Wednesday, July 12, 2006

200 Nurses sacked in South Africa 1961

200 African Nurses Told To Leave Union or Be Sacked

September 1961 COHSE: the health care union Journal report

THE South African Congress of Trade Unions reports that 200 nurses at King George V Hospital,
Durban, have been given an ultimatum to resign from the Hospital Workers Union, a non-white body, or be dismissed.

Previously 20 nurses were sacked following a strike and meal boycott by African, Indian and coloured nurses at the hospital, in protest against the caning of nurses and very low wages (an African nurse receives about £12 a month, plus board and lodging; a labourer receives as little as £5 a month).

In the middle of July the Hospital Workers' Union, an affiliate of S.A.C.T.U., submitted a memorandum to the hospital authorities asking for increased wages and improved conditions of work. The demands ranged from £1 to £1 10s. a day increased wages; maternity allowance; unemployment pay; workmen's compensation; infectious disease allowance; 3 weeks' annual leave; improved food; shorter hours of work; recognition of the Union. (The demands varied according to the different categories of employees, staff nurses, maids, nurses, clerical workers, cooks, labourers, and so on.)

African nurses and labourers at the hospital decided to boycott food supplied to them on August 5, after the caning of 11 African nurses by a white sister-tutor because they were "not too bright at classes". The hospital was brought to a standstill when the African nurses marched to the superintendent demanding the expulsion of the sister-tutor and calling on him to investigate their grievances.

They were joined by Coloured and Indian nurses and all the non-white staff : labourers, clerical workers, cooks etc. The demonstration lasted about 8 hours, during which time hundreds of police were called out. the chief of police addressed the workers but was unable to persuade them to return to work.

The superintendent at last arrived, and after a great deal of argument agreed to investigate their grievances. He stated that he was not prepared to negotiate with the Union. The workers then returned to work, but the nurses living in the hospital started a boycott of their food and decided to continue this until their demands are met, food being supplied by sympathisers.

A second demonstration took place 10 days later when some 300 non-white nurses marched to the superintendent's office to demand the transfer of the sister-tutor from the nurses' home. Before this march took place, uniformed police patrolled all wards at the hospital and an armed contingent of police in a riot van was outside the hospital. The superintendent refused to see the nurses, and all the demands of the workers have been rejected on the grounds that they are "politically inspired".

The nurses are continuing the struggle. They ask for protests to be sent to the hospital authorities and for support for their demands, and also for donations. The address of the Hospital Workers' Union is 311 Lakhani Chambers, 2 Saville Street, Durban, South AfricaA. The Union will pass on all protests received.

It Should be noted that during this period the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) maintained links with the Whites only nursing union in South Africa



Sir—The following is a copy of a letter I sent to the Superintendent of King George V Hospital, Durban, South Africa, on November 16, 1961, after reading an account of events at the hospital in your Journal:

Sir—The P.S.I, is an international federation of trade unions and professional associations of civil servants and public employees, including nurses and other hospital workers. Its affiliated organisations number 75 and 37 countries throughout the Western world. The total membership is 2.4 million.

In the Journal of the British Confederation of Health Service Employees (issue of September/October 1961) I read an amazing and shocking story of the caning of nurses followed by a naturally justified rebellion by well nigh the whole staff of your hospital and by the irruption of the police into the hospital. This appears to be about the ugliest incident that, together with many others, illustrates the thoroughly bad relations between an employing authority and its workers. The relationship appears to be characterised by intimidation against organising in trade unions and the refusal to grant fair conditions of employment.

Words are inadequate to express the indignation that such action arouses in all people who value human rights and human dignity. I know that Apartheid interferes with the normal functioning of civilised life and I can visualise that in some instances employers lack the independence or the courage to resist a damnable policy imposed on them from above.

However, the administrator of a hospital is in a position- that enables him to wield authority and power in accordance with the dictates of conscience, even in opposition to higher authorities whom racial prejudice has made unreasonable.

The incidents of August 5 and 16 last provided copy for an unseemly page in the professional journals of nurses and hospital workers. It is in your power. Sir, to redress a bad situation and to enable the editors of those journals to report on something good and hopeful coming out of South Africa by virtue of your own action. I appeal to you to use your power to that effect.