© Master Builders KwaZulu-Natal 2017

 

During August 1945 Archie Smith was appointed Director of the Association and he found himself faced with all the problems inherent in the post War world with the long-time Secretary, Bert Swinbourn, these two began the difficult task of dealing with all the details which had been either neglected or handled on a temporary basis during the great War.

Conditions of employment had to be stabilised and no time was lost in entering into negotiations with the Trade Unions for the establishment of a new Industrial Council and the negotiation of an agreement. Archie Smith was born in Scotland and came to South Africa in 1924. He was educated at D.H.S. and attended the Natal Technical College. His commercial career began at the Head Office of Hunt Lechars & Hepburn and this close connection with the Building Industry led to the beginning of his interest in the industrial and contractual legislation applicable to the Industry.

The new Council was registered early in 1948 and its first agreement was published on 30 April of that year. The agreement was binding until January 1952, the longest period for which any Agreement for the Durban area had ever been applicable. The Agreement contained a ‘closed shop' provision and this was responsible for an influx of 269 members during the following two years bringing the total membership up to 408. In order to indicate more accurately the true nature of the Association its name was changed in 1947 to "The Master Builders and Allied Trades Association, Durban"; previously it had been "The Master Builders Association Durban".

The new Director proved himself equal to his many tasks and it is due, in no small measure, to his qualities that the Durban Association had become one of the most progressive and respected in the National Builders Federation.

During 1923, the Association began to consider the possibility of owning its own building, but it was not until 1948 that steps were taken to implement this objective. During that year a property was purchased at 59 to 61 St. Andrews Street but the erection of the building could not begin immediately as there were four cottages on the site which were occupied and which could not be demolished until alternative accommodation had been found for the occupants. In 1948 accommodation in Durban was at a premium and 1951 came with only two of the cottages vacant - this was the Golden Jubilee year of the Association and it was a source of great disappointment to the members that this event could not be celebrated in its own building. However, later in the year, the two remaining tenants were accommodated "with a little financial assistance" and a contract for the erection of the building was awarded to H. Aitken who was the President at a price of £86,340. The building was officially opened in August 1952 and the Association remained there to 1984.

The building complex consisted of an assembly hall at ground level and six floors of office space for the use of the Association and tenants. At the rear of the complex on Lloyd Street the Association had to provide residential accommodation to compensate for the loss of accommodation provided by the original four cottages.

The assembly hall soon became problematical as it was not popular for the Association to have meetings on unlicensed premises. The hall was successively put to use as an intimate theatre and showroom and until the Association finally successfully created a successful permanent building exhibition in the hall.

The general election of 1948 heralded a change of Government in South Africa and was the start of a political philosophy of separate development also commonly known as "apartheid" which was to have considerable ramifications on the social fabric of South Africa including serious distortions of the labour market in South Africa. The building industry as a basic service industry was affected by a great deal of social engineering based along racial lines.

1952 marked the death of Arnold Midgley, the son of Thomas Midgley, who served on the Executive Committee of the Association for a period of more than 40 years (still a record). Arnold Midgley was President of the Association in 1918, 1929, 1934 and 1935. He was also the youngest President of the NFBTE in 1920 and served on its Executive Committee for 36 years.

Even more remarkable was that both his son and grandson, Ken and Barry became Presidents of the Association respectively. Four generations of Midgleys namely Thomas, Arnold, Ken and Barry all served as Presidents of the Association. This surely is unique in the annals of the building industry in South Africa if not the World.

The cornerstone of the separate development legislation was the Population Register Act spawning a great deal of legislation negatively impacting on the building industry such as the Native Building Workers Act, Group Areas and Separate Amenities Acts.

The Native Building Workers Act was successively known as the Bantu Building Workers Act and subsequently the Black Building Workers Act. The objects of the Act in some respects were laudable but the application thereof had many hidden practical consequences. The aim was to reserve skilled building work in Urban areas, particularly in providing housing for Blacks by Blacks in Urban Areas. Whites could only be employed on building work in Urban Areas in supervisory capacities. Blacks trained in skilled building work in Black Urban areas however were prohibited from working on skilled building work outside Urban areas.

Also particularly stringent were the two Work Reservation Determinations for the building industry introduced by the amended Industrial Conciliation Act in 1956 which empowered the Minister of Labour to reserve certain work across a range of sectors of the economy along racial lines.

