Gambian Workers win general strike January 24-28 1961

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Timing
Time Period:  
24 January
1961
to
28 January
1961
Location and Goals
Country: 
Gambia
Location City/State/Province: 
Bathurst, Gambia
Location Description: 
Bathurst is now known as Banjul
Goals: 
Increase the minimum wage for unskilled laborers, ideally by 90 percent
 

ME Jallow founded the Gambia Workers’ Union (GWU) in 1956, and held the position of General Secretary until the mid 1980s. GWU’s base consisted of unskilled laborers, especially the growing number of workers in Bathurst. The union first began by supporting industrial workers who were taking action to protest low pay. In February 1960, the colonial government, pressured by an upcoming election, responded positively to a strike in Bathurst led by daily paid workers. Government officials formed a commission on wage rates and increased the minimum wage by 25 percent. As a result of this success, more Bathurst workers began to join GWU. By mid-1960, about 1,158 workers belonged to GWU. Jallow and GWU leader Henry Joof decided that GWU would remain politically neutral so that the union would not alienate any potential members or political allies.

On 14 January 1961, on behalf of GWU, Jallow demanded that employers increase the minimum wage by 90 percent by filing a claim with the Gambia’s Commercial Joint Industrial Council . Three days later, laborers stopped working on certain ships. On 24 January, Jallow organized a general strike because employers had not yet responded to the demand. All daily-rated laborers in Bathurst stopped working. According to the International Labour Organization’s Definitive Report No. 56, 1961, Case No. 252 (United Kingdom), the workers did not notify the Joint Industrial Council of their intention to stop work before the strike.

Jallow gave economic reasons for the strike, not political ones. Many workers, however, saw the strike as part of the struggle for independence from Great Britain, which may explain why so many workers supported the strike on 24 January.

To further increase pressure on employers to raise wages, Jallow organized a demonstration at the Marine Dockyard in Bathurst. Bathurst authorities refused to give permission for a procession into the dockyard, with the explanation that a public procession would be dangerous in a busy area. Facing this obstruction, demonstrators forced entry into the Marine Dockyard on 25 January.

Police force dispersed the crowd that had gathered in the dockyard. Definitive Report No. 56, 1961, Case No. 252 (United Kingdom) of the International Labour Organization states that government staff at the dockyard were attacked and injured, but it does not state explicitly whether demonstrators initiated or participated in the violence.

Because of government staff were injured at the demonstration, authorities later arrested Jallow, charging him with incitement to riot. Following Jallow’s arrest, GWU submitted a telegram to the Secretary General of the United Nations through the International Labor Organization to request intervention in Jallow’s arrest. The UN did not intervene in the arrest because Jallow had been charged with incitement to riot and there had been violence at the event. The report implied that if Jallow had been arrested for just organizing the demonstration, then the UN might have intervened.

The repression of the workers’ demonstration by Bathurst authorities excited public energy and support for the strike and demonstration. After his arrest, the public saw Jallow as a nationalist hero and a victim of colonial oppression, even though he had not made political statements about the strike or demonstration. This increase in public excitement about the strike led industrial employers to fear that the strike might become violent. In addition, they were unable to find temporary replacements for the workers on strike.

The employers, with the approval of Bathurst authorities, opened informal negotiations with GWU. Employers agreed to raise the minimum wage by an additional 13 percent. This satisfied GWU leaders and members, who were not expecting employers to meet their full demands of a 90 percent increase in minimum wage.

As a result of GWU’s success in increasing the minimum wage, support for the labor union grew and its membership increased. This increase in membership helped to establish and strengthen the organization, giving it a broader base of support, which allowed it to continue to advocate for Gambia workers’ rights.

The success of the Bathurst strike inspired inspiring a period of labor unrest across the country that led to further reform. The strike also became one of the factors that influenced the colonial government’s decision to grant Gambia internal self-government. In 1961, Jallow served as a delegate at the Banjul and London Constitutional Conferences. These conferences led to the adoption of Gambia’s 1962 constitution.

Research Notes
Influences: 

Gambia workers strike 1960

Sources: 
Anon. 2015. "Definitive Report - Report No 56, 1961." International Labour Organization. International Labour Organization, 2015. Retrieved February 27, 2015. (http://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:50002:0::NO::P50002_COMPLAINT_TEXT_ID:2898489).

Faal, Alhaji Ebou. 2014. "Gambia: The Road to Independence and Emergence of Trade Unions and Political Parties." The Standard. The Standard Newspaper, October 16. Retrieved February 9, 2015. (http://web.archive.org/web/20150209061108/http://standard.gm/site/opinion/4973-Gambia-The-road-independence-and-emergence-trade-unions-and-political-parties.html).

Faal, Dawda. 2008. "The Road to Independence." Daily Observer: Forward with The Gambia. Observer Company Ltd., February 15. 2008. Retrieved February 9, 2015. (http://web.archive.org/web/20150209061430/http://observer.gm/africa/gambia/article/2008/2/15/the-road-to-independence).

Hughes, Arnold, and David Perfect. 2008. Historical Dictionary of The Gambia. Fourth ed. Vol. 109. Lanham: Scarecrow, MD. Historical Dictionaries of Africa. African Studies Center. Shanghai Normal University. Retrieved February 9, 2015. (http://web.archive.org/web/20150209055948/http://shcas.shnu.edu.cn/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=aCQNjKp7ZrU%3D&tabid=12805&mid=31237&language=zh-CN).

Hughes, Arnold, and David Perfect. 1989 "Trade Unionism in the Gambia." African Affairs 88.353 (1989): 549-72. JSTOR. Oxford University Press on Behalf of The Royal African Society. Retrieved February 8, 2015. (http://www.jstor.org/stable/723036).

Momodou. 2007. "M.E Jallow Veteran Unionist, Great Leader and Keen Visionary." Nijii. Bantaba in Cyberspace, April 1. Retrived February 8, 2015. (http://web.archive.org/web/20150209055218/http://www.gambia.dk/forums/topic.asp?ARCHIVE=true&TOPIC_ID=3429).

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Erica Janko, 02/08/2015