David Hyde examines a pivotal working-class struggle which erupted within East Africa’s transport system near the end of the colonial period. Though this was arguably the most important working-class struggle to occur during the decolonisation process within Britain’s African colonies, it has been rarely acknowledged and barely attended to.
The crisis of accumulation which tore East African Railways and Harbours (E.A.R.H.) provoked fierce resistance from African railwaymen in all three colonies. This was marked by the East African Railway Strike which began on 14 November 1959, as the majority of railwaymen stopped work in response to the Railway African Union [Kenya] call for a colony wide strike.
Railwaymen in Tanganyika and Uganda followed them into action to mark the region’s first inter-territorial strike. The strike rudely coincided with preparations for African majority government throughout the region, and continued intermittently until April 1960. This had an immense impact and triggered the era of strike waves which challenged the nature of the nationalist transitions to independence throughout the region in which the African bourgeoisie stood to become the principal beneficiaries.
The following work attempts to bring out the organic interconnectedness of a regional struggle which veered between unity and fragmentation. In this connection, it questions the role of the British TUC, the International Transport Workers Federation and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions in deflecting the course, and bargaining down the demands of this momentous confrontation. The examination of the strike attempts to reopen unresolved issues about the role and influence of organised labour within East Africa’s independence struggles.
What follows is an examination of a pivotal working-class struggle which erupted within East Africa’s transport system near the end of the colonial period. Though this was arguably the most important working-class struggle to occur during the decolonisation process within Britain’s African colonies,1 it has been rarely acknowledged and barely attended to. 2
The post-war primary commodities boom and its accompanying export drive to generate dollars to fund Britain’s post-war reconstruction and repay debts to the United States, had combined with the financial and infrastructural demands of the Mau Mau Emergency 3 to place East African Railways and Harbours (E.A.R.H.) under great strain. These pressures threatened to undermine the state monopoly’s prescribed role as the provider of cheap transportation to underwrite the profitability of the regional export economy, a function which it had long struggled to sustain.
As the boom petered out in the mid-1950s, E.A.R.H. came under intense pressure to hold fast its already low freight charges to save white settler farmers and European plantation companies whose farm and plantation exports were mired in a declining global market.4 The company was also being squeezed by fierce competition from the region’s many road haulage companies.5 Major reinvestment was required to address severe capital depreciation at a time when the E.A.R.H. Renewals Fund6 was almost depleted. Caught in a vice-like grip, the colonial power was forced towards the restructuring of the state monopoly. In a desperate bid to initiate this process, E.A.R.H. was faced with relinquishing its perennially low tariffs, but its preferred route was to pass the costs of meeting these problems onto its African workforce through a region wide programme of rationalisation involving intensified working practices and large-scale redundancies. In doing so, they collided with the region’s railwaymen as they moved into action to assert their bargaining rights and their claim for higher wages.
While treated by union leaders as a dispute over wages, the rail strike was a deeply political con ict which questioned the terms and conditions of the transition to independence. Even though this conscious awareness was still in its early stages amongst the railwaymen themselves, colonial administrators, nationalist politicians and union offcials were acutely aware of the implications of this unravelling. Why did the region’s most privileged African workers, hitherto the most conservative and quietist, move into confrontation with E.A.R.H., the region’s largest employer?7
Our narrative begins in Kenya, the administrative centre of E.A.R.H.
In Kenya, the mid-decade years of the 1950s began to show a recovery of the trade unions from the fierce repression of the Mau Mau emergency which was lifted in 1960. As new members were recruited to the established unions and new unions began to emerge, this growing confidence rippled into other parts of the region. According to Kenya’s Labour Department, the ‘major feature’ of 1959 ‘was the spread of the trade union movement amongst African workers. After years of fierce state repression and draconian workplace discipline, new layers of African workers embraced trade unionism and moved into their first organised struggles over wages and conditions. They were joined by unrestricted former Mau Mau detainees and the victims of land consolidation who entered the work force. Labour conflicts enveloped central Kenya and the Kericho valley throughout the immediate pre-independence period with tens of thousands out on prolonged strike. The railwaymen’s strike was the single most important catalyst in lifting a reawakening labour movement and aiding its recovery from the Emergency which had driven the movement partly underground and into semi legality. Many union officials and activists had experienced periods of detention and not a few were ‘disappeared’.
In Tanganyika, during 1951–1955 there was annual average of 60 strikes involving 7805 workers with a loss of 11,183 man hours. This leapt to 146 strikes a year involving an average 59,457 workers with a loss of 483,521 man hours during the period 1956–1960, including its pinnacle the East African Railway Strike. The rail strike marked the highest point of a five-year period [1956–1960] where as much as 0.5 million man days were lost during each year. During the subsequent period 1961–63, the high incidence of strike actions was sustained though with fewer man days lost. There are similarly dramatic figures for Kenya, where almost a million working days were lost during 1961 alone, though less so for Uganda. The conflagrations came at a time when constitutional conferences least anticipated, or needed such external pressures.
Overall, the strike prone years of 1959–1965 were fraught with risks as the region’s colonial governments transferred their authority. This was understood as a threat to the political stability required for the political representatives of the African bourgeoisie to take over the colonial state. Throughout this process, and exacerbating its tensions and contradictions, the state’s own servants, the ‘non-productive’ workers, participated in successive strike waves whose embers glowed well beyond independence. The rail strike was a principal seam and juncture of this crisis heralding strikes and disputes throughout local government as well as amongst civil servants and teachers. As the more privileged sections of workers, hitherto the most conservative and quietist, move into confrontation with their state employer, cracks and fissures in the transmission of state authority revealed a state apparatus divided within itself and in serious conflict with its own servants. These struggles were only eventually tamed as union leaders struggled to arrest the movement and surrender organisational autonomy to the post-colonial corporate state which proceeded to straitjacket the trade unions through a panoply of repressive labour laws, a process supervised in Kenya by the colonies foremost labour leader, Tom Mboya.
Enforced stabilisation: changes in the physiognomy of the African working class
Following the declaration of Kenya’s state of emergency in October 1952, the colonial government initiated draconian changes to the social composition of Nairobi’s African workforce as an essential part of its war against Mau Mau. This involved the forcible removal KEM [Kikuyu, Embu and Meru] workers on a mass scale in shock and awe operations throughout the city’s African locations aimed to regain control of the city by paralysing and detaining large sections of the working population. This was driven by real and supposed fears of large numbers of KEM workers and youth who had been oathed into Mau Mau and the spreading potential of their radicalism and erstwhile recourse to militant unionism. 8
By the early 1950s, there was a clear trend in the breakdown of circulatory patterns of migrant labour with growing numbers of workers staying in Nairobi for longer periods. The Muthurwa housing estate in Nairobi was a key residence of railmen who were housed in squalid bachelor accommodation even though many had their families living with them. According to Special Branch informers who operated on the estate, there were many Mau Mau sympathisers amongst the rail workers.9
There were also stereotypical assumptions about those who were encouraged to take their place following the expulsions and detentions. This took the form of an ‘ethnic cleansing’ as Luos, Kamba and Luyia workers were recruited to replace those detained in order to create an imaginary working class that was assumed to be loyal and hard-working. The Luos in particular were perceived as the more conservative section of the African workforce. This was an enforced stabilisation where new layers of the working class were carefully controlled and managed into place under conditions of dictatorship and repression just as others were forcibly dislocated. While the E.A.R.H. workforce in Kenya was deeply traumatised, the company was ‘allowed to retain a higher proportion of Kikuyu labour than had other employers following the purge of the city’s African labour’.10 This was to avoid both a skills deficit, as evidenced elsewhere, and a destabilising impact on the arteries and veins of the regional economy.
