African Union Congress Takes Racist Corporations To Court

Apartheid collaborators will go on trial in the US courts in January, a decade and a half after Australian maritime union bans helped bring down the Pretoria regime

The Congress of South African Trade Unions is part of a class action lawsuit being brought against South African firms that collaborated with the apartheid regime in the US courts next year.

"Our decision rests on the belief that apartheid was based on the white South African minority striving to secure a cheap  workforce to reap the benefits of the country's vast natural resources," the Congress statement reads.

COSATU was at the head of the anti-apartheid movement with the Waterside Workers' Federation, Seamen's Union and Firemen and Deckhands union also waging war on South African companies.

Rolling bans ran nationwide against the SA Safocean Line, with both tug workers and wharfies running 24 hour bans on the ships in Australian ports in the eighties.

The Seamen's Union played a key role in the anti-apartheid struggle at the time with an oil embargo against the Pretoria regime.  

Former SUA secretary Pat Geraghty recalls the fight as the highlight of his life, working with the Danish Seamen's Union, the British Seamen's Union and the British Docker's Union to bring together and fund an international conference to enforce the oil embargo.

The embargo is recorded in detail in Voices from the Ships: Australian seafarers and their union by Diane Kirkby.

In support of their government court action against the corporations COSATU stressed the histories of apartheid and SA labour relations were inextricably intertwined.

"The need for a cheap and pliant labour force led to many of the crimes which underlie this litigation. The laws and institutions of apartheid systematically removed all workplace and constitutional protection from the black labour force."

 Black workers and their unions were instrumental in ending apartheid. They have also been instrumental in rebuilding the country in collaboration with the government.

So to the Australian maritime unions, who have since retained close ties with the ITF affiliate SATAWU, Fremantle adopting a sister port relationship with Durban, and outgoing Deputy National Secretary Jim Tannock and MUA members raising funds for schools and orphanages through the Tas Bull Foundation and Apheda.