Domesticity and Difference: Male Breadwinners, Working Women, and Colonial Citizenship in the 1945 Nigerian General Strike

From June 22 to August 6, 1945, around 40,000 Nigerian workers—mostly civil servants and railwaymen in Yorubaland in the southwest—stayed off their jobs to protest the government’s refusal to raise wages after years of acute inflation.[1] Scholars have seen the general strike as a turning point in Nigerian labor history as well as part of a larger movement of African nationalism, in which workers achieved a remarkable degree of class unity, broad segments of the population openly defied the colonial regime, and the government was forced to live up to some of its war-era developmentalist rhetoric.[2] Although historians have stressed the importance of community support in explaining the strike’s ultimate success, none has noted a crucial irony: male workers demanded wage increases and even family allowances on the basis of their status as breadwinners, yet they survived during the course of the strike in large measure because of the economic independence of their wives and the importance of market women to local economies. Furthermore, in the post-strike debate over family allowances, trade unionists used gendered language and claims about respectability to talk about racial equality within the colonial order and to constitute the colonial worker and citizen as a male household head.[3] This article explores the network of gender and family issues involved in the most important labor dispute in colonial Nigeria in an attempt to engage and expand two seldom-related bodies of historiography: studies of gender and wage labor in the “developed” world and new work on the colonial state in Africa.

The fundamental issue of the 1945 strike was the social reproduction of Nigeria’s urban labor force. In Great Britain, Nigeria’s colonizer, a consensus had emerged by the early twentieth century that working-class households should generally be supported by “family” (or “breadwinner”) wages. Ideally, employers were to pay for the reproduction of the labor force through wages disbursed to men (although these often were not in fact sufficient to support women and children). In return, wives’ unpaid domestic work enabled men to sell their labor outside the home. This gendered allocation of labor was the result of many local struggles, but by this century it represented the strength of trade unions, the reluctance of the state to intervene actively in the labor market, and the interest of employers in social stability.[4] Trade unionists, for their part, tended to favor family wages because they raised income levels and buttressed working men’s power and status within the household.[5] Family wages both reflected and reinforced a gender ideology encompassing separate spheres for men and women and a male breadwinner ideal.[6]

Although colonizers often did seek to impart their notions of gender to African elites and mission converts, they did not generally expect that African workers’ households would replicate those of Europeans.[7] In the areas with concentrated wage-labor forces—the mining centers of southern and central Africa, along with port cities and railways throughout the continent—the original model was migrant labor, with men leaving their rural families to work for bounded periods of time. Colonial policy makers favored migrant labor as a corollary to indirect rule, in which Africans were to live and be governed through rurally based “tribes.” Trade unions were weak until the 1940s, and the state often backed employers’ low wages through extra-economic means of labor recruitment. In southern Africa, female-headed rural households in effect subsidized the reproduction of the male labor force, whose wages were otherwise too low to sustain itself.[8] In Nairobi, the state depended on urban labor for administration and services but refused to pay adequate wages or to commit itself to housing Africans permanently. Prostitutes stepped into the breach, earning their living by providing migrant workers with accommodation, food, and bathwater in addition to sexual services.[9] Mine owners in Zambia and the Belgian Congo were the first to move away from the migrant labor model, calculating in the 1920s that workers would be more enthusiastic and productive if they were allowed to bring their families to the mining compounds, where wives could garden and cook for their husbands. But rural African elders complained about their loss of control over women and long-term migrants, prompting conflict between a state that supported “native authorities” and companies seeking to ensure the most efficient maintenance of their workers.[10]

Colonial Nigeria, adapted from a map in Cheryl Johnson-Odim and Nina Emma Mba, For Women and the Nation: Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti of Nigeria (Urbana, Ill., 1997), 2.

Compared to the “new” cities of the colonial era, such as Johannesburg, Nairobi, and the urban parts of the Copperbelt, where the relationship between wage labor and gender has been studied more extensively, Nigeria had little migrant labor and several well-established urban areas already peopled with African families. West Africa’s economic focus on peasant agriculture meant that wage labor was less developed than further east or south, yet the state and commercial enterprises did need workers in administrative centers and along transportation and communication routes. It was a foregone conclusion that such wage earners would be male; but, where women earned income in their own enterprises, as in southern Nigeria, employees were paid cheaply on the grounds that they had no need to support wives and children. Thus, even though the specific circumstances varied throughout Africa, nowhere did colonial officials before World War II believe that “family” wages were appropriate or necessary to reproduce an African working class. African workers were not like European workers, nor were their families comparable to European families.

This type of thinking was challenged during the “second colonial occupation” of the postwar era.[11] During the 1940s and 1950s, shortages of hard currency in Britain and France made them all the more dependent on colonial economies, but the United States and international organizations were hostile to the maintenance of empire. Meanwhile, colonial promises of reform after the peace, growing nationalist aspirations, and Africans’ frustration with continued hardship led to the most intense series of urban disturbances the governments had yet seen—including the 1945 strike in Nigeria. The perceived solution was a new emphasis on “development,” which was intended both to prime colonial economies and to convince the international community that imperial rule was actually beneficial for Africa. Ambitious planners attempted to rationalize peasant agriculture to increase production, stabilize wage labor to improve efficiency, and reshape African cities to make them less disorderly. They thought, or at least hoped, that, given the proper institutions and incentives, Africans would work in modern industries, commercial undertakings, and agricultural enterprises in a manner comparable to Europeans.[12]

As Frederick Cooper has detailed, the postwar strike wave in colonial Africa prompted officials to question the “particularity of the African.”[13] Colonial governments moved toward extending more European-style benefits to certain groups of African workers in exchange for more productive, uninterrupted service. But as we will see, Nigerians’ calls for family allowances, as a counterpart to increasingly lucrative “separation allowances” paid to expatriate workers, were rejected on the grounds that African families were too different from European ones to justify similar entitlements. Current scholarship emphasizes that colonialism both included subject peoples into and excluded them from metropolitan political, economic, and cultural communities, at times simultaneously.[14] In this case, it was the family and gender relations of southern Nigerian workers that complicated the engagement of universalistic notions of labor: women worked outside the home, especially after marriage; spouses generally did not pool their incomes; polygyny was widespread; and households were often composed of “families” much larger and more extended than those of the European bourgeoisie. In an era in which industrial-relations practices were increasingly held to be universally applicable, local gender and domestic arrangements became markers of cultural differences that colonizers used to justify racial discrimination in wage fixing.

