anm document

Note relative à la grève des cheminots 1947-1948 (no date)
in ANM K70 fonds recents

© 1999 by Jim Jones, Ph.D.

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This is a ten-page report that contains the chronology of the legal battles that accompanied the 1947-1948 railroad workers' strike in AOF.

Origins of the strike: The dispute began in August 1946 when the cheminots demanded the creation of a "cadre unique" for all railroad employees. On October 25, 1946, an Arrête de Haut Commissaire created the "Commission consultative paritaire" to study the demands of the cheminots and the larger question of personnel organization. The Commission consultative paritaire began its work on December 5, 1946, but was deeply divided and unable to reach any conclusions.

On April 19, 1947, cheminots gave up on the Commission consultative Paritaire and began a strike on the same day that the President of the Republic was scheduled to arrive in Dakar. At a meeting held with Ministère des Colonies Moutet, Haut Commissaire AOF Barth, Lamine Gueye, Leopold Senghor, Cros? [illegible], Alioune Diop and Ousmane Soce, they reached an agreement and ended the strike. The strikers and management agreed that all employees would be incorporated into a single cadre unique. Pay scales would be revised to reflect qualifications and not depend solely on the location of work place. Staff reductions would take place. The question of inclusion of auxilliary workers in the cadre was left open, with the final decision left to the Haut Commissaire.

On June 15, 1947, the Commission consultative paraitre resumed its work, and on August 6, the Commission consultative paraitre finished its work. The Haut Commissaire AOF ratified the decisions made by the Commission consultative paraitre on August 29, but the text was rejected by the Syndicat des Cheminots. On September 1, the cheminots presented six demands (see below) and threatened to strike on October 10, 1947 if they were not met.

On September 12, 1947, the Haut Commissaire received the cheminots' demands and called a conference for September 14, but the cheminots refused to attend since their leader, Ibrahima Sarr, was not available. The meeting between cheminots and Haut Commissaire finally took place on October 7, but there was no agreement. The following day, the cheminots modified their demands slightly and presented them to the Haut Commissaire. Their demands included:

  1. The admninistration must specify a date by which the auxilliary workers would be included under the contract.
  2. The admninistration must reclassify certain jobs to higher grades. (NOTE: The railroad classified jobs in 4 to 8 grades and based pay on those classifications)
  3. The administration and union must agree on the grade levels where examinations for promotion would take place.
  4. Workers will receive fifteen days for special release (sick days) per year, in addition to vacation time.
  5. The administration will provide housing for all cheminots.
  6. The indemnité du zone (cost-of-living bonuses paid to workers at certain posts) would be done away with and all salaries would match those in the highest-paid zones, like Bamako.

On October 9, the President du Conseil d'Administration du Chemin de Fer rejected the cheminots' revised demands. The Haut Commiassaire designated the Inspecteur Général des Travaux Publiques to talk to all parties and seek a solution. He was unsuccessful. On the following day, October 10, 1947, the Haut Commissaire authorized arbitration to begin. That same day, the cheminots launched their strike.

Both sides attended arbitration hearings for three days (October 13-15) but no agreement was reached and on the 15th, they gave up. The following day, the Haut Commissaire appointed M. Ferrey, President du Tribunal de 1er Instance de Dakar (Supreme Court) to act as an arbiter.

On October 20, Ferrey rejected all of the cheminots' demands with one exception--the auxilliary workers should be integrated into a single cadre as of July 15 instead of October 1. Both sides rejected his decision.

On October 24, 1947, a "Comité arbitral d'appel" (Appeals Board) was created. A week later on October 31, the Appeals Board's decision confirmed Ferrey's ruling, but provided for only 10 sick days instead of fifteen. It recommended an end to salary differentials based on work zones and substituted the cheminots' right to a housing allowance in urban centers.

Legally, the decision of the Appeals Board was binding. The railroad administration accepted it, but the cheminots continued their strike. The two sides broke off all contact and became adversaries. The railroad administration imported SNCF employees (employees of the Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer in France) and used military personnel, African strikebreakers and scab hires to operate a reduced train schedule.

