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J. Deane

150,000 Nigerians Strike for 2/6 a Day

(July 1945)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. 7 No. 10, Mid-July 1945, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The largest and the most important strike in the history of Nigeria is now taking place. 150,000 Nigerian administrative service workers, members of the 17 Government Unions, have been on strike for more than three weeks. All transport, power and communications systems throughout Nigeria have been paralysed. The Government has imposed a strict news censorship, and so far only one London paper has reported this important strike.

The strike is being led by the Nigerian Trades Union Congress and is in support for the demand of 2/6d a day minimum wage.

Despite the tremendous difficulties – the lack of funds, all sided offensive by the Nigerian Government, arrests of leaders and suppression of the press – in its fourth week the strike is still solid and the strikers determined. Only 200 have scabbed, these have been given large military escort protection. The rest of the 500,000 workers in Nigeria are in sympathy with the strikers and only waiting for a lead from the Union leaders to demonstrate their sympathy and solidarity in action.

On the 21st of May the Nigerian Trades Union Congress sent a letter to the Government stating:–

  1. The cost of living was officially stated to have increased by over 200 per cent.
  2. (a) Recognising this the Government had given corresponding increases to European employees – the salary of a European employee is £400 a year.
    (b) Corresponding increases had been made in the supplementary allowance for the families of European employees;

  3. In view of these facts the N.T.U.C. asked for a minimum wage of 2/6d a day;
  4. One month’s general strike notice was given in support of their demands.

The Governor of Nigeria – Sir Arthur Richards who earned the reputation of being a “firm man” for quelling the Jamaica riots – replied that he would not meet a deputation of the workers as no purpose could be served by the discussion; that increased wages would not offset increased cost of living(!) but would only cause inflation(!); and called upon Africans to help in the equitable distribution of foodstuffs.

A second appeal to the Government to receive a deputation was made on June 11th, again this was turned down. Meanwhile the Government re-enacted its Defence Regulations which were repealed only a month previous, following which a number of Trade Union leaders were released after having served four year sentences. The Defence Regulation on Press Censorship empowers the Governor to close down any newspaper which publishes news without it first being censored by the Government, or which criticises any action of the Governor or his officials. The penalty for contravention of this Regulation is a fine of £500 or two years imprisonment.

When on June 21st 150,000 administrative workers came out on strike, immediately the Government suppressed two newspapers, the African Pilot and the Daily Comet. The European community threatened the editor of the latter with lynching. The Government also took the following steps:–

  1. It threatened not the pay the strikers their June salary and to forfeit all their pensions, gratuities and contractual rights.
  2. It arrested and later discharged four railway workers’ strike leaders on charges of participating in an illegal strike.
  3. It promised that there would be no victimisation of the workers if they resumed their duties immediately.
  4. It publicly accused the strikers of sabotaging the transport communication systems, leading to the derailment of a train at Oshodi, and of cutting the telephone lines between Lagos and Minna.
  5. It arrested ten alleged leaders of the strike. Action was withdrawn against one when they appeared for trial.

The leaders of the strike, on behalf of the workers, replied with five demands. At a great mass rally at Lagos the workers swore on oath not to return until their demands are met. Their demands are:–

  1. Pay the strikers for the period during which they have been on strike.
  2. Guarantee their pensions and other rights.
  3. Give an assurance that there will be no victimisation of strikers.
  4. Immediately release the strike leaders.
  5. That their original demands be granted.

The high standard of militancy and class awareness of this comparatively young working-class is further demonstrated by the treatment given to the president of the Nigerian Trades Union Congress, Bankole, who advised the workers to return to work. He was ragged by the strikers and had to be rescued by the police! Later he was deposed and Imoudu, a young Trade Union leader just released after four years in gaol, was elected President of the N.T.U.C.

The average wage of a Nigerian worker is 10d a day. A year ago it was raised from 5d to 10d a day. Along with this, discontent with the dictatorial and arbitrary administration of the British imperialist Government has been growing steadily. In an attempt to stem this rising tide the British Government issued in March a White Paper which announced “great democratic” changes in Nigeria. That these constitutional changes were illusory is clearly demonstrated by the Government’s action in face of the elementary demands of the workers. The White Paper has turned out to be but a flimsy cover for the dragon tooth and claw of British imperialist domination.

Workers everywhere must protest against the policy of the British Government in Nigeria. Resolutions demanding the release of the strike leaders, freedom of the press and speech, and the granting of 2/6d a day by the British Government should be sent to the Colonial Office immediately. Every organised worker should demand that the British Trades Union leaders conduct a serious struggle in support of the Nigerian worker’s demands.

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