Kadalie, Clements

ca. 1896–1951
South African labor leader

Clements Kadalie, an early African labor leader, organized a black union that challenged white rule in SOUTH AFRICA. After graduating from high school in his home country of Nyasaland (now MALAWI), Kadalie traveled through southeastern Africa. He arrived in CAPE TOWN in 1918. That year he founded the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union of Africa, which became known as the Industrial and Commercial Union or ICU. Africans referred to the union as ICU Mlungu, or “I see you, white man.”

In its first two years, the ICU led successful strikes around the country. The union was so effective that it won wage increases for Cape Town dockworkers merely by threatening to strike. By the 1920s over 100,000 workers had joined the ICU, making it the largest nonwhite union in the country. However, the union’s size also made it a threat to the white government of South Africa.

In 1923 the leader of the South African government, Jan SMUTS, passed a law that increased segregation in towns. The following year he granted all workers except blacks the right to bargain with employers as a group. In response, Kadalie encouraged blacks to support a political coalition running against Smuts in the 1924 election. The coalition won, but once in office it failed to improve conditions for black workers. Instead it adopted a policy that reserved certain jobs for whites. The ICU broke up in 1929. However, Kadalie formed a new union called the Independent ICU. He later spent two months in jail for leading the Independent ICU in a general strike. Kadalie wrote an autobiography, My Life and the ICU: The Autobiography of a Black Trade Unionist in South Africa. It was not, however, published until 1970—nearly 20 years after the author’s death. (See also Unions and Trade Associations.)