chapter  Fifteen
15 Pages

A Moral Economy, an Isolated Mass and Paternalized Migrants: Transvaal Colliery Strikes, 1925–49

ByPeter Alexander

By 1949, South Africa was producing nearly 28 million tons of coal, nearly double the output of 25 years before, but still less than middle-ranking countries like France, Japan and India. In attempting to make sense of these strikes, explaining, in particular, the relatively higher level of militancy among black colliers than among other South African workers, the idea of moral economy provides a valuable starting point. This concept was applied by Moodie to understand disputes involving South Africa's black gold miners. The main limitation of moral economy is that it does not help explain the contrast between the different levels of militancy in the collieries and gold mines. Whilst Transvaal colliery workers' militancy was rooted in the efficacy of their practices, once the state was prepared to use force this was found wanting. This is not to argue that, had the colliery workers had unions, as in the gold mines, they would have fared any better.