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Paul G. Stevens

In the World of Labor

(1 June 1940)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. IV No. 22, 1 June 1940, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

British Imperialism’s Hitlerite Regime in the Colonies

The increasing agitation to have the United States intervene on the side of Britain in the present war must be answered by the continual expose of the “democracy” in the British colonial empire. The following items from British labor papers reveal the oppression under which industrial and agricultural workers in South Africa live both in wartime and peacetime.

The paper of the Labor League of Youth, a militant organization of young revolutionary socialists in England, prints this story in its May issue:

“On April 3rd British troops fired on a crowd of Negro workers on strike in the copper mines of Northern Rhodesia.

“These miners had demanded a 25% rise in wages to offset the increased cost of living following the outbreak of war. The attempt of the mineowners to work the mines with blackleg (scab) labor had failed before the courage and solidarity of the workers. When police charges and tear-gas proved unavailing, the mineowners appealed to their agent, the Governor, for military assistance. Troops were rushed from Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia! 17 workers lost their lives, 29 others were wounded.

“... In 1938, the copper companies produced profit for the British capitalists amounting to £3,100,000. But the total wages bill for 15,000 black miners was only £500,000.

“Such, fabulous profits are possible only because of the imperialist regime which has enslaved the African Negroes, denying them every human right except that of working for the British capitalist class. In the din and slaughter of the world war, it is more than ever necessary for the working youth in this country to understand that there is no difference between the methods of Hitler and the methods of our masters in their suppression of the colonial peoples. They are not fighting Hitlerism; they are fighting for profits.”

Serfdom Decreed by British as Way of Life of Natives

George Padmore, Negro militant from the West Indies, now in London, describes the conditions of the agricultural worker in South Africa in the April issue of the Call, another British labor paper.

“... Before 1913 Africans who could find no home in the Reserves [land set aside for cultivation by natives, and usually unsuitable for agricultural and pastoral purposes – P.G.S.] were allowed to rent or work land as sharecroppers.

“... But as industry developed the big agrarians on the one hand and the mining companies on the other, discovered that the system of sharecropping kept thousands of natives off the labor market ... In February 1932, the landowners adopted a Resolution calling upon the Government to make a law to the effect that ‘a native shall have no right to reside on the land of a white person otherwise than as a laborer.’ Under pressure from these big agrarians the Government began to legislate against the squatters.

“All existing contracts between natives and poor white farmers were immediately revoked. On the day of the enforcement of the Native Service Contract Act thousands of Africans who had established themselves on private lands found themselves ruined and homeless. Overnight these independent cultivators became serfs.

“... Under the terms of the new law every native living upon land owned by a European must work for his master for 180 days in the year. The farmer has the right to decide upon which days the native shall work. In order, therefore, to keep the black tied permanently to the farm, owners usually spread the 180 days over the whole year. In lieu of wages the native is usually given a plot of land on which to erect a hut and grow millet and kaffir corn. Any breach of the Service Contract Act makes the native liable to criminal prosecution and imprisonment. Those under 18 can be punished by flogging.

“... But the worst feature of this act is that no native can leave his job without the permission of his employer. If he runs away he can be arrested by the police, sentenced to a term of imprisonment as a vagrant and then returned to his master.”

French Dictatorship Imitates Hitler in Creating Concentration Camps

The following excerpt is taken from a letter sent to British friends by French comrades, and published in Workers’ Fight, May issue:

“The military and police dictatorship established in France, even prior to the war, now wages a relentless persecution against soldiers, workers and peasants alike ... The military administration usurps the functions of all local and civil administrations. Parliament meets only to acquiesce to the Government decrees ... The vicious attack on the Stalinist deputies is now extended to all militants and trade unionists. At least 10,000 are already in concentration camps ... A recent decree imposes the death sentence for ‘preparing, furnishing or storing Communist literature.’ For possessing a pamphlet by Marx, Engels, Lenin or Trotsky, the worker is liable to the extreme penalty. Special Commissions have ejected from the factories about 30,000 workers who were previously exempted on account of their special qualifications. Their crime is that they have shown oppositional tendencies ...”

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