Friday, 7 March 2014

Abdulwahid Sykes and Dar es Salaam Dockworkers’ Union, 1948 Part Three



Abdulwahid Sykes and Dar es Salaam Dockworkers’ Union, 1948
Part Three

Abdulwahid also came to learn that his former opponent for the union post and his father’s political adversary of many years, Erika Fiah, was instigating the union leadership to overthrow ‘that South African son of Kleist’. Some of the dockworkers were, of course convinced that Abdulwahid should resign and pave the way for Fiah to take over leadership of the union. This created two factions within the union. One faction wanted Abdulwahid to continue leading the union and another called for his immediate resignation. Fiah was preferred because dockworkers thought Abdulwahid was too moderate and supported Fiah’s radical stand. As the crisis continued and as there was no signs insight of resolving the dispute, Abdulwahid heeded his father’s call and resigned his post in July 1948. Abdulwahid had led the Dockworkers’ Union for barely six months.

But when the reality of Abdulwahid’s resignation became obvious, that is, he was actually leaving the union and members were to elect a new secretary, a faction of the membership retracted and asked him to stay on. Abdulwahid did not want to change his mind. He had other pressing problems at home. His father was bedridden with bronchitis and was insisting that Abdulwahid should resign his post immediately. In a show of solidarity the dockworkers carried young Abdulwahid shoulder-high from the Union’s offices at Acacia Avenue (Samora Avenue) to Mnazi Mmoja grounds where the Union used to hold its meetings. Abdulwahid’s resignation did not mean that he was out of touch with the movement. His resignation was necessitated by a multiplicity of reasons and a complex situation of intrigue and political machinations involving Hamilton, Fiah and some of the union members.

Soon after Abdulwahid’s resignation, Fiah, Kleist’s arch-enemy was elected General Secretary of the Dockworkers’ Union to replace him. But Fiah did not stay long in power; he was soon phased out by Union members and one Salum Mohamed took over the leadership from him.[1]

On 1st February, 1950, the dockworkers staged a violent strike in which they clashed with riot police in full battle gear. The colonial authority perceived the dockworkers’ persistent unrest as violent politics against the state. The government set up the riot police (known as the Kavirondo by the coastal people) upon them. Kavirondo were askaris from up-country known for their blind viciousness in executing colonial orders. As a rule, they were always deployed outside their home areas to stifle any sentiment should they be commanded to go into action against their own tribesmen. As a result, they were considered by town Muslims who were involved in the struggle against British rule as colonial agents and an uncivilised lot. In the clash between the Kavirondo and the dockworkers, nineteen Kavirondos were killed.

After the dust had settled, Hamilton was put under house arrest and was quietly deported back to Britain. Many dockworkers were rounded up, thrown in remand prison and criminal charges opened against them. The government had come to realise that Hamilton, the trade union expert it had brought into the country was in fact a member of the British Communist Party.  Throughout his tenure with the Labour Department and the Dockworkers’ Union Hamilton was persistently inciting union members to create permanent industrial unrest at the port.  As a true Marxist, Hamilton was a believer in the superiority of labour over capital. He believed that industrial unrest at the port in Dar es Salaam would spill over to other vital economic sectors as the experience had been in the 1947 General Strike. This explains to some extent why Abdulwahid resigned his post after only six months in office and the reason behind the change of leadership in the union, three times in the span of two years. In June, 1950 the Dockworkers’ Union was dissolved by court order and dockers’ trade union activities were not to resume until 1955 after the founding of TANU.

The dockworkers’ struggle against exploitation was a source of inspiration for many workers labouring under difficult working conditions. Soon after the 1947 General Strike, five trade unions were formed namely, the African Cooks, Washermen and House Servants’ Association, the African Tailors Association, the Morogoro Personal Servants’ Association and the Dar es Salaam African Motor Drivers’ Association. [2]  The dockworkers and indeed Abdulwahid, achieved much in terms of creating political awareness. Abdulwahid no doubt used that experience to mobilise people  into TAA and in the founding of  TANU in 1954.  Mapolu has noted that in Tanganyika, the development of the trade union movement coincided with the development of the nationalist movement:

The Tanganyika African National Union was formed in 1954. Not only was the social base of its leadership the same as that of the trade union movement, but in many instances leadership of the two movements actually overlapped. It was therefore easy for the nationalist movement to strike roots among the workers through the trade union movement which it used for its political objectives. [1]


     [1]      Henry Mapolu, Workers and Management, TPH, Dar es Salaam, 1976,  p. 139.

Associations purported to have been formed to safeguard workers’ interests had existed since early 1930s despite having introduced the Trade Union Ordinance of 1932; the colonial government was still very hostile to organised collective action of the working class. [4]  But this did not deter workers from fighting for their rights.  None of the unions or associations that were formed aroused the consciousness of the working class in Tanzania as the dockworkers did in Dar es Salaam. There was a very big difference between the Tanganyika Territory Civil Servants’ Association (TTACA), founded in 1922 by Martin Kayamba, and the Dockworkers’ Union, both in leadership and in direction. TTACA was a harmless genuine welfare association, free from any conflict with the colonial administration.  It was ‘a club for clerks and teachers, with newspapers and a football team, encouraged by the government’. [5] This association and others of similar nature formed and led by the educated elites did not achieve much.[6]

Just as historians have ignored the pioneers of nationalist movement before 1954, the official history of the labour movement in Tanganyika begins after 1955. Iliffe has again noted this anomaly:

The common view of Tanzanian labour history is that it did not begin until the 1950s. In this view best expressed by by Mr. Tandau-a self-conscious labour movement was created then by a group of young leaders who in 1955 formed Tanganyika Federation of Labour, which subsequently stimulated organisation among a wide variety of workers. The Tanzania labour movement is thus seen-as political nationalism is also usually seen as something created from above through the initiative of a small group of educated activists.[7] 





[1]           Iliffe, ‘A History of Dockworkers...’ op. cit. p.137.
 [2]         ARLD p.15.
     [3]      Henry Mapolu, Workers and Management, TPH, Dar es Salaam, 1976,  p. 139.
     [4]      See Helge Kjeshus, Labour in Tanzania, (Dar es Salaam, 1977), passim.
     [5]      Iliffe, ‘Tanzania Under British Rule’ in B.A. Ogot and J. Kieran (Eds) Zamani: A Survey of East African History, East African Publishing House, 1968 p. 22 quoted in African Studies Working Paper No. 8, April, 1979, by G.W. Reeves.
   [6]        See E.A. Mang'enya, Discipline and Tears, Dar es Salaam, 1984 p. 231.
     [7]   Iliffe, ‘A History of Dockworkers...’ op. cit. p. 119. Also A.C.A. Tandau, Historia ya Kuundwa kwa TFL (1955-1962) na Kuanzishwa kwa NUTA, Dar es Salaam, 1964.
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