Ibadan market women, 1994. Photograph by the author.

Gender and domesticity have been fundamental in demarcating boundaries between colonizers and the colonized and in formulating the very identities of Europeans at home and abroad.[15] Yet we know less about how the gendered exclusions of colonialism interacted with African identities and the political strategies of the colonized. Like colonial administrators, Nigerian trade unionists confronted tensions between universalizing impulses and African particularities. During and after the strike, they demanded cost of living increases through reference to a universal male breadwinner model and family allowances on the basis of equality with expatriate men. At the same time, however, they also depended on the economic and political activities of women. The vast majority of African women in southwestern Nigeria earned money through trade. Individually and in guild organizations, they provided crucial support for strikers by lowering prices on goods they sold, extending credit, and contributing to the strike fund. For them, the issue was not male wages or racial equality, it was their own breadwinning capacities. During the four years of trade unionists’ cost of living agitation (1941–1945), the government instituted price controls and then took on food distribution itself in an attempt to curb inflation from the supply end. These actions threatened the livelihood of market traders, and they engaged in political protest, isolated acts of sabotage, and vigorous black marketeering to thwart the official scheme. When workers struck over the cost of living issue and protested the unfairness of the colonial order, market women could see that their own interests were at stake as well. But wage earners’ claims to be the primary providers for their families undermined their support for the struggles of traders and helped to define “worker” as a masculine category.

The 1945 strike represented a moment of open possibilities—for men and women to mobilize across a starkly gendered division of labor, for the government to commit to paying the social costs of wage employment, and for African workers to take advantage of new policy initiatives based on universalist discourse. In the strike’s epilogue, that opening closed as the state and trade unions reached something of a compromise. After refusing workers’ claims for metropolitan-style entitlements and basing the refusal on local particularities, colonial officials by the mid-1950s asserted that African families had to be reshaped in a European image. This would, they hoped, increase labor productivity and reduce the possibilities for urban disorder and broadly based strikes like the one in Nigeria.[16] “Family” wages, set through collective bargaining within government guidelines, were intended to help working men support their wives and children, thereby reducing the necessity of paid employment for women and fostering stability in the male work force. As in Britain and elsewhere, workers favored family wages as a means to increase their incomes and thus their power within their households.[17] Also as in the metropole, a state commitment to negotiated family wages had the effect of confining official discussions about household income to the policies of industrial relations, in which women were not usually involved. By the end of the colonial period, trade unionists and state administrators jointly envisioned a social order in which household reproduction was based on male wage earning.

Buchi Emecheta’s novel The Joys of Motherhood provides a more visceral picture of Lagos in the 1940s than does any historical work.[18] The story traces the heroine’s struggle to maintain her family in crowded conditions and in the face of constantly rising prices. Between her husband’s wage as a laborer and her own irregular income from trading, they barely make ends meet; when he is conscripted into the Allied army, she finds it impossible to pay the escalating costs of housing and food. But, like Emecheta’s characters, people from all over southern Nigeria continued to migrate to Lagos in search of jobs in the formal sector or some kind of living from trade. In 1945, the commissioner of the colony estimated that there were 20,000 unemployed out of Lagos’s 220,000 population.[19] At the same time, defense regulations compelled those in “essential” services to work compulsory overtime, so that many workers for the railway and the Public Works Department were putting in seventy-seven-hour weeks.[20]

Tensions leading to the 1945 strike had been building since at least 1941, when the government issued new salary scales for the civil service. After strenuous complaints from the press and the African Civil Service Association that wage levels were still too low, it withdrew the proposals and appointed A. F. B. Bridges to head a commission to investigate the cost of living in Lagos. The commission’s report was not released until mid-1942, after months of agitation on the part of the African Civil Servants Technical Workers Union (ACSTWU), an umbrella group representing most government employees. When it finally emerged, the Bridges report called for increased minimum wages, a 50 percent boost in the cost of living allowance to civil servants, and the adoption by commercial employers of labor practices similar to those of the government.[21] The administration accepted most of the recommendations, including the cost of living award. Governor Bernard Bourdillon also promised that, if inflation continued, a new cost of living adjustment would be made in the future.[22] Prices kept rising as the war demanded manpower, limited imports, provided incentives for farmers to export their crops, and lured potential agriculturalists to the cities in search of work.[23] The cost of living index had increased 74 percent between 1939 and October 1943. The ACSTWU called for cost of living adjustment (COLA) revisions in 1943 and 1944, but Governor Arthur Richards, the more intractable official who had replaced Bourdillon, refused on the grounds that money was not available and that efforts were being made to control prices.[24]

This argument appeared to trade unionists and their supporters as disingenuous, given that the Nigerian government continued to increase the allowances paid to European civil servants. In May 1942, the administration had introduced the payment of “separation allowances” to those whose wives did not live in Nigeria. A ruling in late 1943 increased the amount of the separation allowance and made it payable for other dependents—including children, siblings, and parents—as well as wives. The next year, the government introduced “local allowances” for European expatriates whose wives were with them in Nigeria. Further, it announced that the earnings of an officer’s wife would not be considered in assessing local or separation allowances, since, when European wives did work outside the home, their economic contributions were assumed to be insignificant. The small number of Africans holding what were known as “superior posts” also became eligible for local allowances, but they were paid only three-quarters of the amount that a European received.[25]

The unions alleged that racism accounted for the differentials in payments, and that Britain’s calls for “equality of sacrifice” during the war were hypocritical. According to a memorandum from the Nigerian Civil Servants Union, 1,631 European officials in Nigeria were earning a total of £1,077,390, while 14,866 African civil servants’ yearly wages amounted to £998,640.[26] Under these circumstances, it seemed patently unfair that African government employees were refused a cost of living increase. According to Michael Imoudu, leader of the Railway Workers Union, the chief secretary to the government had told him in a meeting before the release of the Bridges report that “he agreed to all our feelings but where did we think government could get two shillings for every worker? The delegates asked him where government got separation allowances for non-Africans?”[27] In other words, if the state could help support European families, it could do so for Africans.

