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AN EMERGING NIGERIAN WORKING CLASS:


The Lagos Experience 1897-1939
ARNOLD HUGHES
University of Birmingham
ROBIN COHEN
University of the West lndles
INTRODUCTION
This study is seen as an exploration of a still largely unmapped area of
recent Nigerian social history-the emergence of a wage labor force in
response to the economic changes brought about by the British annexation
of Lagos (1861) and the gropings of this social aggregate toward some form
of common identity born of its shared experiences and disabilities under
colonial rule. Broadly, the time focus covers the first 40 years ofthe present
century, taking up from Hopkins' earlier study of the Lagos labor force and
ending shortly before World War II when more profound and widely
recorded events were ushered in (see Hopkins, 1966; Cohen, 1974;
Ananaba, 1969).
Before looking at the characteristics of wage earners themselves, we need
to provide a broad picture of the social composition of the colony of Lagos.
Periodic and not always reliable official statistics show a gradual change
from a basically trading and commercial center to one in which government
employment became a more and more common occupational category (see
Table 1). Hopkins (1963:26), writing of 1881, noted that "about halfthe
population was directly engaged in trade and that, indirectly, the greater part
of the total population owed its livelihood to commerce." The situation in
the inter-war period changed somewhat with a little over a quarter of the
population claiming to be traders in 19 21. The trading community, although
a large one, consisted in the main of a few dozen prominent merchants and a
large army of individuals working for either the most prosperous African
merchants and European trading houses or themselves as petty-traders and
street hawkers. Although swift to take advantage of opportunities afforded
AUTHORS' NOTE: This chapter is an amended and shortened version of an Occasional
paper, published under a similar title by the Faculty of Commerce and Social Science,
University of Binningham (Series D, No. 7, November 1971 ).
31
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Table 1. THE OCCUPATIONAL STRUCTURE OF LAGOS COLONY: 1881-
1921
Occupations 1881 1891 1901 1911 1921
Traders 11.049 12,040 15,687 21,292
27,421
Farmers and
fishermen 2.987 818 1,004
2,034
1,735
Traditional crafts
(weavers and dyers) 1,212 1,016
700
537
Professional
(hi9her professions) 333
3
c.35
c.50
c.100
Civil servants 292 789 597b
2,009
Clerks
360
3,201
Skilled labor
(mainly new trades) 5,713C 1,713 2,955
6,034
9,564
Semi-skilled and
unskilled (general
laborers cited for
1881 only) 3,822 909 2,447
4,019
5,837
Total population 37,452 32,508 41,847
73,766
99,690
NOTES:
a. A questionable figure which must include all the teaching professions. There
is no separate entry for schoolteachers in any of the data.
b. Excludes the police and government printers and artisans.
c. Includes traders, manufacturers, mechanics, and artisans.
SOURCES:
Lagos Times, September 28, 1881.
Lagos Census Report (1911). Appendix C, p. 22.
P.A. Tal bot (1926). Peoples of Southern Nigeria (Vol. IV). Lagos: Lagos Statistics.
by stabilized political conditions in the interior and the influx of people to
the island, this large sector remained obdurately loyal to a way of life
centered on family, clientage, and an autochthonous system of government
based on the Oba (ruler) and the four grades of chieftaincy. Its economic
activities and social bonds vitiated the emergence of social identity based on
economic specialization and class solidarity.
Closely related to this main occupational and social category were those
forms of employment which were indigenous to Lagos or which underwent
partial transformation in response to new economic conditions. Fanners
and fishermen, dyers and weavers were also closely bound to the pre-
colonial way oflife and many of those classified under skilled labor in Table
l (such as gold and silversmiths, tailors, or shoemakers) would also
associate themselves with, and be economically dependent on, the trading
community. .
The bulk of the colony's populace, while bound-up in the new colomal
economy, maintained social relationships which were more in keeping with
ARNOLD HUGHES and ROBIN COHEN 33
the slave-trading community of the past than with the bustling image of
Lagos as the "Liverpool of West Africa," which the city's more "enlight-
ened" inhabitants were at pains to portray. Nevertheless, the statistics do
indicate the growth of another element in the population, a servitor sector,
created by the colonial government and to a lesser extent the European
commercial and humanitarian interests. In 1926, the government Blue
Book ( 1926: Section 23,506,7) listed 5,800 established government
employees, 5,533 skilled artisans working for the government,and 32,728
unskilled laborers in public employment. In 1938 (1938:W2-W5), 6,784
clerical workers and teachers were enumerated and some 9,000 artisans
were listed, while daily paid and usually unskilled laborers working for the
government numbered nearly 50,000 persons. In the same year about 3,000
clerks worked for private mercantile houses in Lagos. It must be remem-
bered that, despite their low social overheads, colonial governments were
probably more etatist than their metropolitan equivalent. Government's
need for hired labor was varied and growing-it required substantial
manpower to maintain the pax colonica, soldiers, policemen, and judicial
functionaries. It needed legions of clerks to man the lower echelons of its
large bureaucracy while specialists were sought or trained to maintain the
technical adjuncts of the colonial state in the form of railways, harbors, and
electricity plants. The acquisition of further territory inland stimulated the
growth of Lagos into the main administrative center of Nigeria, while the
building of the railway to Kano and the improvements to the Lagos harbor
made it the country's commercial center as well.
Such was the demand for labor that the government was obliged to recruit
widely along the West African coast and further afield in the West Indies.
Kru tabor from Liberia was often employed in the Marine and Public Works
Departments (Bums, 1948:80), the Creole clerk from Freetown made an
ubiquitous appearance in British West Africa, while West Indians were
often recruited to work on the railways. Succeeding governors had a low
opinion of locally recruited tabor, which was felt to be expensive and of
dubious quality. Fears were also expressed that any rise in the wage scale
in Lagos would reduce the supply of agriculturallabor and have a dele-
terious effect on the production of export crops, the taxation of which com-
prised a major source of revenue. The daily wage rate of one shilling was
considered "absurd" by Governor McCallum in 1897 and Sir Frederick
Lugard still thought it "preposterous" a few years later (Hopkins,
1966: 135; Ananaba, 1969:8). Both pined for the passive and cheap labor
of Asia, McCallum being particularly approving of what he called "the
industrious and shifty Chinaman." Barring the introduction of some Indian
clerks and printers as well as a company of Sikhs, however, the several of-
ficial attempts to secure Asian labor were unsuccessful (Public Record
...... , .. , .-, ....... -,, .. vn , ... , .... '-'" 1
1 S. ti)Oo: Cl) Egertlm to Elgin; Nigeria
CXt. 10. 1 \)lOt
As a T\'sult l'fthl' need for both skilled and generallabor,
tht' of Lagos gsre way to succeeding waves of migrants
drawn in the: m sin fn.m1 Yoruba country, but also from abroad
anJ fn.,m parts of Nigeria. particularly the southeast. The Ibo emerged
as the St."\.\md n1ost numerous ethnic group in Lagos by 1931, but there were
represe-ntations from French Africa, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. By the
1 930s. wage and salary earners in Lagos were a heterogeneous group drawn
fn.'IITI. thrt't' continents and some dozen territories. Themselves fonning a
minority of the total Lagos community. wage earners suffered from a
number of internal di\'isions and cross-cutting ties with the indigenous
trading society. which hampered the emergence of a common identity
derived from common employment. The most prestigious and well paid
employment was almost exclusively in European hands. There was no
sense of identity between white colonial civil servants, who had their own
association, and the African employees of government. The fonner saw the
latter as a threat to their privileged position, because job equality was a
frequently voiced demand of African civil servants who had seen their
opportunities atrophy in the early 2Pth century. Further, white civil servants
saw themselves as the government, not the governed.