Law enforcement agents stayed out of the dispute except to maintain public order. During this period, there were several unsolved acts of sabotage (although the document is not specific.) In addition, "des poursuites sont engagées contre ceux qui se sont rendus coupables d'atteintes à la liberté du travail" (criminal proceedings were initiated against individuals who were accused of "interfering with the right to work") Although order was maintained and limited rail service operated, the economy of the AOF was seriously damaged.

The strike was very successful. By January 2, 1948, only about 25% of the employees of the Chemin de Fer de l'AOF were at work. There were 896 strikers who had returned to work, aided by 246 soldiers and 2,416 "scabs" who had all been hired since October 1, 1947). However, this was far less than the 15,500 workers needed to operate a full system. Over 16,000 workers remained on strike.

On January 5, 1948, the workers of the Chemin de Fer Abidjan-Niger returned to work, thanks to efforts by the Directeur of the Chemin de Fer Abidjan-Niger and Governeur de la Côte d'Ivoire p.i. Pechouk. Employees of the other three rail lines remained on strike. Only 38% of Dakar-Niger workers, 46% on the Conakry-Niger and 37% on the Benin-Niger returned to work.

On February 26, 1948, the new Haut Commissaire Béchaud called a meeting between representatives of all concerned parties. Boissier Palun served as the legal representative of the strikers. On March 9, Béchaud met with representatives of the European union. After listening to all sides, he issued a final decision that was largely based on the legally binding arbitration agreement of October 31, 1947. It included the following provisions:

  1. Auxilliaries would be integrated into the cadre as of January 1 for purposesss of calculating seniority and May 15 for the purpose of calculating salaries.
  2. The reclassification of members of the lower cadre would not be automatic, but they would receive an increase in their seniority by two steps.
  3. A compromise was reached on the promotion examination question. Since neither side would yield, exams were required for promotion from the 5th to the 6th rank (which the railroad administration wanted) and from 7th to 8th, which the cheminots wanted. [see Traoré thesis for job grades and salaries]
  4. Workers received 15 sick days in addition to their month of vacation, but had to provide medical excuses and had to take into account the needs of rail service (NOTE: during the harvest season, for example).
  5. The administration was not required to guarantee lodging for cheminots.
  6. "Attribution de l'indemnité du zone sur le taux d'indemnité" -- The railroad administration revised their wage rates to include housing allowances for cheminots in urban areas.
  7. There would be no sanctions against strikers. Everyone in the cadres would be rehired. Auxilliary workers would be rehired in the following order: those already working would be retained, those with seniority would be next and finally, the rest would be hired as soon as places appeared.

On Sunday, March 14, Béchaud presented these proposals to the two sides. On the next day, the cheminots accepted the proposals in general, but insisted that all auxilliary workers had to be rehired. This was crucial to the union leaders if they wanted to retain support of their followers. Béchaud understood their position, but the railroad administration had already hired "scabs" who deserved to retain their jobs, and the railroad had already been overstaffed before the strike began, so there were far too many auxilliary workers for the jobs available.

On Tuesday, March 16, 1948, adminsitration and union representatives met from 21h00 until 04h00 the next morning. Béchaud got both sides to agree to a further modification. The exam between grades 7 and 8 was canceled and in exchange, workers who met certain qualifications were exempted from the examination for promotion from grade 5 to grade 6.

On March 19, 1948, the railroad administration accepted the need to rehire or find alternative work for all of the auxilliary workers. However, in the long run, the administration planned to reduce the size of their work force.

Impact of the strike: The strike was terrible for the economy of the AOF. 16 tons of local produce was lost in Koulikoro. Big cities went without supplies. Construction in the Niger Bend and Upper Volta was halted because cement, metal and fuel could not be imported. Senegal's peanut season was affected. Cars and trucks deteriorated because of the heavy use incurred while trying to make up for the absence of railroad freight. The roads of AOF suffered as well.