Canada/Africa - In Memoriam, Brian Murphy
Cape Verde - Ray Almeida chronology
Cape Verde - Salah Matteos interview
Guide to Sources of Liberation Posters
"Anti-Apartheid Solidarity in US-South African relations"
by William Minter and Sylvia Hill, 2008, in
SADET, The Road to Democracy in South Africa
htm | pdf
Work a Day for Freedom
A Short History of the Bay Area Free South Africa Labor Committee
by David Bacon, Feb. 2008
A História Continua
Gaps & Research Agendas
Work a Day for Freedom!
A short history of the Bay Area Free South Africa Labor Committee
by David Bacon, February 6, 2008
Reproduced by permission of the author
Written for Priority Africa Network
For other articles by the author visit
In November of 1984 members of ILWU Locals 10 and 34 refused to unload the Nedlloyd
Kimberley at Pier 80 in San Francisco for eleven days, because it was carrying South
African cargo. That action was organized by a group of people in those locals that
included Leo Robinson, Dave Stewart, Larry Wright, Alex Bagwell, Jack Heyman (then IBU),
A.J. Mitchell, Tom Lufer and perhaps a dozen others. They had all been involved in one
way or another in the 1978 conference on solidarity with the South African Congress of
Trade Unions (SACTU), and had been talking for some time about taking action.
During those 11 days, there were huge picketlines at Pier 80, as hundreds of people came
out to support the action and provide the workers with a reason under their contract
for refusing to go to work. The Pacific Maritime Association went to Federal court to
get an injunction against Local 10 to force it to work the ship. To avoid huge fines and
its officers possibly going to prison, the local eventually unloaded the ship. But the
people who had been picketing then went across the Bay, and began picketing the Pacific
Maritime Association offices on Grand Avenue and Harrison to protest the PMA’s decision
to get the injunction.
Daily picketlines went on for a year, and then on a weekly basis for a year after that.
The Bay Area Free South Africa Movement was born in those demonstrations. It was headed
by John George, and had two co-coordinators--Franklin Alexander and Lorenzo Carlisle.
Later two others were added--Natalie Bayton and David Bacon. BAFSAM then began
holding regular meetings at the First Universe Baptist Church on International Boulevard
in East Oakland. With BAFSAM’s participation, the church set up a homeless shelter to
connect the issues of racism and apartheid in South Africa to racism and economic
oppression in Oakland. This was the period of big plant closures in Oakland, which were
having a devastating impact on Black workers.
BAFSAM lasted as an active organization for about five years, and carried out the fight
for the Oakland divestment ordinance, the strongest in the country at the time. It was
the pattern for legislation that Congressman Dellums then took to Congress. BAFSAM also
organized many marches and demonstrations in Oakland.
The Bay Area Free South Africa Labor Committee began as an outreach committee to get
labor support for the longshoremen, and the picketlines at PMA. It then became an
autonomous organization. The FSALC was active for about 10 years, from 1984 to 1994.
David Bacon, then an organizer for Molders Union Local 164, was its chair for the first
few years. Then its chair was David Shelton, president of the San Francisco school bus
drivers. Among its most active members were Kathy Black, Darryl Alexander (she and
David met in FSALC meetings and later got married), Frank Pottier, Maddie Oden, David
Reed, Roland Anolin, Bobby Williams and others. It was a multiracial committee with
Black, Asian American and white members. During its lifetime the committee organized
FSALC and BAFSAM organized a series of civil disobedience actions at the PMA in which
dozens of people were arrested. Wilson Riles Jr., BAFSAM leader and city council
member, was running for Mayor, and then-Mayor Lionel Wilson ordered the police not to
arrest him to deny him publicity. Dozens of others were arrested, however. Many
national labor leaders came down to the noontime demonstrations, despite the fact that
the AFL-CIO would not support them at first. It was a long struggle to change that
position, but because of the ILWU challenge and the growing movement organized by FSALC,
Randall Robinson and TransAfrica convinced AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland to get
arrested in the first civil disobedience at the South African Embassy a year later.
FSALC and others went back to Pier 80 to picket other ships. Many were arrested for
blocking the gates and stopping trucks from going in or out. Arrestees had to spend two
years going to court over the charges, which were eventually dropped.
FSALC organized a labor conference in San Francisco, and as a result set up a network
up and down the Pacific Coast. For the two years after the Pier 80 arrests anti-
apartheid activists, mostly in unions, chased the ships carrying South African cargo.
They organized picketlines, and sometimes arrests, in San Francisco, Los Angeles,
Portland, Seattle and Vancouver, Canada. Other ILWU locals got involved, along with
labor activists from the solidarity movement with the struggles in Central America and
the existing SACTU support committees in the Canadian unions. Eventually the
demonstrations forced Nedlloyd Lines to stop its South Africa service into West Coast
When Zim Lines announced it was going to start a new South Africa service in the Port of
Oakland, the FSALC threatened demonstrations and arrests. Supervisor John George
negotiated an agreement in which they agreed not to carry South African cargo, and
eventually left the port entirely. FSALC campaigned for many years to get the Port of
Oakland to pass its own divestment ordinance, and to prohibit South African cargo in the
FSALC helped organize labor anti-apartheid committees in Portland and Seattle, and
together worked on joint conferences, demonstrations against South African trade,
support for SACTU and the ANC, and to change the policy of the AFL-CIO.
