Nigerian general strike of 1945
The 1945 general strike which permeated much of the railway, transport, dock and motor services unions was a labour sit down that was originally started by the railway employees but later spread to other unions in the government civil service. Workers employed with private firms later decided to support their counterparts in government and not cross the picket line.
The general strike of 1945 was the largest workers strike in Africa involving about 42,000-200,000 workers. The strike was partly successful as most of the workers demand for an increase in cost of living allowance was met in 1946 and backdated to 1945. The workers who succeeded in bringing together different trade unions and striking for about 10 weeks were able to withstand colonial terrorism and generated worldwide sympathy from many anti-colonists. It also brought the working class and African consciousness to a public foray. However, the resulting effect was the colonial perception of a link between trade unionism and political expression which was then dominated by nationalist sentiments but it was a time in which repression of militant political expression under the administration of Arthur Richards was the norm. (1)
The strike began after the British colonial acting governor refused to budge in increasing by 50% the wages of skilled Africans in the government railway service to meet the increased cost of living and a minimum of 60 cents daily for unskilled and temporary employed Africans in the employ of the railway or performing technical service. The government had earlier agreed to review wages during the war period as a result of skyrocketing prices between 1939-1941 and was part of its plan to appease international organizations and United States both groups wary of imperialism. Since 1941 and up to 1945, the cost of living steadily rose over 50%, this was acknowledged by the government who gave increased cost of living allowances to many European workers resident in Nigeria partly as a result of allowing separation allowances, allowances given to officials whose wives were not in Nigeria.
The Trade Union Congress and the African Civil Servants Technical Workers Union then called for a strike action of all railway workers when Arthur Richards refused to increase the COLA, (Cost of Living Allowance) giving reasons as lack of funds and an increase would lead to higher inflation. Following adherence to the call for a strike, within a few days other government workers decided to go on strike.(1)
During the strike, T.A. Bankole the president of the All Nigeria Trade Union Congress was temporarily deposed and replaced with Michael Imoudu of the Railway Workers Union. Bankole was removed for listening to the advice of the acting governor and signaling a call to call of the strike. It was also suspected by the British authorities that Nnamdi Azikiwe advised workers to strike, he was later threatened by the British authorities. After the strike ended, some labor officials who had been detained were released and Azikiwe's paper, The Comet and West African Pilot were unbanned.
'*African Civil Servants and Technical Workers
- African Railway Workers
- African Land and Survey Technical Workers
- African Post and Telegraph Workshop
- Nigerian Electrical Workers
- Nigerian Marine African Workers
- Union Public Works Workers
- Largest Town Council Workers
- African Locomotive Drivers
- Public Works Sawmill Workers
- Nigerian Union of Nurses
- Post and Telegraph African Inspectors
- Railway Topographical Union
- Railway Station Staff Union
- (1)GEORGE PADMORE. "General Strike Called By Nigeria Labor", The Chicago Defender, Jul 7, 1945. p. 1.
- (2)WARREN, W. M.. "Urban Real Wages and the Nigerian Trade Union Movement", 1939-60, Economic Development and Cultural Change, 15:1 (1966:Oct.). p 28