The Work Reservations for the building industry were formulated for the Urban Areas in the Transvaal and Free State and the Urban Areas in Natal and the Cape Province. Large parts of the country in which development subsequently took place such as Richards Bay and Saldanha remain unregulated and were "free for all" zones.

From about 1955 the country started experiencing strong economic growth. It was evident that with the stringent immigration policies applied by the Government there were not enough Whites to provide the skilled manual requirements of the building industry. The only statute at the time applicable to the building industry labour market which was not racialised was the Apprenticeship Act which was then used to allow Indians and Coloureds limited access to certain skilled manual work in the building industry in Natal. An unintended consequence of this was a serious distortion of the traditional Apprenticeship system in the building industry in Natal which had a serious long-term consequences.

A further consequence of this rapid and unprecedented economic growth were material shortages of basic building products such as reinforcing steel, clay bricks and cement which resulted in great concentrations of economic power resulting in further interventions such as price control legislation. This meant that manufacturers were guaranteed certain returns on their investments. Put another way price controlled commodities could not be produced at a loss or at cost.

The combination of high growth, skills and material shortages resulted in high escalation of the costs of material and labour on building contracts. Building Contractors felt that it was unrealistic for them to accept the full contractual risk thereof and attempted to get Client bodies to accept part of this risk. This was to become a major bone of contention for many years often resulting in a stand-off.

Despite the early boom periods after 1948 International opinion against the racial policies practiced by the South African Government gained momentum changing the economy being under siege Sanctions were applied and disinvestment took place at large scale. The construction sector in South Africa was to enter a period of decline which lasted for a period of more than 20 years.

During his 30 years of service with the Association, Archie Smith, the first Director, was active keeping abreast with the plethora of legislation affecting the building industry. He became an exponent of construction contracts and along with Mark Lipshitz, who was the only person to be President of both the NFBTE and SAFCEC, served on the Joint Study Committee with distinction for many years. The Joint Study Committee which was representative of Building Contractors, Property Owners and the Professions was responsible for the formulation and ongoing review of the model building contracts, a process that had originated in Natal at the beginning of the century. At the beginning of 1975 Archie's health failed and he had no choice to take an early retirement two years before his normal date of retirement.

Traditionally the organised building industry subscribed to appropriate collective bargaining. To achieve this objective the organised employers and the registered Trade Unions at the time recognised certain ‘closed shop' principles. Members of the registered Trade Unions would only work for the members of the Association and its members would only employ members of the registered Trade Unions. This was linked to a Trade Union check-off facility. Members of the Association could only issue a holiday stamp which contained a Trade Union subscription which the employee had to pay. If the employee was not a member of the Trade Union then the employer carried the costs of the Trade Union subscription. In many instances members of the Association were partly funding the Trade Unions making them more representative than they really were.

Work reservation in the building industry aimed at initially protecting White, Coloured and later Indian skills and their Trade Unions, had the opposite effect as to ensure the labour to do the job. The traditional trades were fragmented and apprenticeship artificially boosted. It became evident that smart enterprising young people no longer regarded the industry as a career choice at manual level.

As the roadwork network in the sub-region improved so the operational mobility of the members also increased. Many members had the capacity to work both inside and outside the areas regulated by the Durban and Pietermaritzburg and Northern Areas Industrial Councils who were responsible for enforcing Work Reservation at working levels.

Royce Kincaid who was President of the Association and others started taking a strong stand on the abolition of Work Reservation and the basis that it was morally and economically indefensible.

During the mid sixties considerable labour unrest among back workers was experienced in Durban. Rolling mass action became the order of the day. This forced the Government to appoint the Riekert and Wiehahn Commissions of Enquiry as it had become evident that South Africa's labour relations and political models had to be overhauled in order to face the challenges of a rapidly changing society but unfortunately it was many years before a free and equal South Africa was established. It was often a case of - too little too late!

South Africa was also getting involved in a messy bush war on many of its borders as well as in the former South West Africa. Conscription of Whites became the order of the day and many members of the Association at management level served in the military forces on a conscripted basis.

Due to the early retirement of Archie Smith in 1975 the Association had to recruit a new Director. A person was identified and appointed but withdrew before assuming the duty. It was then resolved to "head-hunt" a new Director.