William H. Andrews (unionist)

William Henry Andrews (20 April 1870 in Suffolk – 1950), commonly known as Bill Andrews, was the first chairman of the South African Labour Party (SALP) and the first General Secretary of the Communist Party of South Africa. He was also active in the formation of the Industrial and Commercial Workers' Union.

William Henry Andrews
Bill Andrews 1930 c.JPG
Bill Andrews
General Secretary of the Communist Party of South Africa
In office
Personal details
Born20 Apr 1870
Suffolk, England
Political partyCommunist Party of South Africa


Born in Suffolk, England, UK, Andrews joined the Amalgamated Society of Engineers in 1890. He travelled to Johannesburg in 1890, holding jobs on gold mines in the West Rand in the 1890s. Increasingly prominent as a trade union organiser, he became the official South African organiser of the ASE, the President of the Witwatersrand Trades and Labour Council and the Political Labour League in 1905, the Labour Representation Committee in 1906 and the South African Labour Party in 1909.[1]

Andrews was first elected as a Labour MP at the 1912 Georgetown by-election. The South African Labour Party was the first political party that wanted full segregation in South Africa.[2] Andrews served as a Member of Parliament until his defeat at the 1915 election. A fighter for the rights of ″White″ labour, he was always quick to complain when he perceived that an African, referred by him frequently as a ″Kaffir,″(by then already regarded as a pejorative term) might take away a job from a White man.[3]

In 1915, he was elected as the first President of the International Socialist League, which formed when anti-war socialists split from the SALP. He visited the United Kingdom in 1918, where he was impressed by the British shop stewards' movement. In 1921, he became the first General Secretary of the Communist Party of South Africa, and in 1922 the editor of the party's newspaper The International. In 1925, he was elected as the first Secretary of the South African Trades Union Council.[1]

He was expelled from the South African Communist Party in a series of purges over the "Black Republic" policy. He was permitted to rejoin (1938) at the age of 68 after Solly Sachs, Moses Kotane, and Brian Bunting were re-admitted. [4]


  1. ^ a b Wessel Visser, 'Exporting Trade Unionism and Labour Politics: the British Influence on the early South African Labour Movement', New Contree 49 (2005), 145-62
  2. ^ M.Roth,The Communist Party in South Africa: Racism, Eurocentricity and Moscow, 1921-1950, p.51.
  3. ^ Ibid,p.50
  4. ^ Kiloh, Margaret; Sibeko, Archie (2000). A Fighting Union. Randburg: Ravan Press. p. xxxii. ISBN 0869755277.

Further readingEdit

  • R. K. Cope, Comrade Bill. The Life and Times of W. H. Andrews, Workers' Leader, Cape Town, 1943.

External linksEdit

Party political offices
Preceded by
New position
General Secretary of the Communist Party of South Africa
Succeeded by
Jimmy Shields
Preceded by
Issie Wolfson
Chair of the Communist Party of South Africa
Succeeded by
Party dissolved