Trades Union Congress 1900

See the original record online

CHINESE LABOUR IN SOUTH AFRICA

Cecil Rhodes
Cecil Rhodes
Mr W. SHARROCKS (Wolverhampton Boiler Makers) proposed a resolution as follows:–

That this Congress protests and condemns the proposal of Mr Cecil Rhodes to import Chinese labour into South Africa with a view to enriching himself and the Chartered Company, at the expense and to the detriment of British subjects both here and in South Africa, and that a copy of this resolution be sent to the Rt. Hon. the Marquis of Salisbury, the Rt. Hon. A. J. Balfour and the Rt. Hon. J. Chamberlain.

Mr. SHARROCKS expressed the opinion that Cecil Rhodes should be shifted bag and baggage out of South Africa, and a better condition of affairs would prevail there than did at present.

Mr. BONNER (Southampton House Decorators) seconded the motion. The action of Mr. Rhodes clearly showed that our object in going to South Africa was not to secure equal rights for white men, but to bring down the standard of wages. They did not find these people fighting in England to give men a vote or in Ireland for Home Rule. He said the conditions of labour were much better in the Transvaal than in other parts of South Africa, but apparently the capitalists did not get as much out of human labour as they thought they were entitled to, and Mr. Chamberlain had manipulated the machinery of this country in order to help a few cosmopolitan Jews in South Africa.

Councillor T SHAW (Sheffield Typographical Association), though in favour of the motion, strongly protested against muzzling those who had something to say on the opposite side. They had nothing to say, but they might as well be allowed to say it.

The CHAIRMAN replied that when a motion was proposed he was bound to put it.

The proposition that the vote be now put was carried, and Mr Sharrocks' resolution was then declared to be carried by a very large majority.

Apartheid Notice
NOTES: It seems that the TUC's opposition to migrant labour was at least partially responsible for the later apartheid system in South Africa. Protecting “white” jobs against an influx of Chinese workers led to the Mines and Works Act 1911 which formalised the colour bar in South Africa, and ultimately to the legalised racial segregation of apartheid in 1948. The irony is that it was then vehemently opposed by the same TUC which had inadvertently played a part in its creation, albeit an indirect and unintentional one.

As for the reference to “cosmopolitan Jews”, in the Autumn of 1900 the Unionist government fought a general election principally on the issue of the war in South Africa. J A Hobson, the Manchester Guardian's correspondent in Johannesburg, maintained that the conflict was being manipulated by capitalist interests. His account of the war referred to "a small group of international financiers, chiefly German in origin and Jewish in race."

This theme was picked up at the TUC Conferences that William attended in September 1900. There were numerous references to taxpayers' money being used in South Africa in the interests of "a number of cosmopolitan Jews, most of whom had no patriotism or country." In short, it was an early manifestation of the 'world Jewish conspiracy' theory.

See Conservative Party attitudes to Jews, 1900-1950 by Harry Defries, The Anglo-Boer War and the Issue of Jewish Culpability by Claire Hirshfield and The War in South Africa: its Causes and Effects by J A Hobson.

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