The government then attempted to consolidate this new proletariat through social engineering to ensure that workers were urbanely resident and protected from the undercurrents of rural Africa that had fuelled Mau Mau. The aims of this process were influenced by the recommendations of the Committee on African Wages ,11 led by former labour commissioner Frank Carpenter, which advised the principle of a family wage to replace the prevalent ‘bachelor minimum’ for African workers. This was aimed at stabilising key sections of urban workers and reproducing a permanently resident workforce. The Carpenter report did not so much recommend a permanently resident urban working class, but for the state to take control and socially engineer the one that was already developing. This was shortly followed by the report of the Commission on the Civil Services,12 led by Sir David Lidbury, which accepted the principle of equal pay for equal work and that non-racial salary scales should be applied amongst all employees of the East African High Commission.13
A complicated grading structure had evolved over many years on the railways with workers divided on racial lines and according to their level of skill. Even within the various skill categories there were complex gradations. The Group C category was made up of unskilled and semi-skilled African workers such as labourers, porters, pointsmen and gangers, receiving salaries ranging from 70 to 218 shs. a month. Whereas, amongst the predominantly Asian Group B men there were clerks, stationmasters, artisans and locomotive drivers on salary scales ranging from £118 to £1410 a year.14
This structure had evolved to bond the men to the company by segmenting and fragmenting the workforce, thus disabling the prospect of unified industrial action.
The Carpenter and Lidbury recommendations placed E.A.R.H. under considerable political pressure, to introduce a pay structure based on occupational groups and the family wage principle to replace the old racially grounded grading system based on the bachelor minimum. To widen its room for manoeuvre, E.A.R.H. envisaged token concessions on the basis of a leaner and much reduced workforce that it was already planning.15 However, erstwhile racial divisions were effectively reinstated under a new guise as they overlapped to a very high degree with the new categories. This was the source of widespread anger amongst the railwaymen and greatly fuelled the looming dispute.
The wages question
While the management had been compelled to increase its freight charges on primary exports this still fell far short of generating the surpluses needed for overdue investment. Even with the recommendations of Carpenter and Lidbury overshadowing them, the management became intent on widening its ever so narrow financial margin at the expense of financing allocated for wages. Staff costs were the company’s most expensive budget item running at £8,990,000 of a total yearly expenditure of £19,500,000 for 1958.16 With a fixed minimal allocation for wages, E.A.R.H. was set, under the veil of Carpenter and Lidbury, to abandon its erstwhile favour to the superior grades by narrowing the extent of their differentials with the lower grade railwaymen. In crucial departure from previous practice, the company decided to pay those at the bottom of Group C at the expense of the other grades. This meant using liberal concerns over the minimum wage in order to bargain down the higher grades within Group C as well as the Group B gradings. Even so, the proposed raise in the minimum wage was hardly adequate to meet the requirements of the Carpenter advocated ‘family wage’, though great efforts were made to pass it on as such. This was a consciously divisive strategy aimed to head off a unified approach on the part of the region’s railwaymen.
Having for years ignored the creeping necessities of capital restoration, the employers had convinced themselves that the gap between the available finance capital and what was required for large scale renewal was to be made up by the railwaymen themselves. The management drew back in alarm at their estimate of £6,000,000 to pay the railwaymen in the three territories. ‘It is clear that there is no possibility of meeting these claims’.17 With the railwaymen’s meagre wage claims deemed unaffordable and ‘no economic grounds whatever for the granting of an increase’,18 the employer was now determined to have it out with the workforce. A generalised levelling down was the order of the day featuring increases in productivity, changes in working practices and a thoroughgoing restructuring of the workforce involving large-scale job losses. However, as the management proceeded in this direction they collided with a determination from railwaymen across the region to defend their differentials and to fight for a long overdue substantial wage increase measured according to the family wage principle and non-racial salary scales.
The rail unions in East Africa
The railway administration had responded to a threatened rail strike in 1945 with the simultaneous establishment of the Joint Staff Advisory Council [JSAC] and the Kenya and Uganda Railway African Staff Union [R.A.S.U.].19 The latter was more concerned with the promotion prospects and privileges of senior grade African clerks and artisans20 than with increases in the basic rate of pay. The R.A.S.U. was allowed to put forward suggestions but had no bargaining rights. Consequently, the mass of lower grade railwaymen became sharply aware of their widening differentials with the ‘superior’ grades, and became scathing about R.A.S.U. as a collar and tie affair. Concerns that R.A.S.U. lacked credibility with the mass of the workforce were voiced by R.G. Osgathorpe, the Nairobi Staff and Welfare Assistant, ‘the chief trouble seems to be that the union so far has only attracted senior grade Africans and this of course has led to the junior and illiterate African being very suspicious not only of the leaders but of the union’.21 These anxieties subsequently contributed to the R.A.S.U.’s transmutation from a staff association into a trade union.
The lower grade railwaymen were not slow to gravitate towards the African Workers Federation which rose to prominence during the Mombasa General Strike , which was almost an urban uprising. This was followed by the Nairobi General Strike  to which railwaymen were pivotal in spreading beyond the capital.22 Throughout this period large numbers were joining the Transport and Allied Workers Union [T.A.W.U.]23 which claimed a membership of 2000 amongst railwaymen. This union had a strong base amongst taxi drivers in Nairobi who were at the forefront of organising the Nairobi strike and instrumental in Mau Mau oathing throughout the city. Under Fred Kubai’s leadership, the union had raised the ‘national question’ amongst its members and had been the cornerstone of the banned East African Trade Union Congress. According to the Labour Commissioner, the ‘railway workers have got tired of waiting ... and so thrown their hand in with the T.A.W.U.’24 The management feared it was losing its grip and were desperate to stem the tide of desertions.
At this juncture, the management and the R.A.S.U. leadership attempted, with help from the Labour Department and the International Transport Workers Federation [I.T.W.F.], to reinvent the organisation which was registered as the Railway African Union on 2 October 1953 and as separate unions in Uganda in May 1955 25 and Tanganyika shortly afterwards.26 These moves were intended to ensure ‘that the African does not go too far and does not develop independent militant organisation’.27 The region’s labour departments lent their efforts to groom ‘responsible’ leadership amongst union officials who were almost all drawn from clerical rather than mechanical and manual occupations because of their administrative skills and better command of written English. Nonetheless, the unions’ constitutions stipulated that ‘every trade and vocation in the Railways must be represented to give advice in case of discussion on that particular trade’28 and to accommodate this the RAU[K] General Purposes Committee shortly increased its delegates from 8 to 40. But this new course was yet to be tested. Would the unions be able to put paid to their inherited bias towards the upper grades and close relationship with the company?
Following registration there was a steady increase in the memberships of all three unions, especially in Uganda where the union quickly expanded from a single branch in Kampala to eleven branches.29 The principal obstacle faced by the fledglings in building up their organisation was low pay, since this made it hard to collect regular dues30 to sustain themselves. While all the unions steadily recruited thousands of members, their accounts submitted to the Registrar reveal that only a fraction were paying dues,31 mostly railwaymen concentrated on company housing estates located near to key depots such as Nairobi and Kampala. The E.A.R.H. workforce was ‘considerably more fluid’32 as compared to rest of the working population and the railwaymen’s periodic inter-depot transfer tended to compound the problems of collecting subscriptions. This eased somewhat as the unions secured the right to send dues collectors on the ‘pay train’ into the rural areas, enabling them to collect subs as workers were paid.
In Tanganyika, the railwaymen took the first steps into trade unionism in the wake of the dockers strikes of 1939 and 1943 and took widespread action themselves, again following the dockers, during the general strike of 1947 when on 10 September 2000 members of the Railway African Association [R.A.A.], formed in 1945, joined the widespread action. The strike spread along the central railway line as workers in Morogoro, Dodoma, Kilosa and Tabora all came out ‘apparently on instructions from a central strike committee in Dar es Salaam’.33 There were distinct signs of politicisation amongst railwaymen as the R.A.A.’s Tabora branch raised democratic demands for equal treatment of African and Asian employees, an end to the ‘colour bar’ and discrimination, and equal pay for equal work. All presaging the struggles of the next decade following the Carpenter and Lidbury reports.
