This book explores the class experiences of white workers in Southern Rhodesia. Interest in white identity, power and privilege has grown since struggles over white land ownership in Zimbabwe in the early 2000s, yet research has predominately focused on middle-class and rural whites. By critically building upon whiteness literature developed in the United States and synthesising theories of race, class and gender within a critical Marxist framework, this book considers the ways in which racial supremacy and white identity were forged and contested by lower-class whites. It demonstrates how settler anxieties over hegemonic notions of white femininity and masculinity, white poverty, Coloureds, Africans and ‘undesirable’ non-British whites were rooted in class experience and significantly contributed to dominant white worker political ideologies and self-understandings. Based on original research conducted in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Zimbabwe, this book also explores how white workers used notions of ‘white work’ and white ‘standards of living’ to mark out racial boundaries. In doing so the author demonstrates how the worlds of work were embedded in the production of social identities and structural inequalities as well as how class interacted and intersected with other identities and oppressions. This book will be of interest to undergraduates and academics of gender, labour, race and class in African and imperial and colonial history, the history of emotions and settler colonial studies.
The introduction provides an overview of Rhodesian settler colonialism and the relevant historiography, while making a clear argument for the importance of class in the settler colonial context. Through a critical engagement with labour histories of southern Africa and US literature on whiteness, the introduction outlines an innovative framework for scholars of race and class in the African settler colonial context. The theoretical approach developed in the Introduction draws upon recent work on colonial anxieties, imperial mobility and settler colonial theory. It also explores research into women’s wage labour in Britain and the United States to consider how work was fundamental to the construction of gender.
Chapter 1 focuses on the rise of European trade unions in the wake of the First World War. The chapter outlines the major tenets of white worker identity, considers how white workers were internally fractured according to ethnicity, nationality, gender, skill and occupation and demonstrates how trade unions used notions of respectability and pride in whiteness to temper these divisions. Drawing on Barbara Rosenwein, it considers the gendered emotional communities on Rhodesia Railways, with particular emphasis on the disciplining effects of pride, shame and anger. It argues that expressed emotions were structured by race, class and gender and continued to be important markers of white worker identity throughout the period under study. This chapter also interrogates Jonathan Hyslop’s notion of 'white labourism' among European workers in Rhodesia and ends by exploring the role of othering of Africans and Coloureds in the construction of white class identities in the settler colony.
Chapter 2 focuses on the Great Depression and examines the concept of poor whiteism from the perspectives of European trade unions and the Rhodesia Labour Party. It makes the case for recognising the dynamism of white worker experience by evidencing that the economic crisis forced the reworking of white workers’ identities and the boundaries of white, male work outlined in Chapter 1. It details the entrance of white women into wage labour and shows that unskilled work, in certain circumstances, was valorised as character building. It also explores how trade unions utilised the symbolism of childhood and youth in their political agitation. In 1934 the colour bar was formalised under the Industrial Conciliation Act. This chapter probes how white workers agitated around this important piece of legislation and argues that the Act failed to fully consolidate white worker loyalty or successfully cauterise their struggles against employers and the state.
Chapter 3 explores the struggles of men and women to variously challenge or uphold racialised and gendered patterns of recruitment, wages and working and living conditions in the context of the Second World War. Part 1 explores the limitations of white workers’ wartime nationalism and shows that the presence of white working-class RAF recruits, Polish refugees, Italian internees and a growing number of Coloured wage labourers provoked contestation both over what it meant to be British as well as what it meant to be white. Part 1 also explores the increasing numbers of white women in wage labour. It demonstrates that anxieties over white women exploited by employers were aggravated by the relative absence of white men. Black Peril and illusions to African violence became increasingly prominent in trade union journals. African urbanisation, the rise of an African middle class and increasing African militancy and organisation form the context for Part 2. These phenomena are analysed through a theoretical lens that draws upon the production of settler colonial space and the insights of W. E. B. DuBois. The chapter ends with an analysis of the decline of Rhodesia's Labour parties.
Chapter 4 covers the period in which Southern and Northern Rhodesia joined with Nyasaland in the Central African Federation from 1953 to 1963. This chapter begins with an assessment of white labour strength in the post-war years, with particular emphasis on the position of white women and non-British whites. It also considers the growing numbers of Africans in semi-skilled and skilled work. In response to the increasing encroachment on white male jobs, white workers agitated for a 'white labour policy' in which every job in the colony would be performed by whites despite the centrality of African labour to the economy. This proposed policy is examined as an example of mass cognitive dissonance and a collective fantasy of African elimination. The chapter then turns to a strike of European firemen in 1954 to consider the ways in which the mobility of white settlers disrupted existing trade union structures and racialised practices and argues the strike points to a broader failure of settler socialisation. The chapter ends with a consideration of the role of white workers in the turn to more segregationist and racist practice and election of the Rhodesian Front.
Chapter 5 looks at the struggles of white workers as they attempted to protect their racial privileges in the context of Rhodesian Front rule and a brutal war. This chapter challenges the idea that white workers had a harmonious relationship with the Rhodesian Front and looks at the ways white trade unionists struggled against African workers, European employers as well as the Rhodesian state to retain their privileges. White men were increasingly conscripted into counterinsurgency forces; lower-class whites were the least able to evade conscription and the most likely to take on undesirable roles in the war. Conscription also intensified labour shortages, eroded the white male monopoly of skilled trades and put serious strains on family and work life. The numbers of white women in work and the types of work that white women performed significantly broadened. For white men, anxieties over their racial and gendered power that had previously been expressed through Black Peril were increasingly experienced and articulated through fears of castration.
This chapter outlines what made Rhodesian settler colonialism unique and brings together different themes explored throughout the book including gender, race, class, nationalism, colonial anxieties and the logic of elimination. It contends that working-class experience produced its own brand of imperial whiteness and that the workplace was an essential site where race was produced. The conclusion also highlights the utility of Marxism in understanding class, race and inequality and returns to David Roediger and Deborah Posel’s notions of the ‘wages of whiteness’ to consider how their ideas have been reinterpreted throughout the book. It reasserts that wage labour was an important part of many white women’s lives and was important in reshaping dominant notions of femininity. The chapter ends by highlighting the relevance of the book to understanding current conceptualisations of white poverty, reverse racism and inequality, as well as their use by right-wing groups globally.