Workers particularly resented government officials’ concern with providing for their own dependents, given how difficult it was to feed families in Lagos during the war years, and the standard of living became a major theme in political and labor activism. Women mobilized against government interference in market trading, which deprived them of earnings; men suggested that their inability to secure food for their families diminished their masculine status. Meanwhile, colonial officials blamed their own inability to control inflation on southern Nigeria’s system of gender and family relations.

By 1940–1941, markets were running out of supplies and prices were skyrocketing. Reluctant to increase wages, the government attempted to control inflation from the supply side. The Pullen price control scheme, named after the commissioner of the colony, Captain A. P. Pullen, began in 1941 when the government attempted to set prices on selected foodstuffs sold in Lagos and nearby markets. Critics argued that the mandated prices were often lower than the combined costs of production and transportation. The ineffectiveness of the scheme was quickly apparent, as market women refused to sell at prices that would deprive them of even meager profits.[28] But still the administration clung to price controls, a decision that mobilized an opposition coalition of elite women, market traders, and nationalist politicians. The West African Pilot, an influential nationalist daily published by politician and businessman Nnamdi Azikiwe, ran frequent articles criticizing the scheme. Groups such as the Lagos Women’s League and the Oyingbo Market Women’s Association held public meetings and lodged formal protests. Madam Alimotu Pelewura, leader of the 8,000-member Lagos Market Women’s Association, charged that the government was depriving the women of their livelihood and that the authorities who set price controls had no knowledge of local markets and trading practices. With the assistance of veteran nationalist Herbert Macaulay and his Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), they employed a variety of protest strategies, including invading a local town council meeting and petitioning the governor, the Lagos Chamber of Commerce, the commissioner of the colony, and the legislative and town councils.[29]

Pelewura and Macaulay, along with most Lagos chiefs, had been political allies since the 1920s. Most recently, Macaulay had provided support to the Lagos market women’s anti-tax campaign. In 1940, in an effort to raise revenues, the government had extended the income tax to women earning over £50 per year. Although the tax only applied to a few of them, market traders feared it would provide an opening for more pervasive taxation of women. Lagos chiefs, meeting in December 1940, stressed that the taxation of women ran counter to local custom, an argument echoed by Pelewura and thousands of her followers during a protest march and mass rally later that month. Furthermore, Pelewura told the commissioner of the colony that women were already bearing the brunt of war-time hardships: “Lagos women have not only to feed and clothe their unemployed husbands and relatives but also to pay their income tax for them, lest they are sent to prison for defaulting.”[30] Sustained pressure from the women, supported by the NNDP and the chiefs, convinced the government to raise the minimum taxable income to £100. This was enough of a compromise for the moment, and traders’ concerns about taxes were replaced by more pressing issues of inflation and price controls.

By October 1943, faced with huge difficulties in enforcement, widespread protests, and the perceptible risk of starvation among Lagos’s poor, the administration intensified its efforts to reduce food prices. Under a new plan, the government, working through mercantile outfits like the United Africa Company, bought selected foodstuffs directly from producers, subsidized transport costs, and distributed the items to certain traders who were to sell them at fixed, low prices in specially designated “Pullen” market stalls. In order to buy food at these centers, people were supposed to line up in areas cordoned off by barbed wire, and those who cut in line were at first fined, then imprisoned. Although the government could not possibly market all of the produce reaching Lagos consumers, officials hoped that its own low prices would force down prices in the rest of the economy. Few were happy with this new arrangement. Farmers rejected the low prices offered for their goods by hiding their stocks from officials and instead selling to local merchants who paid more. Some market women are said to have organized missions to intercept government supply lines. And the Pullen stalls became chaotic. In order to secure a good position in the long lines, people had to line up in the evening in anticipation of early morning supplies the next day. Even after spending a night in line, prospective buyers could reach the front only to be told that supplies had run out, especially as food was being diverted to the more profitable black market. Such frustrations only induced more people to shop elsewhere. By 1944, about two-thirds of Lagos consumers obtained their food supplies from black markets.[31]

With their incomes at stake, the market women, aided by other women’s groups and Lagos politicians, kept up the protests. At a meeting with the deputy controller of native foodstuffs and Commissioner of the Colony Pullen early in 1944, Pelewura stated indignantly that market trading was not the government’s “line of business but was the concern of the Lagos market women who had maintained their families for many years through the sale of these foodstuffs.”[32] At work and on protest marches, market women sang satirical songs like the following:

Strange things are happening in Lagos.
Europeans now sell pepper,
Europeans now sell palm oil,
Europeans now sell yam,
Though they cannot find their way to Idogo [an outlying food supply source]
And yet Falolu [the king of Lagos] is still in his palace and alive.
Europeans are not wont to sell melon seeds.[33]
The protesters continued to hold mass meetings and petition the government, heating up their efforts by mid-1945, when food scarcity had reached crisis proportions. Traders and consumers faced a serious shortage of gari, a cassava starch product that formed a staple of the African diet. In early August 1945, over 1,000 Lagos market women staged a demonstration against price controls, shouting in Yoruba, “Pullen market must go.”[34]
Throughout the period of price controls, government officials maintained that they were having some effect, citing a reduction in the cost of living index to 162 in October 1944. To the extent that they acknowledged difficulties with the Pullen scheme, they blamed traders, especially market women, alleging that they were earning high profits by selling through the black market while other segments of the population suffered.[35] Some observers, while not exactly exonerating women, used the letters pages of the West African Pilot to point to other culprits: one described unemployed men who reportedly earned so much buying at the Pullen stalls and then selling on the black market that they “have sworn never to be employed”; another noted that many black market customers were bachelors who had to work all day and were unable to shop when Pullen stalls were open.[36] Officials also blamed unruly African women for the chaos at the markets and exhorted them to behave like British ladies, who, they claimed, stood peacefully in ration lines during the war.[37] In response, women and their allies accused the government of having little sympathy for market traders or African housewives because Europeans did not have a taste for gari.[38] Market women and the government were again at war.

