Council of Non-European Trade Unions

The Council of Non-European Trade Unions (CNETU) was a national trade union federation bringing together unions representing black workers in South Africa.[1]

The federation was established in November 1941, with the merger of the Non-European Trade Union Co-ordinating Committee and the recently-founded Joint Committee of African Trade Unions, associated with Max Gordon.[2] Moses Kotane presided over the inaugural conference. Gana Makabeni, who had been the leader of the Coordinating Committee of African Trade Unions was elected president, and David Gosani elected secretary.

The war economy led to rapid increases of manufacturing industry, bringing large numbers of African workers into urban areas and increasing the price of food and other goods. This led to much increased industrial unrest. There were 37 registered strikes by African workers in 1941. This led to the government informally recognising African unions. After a one-day strike by the African workers organised by CNETU in December 1942 the Johannesburg City Council agreed to raise the salaries of its workers by 60%.[3]

In 1945 119 unions with 158,000 members, a majority from Johannesburg, were affiliated.[4] These unions were not recognised by the government or the employers.

Initially, the federation worked closely with the Trotskyist Workers' International League, but the Trotskyists were expelled in 1945.[2]

Gana Makabeni opposed strike action and campaigned for government recognition of African unions. In 1945 he was replaced by J. B. Marks. [5]

In 1946 it pushed, with the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party, unsuccessfully, for the African Mine Workers' Strike to become a General Strike.

In 1947, a group of unions split away, to form the rival Council of African Trade Unions.[2] By 1950, only 53 unions were still affiliated.

After the passing of the Native Labour (Settlement of Disputes) Act, 1953 it collapsed.


  1. Kiloh, Margaret; Sibeko, Archie (2000). A Fighting Union. Randburg: Ravan Press. p. 18. ISBN 0869755277.
  2. Lewis, Jon (1984). Industrialisation and Trade Union Organization in South Africa, 1924-1955. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521263123.
  3. "Council of Non-European trade unions (CNETU)". South African History online. Retrieved 24 January 2016.
  4. Lewis, Jon (November 1984). Industrialisation and Trade Union Organization in South Africa 1924-1955: The Rise and Fall of... (ebook). Cambridge University Press. p. 1. ISBN 0-521-26312-3. Retrieved 2006-07-11.
  5. Kiloh, Margaret; Sibeko, Archie (2000). A Fighting Union. Randburg: Ravan Press. ISBN 0869755277.
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