The Garment Workers’ Union’s Pageant of Unity (1940) as manifestation of transnational working-class culture




working-class literature, political pageant, avant-garde theatre, propaganda, Garment Workers’ Union, transnational working-class culture, cultural mobility


In this article, I examine the Garment Workers’ Union’s theatre as a manifestation of transnational working-class culture in the 1940s. Analysing Pageant of Unity (1940), a play in which Afrikaans and English alternate to express the equality of Afrikaans- and English-speaking workers in the face of exploitation, I offer an attempt to escape the confines of a national literature as linked to a single language. I demonstrate how the political pageant—a genre typical of socialist propaganda and international trade unionism—was adapted to a South African context. This drama is, therefore, viewed as a product of cultural mobility between Europe, the United States, and South Africa. Assuming the ‘follow the actor’ approach of Bruno Latour’s Actor-Network Theory, I identify a network of interconnections between the nodes formed by human (drama practitioners and theoreticians, socialist organisers) and nonhuman actors (texts representing socialist drama conventions, in particular agitprop techniques). Tracing the inspirations and adaptations of conventions, I argue that Pageant of Unity most evidently realises the prescriptions outlined by the Russian drama theoretician Vsevolod Meyerhold whose approach influenced Guy Routh, one of the pageant’s creators. Thus, I focus on how this propaganda production utilises certain features of the Soviet avant-garde theatre, which testifies to the transnational character of South African working-class culture.


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Author Biography

Malgorzata Drwal, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, Poland

Małgorzata Drwal is assistant professor in the Department of Dutch and South African Studies, Faculty of English, Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Poland, and a research fellow in the Department of Afrikaans, Faculty of Humanities, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa.


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How to Cite

Drwal, M. (2022). The Garment Workers’ Union’s Pageant of Unity (1940) as manifestation of transnational working-class culture. Tydskrif Vir Letterkunde, 59(1), 75–87.



Research articles