George Padmore

A Typical British Colony

(December 1940)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 5, 1 February 1941, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

(The following article on conditions in the British colony of Northern Rhodesia was written at the beginning of December, when George Padmore learned that a Royal Commission report on the colony was not being permitted to see the light of day. Comrade Padmore, a native of the West Indies, is in England.)

* * *

Last April a strike took place among the miners in the Copper-belt of Northern Rhodesia. It resulted in the killing of 29 natives and the wounding of 73. This was the second labor disturbance to occur in that colony within recent years. In 1935, the blacks were shot down like dogs for daring to protest against increased poll tax without a corresponding increase in wages. This time they were given bullets for demanding higher wages to meet the rise in the cost of living, due to the war. There are about 27,000 African miners and a few hundred Europeans. The whites come from South Africa and Southern Rhodesia. They alone enjoy the right of collective bargaining. Blacks are rigidly excluded from their Trade Union. This is in keeping with the policy of the industrial Color-bar – widespread in Southern Africa.

It was the white workers who took the initiative in demanding more pay. At the time they were receiving between £40 and £70 per month, including provision of a house free of charge and other amenities. Being white and organised, the mining companies immediately granted their demands. For it is the policy of Colonial Administrations to avoid as much as possible conflicts between Europeans – workers and capitalists, so as to maintain white prestige among colored populations. Without the closest co-operation between Europeans – officials, employers and employees – the Color-bar system could not function.

The officials and politicians make laws which obstruct natives from organizing, while the white workers close the doors of their organizations against their black brothers.

It is as easy for a Negro to enter the South African and Southern Rhodesian Labor Parties as for a few Jews to join the Nazi hierarchy.

In other words, the Color-bar is a tacit United-Front among the whites to dominate the blacks.

This process enables the capitalists to exploit cheap, unorganized labor, and out of their super-profits bribe and corrupt the white colonial workers with high wages.

Betraying Socialism

The great tragedy is that these European workers, many of them former British Trade Unionists, have done more to discredit Socialism and the Brotherhood of Man among the colonial peoples than all the ravings of Hitler and his Fascist tribesmen. In this respect they show less comradeship to the natives than the missionaries. And nobody could accuse me of being a missionary’s disciple. But it is necessary to speak the truth even if it hurts. To these European workers the slogan. “Workers of the World Unite!” means nothing, but one day those chauvinists will realize that “labor with the white skin cannot emancipate itself white labor in a black skin is branded.”

Now to the role of the black workers in connection with the strike. As soon as they heard that the white workers had got an increase on their handsome wages, they too appealed for similar treatment. The average African wage was about 22/6 per month of 30 working days. Many received only 12/6 per month, as the rates vary according to whether they work underground or above. Unlike the whites, the blacks live in compounds, and, since they are not allowed to bring their families with them, the companies supply rations at the following weekly rates: 14 lb. of mealie, 28 oz. dry beans, 12 oz. cooking nuts, 1 lb. rice. 1 lb. vegetables, 1 lb. fruit, 4 lb. meat, ¼ lb. dripping, ¼ lb. salt, 7 pints cocoa, 42 ozs. bread.

The natives, who expressed great dissatisfaction with the quantity and quality of the food, asked for a minimum of 5/- per day and wished to feed themselves. They were told that the matter would have to be referred to the directors of the companies which own the mines – Roan Antelope, Ltd.; Rhokana Corporation; and the Mufulira Copper Mines, with headquarters in the City of London. After several days the local management told the men that their demands were exorbitant and could not be granted!

The Strike Committee then made the alternative offer to withdraw their demands if the companies would sell their copper to the British Imperial Government at pre-war rates. But even this gesture was rejected. The directors evidently thought the Negroes were going crazy. What? War without profits? Whoever heard of such a thing? Only “backward” Africans could be so naive!

On the companies’ rejection of this offer the blacks asked to be paid and allowed to go home. That the companies refused to permit and began to organize blacklegs to break the strike.

These and other provocative means led to clashes between the strikers and strike-breakers. Finally, local police and troops from Southern Rhodesia were called in to restore “law and order.” Beaten into submission at the point of the bayonet, the natives were forced back into the mines after suffering heavy casualties.

The government, having discharged its obligations to Big Business, resorted to the traditional and time-honored custom of face-saving. Mr. MacDonald, then Secretary of State for the Colonies, faced with criticism in the House of Commons, appointed a Commission to investigate.

Despite efforts to whitewash the crimes of British Imperialism, the Commissioners’ report makes such shocking disclosures that the Colonial Office is striving to suppress it, as it did the West Indies Royal Commission’s document early this year.

Let Lord Lloyd sit on the report. The time will come when the common people, sick to death of capitalists and the bloody wars, will force not only the Hitlers, the Mussolini’s and Lavals, but the British old-school-tie fraternity to give account of their crimes.

The colonial peoples have long had the illusion that Commissions – Royal or otherwise – are going to improve their lot. For those who claim to be the trustees of the subject races of the Empire are themselves interested in perpetuating exploitation. For example, Lord Lloyd and Mr. Amery are shareholders in Rhodesian Railway companies and African mines!

Huge Profits

In the meantime, the colonial slave-drivers are reaping vast profits. The latest reports just announced show the following increases over the previous year and the current dividend paid.




Dividend %










These Imperialists continue to fatten upon the flesh and blood of hundreds of millions of colored slaves in India, Africa and the West Indies. Theirs is truly a life of blood and tears and toil and sweat.

Just think of it! Millions of human beings toiling day and night, year in and year out, on a bowl of rice or mealie in order that a handful of whites may enjoy a parasitic life of luxury and ease!

And these plutocrats have the impudence to say they are fighting for Democracy and to prevent Hitler from enslaving the natives! Hitler is too late. Cecil Rhodes did this long ago.

Last updated on 3 October 2015