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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:'Our Strike': Equality, Anticolonial Politics and the 1947-48 Railway Strike in French West Africa
Author:Cooper, FrederickISNI
Periodical:The Journal of African History
Geographic terms:French-speaking Africa
West Africa
Subjects:railway workers
Labor and Employment
History and Exploration
External link:https://www.jstor.org/stable/183289
Abstract:The strike of African railway workers which began in October 1947 was an event of epic dimensions: it involved 20,000 workers and their families, shut down most rail traffic throughout all of French West Africa, and lasted, in most regions, for five and a half months. This essay is both a reinterpretation of the place of the strike in labour history and part of an exploration of its effects on politics and political memory. Interviews in the key railway and union town of Thiès, Senegal, suggest that strike veterans want to distinguish an experience they regard as their own from the portrayal of the strike in Sembene Ousmane's 'God's bits of wood' (Les bouts de bois de Dieu, 1960). They accept the heroic vision of the strike, but offer different interpretations of its relationship to family and community and suggest that its political implications include co-optation and betrayal as much as anticolonial solidarity. The irony of the strike was that it was sustained on the basis of railwaymen's integration into local communities but that its central demand took railwaymen into a professionally defined, nonracial category of railwayman. The article analyses the tension between the principles of nonracial equality and African community among railwaymen and that between colonial power and notions of assimilation and development within the government. Notes, ref., sum.