By June of 1945, the West African Pilot was running stories on the gari crisis nearly every day, describing people spending nights in lines or sustaining injuries from the barbed wire, pregnant women fainting from exhaustion, and whip-welding government officials trying to enforce discipline.[39] Trade unionists, in mass meetings and in official representations, also complained about the food shortage and the Pullen scheme. But the press and workers nearly always took the point of view of the male consumer and household head rather than the market trader.[40] Workers never reiterated traders’ claims to support their families; rather, they pointed to the inability of men to provide food for their children because of scarce supplies. An editorial from June 20 is a case in point: “Imagine a working class father returning home at dusk to find his little ones turned out of school for lack of stationery and languishing with hunger because mother had failed to secure some food from the Pullen stalls that morning!” Three days before the general strike began, the chair of a meeting of twenty-two mercantile unions told the audience that “the present food situation is a manifestation of the sufferings of the Nigerian wage earner and his poor salary.” The next speaker expressed his humiliation and frustration when “one of his children almost fainted because of having no food, and he had to run to a nearest neighbor, an old woman, who gave him a small quantity of gari, which he gave to his children.”[41] Even if this story were made up or exaggerated for effect, what is significant is that these images—of hungry children, frustrated fathers, and women as the ones with a few supplies—were chosen to strike a chord with the audience. Although some may have sympathized with female traders, what men saw as most critical was that a wage earner with money in his pocket was dependent on the generosity of an old woman to feed his family. The economic crisis was also, for many workers, a crisis over men’s roles.

Trade unions began calling for a revision of the 1942 cost of living adjustment in 1943 and continued to do so for the next two years as prices kept rising. But it was in 1945 that the situation reached a climax. On March 22, 1945, the technical workers’ association addressed a letter to the government citing rising prices and compulsory overtime and demanding a minimum daily wage of two shillings six pence for laborers and a 50 percent increase in the cost of living allowance. Particular attention was called to workers’ children, who “subsist on mere existence levels. The repercussion on the health and future of these innocent children can well be left to imagination.” The government’s reply acknowledged the inflation but again seemed to blame market women: high prices were due to the public’s unwillingness to cooperate with price controls. No benefit would come from a cost of living adjustment, the chief secretary argued, unless people were willing to repudiate the black market by purchasing goods at controlled prices or doing without them.[42]

A mass meeting of government employees on May 19 resulted in an ultimatum: if the demands of the ACSTWU were not met by June 21, they would go on strike.[43] Then at a meeting with the chief secretary on May 30, ACSTWU representatives reiterated the union’s previous stand on increased COLA and minimum wages, and for the first time added the demand for family allowances as a counterpart to European separation allowances. Workers argued that by granting separation allowances to European staff, the government had admitted that salaries were inadequate to cover children’s education and certain household expenses. Family allowances to African employees, they suggested, were even more logical in nationalist terms than separation allowances for the relatives of European officials, “who not being resident in the country neither spend there nor benefit the country in any way.”[44]

While government officials were dealing with the ultimatum, the situation became even more charged by the return of a popular labor hero to his constituency. On June 3, Michael Imoudu was released from detention in eastern Nigeria and returned to Lagos. The fiery former head of the Railway Workers Union had been arrested in 1943 under wartime security legislation. When the laws were repealed at the end of the war in Europe, there was no excuse not to free Imoudu. It was unfortunate timing for the government: Imoudu’s return by rail to Lagos provided workers and their allies with something of an emotional warm-up to the general strike. An estimated 50,000 supporters throughout the region rallied as Imoudu’s train passed through, and his arrival in Lagos culminated in a day-long extravaganza in which thousands lined the streets to welcome him. Macaulay, Azikiwe, and Pelewura were featured speakers at the homecoming rally, reinforcing the ties between organized labor, African nationalism, and the market women’s association.[45]

The next week, the unions received a negative response to their ultimatum. An increased cost of living allowance would lead to inflation, the chief secretary wrote, and furthermore the suffering caused by the war must be shared across the population. The letter’s most infuriating point implied that male workers should exercise more control over their women and extended families: it suggested that the unions use their influence to thwart black marketeering and to curtail the influx of unemployed relatives into Lagos![46] At a meeting a few days later, 800 workers reaffirmed the ACSTWU’s strike threat; the same day, four Lagos chiefs joined a mass procession of market women to the Nigerian Secretariat to protest restrictions on gari sales.[47] On June 18, however, the commissioner of labor announced that the strike would be illegal, and the ACSTWU’s leaders were persuaded to postpone it while filing formal notice of a trade dispute. Under Imoudu’s influence, rank-and-file members repudiated the moderates—led by J. O. Erinle, J. Marcus Osindero, and T. A. Bankole—and vowed to go ahead with the work stoppage. The morning of June 22 began with railwaymen blowing their train whistles to announce the government employees’ strike. They would not mount their platforms again for six weeks.

The strike spread along the railway lines to northern and eastern Nigeria, but it was strongest in the southwest. Government officials, who had previously argued that increased wages would put non-salaried workers at a relative disadvantage, noted with surprise the level of community support, even in rural areas. Indeed, only 4 percent of adult men in Nigeria, or 1 percent of the total population, worked for wages.[48] Many strikers were able to leave the cities and return to family farms, or their relatives sent produce to them and their allies.[49] A government report after the strike complained that the support received by strikers in the southwest could be attributed to the nature of Yoruba families:

A man who is lucky enough to be in Government service is expected to, and in fact does, assist a large number of his relatives, either by paying school fees or by sending remittances to his home. All the members of the family—and the term covers a far wider field of relationship in Africa than it does in Europe—are anxious to see the person who is very likely their main financial prop get more for the family funds and therefore support him in his efforts to squeeze more out of Government.[50]
As workers well knew, their wages reverberated through the economy, helping to maintain relatives and friends, fueling market transactions, and providing business for a range of people employed in the informal sector: “the interests of wage-earners and those of other Nigerians are one and indivisible.”[51]

Yoruba railwayman A. A. Salako (front, center), his immediate family, and other members of his residential compound, Kano, circa 1960. Photo courtesy of A. A. Salako.

