Review from ROAPE Volume 2 Number 3
Labour and Politics in Nigeria 1945-71 (Cohen)
Robin Cohen is a political sociologist whose book belongs to a familiar category of national-level studies of trade unions and politics in the third world. Although his is not the first book-length study of the trade unions in Nigeria, it is certainly the first to go beyond a simple narrative treatment. Cohen presents the movement as both affected by and affecting economic, social and political forces. Whilst the book falls into the ‘unions and politics’ category, Cohen also attempts to break away from certain precepts that have dominated such studies. He rejects, in particular, the notion that third world unions fall into a special category of ‘political unionism’ and that they are politically significant only in so far as they tie up with nationalist or other major political parties. Cohen is interested in the formation of a specific working class with its own distinct consciousness, forms of organisation and action, and he considers his subject partly in this light. He has chapters on the social, economic and political environment, on the convoluted history of the national trade union centres (their mergers, splits and international affiliations), and union behaviour in the economic and political fields. These are examined for the period up to the first coup in January 1966. An updating chapter covers the unions under the military, before, during and after the civil war. The concluding chapter considers the relationship of the unions to political stability in Nigeria and comments on general theories of ‘political unionism’ in Africa. Apart from a minor and inconclusive survey, Cohen is basically dependent on documentary sources. Charts showing the development of trade union centres and worker-oriented political groups provide an invaluable guide through a maze of names and initials.