Iba Der Thiam, "La grève des cheminots du Senegal, de Septembre 1938"
(Université de Dakar: Facultée des Lettres et Sciences Humaines, Departement d'Histoire, 1972), 2 volumes, 405 pages.
in IFAN 4° 3231

© 1999 by Jim Jones, Ph.D.

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Thiam's study of the 1938 railroad strike concludes that the auxiliary workers formed an underclass that broke with the union led by Francois Gning, a member of the Cadre Commun Supérieur.


(p1) The introduction mentions some references on African union activity:

(p2) Thiam stressed the important role of the Senegalese working class and the town of Thiès, an industrial city that was created in the first half of the 20th century.

According to correspondance with an unnamed Malian railroad worker, the 1938 strike did not reach the Soudan.

There was a 48-hour strike on the Chemin de Fer Dakar-St. Louis in 1925.

Notes on content

(pp41-51) This section describes the salaries for all classes of European and African workers. It includes a description of the cadres of the Chemin de Fer.

  1. European personnel
    1. Cadre Supérieur - included functionnaires, various specialists and agents of the SNCF. They received the same salary as their colleagues in France, plus housing and overseas allowances such as "le supplement colonial" and "le conge prolongé". This cadre was divided into 4 echelles which were each divided into 10 echelons. Monthly salaries ranged from 14000 to 65000 francs. "C'etait plut“t un personnel de conception que d'execution."
    2. Cadre Sécondaire - included contr“leurs de trafic, chefs de gares importants, sous-chefs des gares d'importance exceptionelles, chefs de district, chefs de dép“ts détachés, sous-chefs de dép“ts détachés, chefs de dép“ts annexes trés importants, contr“leurs de traction, contremaŚtres des gros ateliers. These were the people who got things done ("personnel d'execution") and some had Africans directly under their supervision. This was the largest group of European employees.
    3. Le personnel auxiliaire et journalier - this included all the other Europeans. They were not permanent employees. There were four categories of European auxiliaries. Three had monthly contracts and the gourth had daily contracts or were paid by the task. The Chemin de Fer Dakar-Niger had almost no employees of this type - just a few old agents who couldn't be employed anywhere else.
  2. Le personnel de statut Africain
    1. Le personnel du cadre commun supérieur - Each section of the Chemin de Fer had employees in the Cadre Commun Supérieur. Salaries ranged from 5,600 to 16,000 francs/month. These positions required secondary school diplomas or higher, including "certificat de fin d'études d'une ecole supérieur ou practique du commerce." The following list shows the type of jobs in each section that were classified in the Cadre Commun Supérieur:
      • Administration centrale et bureaux: chef de bureau, sous-chef de bureau, dessinateur, agent-comptable, agent comptable stagiaire
      • Exploitation: sous-chef de gare, inspecteur, sous-inspecteur
      • Voies et batiments: inspecteur, chef de section, chef de district principal, chef de district stagiaire
      • Materiel et traction: inspecteur, chef de dép“t, ourier d'art, ourier d'art stagiaire

    2. Les agents du cadre local - included employees in each of the services mentioned previously, plus "les ateliers et chantiers" (workshops and construction sites) and "le personnel du manutention et les manoeuvres" (maintenance workers and other unskilled laborers). All were subordinate to members of the Cadre Commun Supérieur. The cadre local was divided into the Cadre Local Supérieur and the Cadre Local Secondaire. The Cadre Local included the chefs de gares principals, facteurs, chefs de train, agents de train, aiguiller, maitre ouvrier principal, aide-ouvrier, chef d'equipe, homme d'équipe, etc. Salaries ranged from 1,500-1,800 francs/month to as much as 10,000 francs/month for maitre-ouvriers and chefs de gare. Members of the Cadre Local had fixed contracts and were eligible for regular promotions and sick days. Members of the Cadre Local Supérieur at Thiès had the right to lodging in the Cité Ballabey (government-suppplied housing). The Chemin de Fer provided transport from the Cité Ballabey to the market and schools for family members. Workers received bonuses, overtime pay and retirement allowances, medical care for family members, paid vacations, and the right to free transport for family members and a specified quantity of merchandise. They had an "Association amicale professionale" that functioned as a quasi-union. They started work at 7h30, unlike the ouvriers journaliers who began each day at 7h00.

    3. Ouvriers journaliers (ouvriers auxilliaires) - These formed the majority of all cheminots. Most were illiterate. They had no fixed contracts ("personnel à statut temporaire"). These workers included painters, welders, laborers, "adjusteurs", mechanics, drivers, conductors and guards. They were paid by the day and had neither holidays, paid weekends nor sick days. They worked 54 hours per week, but received neither overtime, housing nor hospitalization. They received free railroad transport for themselves, but not for family members although "la solidarité professionale" was often enough to circumvent the limitation. They had no regular means of promotion and were often hired and fired merely to supplement the railroad labor force during the "saison de traite." Theoretically, the salaries of auxiliaries ranged as high as 1,500 francs/month, but in fact they were usually about 7-8 francs/day and rarely more than 25 francs/day. The actual range was 210-780 francs/month.