With scarce resources to draw upon, all the unions were dependent on overseas assistance which came at a price of allegiance. All three unions emerged during a period of intense Cold War conflicts and propaganda. They were not short of foreign mentors who carried these agendas with them, namely the British T.U.C., the I.T.W.F. and the Fabian Colonial Bureau. However, the dominant influence was the I.C.F.T.U., increasing controlled by the American AFL–CIO which put great energy and resource into grooming unwary trade unions in the colonies. The I.C.F.T.U. African Labour College in Kampala ran course for trade unionists from all over the region.34
In Uganda, the union was assisted by James Brandie who was seconded by the British T.U.C. which gave financial support,35
and after affiliating to the I.T.W.F. the union was granted £100 to establish an office in a disused garage provided by the management.36
‘Bargaining down’: the trials and collapse of corporatism
No sooner had the fledglings emerged than they were flung into a major battle to establish themselves by moving beyond mere ancillaries of a management advisory body to winning full bargaining rights from the company. In July 1957, the R.A.U.[K] in Kenya laid a claim for a 15% wage increase for Group C and 10% for Group B workers before the recently reconstituted All-Line Joint Staff Advisory Council [AL JSAC]. In Tanganyika, E.N.N. Kanyama, the T.R.A.U. general secretary, lowered the union’s earlier claim for a 35 per cent increase down to the Kenya claim which he acknowledged represented ‘a very minimum demand’.37 The AL JSAC role was purely advisory leaving the unions with only a trace of negotiating rights. It concentrated union participation at the inter-territorial level leaving the lower level bodies without formal trade union representation.38 The composition of the council reflected the racial division of labour dominant throughout the railway where African workers, though the majority were outnumbered by European and Asian representatives. Hence, union claims for higher pay became tied to the necessity for collective bargaining machinery where union representatives could negotiate with the management.
Foreshadowing much to come, the Kenyan wage demands were quickly followed up by the rail unions in Tanganyika and Uganda, and a joint memorandum was submitted in September with a request for combined negotiations. However, by the R.A.U.[K] conference in Mombasa, the claim had made little progress and a trade dispute was reported to Kenya’s labour commissioner who imposed compulsory arbitration.39 The arbitrator initially made clear that no award would be promulgated until all three cases had been heard, then ‘separate awards whether identical or different will then be made in each of the three cases’.40 Although the RAU[K] ‘had insisted on B grade claims being considered as well ...’,41 as tribunal proceedings got underway the union was urged to connect itself to a grade C claim. Meanwhile, Kenya’s Council of Ministers, attempting to set the parameters for a region wide settlement, brought pressure to bear on the General Manager of E.A.R.H. by making clear ‘that, if Railway wages had to be increased as a result of an arbitration award, this Government would have to resist any suggestion that the cost should be met by increased freight rates ...’.42
The General Manager of E.A.R.H. duly pass this pressure on and refused to relent to even the minimum wage demands of the railwaymen, which he calculated at £375,000 a year could not be afforded. This was rationalised on the grounds that the World Bank had lent £8 million for railway investment and would not approve further borrowing to fund wage increases. This lent credence to Kanyama’s concern, that the servicing and repayment of loans for development expenditure had been premised upon the generation of financial surpluses accumulated largely at the expense of wages.43
The arbitrator’s award for Tanganyika, announced in March, made a 5% increase for Group C workers conditional on a reduction in annual leave from 22 to 14 days a year. No increase for Group B workers was forthcoming.44 Almost identical ndings followed for Kenya and Uganda, excepting Group C workers earning in excess of 156.50/- a month, who would have to accept a reduction in annual leave from 30 to 20 days.45 The awards were rejected by all the unions since not only did they fall far short of their claims but were accompanied by a reduction in terms and conditions.
During August Group C workers voted with their feet against the arbitration as 150 pointsmen walked out in Mombasa. The strike was declared illegal and the men were subsequently dismissed though following RAU intervention the men were reinstated on their previous conditions of service’.46 Even so, at the union’s 5th Annual Conference, during 14–16 November 1958, Union President Hilary Oduol urged that the strike weapon was a last resort and that the fullest possible use should be made of the now discredited AL JSAC.47
By May 1959 events were taking a sharp turn in Tanganyika as some long service higher grade African workers were dismissed from their jobs for taking industrial action against the arbitration and were replaced by workers on lower rates. The TRAU declared that ‘the hour for action has come’ and demanded an immediate meeting with management to avert a strike.48 However, by July the union’s new general secretary C.S.K. Tumbo had withdrawn the union from the AL JSAC because of its powerlessness to bargain over pay and union frustrations at the majority presence of European and Asian representatives of a narrow supervisory layer who were essentially pro-management. These obstacles dominated the union’s conference in August 195949 where delegates were forced to acknowledged that strike action was now inevitable.
In Kenya, strike action took place in Mombasa during early February, when 300 locomotive shed workmen came out over the issue of regradings brought on by the terms of the award. Apparently the strike started ‘when a number of fitters and footplatemen did not turn up for work’.50 While regradings were being implemented in Nairobi, there were none in Mombasa. By this, the management seem to have been attempting to split the union by looking after Nairobi railwaymen, amongst whom the conservative leadership of the union had much of its support.
Seething discontent amongst the rank and file throughout the region undoubtedly contributed to the decision of all three railway unions to withdraw from the AL JSAC in August on the grounds that it had no independent powers. However, while union leaders began to assume a posture of opposition to retain their credibility, they were hardly rejecting this company apparatus but exerting pressure for its improvement. Nonetheless, spontaneous disputes involving the union rank and le now indicated that a serious conflict was at hand.
The Mwanza ‘Conference of Unity’
The inter-territorial character of E.A.R.H. was its greatest strength in dealing with the railwaymen. However, the rail unions were required to comply with territorial labour ordinances regarding registration and strikes in essential services51 which virtually outlawed region wide organisation and industrial action amongst the railwaymen themselves.52 Hence, the jointly convened inter-territorial conference at Mwanza on Lake Tanganyika during 17–19 September 1959 was a major step forward for the rail unions. That union leaders were now under great pressure from their members, increasingly inclined to spontaneous action outside the law and beyond their control, was revealed by the important decisions that were taken.
The conference agreed to establish an inter-territorial National Congress of Railwaymen [East Africa] as a ‘mouthpiece for all African railway workers’53 and to coordinate the work of the rail unions in the region. While this synchronisation between the regional variations of what was essentially a singular dispute was to develop as the regional strike unfurled, it ran into the significant obstacles erected by the international trade union bureaucracies54 that were competing as power brokers to conclude the railwaymen’s struggle. These agencies, the I.C.F.T.U., the I.T.W.F. and the British T.U.C., worked hard to arrest the development of the region wide strike which threatened and showed itself throughout the period from November 1959 through to April 1960. Their agendas were various, including the Cold War, the efforts of the US to make a place for it’s goods in colonial markets as well as British efforts to salvage as much as possible from decolonisation.
The unions also agreed to the unified minimum wage demand of 7/75 a day with requisite adjustments throughout Group C which enabled reorientation and cohesion of the sometimes wayward strikes in the various colonies when they showed signs of going off track and fragmenting into separate disputes. The Mwanza wage demand first surfaced several weeks later when the Uganda union presented its pay claim. By this and other decisions taken the delegates were challenging the artificial boundaries of the region imposed by the colonial power. It was no accident that the railwaymen, by virtue of their role in the regional economy, were best positioned to achieve this and light the touch paper for workers elsewhere.