Even within the African sector of the civil service divisions existed. The
varied ethnic origins of public employees meant that the work force had a
dual identity in that part of the time it was brought together in a common
work situation, but at other times it identified itself with its separate
components-Lagosian and a number of expatriate African communities.
The Lagosian public employee usually retained strong ties with the
indigenous trading community; ties of history, culture, and kin provided an-.
alternative focus. The continued existence of family land tenure meant that
this pan of the work force was not entirely proletarianized. This was often
the case with immigrant wage earners as well: rights in family land were not
abandoned by distant employment.
Not only did these stranger elements form their own distinct pockets in
Lagos, but in some cases they had a monopoly over certain occupations.
Creoles from Sierra Leone were seen as occupying a great many of the
remaining senior posts previously held by Africans, and it was a practice of
the Fire Service to recruit exclusively from among Liberian Kru until 1933
when disaffection led the government to cease recruiting them. Kin and
ethnic considerations in obtaining employment had a retarding effect on
occupational consciousness.
There were also cleavages of an occupational kind within the African
labor force, particularly in terms of status and remuneration. Government
itself recognized divisions between relatively privileged salaried staff and
ARNOLD 1-llJGIIF.S and ROBIN COHEN B
wage earning, daily-paid, manual workers. While we argue later that
distinctions among African employees were capable ofbeingovercome and
replaced by a common identity arising out of a shared awareness of being
servitors of an alien government, job and status differences placed obstacles
in the way. A major division was between clerical and manual workers. The
former constituted the "salariat" of relatively better-off workers who
aspired to some form of gentility based on imitating the lifestyles of
European officials and the African middle class. While this stratum enjoyed
more congenial conditions of work, its lower ranks, which were more
extensive, actually received less pay than skilled artisans. The indebted
clerk is a familiar figure in colonial society (and colonial courtrooms, as
Joyce Cary's novel, Mister Johnson, exemplifies). Politically, the salariat
often identified with middle class nationalist leadership, but, as will be
shown, it was also quite capable of an independent defense of its working
conditions.
Working class consciousness was, however, greatest at the level of
skilled, semi-skilled, and unskilled workers, though subject to the mediating
factors referred to above. While the unskilled wage earners lacked the job
security and educational attainments of these other strata, they were not
prevented from acting by themselves, or in concert with other manual
workers, to protect their economic interests. Judging from the incidence of
corporate action among wage earners, it was the skilled and semi-skilled
workers who were most aware of their class interest. The most vigorous
trade unions were to be found among them. Railway workers, as in other
parts of colonial Africa, were particularly prominent in this respect, forming
several unions and engaging in a number of labor disputes in the period
under review. Whether such workers really formed an "aristocracy" of
privilege as Fanon (1965:88) and Arrighi (1970:220-267) were later to
suggest is questionable. (For a discussion of the labor aristocracy debate,
see Sand brook and Cohen, 197 5.) Certainly in colonial Lagos, wage
earners' supposed "privilege" did not prevent them from increasingly
viewing. themselves as badly served by government and repeatedly ex-
pressing their discontent in industrial organization and action.
Finally, every colonial society had its most depressed stratum, the
lumpenproletariat, often emotionally defined as the dregs of society-the
unemployable and the socially deviant. However, care needs to be taken in
distinguishing the u n e m ~ loyed worker from those unable to find permanent
wage employment. This becomes particularly relevant during times of
economic depression and retrenchment-as was the case in Lagos in the
early 1930s-when tabor supply problems were over and unemployed
workers mingled with rural migrants and the resident marginally employed.
The lumpenproletariat is a complex stratum sharing the characteristics of
J6 "-FRIC'-'' LUIOR HISTORY
\\l)rkinf. dass and petty bourgeoisie. often living off the bounty of the
1,.-rrner and raking up transient occupations representative of the latter.
Alrh\)uf.h un,-,,nrn,flrd migration to Lagos was cliscouraged by the govern-
ment. after the depression years the flow of migrants into Lagos caused
fear..; in government circles about the volatility of the
Jumpenprokrariar. Thus. the chief secretary warned the governor in 1938
l Gutkind. J9i 4:42):
b and most other major tov.11s law and order conditions have rapidly
dt-teric>rated. Go\emment interest v.ill have to be directed at the growing number of
unempl0yed at large of vagrant children who throng the market
plac-es and at political who prey on the ignorance and misery of the
unemployed. Government will watch the political agitators who in recent years have
showr. greater daring and greater influence.
Ha,ing offered these general observations about the size and internal
composition of Lagos society and of its wage labor sector in particular, we
v.ill now proceed to examine the various manifestations of a working class
identity found there. Three aspects of this identity will be examined. First,
the attempts at setting up economic organizations, namely trade unions, to
defend and promote the corporate interests of wage earners. Second, the
militancy and awareness of wage and trade unions as expressed in
industrial agitation and, in particular, the use of strike action. Third, the
efforts made to move beyond a purely economic and situational defense of
wage earners through participation in the political sphere both as part of a
general African reaction to colonialism and more specifically by recourse to
the political organization of labor in its own right.
TOWARD A WORKING CLASS IDENTITY:
ECONOMIC ORGANIZATION
The formation of trade unions in Nigeria was preeminently a feature of
the public sector of the economy. Employment in the state sector often
demanded the acquisition of new skills and attitudes, bringing together in
the service of an alien administration an increasing number of Africans
whose common employment over time led them to seek some form of
corporate organization in defense of situation. . e
What forms of trade union orgamzat10n had emerged before th
Second World War? The standard literature to start from
when legal protection and recognition for trade was und:t
the Trade Union Ordinance ofthat year. This
releasing mechanism for trad;. 1969:14 ).
imply or state (Yesufu, 19
6
'. g f 'e of Nigerian trade unionism,
Rather it represented a kind of commg-o -ag
ARNOLD HUGHES and ROBIN COHEN 37
the birth and adolescence of which had taken place despite government
hostility and nonrecognition. Legal protection undoubtedly helped the
trade union movement by giving it the right to picket and to protect its
funds from legal action by employers, but the ability to organize trade
unions had been demonstrated some two decades previously. Recogni-
tion that is given to unionization in the pre-19 3 8 period is confined to the
"Big Three" unions of civil servants, railwaymen, and teachers. In fact, a
number of trade unions did emerge over these years in addition to those
most frequently commented on. We know for instance that as early as
1893 there existed in Lagos a Mechanics Mutual Aid Provident and
Improvement Association and that a major strike took place in 1897.
