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Book Review: 'African Trade Unions'

African Unions

'African Trade Unions', by loan Davies. Penguin African Library, 5s.

As capitalism develops it brings into being the working class—that social group made up of those who depend on their wage or salary to live. In Africa capitalism dominates society, even if many are not yet wage-workers or cash crop farmers. Primitive production for use is being replaced by production for sale on the world market. Wage-workers in fact only make up a small part of the working population.

The proportion of wage-earners ranges from 25 per cent in the Congo to four per cent in Nigeria and the former French West African territories.

In Britain the comparable figure is over 95 per cent. Many of the workers in Africa are migrants who move between working for wages and working their tribal lands. This depresses wages to a minimum level, sufficient to keep an unskilled, single male worker. In some places, however, a permanent urban working class has come into being and this is the trend. In the Katanga copper mining area, for instance, there are second and third generation wage workers.

As can be imagined trade union organisation in these circumstances is difficult. Despite this trade unions, of varying degrees of permanency and effectiveness, have appeared. Nearly all have been associated with the nationalist movements. Not that, of course, independence has made much difference. A new privileged bureaucratic and commercial caste has appeared and the unions have been under pressure or turned into mere state agents for increasing production. One of the Ministers of Labour in what was Tanganyika has put it this way:

    "The union is required to educate wage earners in the need for harder work and the need for discipline and efficiency at the place of employment."

In all countries the new independent governments have come into conflict with the workers and their unions. Strikes have been outlawed or suppressed. Thus Ghana in September, 1961, suppressed a strike of dock and harbour workers and in 1964 a general strike broke out in Nigeria. This shows that nationalism is not in the interests of the world-wide working class.

Ioan Davies’ book is well worth the five shillings.

Adam Buick