During the month of July, government officials debated the relative merits of offering immediate concessions to stop the crippling strike or holding out on the principle of discouraging future unrest. Although they threatened strikers with dismissal, they admitted privately that many of the striking workers, particularly those from the railway, were highly trained and could not easily be replaced.[52] In an attempt to maintain transportation of export goods, the railway administration ran a skeleton service with the aid of a motley assortment of European managers, Port Harcourt prison labor, and 900 scab workers. But transport was largely paralyzed, telegraph and telephone wires were dead, and even sanitation men and grave diggers stopped working.[53] Meanwhile, Azikiwe’s newspapers, the West African Pilot and the Daily Comet, were banned from July 8 to August 15 in retaliation for their support of the most militant trade unionists. Finally, in early August, the strike was called off in exchange for a promise of no victimization, no prosecution for arrested strike leaders, and negotiations toward a settlement. Work resumed in Lagos on August 7, just days before the war in Japan ended. Peace brought a relaxation in price controls by September. Although prices were still high, Lagosians noted a palpable sense of relief.[54]

Negotiations between the ACSTWU and the government on the COLA issue broke down again, months after the strike, when the union rejected the government’s offer of a 20 percent cost of living increase in favor of submitting the question to a commission of inquiry. The Tudor Davies Commission heard evidence in late 1945 and issued its findings the following year. The report largely concurred with the unions that workers’ standard of living needed to rise, and it dismissed the government’s warnings about inflation. It called for a 50 percent retroactive cost of living increase for government workers, improved industrial-relations procedures and worker welfare, and some recognition of the needs of workers’ families. Such policies, Chairman W. Tudor Davies suggested, were necessary to ensure labor stability, prevent future unrest, and thus increase productivity. The commission concluded that “labour, be it black or white, should be adequately paid in accordance with the standard of efficiency and results of work performed, and . . . with the monetary results of that labour the consumer goods available should be purchasable . . . By this means the colonies can become busy hives of activity, filled with eager, ambitious and loyal workers; this is the ideal of an ever-expanding Colonial development.”[55] Workers and their representatives quibbled with some details of the commission’s report, but ultimately they saw it as a hard-fought victory.

Perhaps no group’s support was more important to strikers than that of Lagos market women, although their influence seems to have been understated in most contemporary and subsequent accounts of the event.[56] They were involved from the beginning: T. A. Bankole, the ex-chairman of the ACSTWU’s Joint Executive, suggested that market women were part of the rowdy group that repudiated him in the final days before the strike. On June 20, a last-minute meeting was held in the market adjacent to the locomotive yard. Persuaded by Imoudu that Bankole had sold out to the government, the crowd of workers and traders turned on him, shouting, “[T]hief, thief, you have been bribed; the government has bribed you.” According to Bankole’s account, “Then followed the showering on me of an appreciable quantity of ‘gari’ (farina)—an act which, in my opinion, savoured of rank impudence.”[57] Once the strike was on, traders offered credit and lowered the prices charged to strikers, demonstrating to Pullen and other officials that they would regulate prices when their own interests were involved. They and a group of elite Lagos women contributed generously to the Workers’ Relief Fund.[58]

The support of the market women was motivated by a number of overlapping considerations: intense frustration with the government over the Pullen scheme, community and family ties with strikers, and a solid political alliance between market leader Pelewura, trade unionist Imoudu, and nationalist journalist Azikiwe.[59] Since at least 1941, Imoudu had been working formally to link market traders and wage earners. In May of that year, he wrote to Pelewura to ask for credit and political support in the event of a strike over cost of living allowances:

The Yorubas have a common adage which says that “There is nothing that affects the eyes that will not affect the nose” . . . The monthly income we are earning now is hardly sufficient for our wives to engage in trade and also to cook, much less to buy clothes or pay our children’s school fees . . . There is no language which the Europeans understand more clearly than that the workers should go on strike. We know the implication of this for the people throughout Nigeria . . . God help us unless we unite our voices to enable the Europeans to increase our monthly pay as they should. It is your co-operation that we seek in this matter and the co-operation of our wives, children, senior and junior siblings and our relatives, many of whom are members of the Women’s Marketing Association in Lagos and all its environs. We are asking you to devise a means by which you our mothers can make the white men realize that we their workers did not just descend from heaven, and also that our progress at work is the progress of our people in the markets and in the country; our strike is also your own strike. Whatever effects the eye will also affect the nose, in fact, you, our mothers. God help all of us.[60]
Using repeated images, eloquent Yoruba turns of phrase, and respectful references to women as mothers, Imoudu reminded Pelewura of the kinship and economic connections between wage earners and market women. Supporting trade unionists would pay off for them in their own businesses as well as in their households.
As previously mentioned, the vast majority of women in Yorubaland, including wives of wage earners, engaged in trade of some sort. The 1950 Lagos census identified 31,926 (76 percent) out of a total of 41,492 women as traders.[61] According to a survey I conducted among retired railwaymen in Ibadan and Lagos, 80 percent who had been working in the 1940s were at that time married to market traders.[62] A 1950 survey of 207 mothers of primary school girls in Lagos found that 96 percent of those married to artisans, laborers, and petty traders were market women, as were 84 percent of those married to clerks and middle-level businessmen.[63] As Pelewura pointed out to wage earners at a mass meeting on May Day 1944, “We [market women] are your mothers and your wives. We live and educate our children from your earnings.”[64]

Such a remark was intended to reinforce solidarity around what was actually a starkly gendered division of labor and resources, which was itself in transformation by the mid-1940s. As has been well documented, Yoruba households do not have a tradition of resource pooling.[65] Typically, men farmed and women traded, although in the colonial economy men engaged in wage work or commerce as well and some women worked in the formal sector. Ideally, men and women were each supposed to contribute specific items to the household: men generally were responsible for lodging and food staples, while women were to provide the rest of the food and children’s other expenses. Divorce cases from the 1940s and 1950s show that women became exasperated with husbands who did not meet their material obligations, and lack of sufficient financial maintenance was the most frequent reason women gave for leaving their husbands.[66]

