Industrial Relations and Trade Unionism in French-speaking West Africa

  • George R. Martens


This chapter is concerned with the evolution of industrial relations and trade unionism in the nine West African nations which once made up the vast area called French West Africa. Included in the analysis are Mauritania, Senegal, Guinea, Mali, Ivory Coast, Upper Volta, Niger, Togo and Benin. Each state shared a similar colonial experience during roughly six decades of French rule, but today, after seventeen years of independence, they are experimenting with various patterns of government and face widely different problems of economic development. This diversity of styles which spring from a common heritage provides a great deal of material ideally suited to comparative analysis.


Political Party Trade Union Collective Bargaining Industrial Relation Ivory Coast 
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  1. 2.
    Urban population data for 1974 from l’Afrique noire de A à Z (Paris: Ediafric, 1976) and l’Afrique d’expression francaise et Madagascar (Paris: Europe-Outre-mer, 1976). A summary of socio-economic data is contained in George R. Martens. French-speaking Africa: A Socio-Economic Guide (Lomé: Crede, September 1976).Google Scholar
  2. For 1960 data see Samir Amin, l’Afrique de l’ouest bloquée: l’économie politique de la colonisation, 1880–1970 (Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1971) p. 305.Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    Data for 1974 employment has been gathered from a large number of sources which are often contradictory. An attempt has been made to use local statistical bulletins and unpublished reports when possible to estimate best the number of wage earners when available data seems inaccurate. The following general sources were consulted: Three-Monthly Economic Review … 1976, op. cit. Afrique Noire, op. cit., l’Afrique d’expression francaise, op. cit. International Monetary Fund, Surveys of African Economies, Volume 3 (Washington DC: IMF, 1970).Google Scholar
  4. For individual countries manpower data are contained in: République Islamique de Mauritanie, Ministère de la Planification et de la Développment Industriel, Annuaire Statistique 1974 (Nouakchott, 1976), p. 44.Google Scholar
  5. République du Sénégal, Direction de la Statistique, Enquête demographie 1970–71 (Dakar, 1973).Google Scholar
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  10. 8.
    For the 1974 estimates of employment see note 7 above. Data for 1960 are contained in: Three-Monthly Economic Review: French African Community, Togo, Cameroon, Guinea, and Liberia: Annual Supplement (London: The Economist Intelligence Unit, May 1961). République Islamique de Mauritanie, Bulletin statistique et économique, Nouakchott, 1, 1964, p. 25.Google Scholar
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  15. 12.
    For a general discussion of the economic problems of French-speaking Africa see: Surveys of African Economies, op. cit., Amin, op. cit., Richard Adloff, West Africa: The French-Speaking Nations (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964).Google Scholar
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    Banque Centrale des Etats de l’Afrique de l’Ouest, ‘Essai d’analyse économique et fonctionelle des budgets des etats de l’Union Monetaire Ouest Africaine’ Notes Information et Statistiques, Paris, No. 226, March 1975. La Zone Franc en 1974, op. cit., p. 257. Banque Centrale des Etats de l’Afrique de l’Ouest, Notes d’Information et Statistiques, Paris, No. 105, April 1964. Amin, op. cit., p. 286. Three-Monthly Economic Review, Former French Tropical Africa and Liberia: Annual Supplement (London, The Economist Intelligence Unit, July 1964).Google Scholar
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    The political evolution of French West Africa with occasional reference to trade unionism is thoroughly treated in Morgenthau, op. cit. and Edward Mortimer, France and the Africans 1944–1960 (New York: Walker and Company, 1969). Although dated, good general sources on the African labour movement are: Andràs November, l’Evolution du mouvement syndical en Afrique occidentale (Paris: Mouton, 1965),Google Scholar
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    Discussions of French trade union ideologies are contained in: Jean-Daniel Reynaud, Les Syndicats en France (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1975),Google Scholar
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    Trade union membership figures are difficult to determine with accuracy. Claimed membership often differs sharply from regular dues payers or from those listed in shop steward election data. Salaried workers in 1948, without Togo or domestics, were 244,700 in Encyclopedie de l’Afrique Française: Afrique Occidentale Française (Paris: E.A.F., 1949), Tome I, p. 311. An estimate has been made to complete the missing data based on 1950 statistics. Trade union membership is taken from: Imannuel Geiss, Gewerkschaften in Afrika (Hannover: Verlag fur Litteratur und Zeitgeschehen, 1965), p. 48. This source lists a 1948 total of 69,500 without Togo. Togo has been estimated from 1950 data indicating 3065 trade union members.Google Scholar