In the wake of the reorganisation of the docks and the establishment of the Joint Industrial Council55 there, the delegates agreed to withdraw from the AL JSAC and proposed the formation of a Joint Industrial Council of Railwaymen to replace the AL JSAC, as a non-racial industrial relations machinery with the unions as equal bargaining partners.56 A motion of no confidence in J.R. Farquharson, the General Manager of E.A.R.H. and AL JSAC chairman, was approved and a call for his removal was made because of his failure ‘to secure the right pace of Africanisation ... and similarly failing to implement the recommendations of the Lidbury Commission fully’.57 The conference called for an independent inquiry into the conditions of service of African railwaymen.58
The Mwanza demands were characteristically economic and democratic. Their simultaneous emergence and positioning seem to be significant gauge of the maturity of the African working class. Its economic demands related to pay and differentials, whereas its democratic demands concerned the challenge to the exclusive jurisdiction of the management, especially the demand for the removal of a racist and bullying supervisor, the continued existence of racial salary scales and the colour bar generally.
The declaration of intent to found of an inter-territorial rail workers organisation was a clear challenge to labour laws in the region which expressly refused registration to such a body. The General Manager later replied to Bernard Ohanga, the prospective secretary of the organisation, ‘acknowledging his notification of the setting up of the new body but asking for details of its Constitution and its registration. The Secretary has also been advised that there can be no question of the Congress being recognised as competent to speak for the three unions without confirmation from the unions themselves that the new organisation has their full support’.59 Any mention of registration was calculated to throw a scare on union offcials ever cautious of staying on the right side of the law. As they returned to their areas many delegates no doubt felt that they had gone beyond themselves. Nevertheless, the principles of inter-territorialism as the basis of unity amongst the region’s railwaymen had been established.
The East African Railway Strike
Within weeks, during October 1959, a spontaneous strike erupted in Dar es Salaam’s mechanical workshops over a demand for regrading relating to the arbitration award. The union soon became officially involved and was instrumental in achieving a return to work on the understanding that negotiations would begin as soon as the strike ended though the issues remained unresolved months later. This situation was aggravated by the refusal of the company to recognise recently appointed full-time union officials on the grounds that they were unelected.
Shortly, on 3 November 1959, a further strike started in Nairobi’s rail yard in reaction to the racial abuse of African workers by a European supervisor in Nairobi’s rail yard. By 13 November, the strike had spread throughout the workforce to embrace 4000 railmen in the capital. Rail men from other parts of colony followed suit as the dispute was officially extended to rest of Kenya so that by 14 November 26,000 rail men were embroiled in a national strike. The drama and speed of this action left the conservative leadership of the union shaken but nonetheless compelled to approach the T.U.C. in Britain for assistance and to make an appeal to rail unions in Tanganyika and Uganda to stage sympathy strikes.
The horizons of the strike quickly moved beyond the immediate issue of the Union’s demand for the removal of the supervisor. The R.A.U. called for a commission of enquiry into terms of service as it advanced its strike demands of increased wages, shorter working hours, overtime rates, housing policy, staff grading, Africanisation, disciplinary procedure and promotions. These demands emanated from the joint memorandum issued by rail unions in the wake of the Mwanza summit.
As the first Lancaster House talks on African majority government approached in January 1960, the Colonial Office became fearful of the ‘political repercussions of a snowballing African strike so near the Constitutional Conference’, and that ‘the extreme nationalist politicians will gain ground at the expense of the moderates’.60 Its instinctive reflex was towards its array of intermediary labour advisors nestled within the Colonial Labour Advisory Committee.61 Edgar Parry, a former official of the General and Municipal Workers Union, and George Foggon, former labour commissioner to Nigeria were prominent amongst them. They had an intimate working relationship with the T.U.C., which had mentored the R.A.U.[K] during the Emergency, based on a trading of information, a sense of sharing the same interests and being on the same side. There was much foreboding discussion that a ‘major trial of strength is therefore developing ...’ and how matters were to be resolved. The source of the crisis was believed to lay in the failures of ‘negotiating machinery’, and that this might be addressed through a board of inquiry and arbitration. For George Foggon the ‘wider issues at stake’62 had to be kept in focus, especially ‘political considerations’,63 since if the strike were prolonged and became more widespread, and the Secretary of State was faced with agreeing to ‘the re-imposition of emergency conditions’, E.A.R.H. management would have to be leaned on to suspend the building supervisor to facilitate an inquiry ‘which ought I think to be into the whole dispute and not merely the individual’s actions ...’
Yet by 30 November, with the employer on the back foot and strike in full swing and gathering powerful momentum, R.A.U. leaders called a return to work in exchange for a commission of enquiry. They were apparently influenced in this decision by a visiting official from the I.T.W.F.64 During the 19 days of the strike, over 315,000 man days had been lost, more than previous 20 years taken together. The R.A.U.[K] had made its case that the position of the supervisor was the obstacle to a return to work for a board of enquiry. In a perverse twist, immediate action against the supervisor was avoided as the abused workers themselves were given the option of a transfer for the duration of the proposed inquiry!
In Uganda, R.A.U. leaders returning from Mwanza had submitted a 60% wage claim for Group C workers which management refused even to acknowledge. So, as soon as a national strike was underway in Kenya, the Uganda union issued a supporting strike ultimatum to E.A.R.H. management in the hope that this would quickly settle its wage claim. However by 18 November, 6000 Ugandan railwaymen, their own wage claim aside, had already joined what was now an East African rail strike. yet, justly as quickly as they had followed the Kenyan railwaymen out, their union led them back on 4 December with nothing on the table except ‘a promise of negotiations on the wage issue’.65 Once again, the union was apparently influenced in this direction by an I.T.W.F. official assigned to assist the union in making a settlement.66
The region’s rail unions met in Nairobi on 30 December and drew up a joint pay claim for a minimum wage of 7 shs.75 c. a day with related adjustments throughout the grades within Group C across the East African territories. Alongside this all the other Mwanza memorandum demands were re-emphasised. The company refused to entertain an inter-territorial claim compelling union leaders on 13 January to brandish a general strike throughout the rail network ‘at the earliest possible moment’67 in the hope that this would force management to change direction. But this was not to be. By early February 1960, relations between the union and the management in Kenya broke down as the rail unions moved forward together, shifting the ground for a commission of enquiry from Kenya to encompass the region as a whole. The management attempted to fragment this unity by referring the dispute in Kenya to the Labour Commissioner for conciliation under Trade Disputes [Arbitration and Inquiry] Ordinance.
The pitch now turned to Uganda where the R.A.U., advised by Walter Hood of the T.U.C.’s International Department,68 now shifted away from the Mwanza principles to bargain territorially and on 15 March seemed to accept a 10 shs a month increase in minimum wage but without relative adjustments within Group C. Hood was also advising the other side as he told the East African High Commission ‘that higher offers should not be made to Kenya and Tanganyikan unions because of their more militant attitude’.69 This was calculated to lend initiative to the management strategy of negotiating a discrete settlement in one colony in order to set a precedent for bargaining down for singular territorial agreements elsewhere, thus defusing the prospect of united strike action throughout the region in support of the long rail strike in Tanganyika.