In this context, wage earners who brought home steady paychecks were often seen as good mates because they could be good providers. Discussing her reasons for marrying a railway worker in the 1940s, one woman noted, “If anybody who works in the railway comes your way you would like to marry him. At that time, railway paid very well . . . , so people loved them [the employees] and liked to mix with them.”[67] Similarly, Emecheta’s heroine in The Joys of Motherhood remarked to a railway worker, “The money may be small, and the work slave labour, but at least your wife’s mind is at rest knowing that at the end of the month she gets some money to feed her children and you. What more does a woman want?”[68] Steady earners could be relied on more frequently than farmers or the irregularly employed for daily household needs as well as periodic payments like school fees. Whereas otherwise, wives might have covered food expenses without being repaid, they expected steadily working husbands to reimburse them after the paycheck came. One informant’s father worked for the Nigerian Railway in the 1930s and 1940s and maintained a household with two wives and their children. After describing his father’s contributions to the food budget, the man commented, “the system is not tampered with, especially for a man doing government work. He is bound to set aside some kind of food allowance every month.”[69] In other words, a man with a government job and a steady paycheck was obligated to provide food money, although someone with a less regular income might rely more on his wives. Such claims on men’s paychecks meant that, even though women earned their own money, they had vested interests in their husbands’ struggles over work and wages. No doubt there were women who urged their husbands not to strike, knowing that a protracted period without wages meant hunger and uncertainty. But most seem to have backed the strike as part of their own financial strategies, because they wanted their husbands to be better able to contribute to the household.[70]

There is general evidence to support the contention that some wage earners were indeed, by the 1940s and 1950s, providing a greater portion of the household income than those of an earlier generation or outside the wage economy. For example, most market traders began their careers before or immediately after they married, but my survey shows that, on average, colonial-era railway wives began working three to five years after marriage. This means that they were largely relying on their husbands’ income during the period when they were most likely to have young children and no older children to help out. One railwayman’s household budget, presented in a Lagos debt case from 1950, indicated that he provided most of his household’s support. This thirty-two-year-old machinist shared two rooms with seven dependents. With a monthly salary of £12, his expenses totaled £12.13.6. Even when he earned an extra £1 per month in overtime, he could barely scrape by without borrowing and help from his wife. But if this budget is to be believed, such contributions were much less significant than those many other women made to their households.[71]

It is extremely difficult to be precise about household budgets in Yorubaland. None of the women I interviewed were willing to discuss the specifics of their domestic economies, a situation paralleled in other historical and ethnographic studies in the area. Part of the reason was that personal money and trading receipts are generally kept together, making careful accounting difficult; but the most important motivation was to keep husbands ignorant of exactly how much their wives earned. This way, men’s paychecks (or, rather, some agreed-upon portion of them) tended to be spent on specified household needs first, supplemented by women’s contributions.[72] Thus when men reported supporting their families and referred to themselves as breadwinners, this represented a combination of experience, perception, and ambition. As among some working-class families in early twentieth-century Britain, men often were not cognizant of how much their wives actually spent toward household support.[73] To use an example from a later period, in the 1960s, a railway couple I interviewed moved to northern Nigeria, where they had no social connections. There, the young wife began to trade. Once children started coming, although she had no one in town to help her, she had to continue working because her husband’s salary was not enough to support their growing family. This woman’s income was crucial, she knew, as was help she secretly solicited from an uncle back home. But she did not tell her husband for fear of offending his masculine pride: “He would be thinking that the money he gave is enough, but it is not, so I have to add to it.”[74] Ibadan court cases from the 1930s on confirm that men and women often publicly asserted that husbands were to be primary household providers, even if in practice this was not the case.[75] Another informant had to support herself and her offspring when her husband was a railway worker in the 1950s because he was sponsoring children from his extended family. Sometimes, she even had to loan him money. But, she stressed, “he was the breadwinner.”[76] This is the background to the trade unionists’ dispute with the colonial government over family allowances.

By 1945, there had been roughly a century of debates in Europe and North America over wage policy and the extent to which governments and the state should pay for the social reproduction of labor.[77] In Britain, the male breadwinner norm had emerged from a variety of struggles involving men and women’s positions in the household, trade union and employer strategies, and state interests in stability and economic growth.[78] This ideology was firmly entrenched by the early twentieth century, even if in many cases men’s wages were not in fact sufficient to support a household, and it in turn shaped the assumptions of policy makers and labor advocates. As Susan Pedersen’s comparison of Britain and France has shown, even where patriarchal ideologies were similar, twentieth-century wage policies could differ, as they were based on the relative powers of employers and trade unions and the nature of their relationships to the state. In the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, the British government’s commitment to a free labor market and trade unions’ concerns that family allocations would allow for lower wages ultimately converged in opposition to feminist and socialist-backed proposals for widespread family allowances to be paid to women. Although the 1942 government-sponsored report by Sir William Beveridge recommended family allowances in an attempt to provide social insurance to families without encouraging inflation by raising wages, the government’s actual policy, adopted in 1945, favored male breadwinner wages as the route to household maintenance, supplemented by very low allowances paid to women with children. In France, by contrast, pronatalist concerns, the greater economic necessity for female workers, employers’ desires to keep base wages low but to tie workers to their jobs, and the relative weakness of trade unions yielded a system of family allowances paid on a per-child basis to workers who otherwise earned low rates of pay.[79]

Nigerian trade unionists tended to gloss over the distinction between family allowances and breadwinner wages, insisting broadly that some kind of wage increase was necessary to pay the social costs of reproducing labor. Since the first COLA agitation in 1941, labor leaders had argued that working men spent at least part of their paychecks on the support of their families. Wages, then, should in some way reflect men’s family obligations. By the time they testified before the Tudor Davies Commission in 1945–1946, union leaders were demanding family allowances comparable to the separation allowances paid to European officials. Clearly, the most important issue of the 1945 strike centered on wages and the standard of living, but the argument about family allowances was significant. In Nigeria as in industrializing Britain, male members of an emerging working class based their demands for increased wages and equal rights on claims to respectability presented in terms of a patriarchal household.[80]

Trade unionists argued for family allowances in terms they thought would be favorably received by government officials—men’s household responsibilities, social order, and the stabilization of urban labor. But officials would only accept these arguments up to a point. First, as described above, family allowances had been a contentious issue in Britain itself. Second, there were financial considerations, always of utmost importance to administrators. But the basic ideological objection to paying Nigerians family allowances turned on two specific “problems” of the African family: “The wife does not make a vocation of house-keeping as is done in the western cultures”[81] ; and wage earners supported not just a wife and children but often a “number of dependents which by European standards would be regarded as excessive.”[82] Thus the particularities of Nigerian social structures seemed to make family allowances for Africans impractical, ideologically incongruous, and conducive to the types of social relations colonizers ultimately wanted to change.