Early trade unions, as in Europe, combined the functions of a friendly
society as _well as the promoting of the job interests of their members.
The existence of a number of unions can be catalogued for these years
commencing with the modest combination of mechanics through to the
larger and more widespread organizations of the 1930s. For example,
a strike on the railways in J anua.ry 1920 was coordinated by the Nigerian
Mechanics' Union, a body set up in September 1919 with about 800
claimed members and branches throughout the country. The union had as
its patron Herbert Macaulay, the early nationalist leader who, so it
appears from a reading of his private papers, clearly perceived the
connection between worker protest and the nationalist struggle (Macaulay
Papers, V,II). Taking the existence of the Nigerian Mechanics' Union
alone, which during the course of the strike displayed a considerable
degree of organizational coherence, the- previously assumed hiatus in
organizational activity is invalid.
In addition to the Mechanics' Union, there exists documentary
evidence of at least three other unions organized on the railways alone
prior to the formation of the Railway Workers Union. The Macaulay
Papers contain the draft rules of the Nigerian Union of African
Railwaymen, which were dated 1925 and signed by its general secretary,
J. Adeyinka Olushola. The document sets out elaborate rules for the
conduct of business in its branches and invites other railway unions to
join it. In its section on political matters, the document anticipates many
ofthe demands that were later to be made by the Trade Union Congress of
Nigeria established in 1943 (see Yesufu, 1962:43-45). It demanded
special representation for labor on the Legislative Council and local
government bodies and proposed to use union funds to secure such
representation. Olushola does not specify which "other railway unions"
he is referring to, but he may have been thinking of the Station Staff
Union, mentioned in the Macaulay Papers, or the Port Harcourt
Mechanics' Union, from whom Macaulay received correspondence m
Af'RJC.-\\ U.BOR HISTORY
!923. if the 1.1ne case we found is anything to go by, trade
... '!"! was n('t confined to workers in the public sector,
in t91lthe Lagcs Mercantile Clerks Association was formed to
s!fegus.!"d Lie interests L'f derks working for the merchant houses (Lagos

In the area of trade unions operating internationally, the National
Sailors and Firemans Union established a branch in Lagos in
July 1921. Though the headquarters ofthe Union was in Liverpool, the
brsnches had spread all along the West Coast. Besides Lagos, tire union
operated in Freetown. Monrovia, Sekondi, Accra, and Bathurst (Macaulay
Papers. V .II). Though 'iable enough structurally, the union in a de little
impact. as far as we know, on working class attitudes in individual
African countries. It was, like many other Sailors' Unions, primariiy
concerned with the welfare function. -
The most frequently mentioned wage earner organization iri. Nigeria at-
this time was not strictly speaking a trade union. Tliis was the Nigerian
Service Union. In keeping with metropolitan practice this was a
staff association. It was only in 1946 that this and similar organizatiotfs of
pensionable civil servants were allowed to _on trade union lines.
Trade union organization was characterized in this period fiy a very
heavy concentration in the public sector with the main center of activitY
among railway workers. Regrettably little is known about .
of unions though we know that, because of the distribution o_f
government departments, branches of unions existed the
country. Distinctions can be observed between white collar and-manual
unions, even within one area of activity such as the railways. The general
impression is of a moribund and intermittent trade union movement -
without a central association, but this picture needs to be qu3lified in .
some respects. We know for instance that the Civil Se_rvice Union
continued to exist during the 1920s and that branches correspondedw!th
headquarters in Lagos. Further research may well reveal a more active
existence than we can surmise at present. Railway workers
particularly active forming a number of unions determined by sectional
occupation as well as by personality differences. Though admittedly in .
their infance and beset by a number of debilitating problems, trade unions
did emerge to organize wage earning interests and to challenge em_pl()yexs
in these forgotten years. Growing wage earner awareness was_also to_be
reflected in other ways.
Toward a Working Class Identity: Industrial Action
The existence of trade unions may be inferred partly through remaining
records of their organization and also through the job militancy of the
ARNOLD HUGHES and ROBIN COHEN 39
wage earners. \Ve know that a considerable number of work stoppages
and strikes occurred between the strike of 1897 and World War II and
that union organization lay behind a number of them. What we are not as
clear about is how such industrial action was organized in the absence of
formal trade union activity. The fact that industrial action could spread
across occupational divides and often occurred beyond the confines of
Lagos suggests a degree of coordination, if not a national organization. In
particular, militancy in the Enugu coalmines occurred sporadically
throughout the years. The incidence of industrial action is listed
below:-
List of Strikes and Other Labor Disturbances:
1897-1939
1897 Large-scale strike by artisans andlaborers in the Public Works
De-paitment,_ Lagos (see Hopkins, 1966).
1899 Strike of government employed canoemen atBadagri (see Hopkins,
1966:Appendix).
1899 Warders in the Lagos Hospital came out on .strike (see Hopkins,
cf%o:xpp-endi_x)-: -- - -- -
1902 A strike involving. clerks working on _tile (see Hopkins,
1966:Appendix). -
l 904 A second and more widespread strike involving railway clerks, which
spreadto other employees- (see 1966:Appenciix); see also
Public Record Office,C.O.l4'i/174; Lagos Weekly Record, Dec.
'31, i904); - -
1913 - c Eighty.:three came out on strike (Lagos Weekly_
:Record, June i(19i3). _ - -- ---
1919 Strikes and ptherlabor disturbances at the Lagos docks (Nigerian
Pioneer, Jan. 31, May Ii;-f919).
1919 A strike by engineers employed by Elder Dempster (the shipping
company) war bonl,lses (Lagos Standard, May 14,
1919 ). - - - - - - - - -
1919. Widespread strike action undertaken by at lddo;
Lagos (Nigerian Pioneer, Jan. 23, 1920; Lagos Weekly Record, Jiui.
31, 1920). . - . .. - . . .
1920 According to a newspaper account there was an "extensive" strike in
Port Harcourt (Nigerian Pioneer, Feb. 27, 1920).
1920 A strike in the Department, Lagos (Lagos Weekly Record,
Nov. 6, 1920).'
1920 A strike at the government-owned colliery at Enugu (Nigerian
Archives, 1920).-
1920 A strike in wbich "all the daily paid men in the employment ofthe
railways and the Public Works Department are involved" (Nigerian
Archives, 1920).
J(l
I UIOR HISTORY
. d ... t av and conditions of service
c>rcr a lengthy pcnll a,,ou P . . . . . .
(.\f;i.-aUI;i' Paper>. tile ,,n the Nigerian Civil Service Umon, Lagos
Wc>eklr Rt..-,,rJ. Jan. I 920).
Railwa.y artisans were ini"Oind in strike action (African Messenger,
1921).
1
Pit-1\.''s" at the Enugu coal mines downed tools.
1926 came out on strike at the Enugu colliery.
1 <J33 Disatlection among the Fire Brigade and Police (Public Record
Office. 1933; Nigerian Pioneer, Apr. 28, 1933).
