The Romance and the Tragedy of the ICU

Johnson, David (2023). The Romance and the Tragedy of the ICU. In: Johnson, David; Nieftagodien, Noor and Van der Walt, Lucien eds. Labour Struggles in Southern Africa, 1919-1949. New Perspectives on the Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union (ICU). Johannesburg, South Africa: HSRC Press, pp. 181–194.



The chapter argues that the history of the Industrial and Commercial Workers' Union of Southern Africa (ICU) has conventionally been read as either a romance or a tragedy. An alternative framing, derived from the historiographical reflections of C. L. R. James, is proposed, namely a dialectical encounter between the past and the present: ‘the time has come to link [histories of resistance] deliberately and consciously with the most progressive historical currents of the day. A heavy price will inevitably be paid if this is not done’.

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