However, almost as soon as Humphrey Luande, the union’s general secretary, ‘most reluctantly agreed’70 to a backdated 10/- increase in the minimum wage, the ‘Uganda Offer’, as it became known, ran into opposition amongst the union’s rank and file. This seems to have crystallised a split within the union leadership whereby some officials lent towards Hood, while others were more responsive to the pressures from the membership and brandished the joint pay claim minimum of shs.7/75 a day, in the hope of forcing the management to make a renewed offer, though this was not forthcoming. On 23 March, Ugandan union offcials rejected the offer of a 10 shs a month increase in the minimum wage, ‘which they had virtually accepted on 15th March’,71 and realigned their union with the inter-territorial wage demand of 10 shs for all Group C workers agreed amongst the rail unions in Nairobi. Significantly, the union also repledged to Mwanza’s inter-territorialism and agreed to resume its united front with the other unions and ‘to plan their future activities and claims on an inter-territorial basis’.72 This was a heavy setback for the separatist strategy of the T.U.C., and created significant obstacles for the I.C.F.T.U.’s inter-territorialism founded upon a reduced region wide settlement.73
Though Tanganyika railwaymen had been poised to strike with railwaymen in the other territories with almost identical demands, their union was still not ready by the time there had been a return to work in the other territories. By the eve of their intended strike on 18 December, it was called off after management agreed to commence negotiations just as the colonial government was facing a postal strike which began on 24 December involving over 1200 workers. The Tanganyikan African Government Workers Union’s [TAGWU] claim for a minimum wage of 150 shs. a month was close to the Mwanza demand of for 7 shs/75 cents and reinforced the rail unions resolve to hold out for their own claim.
After negotiations in Dar es Salaam broke down, the management in Tanganyika, in an attempt to pre-empt an expected joint union claim, acted unilaterally and on 29 December announced a 4 shilling a month increase across Group C grades to take e ect from 1 January. The employer was undoubtedly testing the water with the aim of imposing a settlement in one territory that could be used as a precedent in another. Meanwhile, the region’s rail unions met in Nairobi on 30 December and drew up their joint pay claim. When negotiations resumed in Dar es Salaam on 2 January the T.R.A.U. held fast to the united claim and demanded a commission of inquiry into conditions on the railways and the problems of regrading.
The management drew out negotiations in the hope of wearing the union down but talks broke down on 5 January when E.A.R.H. moved to raise its offer by a further 3 shillings, but only for those at the bottom of group C. This was rejected by T.R.A.U. which gave notice of strike action and underlined its support for a general strike throughout the regional rail network. As January drew to a close, it was clear that Tumbo’s rhetoric had been taken literally by the union’s rank and file ‘as he could no longer control his members’74 and a strike was declared from 9 February.
By the following day, 12,000 railwaymen had walked out, 90% of unskilled workers and 60% of skilled tradesmen, in what was to become a marathon 111⁄2 week battle. The men united around the Mwanza demand for a minimum daily wage of 7/75 shillings with requisite adjustments throughout Group C, which had just been rejected by the management in Kenya. On the docks, E.A.R.H. crane operators walked out as dockers, employed by private companies, prepared for secondary action. With the hindsight and lessons from the November strikes in Kenya and Uganda before them, the union refused to order a return to work without any preconditions beyond the promise of negotiations. In order to avoid a generalised confrontation with the trade unions it seems that the government’s hand was now forced to settle up on 15 February with the T.A.G.W.U. which accepted 107 shs. a month as the minimum wage for ‘subordinate staff’.
Following the arrival of Jack Purvis, representing both the I.C.F.T.U. and the I.T.W.F., in Dar es Salaam on 1 March to advise the T.R.A.U., officials and delegates from the three rail unions convened in Nairobi during 11 March–17 March to review their joint claim. Here, the minimum daily wage of 7/75 shillings was relegated to a rhetorical device to bargain for something significantly smaller. With Purvis now amongst them the unions agreed to remain united, but to bargain down for a flat rate increase of 10/- a month across the Group C grades.
The I.C.F.T.U. feared that if ‘this minimum demand is not accepted by the railway admi istration, it seems likely that the unions of Kenya and Uganda will join this strike action started in Tanganyika’.75 The African nationalist led Tanganyika Federation of Labour [T.F.L.] were also concerned about the spreading potential of the strike and its implications for independence negotiations. It convened a special meeting of its general council on 22 March–23 March which resolved not to organise a general strike or even secondary action in support of the railmen, but to call on the governor of the colony to intervene. Like other colonial governors, Sir Reginald Turnbull was acutely focused on the strike’s political implications for the decolonisation of the region, and warned London, ‘I must emphasize that further long continuance of the strike will have most embarrassing and unsettling effects in political field with obvious harmful repercussions’.76 While the Kenya Federation of Labour [K.F.L.] general secretary Tom Mboya cabled a warning to T.U.C general secretary Sir Vincent Tewson, that there was ‘a great danger of a stoppage in the whole rail system in East Africa and that the dispute may also spread to the harbours’,77 this had already started. Tewson then duly briefed the Secretary of State and advised against management rigidity in order to facilitate an early general pay settlement to defuse a region wide strike and allow an East Africa wide inquiry to examine the system of negotiating machinery where he believed the principal fault lay, even though there was no existent machinery for collective bargaining.
Meanwhile, the I.C.F.T.U. worked to restrain the T.R.A.U. and hosted Tumbo in Brussels for consultations between 29 March and 4 April. He returned to Dar es Salaam accompanied by two high ranking international trade union offcials, Charles Millard, I.C.F.T.U. director of organisation, and Pieter De Vries, the assistant general secretary of the I.T.W.F. who were intent on intervention and, following several days of meetings, offered to mediate the dispute. Superficial observers within the administration wary of ‘outside interference’78 were unable to see that they were not intervening to spread the strike but to broker it in order to orchestrate a swift and orderly return to work. The administration was in a tight corner and agreed to the Millard and De Vries initiative partly to save face after their public commitment not to negotiate while the strike was on. At this juncture, Tumbo made way for Millard and De Vries to take over and ‘in a series of informal meetings’ they pressed government offcials to intervene to end the strike.79 It seems that management representatives were all for battling it out with the union, especially following the success of some strikebreaking activity involving Europeans and Asians. On the other hand, government representatives were much more concerned with the wider political repercussions and the potential for the strike to spread amongst other sections of workers who were becoming restive with the prospect of African majority governments and independence looming. They were swayed by London’s concerns which were significantly informed and influenced by the TUC through the labour advisors ensconced at the Colonial Office. As a result E.A.R.H. management was put under great pressure to end the strike.80
These issues became paramount as Tanganyika’s Labour Commissioner ‘simply left the situation hanging and departed for his usual holiday pursuits’.81
This marked a shift by the Labour Department which then attempted to redirect the dispute’s resolution away from Dar es Salaam to Nairobi, to get a Tanganyika settlement that could then be applied to the region as a whole. This tact appeared similar to that underlying the ‘Uganda Offer’ which attempted to empower the employer with a precedent to bargain down elsewhere.
On 19 April, Millard and De Vries met with E.A.R.H. and in putting the case for a 10 shs increase for all workers in Group C, went as far as they could. This was rejected by the General Manager who acknowledged that any Tanganyika settlement would have to applied to the other two territories and that a 10 shs across the board increase ‘was more than the system could bear.’82 He then proceeded to resurrect the ‘Uganda Offer’ of a 10 shs a month increase in minimum wage but without relative adjustments throughout Group C. This had been rejected in Uganda with support from the other rail unions and was unacceptable to Millard and De Vries.
The pendulum swung again back to Dar es Salaam and with mounting pressure from the government upon them, the management agreed on 30 April to a highly divisive I.C.F.T.U. influenced settlement. The flat rate increase across Group C that the region’s rail unions had united around was dropped as a differentiated settlement was proposed, intended for application across the region. Beginning with 10/- a month for C.6 [lowest grade staff], this descended to 6–10 shs for C.5, 4–6 shs for C.4 and just 4 shs for higher grades C.1–3. The management had already agreed to a committee of enquiry into industrial relations from which the unions were hoping for bargaining machinery within which they would have been treated as equal partners. De Vries arrived at an understanding with the General Manager that whatever agreement was reached in Tanganyika would be applied in the other territories ‘but possibly with some changes in timing’.83 This vulgar variant of inter-territorialism minimised the men’s unity by levelling down and diluting their pay demands. Erstwhile demarcation between the different grades were more deeply emphasised as a means of sowing divisions and setting back the unity of the men. The strategy that failed in Uganda now won out in the Tanganyika strike whose settlement was now set to become the template for the other agreements in the region. This did not happen immediately, indeed there seems to have been at attempt to disguise what was in fact an inter-territorial settlement. The conciliation processes in Uganda and Kenya were paused during the Tanganyikan negotiations, and then resumed afterwards in a crude attempt by the administration to manufacture the appearance of local settlements and delay payment of wage increases.