1934 A strike by bus drivers against Zarpas, a Lebanese-owned transport
company (Lagos Daily News, July 24, 19 34 ).
1 935 Industrial unrest on the eastern section of the railway (Legislative
Council Debates. Dec. 2, 1935).
1935 Strike initiated by lorry owners, but supported by drivers in protest
against government measures to protect railways from competition
by road transport (Legislative Council Debates, Sept. 21, 1936).
1937 Continuing strikes and unrest among coalminers at Enugu (Legisla-
til'e Council Debates, Mar. 25, 1937).
1937 Produce laborers at Ijebu Ode refused to work in protest against"ill-
treatment" (Legislative Council Debates, July 12, 1937).
1939 A strike in the Railway Foundry Shop, backed by the newly formed
Railway Workers' Union (Emejulu, n.d.).
A breakdown of this list by departments, economic sector, and type of
occupation involved is shown in Table 2. In terms of the geographical
location of the strikes and unrest, 12 occurred in Lagos, four in the
Western Provinces, six in the Eastern Provinces, while three occurred
nationally. It should be added that the incidents tabulated are by no
means definitive. They are merely those which gained enough promi-
nence to be recorded in the local press and government files. It is likely
that other strikes took place in these years and more than likely that
numerous examples of labor unrest occurred.
A detailed description of the issues precipitating and the events
surrounding each strike is impossible given the constraints of space and
data. We will, however, give consideration to two strikes that occurred on
the railways-one involving clerks and the other artisans-to illustrate
the nature of the strikers' grievances and the character of the intervention
of other agencies, like the government and members of the elite, in the
settlement of the disputes.
The second strike of railway cJerks in 1904 was connected with a protest
against a new form of staff contract which, they felt, discriminated against
Africans. The strike received a certain amount of support from the press and
political leadership first, Hopkins ( 1966: 155) surmises, because the strike
involved white collar workers rather than (as in 1897) laborers, and second,
ARNOLD HUGHES and ROBIN COHEN 41
Table 2. BREAKDOWN OF STRIKE ACTION AND LABOR UNREST,
1897-1939
STRIKE ACTION
Public Sector
Railways
Coal mines
P.W.D.
Marine Department
Printing Department
Government hospital
Government canoemen
Private sector
Bus drivers
Docks and marine
Produce laborers
LABOR UNREST
Civil service
Police
Railway
Proletariat
Salariat Skilled Semi/Skilled
x----------x--------x
X XX-------- XX
X
X X
xxxx
x --------x
X
x --------x
X
X
X
X
X
X
X
XX
X
SUMMARY: Twenty strikes by employees, 15 in the public sector, 5 in the private
sector. One strike involved nearly all wage earners. One strike among salariat
only. Four strikes involved skilled workers only, while four involved skilled and
semi/unskilled labor acting together. Ten strikes involved semi/unskilled labor
only. In addition, there were three incidents of serious unrest in the public
sector, one among the salariat, and three among skilled workers.
because one of the strike leaders was T.H. Jackson, whose father (J.P.
Jackson) owned and edited the Lagos Weekly Record.
The strike seems to have begun entirely among the clerical staff on the
railways, but spread to other classes of employee-a sequence which
demonstrated that on occasions the white collar and unskilled laborers
did not see their interests as being totally discrete. The clerical staff were
being asked to sign a new form of agreement which the Chief Clerk in the
Traffic Superintendent's Office, one Pearce, thought iniquitous. He
telegraphed his colleagues at all the stations up-line advising them not to
sign the new agreement until they had read a letter from him relating to the
agreement. The railway administration considered that this behavior had
placed him "in direct opposition to constitutional authority and (he) had
misused his official position" (Public Record Office, C.O. 147 /174). He
was given the opportunity to apologize, sign the agreement, and retain his
job. This he refused to do, and he was instantly dismissed. Within ten
minutes ofhis dismissal the Accounts Office Staffheaded by Jackson, the
Chief Clerk, struck in sympathy, an action which was joined by the men in
-'FRIC4\ L-'BOR HISTORl
thr printing prt'SS. The strikers handed in a document objecting to the
terms t't' rh.- sratT .:ik:rt't'mrnr.
Tht' enning nt'WS l,f Pearce 's dismissal was telegraphed to a11

1
us:im: dli.-ial lines of communication). which provoked a
:idesj:lr,ad sr:-:l.:e atft .. :ting. "eren the menial staff who were in no way
,,,
11
.-em<'d .. Petiti0ns to the go\ernor and a meeting with the general
msnak:ei' c'nsun-L rhe railway administration apparently adopted a tough
w the point of scab labor to replace some of the
mer: who had struck. By December 27, 1904, the strike was broken. The
srrike had. h01H'Yer. highlighted some particular grievances of the
iailway derks. They did not. for example, enjoy similar pension rights to
other gorernmental workers and even the Colonial Office thought the
clause in the disputed agreement that stopped pay when staff were off sick
was too harsh. Perhaps the Colonial Office's show of moral sympathy
vas related to the adverse international publicity that the strike received,
because included in the Colonial Office file is the comment that Reuters
ought to be warned about the unreliability of their Lagos C{)rrespondent
and that "tber ought to change him." The man in question was none other
than J.P. Jackson, editor of the Lagos Weekly Record. He had- orf one
occasion specifically described the government's action as
petent'' (Lagos Weekly Record, Dec. 31, 1904), butwhat enragedthe
Lagos officials was the connection they saw between the language of the
strikers' petition and the criticism of Jackson's paper. In the Colonial
Office file is the following elegantly penned note: "Special attention is
in\ited to the objectionable phraseology of this document .. Its rOd<r
montade bears a strong family likeness to the fucubrations of the local
press in its weekly record."
Unlike the 1904 strike, which appeared to have had littfe organiza-
tional coherence, the Id do rail strike of January 1919, our second case
study, was coordinated by the Nigerian Mechanics' Union_, referred to
earlier in this chapter. The strike originated, according to one press
account, because of the stagnant wage rates which- were insufficient to
cover abnormally high living costs (Nigerian Pioneer, Jan. 20; 1920). it
was compounded, however, by the arrogant and cavalier that a
white manager accorded to his African staff, a source of embitterment
that was to continually poison management-:employee relationships on
the railways. On January 7, a white District Locomotive Superintendant
told his men to go elsewhere if they were not satisfied by their wages. The
railway authorities also apparently tried to get artisans to do laboring
jobs. When they refused they were dismissed. By J 12, other
artisans had stopped work because the authorities refused to pay extra for
the extra work involved. As a result of these actions, -railway traffic was
dislocated. The Mechanics' Union asked for government intervention
ARNOLD HUGHES and ROBIN COHEN 43
and the immediate increase of wages. The Lieutenant-Governor met
them on January 15, promised an inquiry. and offered an increase of three
pence in the pay of daily paid laborers. He warned. however. that a return
to work had to precede the inquiry. A separate appeal to the General
Manager of the railways met with a similar response: the General
Manager wrote to the Union offering an inquiry and sympathetic hearing
by the railway department itself, provided the strike was called off. The
Union agreed to this, and work was resumed on January 19 (Lagos
Weekly Record, Jan. 31 , 19 26 ).