FSALC worked with locals and labor councils throughout the Bay Area, passing numerous
resolutions supporting SACTU and the ANC. During most of this time, the AFL-CIO
leadership called the ANC and SACTU terrorists, because they were allied with the South
African Communist Party. Lane Kirkland even gave a medal to Gatsha Buthelezi while he
was murdering members of the United Democratic Front in Natal. The FSALC exposed the
activities of the CIA-affiliated African American Labor Center, and distributed in the
U.S. reports by the Congress of South African Trade Unions, which documented the
efforts to bribe and corrupt leaders of the rising South African anti-apartheid labor
FSALC developed a close working relationship with the South Africa Congress of Trade
Unions, then a banned organization in South Africa before COSATU was formed. SACTU had
an office in Toronto, and its representative Bamgumzi Sifingo came to the Bay Area
several times to meet with Bay Area activists. FSALC raised money forSACTU and the ANC,
and with the San Francisco Anti- Apartheid Committee, filled a truck with donations and
drove it to Toronto (in a blizzard). FSALC organized visits by SACTU leaders, including
John Gaetsewe, Muzi Buthelezi and John Nkadimeng, and took action at their request to
support the underground movement in Africa. SACTU leaders met with California labor
leaders, and spoke to workers at hospitals, foundries, warehouses and other workplaces.
Hundreds of rank-and-file union members heard them and many became involved in the
movement. FSALC worked with the Peoples’ Daily World to invite to their annual banquet
Chris Hani, head of the ANC’s armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe, not long before he was
assassinated, and then-exiled ANC leaders Pallo Jordan and Thabo Mbeki.
Together with the Human and Civil Rights Committee of the public workers union SEIU
Local 790, FSALC organized a campaign to "work a day for freedom in South Africa."
Hundreds of Local 790 members donated a day’s pay to the South Africa Municipal Workers
Union, which was then illegal and its leaders in prison. FSALC activists in the
Amalgamated Transit Union discovered that AC Transit was buying windows for their busses
from South Africa, and made them stop.
Together with Bay Area labor councils, FSALC organized demonstrations and civil
disobedience, including arrests, at the office of South African Airways on Union
Square in SF. The demonstrations forced the airline to shut its office and leave.
FSALC supported the efforts to get the University of California to adopt a divestment
ordinance, led by campus unions including AFSCME, by students (who organized tent
encampments on campus), and by California LaborFederation Secretary-Treasurer John
Henning, who was a UC regent.
FSALC published a regular newsletter for many years, bringing news of the ANC and
South Africa’s growing labor movement to workers, union members and antiapartheid
activists in California. It was eventually circulated around the country, since it was
often the only U.S. source of information on the South African labor movement. FSALC
consistently showed that SACTU, and later COSATU, were formally allied with the other
organizations of the liberation movement, the ANC and the SACP. FSALC argued that it
was not possible to support workers rights in South Africa without supporting the
liberation struggle as a whole.
FSALC helped unions to form union-to-union relations with SACTU, and later COSATU,
unions in South Africa, including Local 790 with SAMWU and ILWU Local 10 with the South
African Railway and Harbor Workers Union. Committee members participated actively in
African American labor organizations like the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, and
the labor sections of anti-apartheid groups in New York, Chicago and St. Louis. When
COSATU was formed, FSALC helped organize tours of its leaders, including COSATU general
secretary Jay Naidoo, who was invited to speak at the AFL-CIO convention in San
Francisco, and leaders of the South African Domestic Workers Union.
After the Shell boycott was launched by TransAfrica and the United Mine Workers (who
hired a South African liberation activist on staff), FSALC organized local boycott
activities, including picketing gas stations. The Shell station at High and MacArthur in
Oakland closed as a result, and has been an empty lot ever since.
These were exciting times. We met wonderful comrades in South Africa and here at
home, many of whom became friends for life. Frank Pottier cooked some extraordinary
French meals on the PMA picketlines, and those who ate them will never forget how good
they were. We participated in the destruction of apartheid, and when Nelson Mandela came
to Oakland and spoke at theColiseum, recognizing the longshore workers for the role
they’d played, FSALC members felt we also had played apart in those earth-changing
I will always deeply respect the courage of those who stood up in South Africa during
the apartheid years, and those who took up arms outside to fight at Cuito Cuanavale and
the other places where the spread of colonial fascism in Africa was defeated. Those who
stood up here in the U.S., especially in the years when anti-apartheid activists were
redbaited for doing it, can feel justly proud.
David Bacon, February 6, 2008