The rail unions had agreed among themselves shortly after Mwanza that in any negotiations over pay ‘an offer would not be accepted by one union unless it was acceptable to the other two’.84 This was the basis on which the unions had enlisted the help of the I.C.F.T.U., in organising and coordinating agreement across the region, and accepted the offer of assistance from the I.T.W.F. The inter-territorial rhetoric of the I.C.F.T.U. had been based on a 10/- increase in the minimum wage as advanced in the aborted Uganda settlement so it was ‘incensed by intervention of Hood who knew of the inter-union agreement but nevertheless advised the Uganda union to accept a settlement without the agreement of the other unions’.85 The strategy of the ‘Uganda offer’, though not its terms, resurfaced in the form of a differentiated settlement in Tanganyika which served as the basis for similar agreements in Kenya and Uganda. It strengthened differentiation amongst the men and was intended to ensure that simultaneous regional disputes and strike actions would never happen again. The enquiry into industrial relations could now begin its work.
The Whitson report
The Colonial Secretary appointed East African High Commissioner H.A. Whitson, a former senior industrial relations officer in the Ministry of Labour, to head the E.A.R.H. inquiry ‘with particular reference to the nature and suitability of the machinery needed for sound industrial relations’. It was not until 30 August that the rail unions were called to make their case before the enquiry. One of their principal grievances was the inadequate provision for local negotiation and the delay in settling both local and inter-territorial issues. They argued for improved grievance and negotiating machinery based upon the establishment of joint industrial councils in which the unions would participate as equal partners. These would be set up within each territory alongside of an inter-territorial council to deal with issues affecting the region as a whole.
Whitson’s report criticised the R.A.U.[K] for ‘lacking in experience, funds, in trained officials having a proper sense of responsibility ... acceptance of the rules of the union and of proper democratic procedure’. The report complained of lack of a specialist personnel department and gap between the existing inter-territorial advisory council and departmental works committees. It supported the union case for territorial councils to deal with local disputes, with negotiating rather than merely advisory functions. Whitson also recommended local staff committees to be elected by all sections of the workforce to act in an advisory capacity. The report urged the establishment of an overarching Inter-territorial Central Joint Council and alongside of it an inter-territorial Labour Department with an arbitration tribunal to act as the ultimate mediator in inter-territorial disputes. Detailed disputes procedures were laid down and the unions urged to control their members to avoid unofficial strikes before procedures were exhausted. The report was finally accepted in October 1960 though the collective agreement which implemented most of Whitson’s recommendations was not finally agreed until March 1962. It became the tripartite blueprint for industrial relations on the railways for what was left of the colonial period and adapted thereafter following independence.
During the inquiry a power struggle took place within R.A.U.[K] reflecting a deep discontent amongst Group C workers that they had been sold short. This fuelled a rebellion against union leaders as the majority left the union in 1961 to join Ohanga’s breakaway Kenya Railway Workers Union. However, E.A.R.H. continued to deal with the rump union, while the I.C.F.T.U., the T.U.C. and the I.T.W.F. continued to provide it with financial support until it was able recover its membership. To assist this recovery, Whitson recommended the ‘check off system’ in order to stabilise the finances of the favoured union.
The principal consequence of the reports implementation was to diminish the risks of concerted industrial action. Grievances and disputes were drawn out over lengthy periods through the exhaustive procedures of the industrial relations machinery put in place. This machinery was decorated with the ideological trappings of tripartism, in which ‘responsible’ union leaders mistook themselves to be equal partners. Essentially, the regional corporatist apparatus pillared by subordinate structures in each territory was the outcome of the variant of inter-territorialism brokered by the I.C.F.T.U. and the T.U.C., even though they were often at loggerheads in achieving this. Long years of ‘industrial peace’ were secured at the expense of large scale job losses, around 30% of the workforce, and a changeover to more intense methods of working which achieved compressed labour time.
This article has examined and analysed the eruption of an exceptional con ict within the infrastructure of the East African interstate monopoly of transport at the end of the colonial era.
The region’s rail men strove to integrate and unify their struggle as they moved forward to confront a supra-national monopoly. In doing so they were advantaged by periodic inter-depot transfers throughout the region, and were ‘considerably more fluid’86 as compared to rest of the working population. As workers in movement they could convey news, interpret and spread grievance along their routes. Most Ugandan members were drawn from the tribes of Western Kenya, especially the Luos and their closely related communities in Uganda. Apart from their local identities, the railwaymen were more East African than Kenyan, Ugandan or Tanganyikan as compared to other workers.
Nonetheless, the men were crucially limited in their efforts to engage in sustained and simultaneous region wide action not only by the region’s various labour departments but also by the international trade union bureaucracies who intervened and manoeuvred to broker separate disputes that were essentially one. As the dispute unfurled, wider layers of railmen, already politicised by oncoming nationhood, developed a heightened awareness of the regional nature of their struggle. As they did so, the margin of compromise within which the various international trade union bureaucracies were able to manoeuvre was significantly narrowed. Nonetheless, they were able to head off and avoid a concerted strike as they worked to keep the railwayman’s actions in the three colonies separate from each other as the basis of an unacknowledged inter territorial settlement. In spite of these manoeuvres, the strike triggered an unprecedented avalanche of successive and widespread strike waves that engulfed the region during the approach to independence and menaced the relationships upon which it was founded.87 These struggles revealed a ‘working class movement’ seeding within the womb of what passed as national movements.
Above all else though, the railway strike was a qualitative turning point which lit the fuse of generalised strike waves throughout the region as it came to independence. A new and unwelcome class actor appeared unexpectedly on the scene to stake its claims and have its say in the struggle against colonialism. The strike beckoned a forward movement to the most diverse and geographically separated groups of Africans who joined the trade unions in large numbers during the region’s decolonisation.
Overall, the East African Railway Strike was brought on by the rationalisation of the rail network required to facilitate commodification under a stringent set of conditions within global markets following the collapse of the post war primary commodities boom in the mid-50s. African railwaymen collided with the evolving political configuration of these external pressures which enveloped the decolonisation of the region. These conditions forced a confiict not only against low pay, levelling down and the prospect of redundancies but which also advanced democratic demands for Africanisation and the abolition of the colour bar which pervaded E.A.R.H.’s employment policies. The inter-territorial strike was a major setback to the company’s rationalisation programme which, paradoxically, was only completed after independence under the auspices of ‘Africanisation’. While this ended racial pay scales, African railwaymen became strapped into the newly erected corporatist structures based upon the strict conciliation procedures and compulsory arbitration, that precluded the right to strike, that had been codified in the labour laws of late colonialism. The K.F.L., the T.F.L. and the Uganda Trade Union Congress all surrendered union autonomy to the post-colonial corporate states as the latter moved to impose various straitjackets on the emergent working class. It would take decades before these shackles started to loosen.
Anderson, David. Histories of the Hanged: Britain’s Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 2005.
Carew, Anthony. “Con ict within the ICFTU: Anti-communism and Anti-colonialism in the 1950s.” International Review of Social History 41, no. 2 (1996): 147–181.
Carew, Anthony. “The Schism within the World Federation of Trade Unions: Government and Trade Union Diplomacy.” International Review of Social History 29, no. 3 (1984): 297–335.
