The GWIU was formed on 2 August 1934 under the leadership of James Bolton. To this day, SACTWU's Durban building is called the 'James Bolton Building'.
Another significant founding union of SACTWU was the Textile Workers Industrial Union (TWIU), formed as far back as 1936. TWIU was one of the first unions which organised workers irrespective of their race. In 1973, a wave of strikes in Durban gave rise to a new generation of textile workers from which a new union, the National Union of Textile Workers (NUTW) emerged. NUTW is another founding union of SACTWU, characterised by militant members and leaders with fresh and different approaches to the organising challenge. NUTW was a founding member of the Federation of South African Trade Unions (FOSATU) in 1979. FOSATU is a fore-runner federation of COSATU. One of NUTW's toughest battles was to organise the Frame Group, which at the time employed more than 20 000 workers: a feat which was achieved after 53 legal cases and many strikes over a number of years.
One of the first resolutions adopted at the SACTWU Inaugural National Congress in 1989 was a decision to affiliate to the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). The membership of SACTWU remains the racially most diversified of any COSATU affiliate or any trade union in the country (multi-racial, predominantly women, indian, coloured, african and white).
Over the years, SACTWU has remained a strong voice at the forefront of the fight for decent workers rights in general, a strong promotor of the ideals of the national democratic revolution and leading the struggle for decent work for all clothing, textile and leather workers specifically.
SACTWU turns 20 year's old today in the same way that it and its founding union's started: squarely in the struggle.