Review from ROAPE Volume 2 Number 3
African Railwaymen: Solidarity & Opposition in Labour (Grillo)
R D Grillo is an anthropologist and his interest is in workers as a community. His book falls into a narrow but strong tradition of such studies in anglophone Central and East Africa by anthropologists of the Manchester school. His subject is the railway workers on the estate owned by the East African Railways in Kampala. His focus is the traditional one of the anthropologist, that of the cohesion and continuity of the community. The narrowness of his field is compensated for by increased depth. Whilst Grillo is able to dispose of the economic and social background of Uganda and Kampala in ten pages, he makes an intense study of the estate's inhabitants, of the industrial structure and working relationships, of relations amongst the employees and between them and their rural home areas. A chapter on social mobility deals with the stresses created by competition for promotion within the modern employment hierarchy. And one on voluntary associations concentrates primarily on the nature and significance of trade union organisation and behaviour. This is concerned with the role that unions play in the struggle for personal mobility rather than that for social mobilisation. But this is consistent with what he has shown us of the background structure and situation of the labour force. Grillo is dealing with a particular group of workers (the relatively-privileged employees of a public corporation), at a particular moment in the process of proletarianisation (they retain strong rural links, returning home with pensions on early retirement), and at a particular political moment (that of rapid Africanisation and promotion following independence in 1964-5). Although Grillo makes use of documents, the value of his study depends primarily on the traditional tools of his trade. In addition to 18 months intensive observation, which included visits to a home village area, he also used individual interviews and life histories, and he carried out an extensive survey of households on the estate. There are numerous tables and figures.