In an attempt to get a settlement of the strike, several members of the
Lagosian elite tried to make some political mileage out of the event. The
Oba (traditional ruler) ofLagos was approached by the Union, almqst
certainly on Macaulay's advice -{Macaulay w_as "Vice-Patron" of the
-Union}and asked to intervene. The matter was discussed at a meeting of the
Central_Native on January 13, and a meeting with Union
took place three days later. Macaulay was later to Claim that Oba's action
played an important in pe_rsuading the workers to return, a claim that
was _h.otly disputed_ in the 23; 1920).
The paper argued that industrial disputes could be settled without_ the
inter-vention of such authorlties and that the men h-ad themselves rebuffed
the Oba.
Theoincidence of industrial action that we. described
some capacity by "\Wge and salary earners both defelld theirsituational-
interests and to organize effective demands despite distinctions of grade and
status. A- further index. of groWing class awareness -may be souibt in the
Wider political sphere, a topic to which we turn next.
-- - - -
TOWARD A-WORKING CLASS-IDENTITY:
-
The short-lived nature and indu_strial brganization
-and action led some wage earners to -seek a more specificilly political
solution- to their oc_cupational griev_ances. _Three interrelated responses
can be discerned: the first was an-- attempt to create an embryonic-
Nigerian "Lahor Party-''i'.t.he-second was association
with the.internatiOifai :Communist movement; and the third was that the
representative-s of the working class sought redress through a "Popular
Front" approach in -conjunction with the middle classes and their
nationalist organizations.
A Nigerian "labof:P$rty"
Despite the fact that the Nigerian wage-labor force was less thal14% of
the total population in the- inter-war period(Coleman, 1963:68) and it
'
44 AFRICAN LABOR HISTORY
was only partially and intermittently organized into trade unions, a
number of militants sought to create a political movement to provide
direct representation for proletarian interests. One of the leading advo-
cates of such action was J .A. Olushola who, in 1922, established in Lagos
the Nigerian Lab0r Corporation to "defend the Cause of

The
following year he founded the Nigerian Labour Bulletin to popularize
the Corporation's aims, but both enterprises soon collapsed, victims,
according to Olushola (Nigerian Labor Bulletin, Mar. 17, 1930), of
persecution at the hands of employers and of the misconceived demands
of their followers who saw the NLC as a source of employment or
financial assistance.
Apparently undeterred by his earlier failure, Olushola resuscitated
both his creations in March 1930, renaming the NLC the Nigerian Labor
Organization with himself as its labor organizer. He seems to have been
mo\'ed not only by the usual sources of worker discontent, inadequate
legislation to protect wage earners, and rising prices, but also (a portent of
the times) by (Nigerian Labour Bulletin, Mar. 17, 1930):
[Gjrowing uhemployrnent [which) calls forth an action .... From Gambia right
down to Nigeria, we hear of dissatisfaction among the la boring classes caused by the
domineering attitude of the capitalists. Among the latter, we hear of, and see gigantic
combines] and those who are affected are the African laboring classes. Something
must be done to remedy the situation.
The solution lay with organizing the working class in its own defense.
African traders, artisans, Mechanicians, clerical workers and all down to the gutter
sweepers should organize themselves into unions ... NOW is the time ... for us to
organize ... who will lead?
Although preaching industrial combination, Olushola asserted that "it
is not the policy of this journal to teach or encourage strikes ... rather to
teach the dignity of labour and to bring about understanding -between
employees and employers." Few appear to have taken up his message
and once more, and this time for good, the NLC and its mouth-piece sank
into oblivion.
Others quickly stepped into the breach because on June 2, 19 31, the
inaugural meeting of the African Workers Union was held at the Lagos
premises ofthe Nigerian Press Ltd. The driving force behind it appears to
have been the radical Sierra Leonejournalist, I. T .A. W allace-J ohnson,
3
then editor of the Nigerian Daily Telegraph, which was owned by the
Nigerian Press Ltd. The chair was taken by Dr. Hamed Tinubu (the first
Lagos Muslim to qualify as a medical doctor) and speakers included
Wallace-Johnson, two struggling journalists, Deniga and Babamuboni,
and a Julius Ojo Cole. The main themes of the speeches were the need for
ARNOLD HUGHES and ROBIN COHEN 45
racial and economic solidarity in bringing about an end to foreign
exploitation. As if anticipating difficulties with the authorities, the
meetind ended on a loyal note. Attendance was apparently disappointing
although 200 people were enrolled, each promising to pay the very
substantial monthly subscription of l/3d.
The aims of the A WU are outlined in an advertisement in the
Telegraph and they seem to include not only the comprehensive
protection of the rights of wage earners, but also the encouragement of
native industries and the promotion of mass education, particularly in the
technical field (Nigerian Daily Telegraph, May 28, 1931 ). Once more,
by attempting to appeal on as wide a basis as possible, unrealistic goals
were sought and, despite the support of a few members of the Lagos elite,
the AWU ran into trouble with the authorities who were suspicious of the
intentions of its General Secretary. Wallace-Johnson's house was raided
by the police in October 1933 (indicating that the A WU might still have
been in existence) who were searching for books and publications
"containing seditious documents" (Macaulay Paper, Public Record
Office, C.O. 583/195). A copyoftheprescribedcommunistpaperNegro
Worker was found, but no action was taken against Wallace-Johnson,
who left Nigeria the following month. It seems that his departure at a time
when unemployment was at its height and worker demoralization
widespread left an organizational vacuum which was not to be filled until
the Second World War.
Relations with the International Communist Movement
A little researched area in recent African political history is the extent
of the contact between the international communist movement and
colonial Africa (but see Meli, Langley, Wilson, 1976).
From its foundation the Soviet Union displayed considerable interest in
the colonial and semicolonial world which was viewed as the exploited
and vulnerable periphery of the capitalist-imperialist world. The main
instrument for building up a following among proletarian and trade union
movements in these dependent territories was the Profintern (Krasnyi
International Profsoyuzov or Red International ofLabor Unions), which
was set up in 19 21 in opposition to the "reformist" Amsterdam
International and active until the end of 1937 (see Bol'shaya Sovetskaya
Entsiklopediya, 1953:23,275). The Profintern directed and coordinated
the activities of a range of subordinate occupational and geographical
bodies from South America to Australia and from the U.S.S.R. to South
Africa. Colonial Africa, if not a main center of Profintem activity, was
recognized as "one of the most down-trodden branches of the world
labour army" (Trud, May 27, 1930).
