• This article examines industrial unrest and the restructuring of the workforce on the mines of the Zambian Copperbelt during the late 1950s. The mining workforce was highly stratified along lines of race and skill and attempts to alter occupational hierarchies by the mining companies provoked a lengthy strike by white mineworkers, the most highly-paid, privileged section of the workforce. The strike was accompanied by a considerable community mobilisation in the towns around the mines. Restructuring was prompted by falling copper prices and involved the mining companies attempting to blur the distinction between white artisans and semi-skilled white workers. At the core of the strike and restructuring plans were competing notions of skill and authority on the mines. In this way, this article contests the prevailing assumption in the historical literature that the central issue on the Copperbelt mines in this period was the removal of the industrial colour bar.