Who would bear the costs of socially and biologically reproducing the labor force? Until the 1940s, and especially during the Great Depression, the answer was clear to officials: workers’ wives supported themselves and their children, so wages could be kept low. According to this view, it would be both artificial and impractical to pay family wages in southern Nigeria, as “the wives of wage-earners and of those on low salaries are petty traders and their profits are sufficient to pay for their own food and that of their children.”[83] A 1934 memorandum on rates of pay in the southern provinces of Nigeria, which marked the first statement of official wage policy for government employees, declared that “no account is taken of the cost of maintaining a labourer’s wife and children.”[84] In the 1940s, however, trade unionists began to argue that higher wages were necessary to keep urban households financially viable. In contrast to those nineteenth-century British working men who had favored limiting women’s paid employment as a strategy to promote higher, “family” wages,[85] Nigerian unionists saw a male family wage as compatible with female trading.[86] African labor leaders argued that marketing was only a supplement to men’s earnings, so male wages should reflect family obligations. In 1941, the Bridges Commission, composed of an African majority, suggested that workers’ “wives to a considerable extent support themselves . . . in the light of its knowledge of local conditions, however, [the commission] is unable to accept the opinion, sometimes advanced, that such women are wholly self-supporting.” The commission estimated that the average laborer spent at least a quarter of his earnings on the support of wives and children, and thus suggested factoring the costs of dependents into wage calculations. The government, however, rejected that part of the report.[87]

The introduction of separation allowances for European officials refocused labor leaders’ arguments about the family wage. Now the issue was not only household maintenance but also racial discrimination and, with it, working-class masculinity: that Europeans, but not Africans, could be recognized as supporting their families. Nigerian trade unionists argued that family allowances were needed to foster social reproduction, especially in the absence of a welfare state, and that men’s wage earning was related to the prerogatives of citizenship. In a 1944 radio broadcast, I. S. M. O. Shonekan, a Trade Union Congress undersecretary, pushed this point:

Some employers forget that his [a worker’s] children are not given free education, but he tries his best . . . to educate them. They forget that his children are a valuable contribution to society who in the future, will assist mentally or physically in developing the wealth of the nation and defend the State. He is not paid any family allowance by either the State or the employer for these. He is forced to distribute his scanty wages on these important items which go to make him and his family good citizens. But at what price? The health of himself and his family.
Eight months later, Shonekan raised the issue at the annual congress of the Federated Trade Unions of Nigeria. Arguing that “many of us have wives and children to support” and that wage levels were insufficient, Shonekan drew his audience’s attention to arguments in favor of family allowances made by politicians in Europe and South America. His motion, “That the Government of Nigeria be requested earnestly to formulate schemes for family allowances, and to enact an Ordinance sanctioning their payment by all employers to all married African workmen throughout the country,” passed unanimously amid cheers by those present.[88]
Union leaders then raised the issue of family allowances in their submissions to the Tudor Davies Commission. The Supreme Council of Nigerian Workers, a new umbrella organization that represented union members before the commission, made several broad arguments in favor of extending family allowances to African workers, but they all centered on a European point of reference. First, because of the low levels of housing and amenities in Nigerian cities, the majority of Nigerian workers were compelled to maintain two homes, one in the city and one for wives and children in a separate town or village. Thus their conditions of service were analogous to those of expatriates with jobs in Nigeria and families in Europe. Second, since in Africa there was no free education, poor relief, or general pension scheme as in Europe, Nigerian workers supported their young, old, infirm, and unemployed relatives. Family allowances, then, would take the place of metropolitan-style social insurance. To thwart the argument that such benefits were not intended for the colonies, the Supreme Council pointed to allowances in New Zealand for laborers’ wives, children, and elderly parents. And to discount the importance of wives’ independent incomes, it noted that the earnings of European wives were not considered in the calculation of expatriates’ local allowances.

It was in its discussion of family responsibilities and citizenship that the council most closely linked universalist claims and Africa’s specific needs.[89] The memorandum asserted, “It is the duty of the African worker to maintain parents and relatives,” and went on to suggest that this could be related to European norms. Perhaps referring to the recent plan for social insurance in Britain, it argued, “The right of a citizen to raise and maintain a healthy family . . . is becoming more and more recognised as a measure of public economy and should be more so in the new social order for which we all had fought and suffered so much in the last war.” The council applied these universalistic notions to African circumstances, where the slave trade had resulted in massive population losses: “The average African sincerely regards polygamy and the rearing of children as a social duty inseparable from citizenship. And [because of depopulation caused by the slave trade] he may well be right.”[90]

The Tudor Davies report did not go as far as the labor leaders had hoped, but it did recognize, in theory, that they had a point. Although it suggested “that family allowances shall not be granted to Nigerian workers on the same principles as separation allowances granted to Europeans,” it did conclude that “the principle of separation allowances which already exists for certain African Civil Servants who are required by the nature of their duties to live away from their families and thus to pay for two homes shall be extended.” The extension was to apply to single men required to live away from families as well as to married civil servants in the lower grades. Tudor Davies stressed his approval of a male breadwinner norm for Nigeria: “The sooner the male ceases to rely upon the economic contribution of the female to the family exchequer, the sooner will the wage structure be founded upon a more correct basis.”[91]

Trade unionists saw the report as an opening, and in October 1946, Luke Emejulu, the general secretary of the ACSTWU, wrote to the governor to inquire what would be done to implement and extend such benefits. This prompted a flurry of correspondence within the government, concerned with thwarting the union’s demand. Citing a 1944 circular, one official argued that separation allowances only applied to senior officials, and only those for whom “the wife and/or family of the officer concerned is resident in a different country or colony to that in which the officer himself is residing”; that is, only Europeans were eligible. “It would appear,” he continued, “that the recommendation made by Mr. Tudor Davies was made under a misapprehension” about the current eligibility of Africans for such allowances. Tudor Davies’s suggestion that payments be extended was derided as ridiculous: because Nigerians could be expected to move their families to any place within the territory, they would never be eligible for separation allowances. Tudor Davies’s other recommendation, that separation allowances be extended to single men working away from home, was described as “curious,” since it seemed to assume that unmarried government employees all lived with their parents.[92]