.4.F1UC.'N Lo\ROR HISTORY
As earh ss 1 02ti the Pr,,tintt'm rsrablished a subsection called the
C\,mmittt'e l'f Nt'grt' Workers to which two African trade
unkms \\ere affiliatN. but its main attempt to gain a foothold in Africa
tWl' n'ars lster when Gt'Orge Padrnore, the Trinidacijan
Manist. .;-stablis.ht'd the Nt>gro \\\,rkers Bureau at Hamburg to recruit
African and West Indian cadres and to disseminate Marxist literature m
Nsd.: (St'e H..x,ker. 1967: chapter 2). Through such bodies as the
b:emsti,,nal,,f Ses.rnen and Harbor Workers and the British section-of
:\gain$t lmperalism. Padmore was able to make contact with
Afri.:-s.r:s. in 1930 he managed to travel incognito the length-of the
\\"eSt -.'l1St Africa recruiting six delegates for the lntemationalNegro
w,,rkers C' held in Hamburg that year (Gambia Record Office
38). In the same year the Acting Governor of Nigeria, Sir.Fr8.nk
BaJdeiey. \\ent so far as to accuse the Negro Worker.
rnn-:-irai Ngan edited from Hamburg, of having contributed to the-Aba
ri,,ts in that year. According to Baddeley, the journal had been
arnl'ng the workers of Lagos'' and the governn:tent
pmsutionary measures to combat the spread of Bolshevism among the
;:.:.tives ... This speech vas later reported in the Negro Worker with barely
concealed satisfaction (Wilson, 1976:219-220). .. -
's companion during his underground West Africanjourney
\I'SS Frank Macaulay. eldest son of the veteran Nigerian nationalist;
Herben Macaulay. Although there is little in Frank Macaulay's
pronouncements (he worked on his father's Lagos Daily News arid h8a-
his 0Vo11 c-olumn. ''The Joker") or lifestyle to -associate him with
international communism. he nevertheless attended the Hamburg
ference ail\l from there proceeded to Moscow to attend, a-s one of-four_
.-\.t'rkan regional delegates, the Fifth Congress of the Profmtem. He
stayed on in Moscow for several months to study the printing trade and
then returned to Lagos. In 1931, shortly after his rettirri from Soviet
Union. Frank Macaulay died as a result of a domestic mishap so.that a
nevo intermediary became necessary (Macaulay Papers, 111,28, which:
included Frank Macaulay's obituary in the London Daily W<?rker)._
The ob\ious successor was l.T.A. Wallace-Johnson, who as we h-ave-
noted, already had a reputation in West Africa for. radical journalism lind
trade union organization. The peripatetic Wallace-JoJmson was D.ot to-
remain in Nigeria for long: he spent much of 1932 travelling in Europe
and anending the International Labor Defense Congress in MoscOw.
Already nnder police surveillance he returned to Lagos the follov.iilg
February, but nine months later came the police raid on his house
rapid departure for the Gold Coast, possibly hurried on by official
pressure. With his departure, independent action by wage earners along
ARNOLD HUGHES and ROBIN COHEN 47
either reformist or radical lines seems to have come to an end. Pressure
from employers and government, the incomplete consciousness of the
wage earner, and the debilitating effects of the Great Depression all
played their part in tying the working class to the political apron strings of
the middle classes. Despite the raising of bogies by the government,
communist infiltration of Nigerian society was minor and had nothing to
offer the politically influential, but constitutionally minded middle class.
4
Perhaps what is significant was the degree of contact Nigerian labor
organizers were able to maintain with the distant and disapproved Soviet
Union and that some of them at least saw-their predicament in a global
class context.
Relations with the National Bourgeoisie
While we have sought to show a certain capacity for independent
pOlitical and industrial action among the wage labor force-, the limited
success of such action and the failure of outside working class organiza-_
tions to provide- s-upport inevitably meant that periodically -the Nigerian
wage earners had to turn to their "class enemies," the national bour-:-
geoisie, for help. Hopkins, examining the events of 1897 in Lagos;
stressed the claSs -antagonisms which led the African merchant community
to support the government in its with its employees. Apparently
antagonisms between -the various elements of the_ proletariat were
uvercome _on this occasion, but the middle classes seri.t an address of
loyalty to the governor and were bitterly resentful 9f his failure to notify
them (as opposed to the European merchants) of the possibility of rioting.
Constitutionalist attitudes were also shared by leaders of the popular
elements in Lagos (Hopkins, 1966: 151-152):- -
- Even Macaulay, the acknowledged le"ader of the .-.agitators," disapproved of strike
action and took care not to become too closely_involved with the Urban workers, lest
-he should encourge the growth of a power which could not be confined within the
_ limits of his own political programme and organization.-
In addition to their tepic support for working demands, some rich
Lagosians were directly engaged in the exploitation of African labor on
their cocoa and kola farms in Agege (near Lagos), with the colonial
government acting in the capacity of"protector of the poor." Wages on
these farms were not only low (15/- per month for there were
also complaints that they were not paid at all, and because the provisions
of the Labor Ordinance did not apply to contracts entered into under
Native Law and Custom, there was little the colonial government could
do to prevent the abuse of cheap fann labor (Nigerian Archives, 1930:
CONCOL I, 1097). For the most part, however, we would agree with
Hodgkin's (1956:115)assertion that:
.U .\FRICAN LAROR HISTORY
Thf fact that the ,I aims and interests of different sections of African
... may t-oe divr11cnt is imp<xtance. so long as for all sections
tht ('(1(0nial regime regankd as the main obstacle in the way of economic progress.
I
It is in this context of we are all Africans" that class relations must be
examined. There was a measure of interdependence between bourgeoisie
and proletariat in colonial society born of a common subordination to
alien rule and perceived injustice. There was also a complementarity of
resources: the wage earners provided a suitable mass to flatter the
bourgeoise leaders ll.Ild substantiate their claim to be representative of
"'ider sections of society: Skilled workers and the more senior of the
salariat qualified for the franchise (which required an annual income of
100) and could therefore vote for the bourgeoise parties, such as
Herbert Macaulay's Nigerian National Democratic Party, while all
could be asked to contribute to campaign funds. Macaulay in his turn
could put his intellectual and organizational skills at the service of wage
earners, often on an entrepreneurial basis, by writing petitions, providing
newspaper coverage in his Lagos Daily News for workers' grievances,
and raising questions in the Legislative Council through the elected
members of the NNDP. In this way a class-cutting patron-client
relationship could prove beneficial to both interests in the short term.
Thus, we find a railwayman and trade unionist involved in setting up the
Railway Workers Union of 19 31 praising Macaulay for his help
(Emejulu, n.d.: 10):
One of the moving spirits of this giant in an embryo [the RWU] was the late M.H.
Macaulay ... he charged very modestly for the petitions he put up ... and His
Newspaper was constantly championing the cause of Railwaymen.
Let the trade unionists contemplate strike action, however, and
Macaulay's personal and editorial wrath would descend on them.
Awolowo ruefully recalls Macaulay's reaction to the Transport Owners
strike in January 19 3 7, and the numerus editorials in the Daily News,
although sympathetic to the worsening plight of wage earners, came out
strongly against direct industrial action. "We want at the present time, no
strike action in Nigeria" (Lagos Daily News, May 30, 1934). Instead
Macaulay advised the workmen to make further constitutional represen-
tations against the sackings and short time, which were prevalent for most
of the 1930s.
In spite of his undoubted talents, Macaulay was able to do very little for
the working class in the long years of the depression (1930-1935).
