The 1973 Durban strikes ushered in a decade of painstaking struggle to build organisation in the factories. Slowly the unions grew stronger, developing considerable strength on the factory floor. The new unions developed a powerful cadre of elected shop stewards. In some parts of South Africa the early 1980’s saw the shopstewards and unions structures establish links with community and political organisations. But in Natal the trade unions stood apart from the communities where progressive and youth organisations were beginning to clash with Inkatha. This left the unions and shopstewards powerless to influence events when violent battles erupted in the communities in 1985. In the first of two articles, Shamin Meer reports on the ideas and experiences of Durban shopstewards up until 1985.