  23. 21.
    An excellent novel has been written concerning the events which took place during this strike in Senegal: Semble Ousmane, Les bouts de bois de dieu (Paris: Presses Pocket, 1960).Google Scholar
  24. 22.
    A. Byl, ‘History of the Labour Market in French-speaking West Africa’ Cahiers économiques et sociaux, Kinshasa. 5:2, June 1967, p. 174, lists 1.8 % in 1948 and 2.1 % in 1957. It is interesting to note that a calculation for 1974 shows a total of only 2.3 %.Google Scholar
  25. 23.
    For a full discussion of colonial socio-economic structure and its relationship to the evolution of an African labour force in the French African colonies see: Elliot Berg, ‘French West Africa’ in Walter Galenson (Ed.). Labor and Economic Development (New York: Wiley, 1959) pp. 186–259.Google Scholar
  26. 25.
    Background material concerning this overseas labour code is in Ernest Milcent, l’A.O.F. entre en scène (Paris: Bibliothèque de l’Homme d’Action, 1958) p. 67.Google Scholar
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    For a full description of the period of the 1951 CGT conference in Bamako, its results, and the creation of several autonomous trade unions see République française, Ministère de la France d’Outre-Mer, Le syndicalisme dans les territoires africains (Paris: n.d./1955?).Google Scholar
  28. 30.
    Trade union membership and divisions by centrals are from: Geiss, op. cit., p. 48 and International Labour Organisation, African Labour Survey (Geneva: ILO, 1958), p. 238.Google Scholar
  29. Togo figures from Labour Lambert Bovy, ‘Histoire du mouvement syndical ouest-africain d’expression française’, Revue juridique et politique, Paris, 22:, 1968, p. 116. Based on data from 1955 and other documents, the Upper Volta, and Niger union membership has been adjusted.Google Scholar
  30. See Haut-Commissariat Générale en Afrique occidentale française, Annuaire statistique de l’Afrique occidentale francaise années 1955, 1956 et 1957, Dakar, 6: 1, June 1958.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Trade union leaders entered positions as government ministers in all but Mauritania in May 1957. There were at least twenty leading members of the West African labour movement as ministers or assembly members at this time. The claim that there were only 4 of 473 elected representatives from the trade unions, as cited to illustrate the lack of political involvement, is an underestimate. See Elliot Berg and Jeffrey Butler ‘Trade Unions’ in James S. Coleman and Carl Rosberg (eds.), Political Parties and National Integration in Tropical Africa (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1964) p. 362.Google Scholar
  32. 34.
    For a full discussion of this congress see: Sékou Touré, Congrès général de l’UGTAN (Paris: Présence africaine, 1959). The book also contains UGTAN’s ideological stand.Google Scholar
  33. 37.
    See the proceedings of a 1964 ILO African Regional Conference in Addis Ababa for various national views on this question, Organisation internationale du Travail, Deuxième conférénce régionale africaine de 1’O.I.F. (Geneva: O.I.T., 1964).Google Scholar
  34. 41.
    Data for 1969, the last available statistical material, for Upper Volta and Niger is taken from: République de Haute-Volta, Ministère du Travail et de la Fonction Publique, Statistiques 1969 (Ouagadougou: 1973) andGoogle Scholar
  35. Republique du Niger, Ministère du Travail et de la Fonction Publique, Rapport annuel 1969 (Niamey: 1972). In 1957 some 12 per cent of the individual disputes in these countries were submitted to labour tribunals as compared to 10 per cent in 1969.Google Scholar
  36. 43.
    Jean Grosdidier de Matons, Droit du Travail African (Abidjan: CEDA, 1969), p. 178.Google Scholar
  37. 44.
    See the discussion of the ideologies of trade unions in France in Jean — Daniel Reynaud, Les syndicats en France (Paris: Librairie A. Colin, 1966), p. 62.Google Scholar
  38. 47.
    Martin Kirsch, Le droit du travail africain (Paris: Travail et profession d’outre-mer, 1975), p. 264.Google Scholar
  39. 51.
    Everett Kassalow, Trade Unions and Industrial Relations: An International Comparison (New York: Random House, 1969), p. 309.Google Scholar
  40. 52.
    Elliot Berg, ‘French West Africa’ in Walter Galenson (ed.). Labour and Economic Development (New York: Wiley, 1959), p. 232.Google Scholar

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© International Institute for Labour Studies 1979

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  • George R. Martens

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