The Voice of Coloured Labour. George Padmore (editor) 1945
On June 21st, 1945, after the failure of protracted representations to the Government for salary increases to meet the very much increased cost of living, 150,000 clerical and non-clerical workers in the Nigeria civil service, came out in a general strike of all Government departments. The non-clerical unskilled workers were claiming a minimum wage of 2s. 6d. a day.
Since 1941, the cost of living in Nigeria has risen by over 200 percentum as a direct consequence of the war. The Government acknowledge this fact, and has granted several kinds of allowances which effectually benefited rather a few European officials than the Africans, Examples of these allowances are the Separation Allowance, the Cost of Living Allowance, and the Local Allowance. The African workers, especially those in the non-clerical services, who have been most seriously hit by the rise in prices, received little increase in wage.
At a mass meeting held on Saturday, the 19th day of May, 1945, at the Glover Memorial Hall in Lagos, a resolution was passed unanimously by 17 Unions declaring, among other things:
“(i) That we strongly deplore the callous attitude of Government to the sufferings, of the masses of African workers, mostly men with large families, as set out in a previous memorandum issued by the African Civil Servants Technical Workers’ Union (Nigeria),
“(ii) And further that failing a grant in full (repeat: in full) with effect from the 1st April, 1944, of the extremely modest demand contained in the letter Of 22nd March, 1945, to wit:
“Labour: Minimum daily wage to be 2s. 6d. per day;
“Subordinate grades between Labour and Standard Scale: 50 percent increase on the existing Cost of Living Allowance; within one calendar month hence, i.e., not later than Thursday, the 21st June, 1945, the Workers of Nigeria shall proceed to seek their own remedy, with due regard to law and order on the one hand and starvation on the other.”
“That a minimum daily wage of 2s. 6d. be established for all unskilled labour.”
In a reply to the letter referred to above, dated 31st August, 1944, the Government wrote:
“A general review of emoluments and other conditions of service of all Government servants will, it is proposed, be undertaken as soon as possible after the war.”
In another letter, dated 11th June, 1945, the Government wrote that: “An increase in money wages will not secure any betterment in the conditions of living unless plentiful supplies of foods and goods are available...agricultural production cannot be expected to show immediate improvement and existing conditions are likely to continue for some time.” This reply, naturally, did not satisfy the members in the non-clerical branch of the service owing to the indefiniteness of the time at which the points raised on their behalf are likely to be considered.
It is clear from this summary that the workers of Nigeria have exercised all patience and exhausted all constitutional means to come to a reasonable settlement, but the Government was not willing to co-operate.
In order to render support to the strikers, a meeting was convened at Conway Hall, London, on Sunday, July 15th, 1945, under the auspices of the West African Students’ Union, The International African Service Bureau, The African Progressive Association, the Pan-African Federation, The Colonial Peoples’ United Council, The Brotherhood of African Peoples, and African workers domiciled in Great Britain. The meeting was also attended by members of the Indian community in London and British sympathisers. Similar meetings were held in Manchester and Liverpool. The following Resolution was proposed and adopted by the London meeting:
(I) It condemns with all the emphasis at its command the uncompromising attitude of the Nigerian Government in connection with the events leading up to and the consequences of the said strike, to wit:
(a) The refusal on the part of the said Government to arrive at a reasonable compromise with or concede to the legitimate demand of the technical workers, who have been on strike since June 21st, 1945, for increased cost of living award and the moderate minimum wage of 2s. 6d. per diem, in spite of the phenomenal rise in the cost of living as the direct consequences of the present war, for the successful prosecution of which West Africans have made enormous contributions both in men and materials.
(b) The fascist method adopted by the said Government in stifling public opinion by suppressing the West African Pilot and the Daily Comet, and the alleged threatening of the Editor, Mr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, with deportation from Nigeria for supporting the strikers, and reimposing Defence Regulations which had been repealed in May, 1945.
(c) The studied policy of discrimination pursued by the Nigerian Government as between the different sections of its employees in the award of cost of living relief, as such policy completely negatives its uninformed assertion that an increase in money wages to the poorly-paid strikers would not secure for them any betterment in their conditions of living.
(a) The meeting therefore calls upon the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Nigerian Government to abandon the use of military force and the reimposed Defence Regulations in intimidating the strikers and distinguished citizens of Nigeria; to display real statesmanship in this unprecedented crisis by bringing the strike to an end, releasing the Trade Union leaders under arrest, reinstating the West African Pilot and the Daily Comet, guaranteeing the personal safety of Mr. Nnamdi Azikiwe in Nigeria; and to grant the demands of the Union and refrain from any act of victimisation against the strikers in the exercise of their legal and constitutional rights.
(b) Calls upon the Trade Union Congress of Great Britain to intervene immediately in the present dispute so as to ensure a fair settlement and to use its good offices, in co-operation with the workers throughout the British Commonwealth and Empire to secure for the strikers such wages and conditions of service consistent with the lofty ideals enunciated in the San Francisco Charter.
(III) The meeting meanwhile extends its sympathy to the workers of the African Civil Servants Technical Workers’ Union of Nigeria in their struggle to secure their legitimate demands, and authorises the net proceeds of the contributions made at this historic meeting to be remitted as soon as possible to Nigeria to relieve the hardship caused by the strike to the wives and children of the strikers.
Issued by: Pan-African Federation
West African Students’ Union
Eighty-five pounds were collected at the London meeting; £100 at Manchester and £40 at Liverpool.