Le Syndicalisme Africain. Jean Meynaud & Anisee Salah-Bey. Payot, Paris.

This analytic survey of African trade unionism, intelligently conceived and modestly executed, is despite its more restricted scope reminiscent of Hodgkin’s Nationalism in Colonial Africa—an early yet still valuable study. It usefully resumes and concentrates our knowledge, sifting material from a wide variety of official and unofficial sources; it raises several critical questions for further investigation; and, more interesting, it proposes a tentative general model or explicative schema for understanding the evolution and current situation of trade unions in Africa.

The authors neither attempt to furnish new information on the origins and growth of the unions nor to document the struggles waged at the level of the enterprise: their explicit preoccupation is to situate and assess the rôle of trade unions within the national movement as a whole. Thus, interest will probably focus upon the theoretical framework through which the material is articulated and defined. The book’s structure is tripartite: first, an examination of the objective determinants characterization of the economy, and the modalities of external intervention, both administrative and syndical); second, evaluation of the political impulsions provided by nationalism and the attainment of independence; third, discussion of the radical transformation of context and possibilities brought about by the efforts to create an independent pan-African trade union organization and by full accession to the international scene, principally through the ilo. The method is both structural and historical.

The central proposition night be summarized as follows: the specific originality of African trade unionism has consisted in the fact that, historically, it developed before the continental industrial revolution and coincidentally with the remarkable surge of anti-colonial nationalism. (The historical specification might be completed by the observation that this whole development was also occurring in a phase of global cold war.) From this, a large number of subsidiary theses are derived—among them, the impossibility of an ‘apolitical’ trade unionism; the structural significance of the historical form and process of national struggle for emergent trade union organization; the inevitability of trade unions crystallizing as ‘one force among others’ in the post-independence power structure, and hence the importance to be assigned to a study of trade union/government relations.

This last raises difficulties which Meynaud and Salah-Bey, understandably, do not completely resolve. It is argued throughout, for example, that economic under-development constitutes a principal obstacle to the unions assuming a genuine autonomy vis-a-vis governments. The existing alternatives are seen as ‘integration’ without retention of sufficient powers or ‘independence’ at the expense of national development; and prospects for a more advanced action by the unions (acquisition of industrial and commercial enterprises, an effective participation in planning, long-term theoretical work) are reckoned poor given their economic weakness and the ‘drainage’ of cadres into the political apparatus. But the examples of the umt, the Union Generale des Travailleurs Tunisiens under Ben Salah and the Union Nationale des Travailleurs du Mali seem to qualify this gloomy assessment. A more important objection, however, arises from the chronic political and institutional instability characteristic of most post-colonial African states which is, in fact, admitted by the authors. What is clearly required therefore is to develop, as far as this is possible, a general theory of power for the newly independent African states which will enable us to determine the type situations in which organized labour may play a pivotal political rôle, assume new functions or effect a significant transformation in the power structure. For it is already evident that schematic antitheses (party = all the people; unions = privileged and selfish stratum) cannot be retained as they stand; and the radicalization of unions in a context of post-independence administrative corruption and political atrophy is now amply demonstrated (e.g. Congo-Leopoldville, 1961–63).

At this moment, the two critical factors governing the possibilities of radical union initiatives appear to be:

It is only in situation where political power is labile and the military is neutral or benevolent that the local weight of the trade unions may become politically decisive; where either condition is not satisfied, a setback to independent radical demands is likely. Thus, in Congo-Brazzaville and to a lesser extent Dahomey the unions were able to compel the overthrow of the régime; but in Congo-Leopoldville, despite the incoherence and diffusion of political power, military repression effectively broke the unions’ movement for implementation of an austerity programme; while Tanganyika provides an instance of a check to union pressures because political power remained relatively solid and concentrated even though the military proved unreliable. r.m.