    (p52) This thesis includes a list of prices in Dakar on March 15, 1936 used to calculate the cost-of-living for railroad workers. They were obtained from Bulletin Mensuel de l'Agence Économique de l'AOF, n°187 de Juillet 1936, p233.

    Item Price (francs) Quantity
    Charcoal 40 100 kilogram
    Millet 70 100 kilogram
    Imported rice 62.5 100 kilograms
    Sugar 2 kilograms
    Bread 1.6 750 grams
    Salt 1 kilograms
    Petrol 62 case
    Chicken 6-8 each
    Meat 6 kilogram
    Candles 9 kilogram

    Salt cost 1,000 francs/ton in 1938.

    (p53) Lodging for a single man cost 50-55 francs. This included 2 meals a day, but it is not clear what time period this covered (probably a week).

    (p54) In 1929, the "Association Amicale et Professionelle des Agents indigènes du Chemin de Fer de l'AOF - Senegal" (AAP) was founded in imitation of a similar European group. It represented all Africans regardless of cadre.

    (p55) Power within the AAP was evenly distributed between the auxiliaries, who had the numbers to exert pressure, and the cadres, who had the skills and prestige to negotiate with the white railroad administration.

    (p56) Although African labor unions were illegal, François Gning was a member of the Socialist party and the Popular Front government chose to ignore his activities.

    (p61) At the June 19, 1938 meeting of the Assemblée Générale du Syndicat, the members elected a Comité Directeur composed entirely of members of the cadre. This was the beginning of the schism in African railroad worker movement.

    (p68) In 1937, the Chemin de Fer Dakar-Niger workshops were established at Thiès. Some Africans interpreted this as a plot on the part of the Chemin de Fer administration to remove railroad workers from Dakar and isolate them.

    (p79) This was the system used to classify railroad stations: 1) halte: staffed by a single agent. 2) petite gare: chef de gare et 1 facteur. 3) gare moyenne: chef de gare, 2 facteurs et 2 aiguilleurs. 4) grande gare: chef de gare, sous- chef de gare, services de grande vitesse et petite vitesse, service de securité.

    (p86) On September 15, 1938, Fourgonnier auxiliaire Diack was transferred from Thiès to Gossas.

    (p88) Francois Gning's leadership was threatened when the journaliers rallied to support M. Cheikh Diack. Gning benefitted from the administration decision to transfer Diack.

    (p90) On September 20, 1938, the Association Amicale et Professionale des Agents auxiliaires du Dakar-Niger was founded.

    (p95) On September 27, 1938, the strike began.

    (p97) The strikers had the support of Galandou Diouf and his party, represented by Manekh Seck, who acted as liasion through Alassane Diène.

    (p102) Galandou Diouf broke with Blaise Diagne in 1928. Diagne died on May 11, 1934.

    (p123) François Gning was born in Libreville from a Senegalese father and Gabonese mother, so he spoke both Wolof and Gabonese. He was 18 when he began to work for the Chemin de Fer Dakar-Niger. He began to lead the Association Amicale in 1928. He was married to a woman from Gorée.

    The Cité Ballabey was located on the site of the former "village Bambara." See Tome II for maps #2b and #6 of Thiès in 1910 and 1940.

    (p139) There was confusion about the number of people hurt in the strike. In the shooting at Thiès, six were killed and 82 injured, including 5 police.

    (p140) Other sources reported that there were six dead and 90 injured, including 47 law officers. 29 other strikers were slightly injured, but they'd feared reprisals if they reported their injuries, so they returned to work before reporting their injuries. As a result, the official report on the strike reported 125 victims.

    (p204) Results of the strike: strikers were not punished. The railroad administration allowed the Association Amicale to remain in existence. Families of the victims received payments from the administraiton. Worker grievances were taken under consideration. [see "Paris-Dakar" n°810 (October 1, 1938).]

    (p206) Work resumed on the railroad on September 30, 1938.

    (p212) In France, opponents of the Popular Front blamed the Gouverneur Général de l'AOF Marcel de Coppet for leniency that encouraged the strikers.

    (p217) The Mission d'Enquête Gaston Joseph recommended that De Coppet be transferred. He was temporarily replaced by Pierre Boisson. The Gouverneur du Sénégal Lefebvre was replaced by Parisot, the former governor of Gabon.

    (p223) Marcel De Coppet was the first Gouverneur Général to assist black Africans. [see the speech by Paul Vidar, mayor of Saint Louis, in Compte-Rendu de Réunion Politique fait par le police (October 20, 1938, in AOF K 1 (1).]

    (p231) Despite the administration's promises, 23 strikers went to trial on November 16, 1938.

    (p232) By December 14, 1938, 43 people were convicted of strike activity. By April 15, 1939, the number rose to 71. [see "Un fete chez les cheminots" in Le Périscope Africain, n°391 (January 22, 1939).]