The launch of HiPSA’s 2022 volume, I See You: The Industrial and Commercial Workers Union of Africa, 1919-1930, Edited by David Johnson and Henry Dee, took place after the virtual Annual General Meeting of the Society held on 17 November 2022. During this event a number of speeches were made which can be viewed or listened to by following the links below:

  1. An introductory speech was delivered by Howard Phillips, a transcript of which is printed below.
  2. To listen to the speech by David Johnson during the virtual lauch of the publication click HERE


In HiPSA we use what we call the ‘Farlam Test’ to inform our deliberations about whether a manuscript which has been sent to us to assess should or should not be accepted for publication. In essence, this test amounts to answering the question, ‘Will this manuscript alter the current understanding of SA’s past?’ In some cases our answer is ‘ no, it’s more of the same’ or ‘only partly’. I am glad to tell you that in the case of I See You, the answer was ‘definitely’ for it firmly ticked all of the boxes which help us to answer the basic yes/no question, e.g.

  • Is the subject matter of significance in SA history?
  • Is it well known to our readership?
  • Are there other works of a similar sort in existence?
  • Is the source material to be included of high quality and quantity?
  • Are the would-be editors able to edit the documents to our high standards?

Given all the ticked boxes, it was easy to reach a ‘yes’ answer to the ‘Farlam Test’ when applied to this manuscript.

The result is the volume which we are launching tonight, a volume which vividly traces the dramatic parabola  of the rise and fall of SA’s first mass-based black trade union as it illuminates very clearly its strengths and its weaknesses, its capacity to unify its members to good effect and to tear itself apart disastrously. To do so, the editors, David Johnson of the Open University in the UK and Henry Dee of Glasgow University,  have assembled a very wide array of contemporary documents – press reports, magazine articles, pamphlets, speeches, published and unpublished autobiographies, private correspondence, banners, police informer reports, poetry, cartoons and photographs – which together constitute what one reviewer called ‘a delight and treasure trove to serve scholars and the general public’ (Limb). The volume is multi-dimensional, providing views of the ICU from both top-down and bottom-up perspectives, from both urban and rural unionists, from male and (some) female members and packaging them into an astutely-edited and wide-ranging compilation, richly evoking this meteor-like organization which, by its very existence 90-100 years ago, effectively planted the concept of a mass-based trade union into SA society. For doing this job so ably – I daresay the phrase ‘a labour of love’ is not inappropriate – David and Henry deserve high credit, but hats off too to those whose particular skills contributed to the happy outcome, my review team, Elizabeth van Heyningen and Peter Limb, and our very talented designer, Claudine Willatt-Bate. Thanks to all of them, HiPSA has been able to make known anew the major role of this pioneering trade union in SA’s labour and political history.