Carew, Anthony. Labour under the Marshall Plan: The Politics of Productivity and the Marketing of Management Science. Manchester, NH: Manchester University Press, 1987.
Carew, Anthony, Michel Dreyfus, Geert van Goethem, and Marcel van der Linden, eds. The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. Oxford: Peter Lang, 2000.
Cooper, Frederick. Decolonization and African Society: The Labor Question in French and British Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.
Cooper, Frederick. On the African Waterfront: Urban Disorder and the Transformation of Work in Colonial Mombasa. New Haven, CT: yale University Press, 1987.
Cooper, Frederick. “‘Our Strike’: Equality, Anticolonial Politics and the 1947–48 Railway Strike in French West Africa.” The Journal of African History 37, no. 1 (1996): 81–118.
Curless, Gareth. “The Sudan is ‘Not yet Ready for Trade Unions’: The Railway Strikes of 1947–1948.” The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 41, no. 5 (2013): 804–822.
Freidland, William H. Vuta Kamba: The Development of Trade Unions in Tanganyika. Stanford: Hoover Institute, 1969.
Grillo, R. D. African Railwaymen: Solidarity and Opposition in an East African Labour Force. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973.
Hyde, David. “East African Railways and Harbours 1945–60: From ‘Crisis of Accumulation’ to Labour Resistance.” In Subversions of Colonial Cultures: Commodities and Anti-Commodities in Global History, edited by Matt Harro and Sandip Hazareesingh, 147–169. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.
Hyde, David. “Undercurrents to Independence: Plantation Struggles in Kenya’s Central Province 1959– 60.” Journal of Eastern African Studies 4, no. 3 (2010): 467–489.
Hyde, David.“‘Paying for the Emergency by Displacing the Settlers’: Global Co ee and Rural Restructuring in Late Colonial Kenya.” Journal of Global History 4, no. 1 (2009): 81–103.
Hyde, David.“The Nairobi General Strike : From Protest to Insurgency.”In The Urban Experience in Eastern Africa c.1750–2000, edited by Andrew Burton, 235–253. Nairobi: British Institute in Eastern Africa, 2002.
Hyde, David. “Plantation Struggles in Kenya: Trade Unionism on the Land, 1947–63.” Unpublished PhD thesis, School of Oriental and African Studies, London, 2000.
Je ries, Richard. Class, Power and Ideology in Ghana. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978. Maloba, Wunyabari O. Mau Mau and Kenya. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993. Oberst,Timothy.“TransportWorkers,Strikesandthe‘ImperialResponse’:AfricaandthePostWorldWar
War II Conjuncture.” African Studies Review 31, no. 1 (1988): 117–133.
Sandbrook, Richard. Proletarians and African Capitalism: The Kenyan Case, 1960–72. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1975.
Roger, Scott. The Development of Trade Unions in Uganda. Nairobi: East Africa Publishing House, 1966. Shivji, Issa. Law, State and the Working Class in Tanzania. London: James Currey, 1986.
Sikainga, Ahmad A. City of Steel and Fire: A Social History of Atbara, Sudan’s Railway Town. London: James
Sikainga, Ahmad A. “Organized Labor in Contemporary Sudan: The Story of the Railway Workers of
Atbara.” South Atlantic Quarterly 109, no. 1 (2010): 31–51.
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an African Working Class, edited by Richard Sandbrook and Robin Cohen, 73–98. London: Longman,
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of Southern African Studies 24, no. 3 (1998): 545–560.
David Hyde (2016) The East African Railway Strike, 1959-60: labour’s challenge of inter-territorialism, Labor History, 57:1, 71-91.
- 1 See Hyde, ‘East African Railways and Harbours 1945–60’. Apart from the directly cited work a wide variety of other research, sometimes in spite of itself, has influenced this study though the framework and perspective is distinctly the author’s own. Amongst the most important of these are Cooper, Decolonization and African Society; Cooper, On the African Waterfront; Cooper, ‘Our Strike’; Curless, ‘The Sudan is “Not yet Ready for Trade Unions”’; Jeffries, Class, Power and Ideology in Ghana; Oberst, ‘Transport Workers, Strikes and the “Imperial Response”’; Sikainga, City of Steel and Fire; Sikainga, ‘Organized Labor in Contemporary Sudan’; Turner, ‘The Growth of Railway Unionism in the Rhodesias’; Vickery, ‘The Rhodesia Railways African Strike of 1945’.
- 2Freidland, Vuta Kamba.
- 3There is a wide literature on the colonial war in Kenya. Maloba’s Mau Mau and Kenya is still the
- 4Hyde, ‘Paying for the Emergency by displacing the settlers’; Hyde, ‘Undercurrents to Independence’; Hyde, ‘The Nairobi General Strike’.
- 5Hyde, ‘Paying for the Emergency by displacing the settlers’.
- 6See Marx’s discussion in Capital Volume 1 chapter XXIV ‘Conversion of Surplus Value into Capital’,
- 7East African Railways and Harbours was the principal service which came under the jurisdiction of the East African High Commission, the inter-territorial agency set up to administer the
common services of Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika.
- 8Hyde, ‘The Nairobi General Strike’. The post-war militant phase, which reached its highest point in the Nairobi General Strike, where the trade unions were at the forefront of resistance to the colonial government, was brought to a definitive close by these events and consequent changes. The labour movement was decimated by Operations ‘Jock Scott’ and ‘Anvil’ as thousands of members were arrested and swept into detention, while others disappeared altogether. The realignment within the leadership that followed evidenced a shift from the militants who represented the upward sweep of the post-war strike wave towards the moderates led by Tom Mboya, who reflected its downturn. In an attempt to survive a fierce repression, the unions regrouped within the Kenya Federation of Registered Trades Unions which worked closely with, and became dependent upon, the Labour Department. It sought to limit the movement to everyday concerns and emphasised defence rather than defiance.
- 9Anderson, Histories of the Hanged, 222.
- 10Ibid., 222.
- 11Colony and Protectorate of Kenya, Report of the Committee on African Wages [Nairobi:
Government Printer, 1954].
- 12Colony and Protectorate of Kenya, Report of the Commission on the Civil Services of the East
African Territories and East Africa High Commission 1953–1954 [Nairobi: Government Printer].
- 13Inter-territorial cooperation between the Kenya Colony, the Uganda Protectorate and the Tanganyika Territory was first formalised in 1948 by the East African High Commission [EAHC]. This provided a customs union, a common external tariff, currency and postage. It also dealt with common services in transport and communications, research and education. Following independence, these integrated activities were reconstituted and the EAHC was replaced by the East Africa Common Services Organisation [EACSO] which seemed to leave the door open to a political federation between the three territories. The EACSO ran into difficulties because of the lack of joint planning and fiscal policy, separate political policies and Kenya's dominant economic position. In 1967, EACSO was superseded by the East Africa Community. This body rhetorically aimed to strengthen regional ties through a common market, a common customs tariff and a range of public services to achieve balanced economic growth within the region.
- 14CO 822/1492, Enclosure 12: Savingram from the Commissioner for Transport, East African High
Commission to the Secretary of State, 5 May 1958.
- 15During the period1955–1965, the total workforce was reduced by over one-third from 63,518 to
41,902. East African Railways and Harbours Annual Reports 1949–1964 [1965 figures provided
by the company], See Grillo, African Railwaymen, 20.
- 16P.R.O./CO 822/2461 [Enclosure 42]; ‘Railway Finances and Wages Policy’, Railways and Harbours Special Notice No. 65, February 1960.
- 17CO822/2461[Enclosure42];‘Railway Finances and Wages Policy’,Railways and Harbours Special
Notice No. 65, February 1960.
- 18P.R.O./CO822/2461[Enclosure42];Savingram from the Chairmen, East African High Commission
to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, 6 April 1960.