Endless questions were raised about unemployment in the Legislative
Council and editorials and petitions sought to persuade government to
wield its retrenchment axe less savagely. The NNDP even arranged a
ARNOLD HUGHES and ROBIN COHEN 49
meeting with Governor Thompson in 1930 to discuss the growing
problem of unemployment but, when asked to submit proposals of its
own, the NNDP failed to satisfy the Governor as to their relevance
6
(Legislative Council Debates, Feb. 8, 1932). With the very economy of
the state facing bankruptcy, Governor Cameron was compelled to reduce
government expenditure by mass sacking, pay cuts of up to 26%, and
short time working. Europeans as well as Africans were dispensed with in
these years, the nadir being reached in 1934. There was a gradual
recovery in 1935, but as late as 1938 wages were still being docked. Some
indication of the effect of the vicissitudes of these years on the living
conditions of the working man may be gleaned from the official reports of
the time.
At the insistence of the NNDP members in the Legislative Council, the
government agreed to set up an Unemployment Inquiry Commission in
April 1935. It was charged with assessing the extent and causes of
unemployment (particularly among the semi-educated), and to propose
remedies for it (Lagos Daily News, Apr. 5, 1935). The committee was
unable to assess the scale of unemployment, let alone suggest means of
reducing it, and so the government was obliged to invite the unemployed
to register during mid-April. Eventually it obtained some statistics on
unemployment and made several suggestions in the light of them.
It was estimated that about 56% of the total of about 4,000 self-
registered persons were born in Lagos and that 3.3% of the population of
Lagos was unemployed (Nigerian Legislative Council, 1935). This in
itself was not a startling figure compared with other pw:ts of the world at
this time, but of particular concern was the high number of skilled and
clerical workers registered as unemployed and the failure of school-
leavers to find work. Compassion for their plight was strengthened by the
substantial increase in criminal offenses at this time (Annual Report of
the Police Department, 1934). It was recommended that government
should repatriate those unemployed living off their relatives in Lagos and
that the state should set up agricultural settlements in the Ilaro Forest to
provide work (and a suitable geographical distance perhaps) for unem-
ployed youth. Other than this, the committee suggested approaching the
Lagos Youth Movement to establish a Labor Bureau.
It seems significant that it was the Lagos Youth Movement, not the
NNDP, which was invited to establish a Labor Bureau because it reflects
a swing in Lagos politics away from Macaulay's Democratic Party,
increasingly identified as a party living off its not particularly glorious
past, to a new organization representative of a younger section of public
opinion. The old political leadership, it was claimed by its youthful
opponents, had failed to tackle the problems oflife in the Depression, and
LA80R HIHORl
should k:in' w
3
,- h' "youth ... The Lagos Youth Movement was founded in
1934 the. Nigerian Youth Movement 1_936) a of
new mtn. some ('f whl)m were scions of the ex1stmg social ehte, but
were representati,e of the increasing number of Yoruba and other
pr,,,incials nl'"" to be found in Lagos.' The Youth Movement, its
Iiwlv journal. Senicc, and in its celebrated Youth Charter, outhned
reforms for Nigeria, not simply in the political sphere, bl.!t
also in economic matters (Macaulay Papers. IV, 19). Its "Economic
Charter." which was part of the Youth Charter, consisted of 22
subsections dealing with all the current ills and offering to cater to the
interests of all elements in Nigerian society. It strongly upheld the
existing land tenure and the rights of the farming commuriity; African
cooperatives, credit houses, and craft industries were prescribed to create
a "coniented peasantry.'' It opposed foreign monopoly capital and came
to the defense of the African businessman and trader; it sought to build up
indigenous capitalism through thrift clubs and a grandiose "Five Year
Plan to promote basic industries. Finally, it did not neglecf salary
earners. Higher salaries and increased Africanization of senior adminis-
trative posts were urged and better terms of employment for those
working in the commercial houses were also mentioned as ari objective.
Wage earners were never specifically mentioned in the charter, though
unemployment was to be tackled, commencing with the setting up of the
NYM Unemployment Bureau, which it was hoped would be converted
into a labor exchange. Scientifically managed state fal1!ls were seen a:s a
means of combatting unemployment among school-'leavers, but silence
on artisans and clerks was a recognition of the inability of the NYM to
tackle this intractable problem.
Politically, the Youth Movement took an active part in supporting
cocoa farmers and transport owners, and members such as Akinsanya
and Awolowo were employed as labor organizers. It sought to replace the
NNDP as the protector of labor and ties were established with the
Railway Workers Union, one of the more militant and influential trade
unioru in Lagos in the 1930s (Emejulu, n.d.:15). Union members were
persuaded to buy shares in the Service Press Ltd. and the Daily Service
and NYM leadership were expected to support the railwaymen. During.
the uruuccessful Foundry Shop strike of 19 3 9, two NYM leaders, H. S.A.
Thomas and Sam Akiruanya, interceded unsuccessfully with themariage;
menL In the crucial Legislative Council elections of 1938, the NYM
swept the NNDP out of three seats and in the municipal elections of the
same year won three out of four seats. All the candidates fielded were
professionals except for a chief and Akinsanya, who claimed to be a labor
organizer. He was the only one to lose although he gave the veteran
ARNOLD HUGHES and ROBIN COHEN 51
NNDP leader, Dr. Adeniyi-Jones, a close run for his money.
How significant working class support was for the NYM is impossible
to say, but with votes being expressed in hundreds rather than thousands,
the backing of a small number of the enfranchised workforce could make a
substantial difference. The NYM failed to live up to its promise and fell
victim to internal splits in the war years, but by then trade unionists were
once mote looking elsewhere for a political ally, which they were to find in
the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons.
CONCLUSIONS
Our purpose in writing this paper has been to focus attention on a
neglected social formation_which emerged fiom the colonial situation in
Nigeria, namely wage workers. While much has been written about the
ofprecolonial society to European contact and hegemony or on
the risepfan educated elite, far less has been published about the origins _
andgi-owthofawage laborforce. In .addition, there_has been a tendency to
minimize the importance of this category an<! it
socia(an<! ecop.omic: cliangei ushered in by the Sec9rid W Qrld War.:. By
-lookii1g in. some detail at the British E:olony ofLagos inthe early decades
of this century' we have- tried to show not only the .existence o( such a,-
terms, butwehavealso s-ought to-
give flesh to the statisfida_n's_ categories a_ndto arguethatthe first he5itanf
-steps. aloggthe long a_rid tortUous path to -class identity were
Class requires -more than the existence of riew economic
relations; itde-marids recognition ofshared -interests within
the riev/ l;ociaf formaticm and the willingness to act in the pursuit. (or
defense) of these- compr-ehended- Perception and action we
beljeve :existed intliis period as we have tried,to show by reference to the
public utterances a,nd w:orkers or their representai:ives_.-
Economic or&-anization in of trade l.n1ions, the recourse to strike
action in defense of a newly acquired _corporate interest,-and:the quest for-_
a .political -identity _ as manifested in- the innovations . and alliances--
described above a:re indiCative, we believe, ofa class eonscious,.-
iless among theJaborJorce of coloniil Nigetia. _
In using of -and class -conflict in the -face .of-much -
conventional_ literature questions whether such concepts have any
relevance to Africa, )Ve have been guided above all by the view that class
"is-not a thing, happening" (Thompson, 1965:357), moreover a
happening expressed in terms- of shared values, feelings, interests, life
experiences, and set- in _concrete _historical events and processes. Our
Nigerian data does not allow us to the ''feelings" ofwage earners
.\FRIC.\1'\ L.\f!OR HISTORY
with s.rn dl'gree 0f contidence; we have to infer the extent of their class
frl)m a reconstruction of the actions that they engaged in
snd the of institutions designed to serve their needs. We are
nl1nethel;ss aware that a number of mitigating and mediating factors exist
in s colonial situation to prevent the uncomplicated formation of a class.