- 19Sandbrook, Proletarians and African Capitalism, 101.
- 20Sandbrook, Proletarians and African Capitalism, 100.
- 21KNA LAB 9/918: Nairobi Sta and Welfare Assistant Kenya and Uganda Railways and Harbours
to General Manager, 11 February 1947.
- 22Hyde, ‘The Nairobi General Strike’.
- 23E.A.R.H. EST 226/1 vol. ii, memorandum, 31 August 1953.
- 24KNA LAB 9/918/: Deputy Labour Commissioner, 13 August 1953.
- 25KNA LAB 9/918/: Deputy Labour Commissioner, 13 August 1953.
- 26TNA 215/1969/II. Quarterly Bulletin of the Labour Department, October–December 1955
- 27E.A.R.H. EST 26/1 vol. ii, undated memorandum, July 1952.
- 28Sandbrook, Proletarians and African Capitalism, 101.
- 29UNL/ HD 9109-9111.9, ‘Trade Union News for Overseas’ No. 26, 1 May 1957.
- 30UNL/ HD 9109-9111.9, ‘Trade Union News for Overseas’ No. 26, 1 May 1957.
- 31Scott, The Development of Trade Unions in Uganda, 62.
- 32Grillo, African Railwaymen, 4.
- 33Shivji, Law, State and the Working Class in Tanzania, 172–3.
- 34Friedland, Vuta Kamba, 137; Carew et al., The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.
- 35Uganda Argus, 6 August 1959.
- 36Scott, The Development of Trade Unions in Uganda, 62.
- 37Daily Telegraph, 6 March 1958.
- 38T.U.C. Collection, UNL/HD 6866K; East African Railways and Harbours Administration, ‘Consultation and Negotiations between Management and Sta ’[August 1957].
- 39CO 822/1492 [enclosure 1]; Telegram from the Acting Governor of Kenya to the Secretary of State, 19 February 1958.
- 40CO822/1492 [enclosure2];Telegram from the Governor's Deputy [Tanganyika] to the Secretary of State, 25 February 1958.
- 41CO 822/1492 [enclosure 24]; Extract from the Council of Ministers Minutes, 2 February 1958; 651/Current Labour problems.
- 42CO 822/1492 [enclosure 24]; Extract from the Council of Ministers Minutes, 2 February 1958; 651/Current Labour problems.
- 43Daily Telegraph, 6 March 1958.
- 44CO822/1492[enclosure3];Telegram from the Governor's Deputy [Tanganyika] to the Secretary of State, 21 March 1958.
- 45CO 822/1492 [enclosure 12]; Savingram from the Commissioner of Transport, East Africa High Commission to the Secretary of State, 12 May 1958.
- 46East African Standard, 22 August 1958.
- 47T.U.C. Collection, UNL/HD 6866K; Proceedings of the 8th Annual Conference of the R.A.U., 14–16 November 1958.
- 48East African Standard, 15 May1959.
- 49Friedland, Vuta Kamba, 226–7.
- 50East African Standard, 3 July 1959.
- 51Hyde, ‘The Nairobi General Strike’.
- 52Scott, The Development of Trade Unions in Uganda, 59.
- 53CO822/1492[enclosure4a]; The National Congress of Railwaymen Press Release, 23 September 1959.
- 54 case of mistaken identity has mired labour studies involving the labour aristocracy and the trade union bureaucracy. While the skilled proletariat and union functionaries both occupied a more privileged position within the working class, the latter embraced the politics of class collaboration in their practice of administering workers struggles. In East Africa, though a coincidence of interest between the two was sometimes apparent, during 1959–1964 they more often confronted each other as opposites. So that while the labour bureaucracy drew closer to the state, the more privileged sections of workers such as railwaymen, teachers and civil servants, hitherto the most conservative and quietist, moved into confrontation with their state employer. The con ation of the upper layers of the working class with the bureaucratic stratum in the trade unions has lent credence to the incorrect assumption that the factionalism and corruption amongst the latter, often motivated by the scent of individual gain and prospective privilege, were an essential re ection of real or supposed tribal divisions within the African working class which was allegedly contending for patrons.
- 55Cooper, On the African Waterfront, 20214.
- 56Uganda Argus, 16 September 1959.
- 57CO822/1492[enclosure4a]; The National Congress of Railwaymen Press Release, 23 September 1959.
- 58CO822/1492[enclosure4a];TheNationalCongressofRailwaymenPressRelease,23September 1959.
- 59CO 822/1492 Colonial Office Minute; Letter from R.W. Osgathorpe, General Manager's Office, East African Railways and Harbours to George Foggon, Labour Advisor to the Secretary of State to the Colonies, 5 October 1959.
- 60CO 822/1490 ; File Memorandum from Heiser to Webber, 24 November 1959.
- 61Following the establishment of labour departments in most of Britain’s colonies, the Colonial Labour Advisory Committee was formed  to watch over trade union development in the colonies. This brought together representatives from the employers and the British Trade Union Congress to cast the mould for corporatist unionism. As a result, offcials were seconded from the T.U.C. to help establish and administer trade unions in the colonies, which it insisted should be ‘non-political’.
- 62CO 822/1490; File Memorandum from George Foggon to K. Woolverton, 25 November 1959.
- 64Friedland, Vuta Kamba, 227.
- 65CO 822/1490 [enclosure 33]; Telegram from Sir Frank Crawford, the Governor of Uganda to the Secretary of State, 8 December 1959.
- 66Friedland, Vuta Kamba, 227.
- 67Uganda Argus, 13 January 1960.
- 68From the early 1930s, the T.U.C. had mentored the development of British modelled trade
unions in the colonies. Many labour officers had been former trade union officials, even at the lowly branch level. While posing as a loyal affiliate of the I.C.F.T.U., the T.U.C. worked essentially as a handmaiden of the Colonial Office through the articulating joint of the Colonial Labour Advisory Committee. The T.U.C. always put British interests first. Many of those who worked as labour advisors at the Colonial Office again came from a trade union background. The T.U.C. always put British interests first.
- 69CO 822/2461 [enclosure 46]; Telegram from the East African High Commission [Commissioner of Transport] to the Secretary of State, 9 April 1960.
- 70CO 822/2461; Memorandum from East African Railway Unions to the General Manager, East African Railways and Harbours, 17 March 1960.
- 71CO 822/2461 [enclosure 27]; Telegram from the Governor of Uganda to the Secretary of State, 14 March 1960.
- 72CO 822/2461; Memorandum from East African Railway Unions to the General Manager, East African Railways and Harbours, 17 March 1960.
- 73For an account of the bureaucratic and brokering rivalries between the I.C.F.T.U. and the T.U.C. within the context of the Cold War see Carew, ‘Con ict Within the I.C.F.T.U’; Carew, ‘The Schism within the World Federation of Trade Unions’; and Carew, Labour under the Marshall Plan.
- 74Carew, Labour under the Marshall Plan, 228.
- 75I.C.F.T.U. Information Bulletin, Volume X1/No.7, 1 April 1960.
- 76CO 822/2461 [enclosure 50]; Telegram from the Governor of Tanganyika to the Secretary of
State, 18 April 1960.
- 77CO 822/2461; File Memorandum by K. Woolverton, 11 March 1960.
- 78Friedland, Vuta Kamba, 227.
- 79Ibid., 230.
- 80Ibid., 231.
- 81Ibid., 231.
- 82Ibid., 231.
- 83CO 822/2461; File Memorandum from George Foggon to K. Woolverton, 5 May 1960.
- 84CO822/2461 [enclosure68]; Letter from F.D. Webber [Colonial Offce] to E.B. David, 4 November 1960.
- 86Grillo, African Railwaymen, 4.
- 87Shivji, Law, State and the Working Class in Tanzania; Hyde, ‘Plantation Struggles in Kenya’.