Colonial society is a syncretic one: the old way of life refuses to give way
and adapt itselfto change. In Lagos the indigenous community is a case in
point. :\-posed to the fiercest blast of westernization, a large part of the
popula6on did little more than modify its way oflife and even that section
of the population which directly concerns us was also subject to older
An element of duality prevails among both indigene and
immigrant employed in the wage labor force, a source of comfort as well
as mystification for the wage earner. The colonial-racial nexus further
erodes class awareness by stressing the common identity of all Africans
in their subordination to and exploitation by an alien hierarchy. In such
situations political initiative is often snatched by the middle classes who
appeal for the support of wage earners on the basis of racial solidarity. A
nefarious clientage system is created which fragments any unity among
wage earners and stultifies the growth of leadership within this group.
The "invasion" of working society by elements of the middle
classes is encouraged by the constraints on independent economic and
political action by wage earners. Until 1938, the imperfect industrial
legislation allowed considerable scope for victimization oflabor militants
while the high-income franchise prevented wage earners from having
direct representation in the colonial legislature. The middle classes alone
(with the exception of one chief) were elected to the Legislative and
Municipal Councils and the major political organizations of the period
were also firmly under their control. Employed labor was also divided
among itself into white collar, artisan, and la boring strata. On several
occasions concerted action between these strata took place, but there was
a real cleavage between the office-bound salariat and the proletariat.
Vitiating imported social distinctions robbed the wage earners ofthe full
support of the better educated salary earners; and always there loomed
the "reserve army" of the unemployed to threaten the jobs of the literate
as well as the illiterate workers.
Yet despite these obstacles and diversions progress was made toward a
class censciousness. Trade unions did emergeto promote the interests of
wage earners and numerous examples of industrial action occurred. It is
true that these tended to be short lived and on the whole localized-there
was no general strike or trade union congress in this period-but we do
find successful strike action and persisting union activities. Even the
failures helped sharpen antagonisms and provided a martyrology for later
ARNOLD HUGHES and ROBIN COHEN S3
acolytes, though it would perhaps be oversimplifying to argue that the
unfolding of consciousness always progresses in a unilinear fashion
toward greater and greater class crystallization. Spontaneity often
characterized the wage eamers' behavior in their occupational struggle,
whereas their efforts at creating a separate political identity had limited
success. Symbiotic and often dependent relationships existed with the
middle classes. Several features of the prewar situation persist today
among Nigerian wage earners, while the possibilities of independent class
action still remain contingent on the extent to which workers can free
themselves from the politics of bourgeois clientelism.
NOTES
1. Fragmentary information regarding Olushola can be found in the columns of U!e
Nigerian Labour Bulletin, March-June 1930: Olushofa is the same individual mentioned
earlier in connection with trade union organization among railwaymen in 1925 and who
sought direct working class representation on the Legislative Council. Garbled information
about his activities seems to have spread to Eastern Nigeria because there is a letter in the
Macaulay Papers (V ,11) from the Port Harcourt Mechanics Union dated November 1923,
pledging its support for Macaulay's "Nigerian Bulletin Corporation" (clearly a confusion
both of leadership and of the two enterprises run by Olushola).
2. This is an allusion to the 1929 amalgamation between the African and Eastern
Trading Company and Lever Bros. This, together with the earlier amalgamation which led
to the creation of the A & ETC, had resulted in job rationalization and the dismissal of
many African staff.
3. wanace-Johnson, at this time actively connected with the Comintern. was the
scourge of colonial officials not only in Nigeria, but also in the Gold Coast (where he was
tried for seditious publication together with Nnamdi Azikiwe in July 1936) and in his native
Sierra Leone where he spent part of the war years in detention. (For an official account of
his activities in these years, see Gambia Record Office 4/73, "Activities of Wallace
Johnson and the International African Service Bureau.") Wallace-Johnson was also the
West African correspondent for The Negro Worker, a Profintemjourn-al which, according
to Wilson, carried "action programs ... particularly for workers in the principal ports of
Nigeria, Senegal and other colonies of West Africa ... sometimes on the basis of
surprisingly detailed information from the field" (Wilson, 1976:2I7).
4. In 1930 the Nigerian government banned Padmore's main journal, The Negro
Worker, for publishing an anti-British article on the Aba Riots. At the same time Wallace-
Johnson's Nigerian Daily Telegraph was reprimanded for relaying material criticizing
British policy in India, supplied by the German Communist news agency ANKO (see
Public Record Office File, C.O. 583/I 74). Sir Frank Baddeley's widely publicized speech
in London warning of communist subversion in Nigeria was answered in the Lagos Daily
Record (July 28, I 930) when it stated: "We can assure all the scare-crows that so-called
Moscow propaganda cannot flourish in or vegetate under West African soil. What is really
needed is sympathetic liberalism in the treatment of the natives, especially the progressive
ones."
5. "We were thoroughly let down by Herbert Macaulay ... when he learnt that we had
also enlisted the assistance of Sir Adeyemo Alakija, he was enraged, drove us from his
house, and threatened to break the strike. He then wrote an article in his paper calling upon
the government to enact a law making strikes illegal" (Awolowo, 1960: I 27). This incident
also shows how the interests of the wage earners (and in this case transport owners) could
become secondary to rivalries within the bourgeoisie.
l.4110R HISTORY
'

t- lr. ts':. sr,'t"ra; !>!\'ad were made by the NNDP in 1929 which sought to
the C\'<'fl('mi.: thr..,ugh .:utting down expenditures on European salaries.
a.'!J t>..n<>fits and using this lll(>ney to re\'i,e old industries. expand public works, and
S<'l ur lt!1 in>titute &k.in tl) ths: :!I Tuskegee in the United States (Nigerian Archives, 1929-
l .:13!: CO M COL ,.,,1. 1 l.
lt!> was s d<.-.:r0r. J.C. Vaug.han. and a member of a leading Lagos family,
t>ut p['('l]lin.:nt t'igures in the L YM/NYM were neither Lagos Yoruba nor drawn from
suc-h as Ernest Ikoli (an Ijo teacher turned journalist), Samuel
Almsanra l an ljebu dert turned labor organizer). and Nnamdi Azikiwe (an Ibo jou.rrtaiist-
k!siness.man l.
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