By December 1946, the ACSTWU still had not received a reply to its first letter and complained to the commissioner of labor. “Unless an early pronouncement is made by the Government,” Emejulu wrote, “my organization will feel compelled to relax its hold on its member-unions in this important and delicate matter.” This was a typical threat, to yield to the disorder of the masses, but here it did imply concern with the issue of separation allowances. The government knew this: “We are in a very weak position I am afraid, and we can expect trouble on this issue,” one official commented in January 1947. But that month, the union did receive a reply. Since the union’s original letter, a commission chaired by Walter Harragin had reported on labor conditions among civil servants in British West Africa, and the chief secretary to the government reported that its recommendations, rather than Tudor Davies’s, would be followed on the issue of separation allowances.[93]

Harragin’s report insisted on separate salary scales for European and African civil servants and rejected the claim for African separation allowances completely. It justified such allowances for expatriates on the grounds that “[t]he raising of a family is the normal and natural function of human beings and every salary scale must visualise and make some sort of provision for such a contingency. Thus, in the case of the expatriate officer, one of the chief considerations justifying a grant of expatriation pay is the necessity to provide for children who must live in temperate climates.” In contrast, although the report acknowledged that “it is a custom of the West Coast African for a young man to start making a contribution to the family coffers from the day he receives his first month’s salary,” this “is not a practice which Government can take into account when deciding the salary that any particular post should carry.” Not only should wage setting be left to collective bargaining rather than government mandate, but it would be too complicated in a West African context, where “the word ‘family’ may be taken to mean not only a wife and children but every near relative.” “In a country such as West Africa,” Harragin wrote, “where polygamy is freely practiced, marriage is easy and divorce simple, a children’s allowance is not a practicable position if applied to the whole Service and invidious if only applied to a portion.”[94] Here again, African family life was too different from that of bourgeois Europeans to justify universalist claims to entitlements.

Stung, union officials realized that they had little hope of allowances along Tudor Davies’s guidelines after Harragin’s report was published. Still, they used the threat of a disorderly rank-and-file to press for some compromise. In January 1947, the government financial secretary reported a “long but friendly meeting” with trade unionists. “As we know,” he wrote, “the Union has a fair case in this instance, but while they admitted that in our shoes they would take the same action as Government has done, they state, and I believe them, that their members who are vocal but not literate will not accept the situation.” If this is to be believed, it seems the union leaders saw family allowances as symbolic and were quite willing to compromise on their actual implementation, given the 50 percent cost of living adjustment they had already won. The workers’ representatives suggested a measure to appease their members while still allowing the government to resort to Harragin’s terms: retroactively implement Tudor Davies’s recommendations for the period of August through December 1945, then abolish them when the Harragin recommendations were implemented, also retroactively, on January 1, 1946.[95] Although the financial secretary favored this arrangement, the secretary of state, in response to calls for intervention from both the union and the governor, came down firmly on the side of the Harragin recommendations. In February, the governor announced the adoption of the Harragin report, with certain modifications: “The Secretary of State has given particular attention to the conflict between the recommendations in . . . the Tudor Davies Report regarding separation allowances, and . . . the Harragin Report regarding compensatory allowances generally, and has decided that the Tudor Davies recommendation shall not be implemented.”[96]

Nigerian trade unionists, politicians, and the press denounced the apparent racism of the Harragin report. An irate column in the West African Pilot accused Harragin of “abandon[ing] economics for sentiment” on the issue of family allowances and asserted that, in reality, less than 1 percent of civil servants were polygamous, because the urban wage economy made large families too expensive. Harragin’s arguments about African domestic life, the correspondent opined, were “not reasons but frivolous excuses.”[97] The main concern of the unions, however, was Harragin’s defense of separate salary scales for Europeans and Africans. A March 1947 demonstration by over 500 railway workers, which was dispersed with tear gas and fire hoses, focused on pay rates and job classifications, not family allowances.[98] Although union officials did not completely drop their demands for separation allowances after 1947, other struggles took precedence, given the government’s insistence that African and European workers would not receive equal employment benefits. Moreover, debates over family allowances became subject to piecemeal negotiation as colonial governments—Nigeria’s among them—worked to contain labor disputes in a formal structure of industrial relations and avoid any future widespread demonstrations.

In December 1950, at the recommendation of a Senior Whitley Council (a government-sponsored arbitrator), Nigerian senior officers of the civil service became eligible for children’s allowances comparable to those paid to expatriates.[99] Three years later, the government again considered family allowances as part of a wider investigation into possible schemes of social insurance for Nigeria’s major cities. The minister of social services, inspector-general of medical services, commissioner of labor, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Health, and the director of the West African Institute of Social and Economic Research (WISER) collectively determined that old age pensions and widow’s benefits were unnecessary because African extended families took care of their elderly; unemployment insurance was not relevant because of seasonal and migrant labor; maternity benefits might be considered at some future time; and family allowances would favor the “registrable few,” promote inflation, and be too expensive. WISER’s Professor W. Hamilton Whyte “generally considered it dangerous to attempt to impose social services as organized in a fully developed community like Britain upon a country such as Nigeria which is still in a relatively early stage of development.”[100] Again, African social structures provided the rationale for the status quo. Other observers noted that in cases where wage earners were married to market traders, “it often happens that the wife makes enough profit to support herself and the children, if any, and even her husband when he is unemployed”; and “[w]ith polygamy and large families, the cost of introducing a [universal] scheme of family allowances in this country would be prohibitive.”[101]

Still, in 1954, the All-Nigeria Trade Union Federation included children’s allowances in their grievances to the L. H. Gorsuch Commission on conditions in the civil service. A memorandum submitted by the Railway Workers Union characterized payment only to senior officials as “not only invidious but sinful in the sight of God and man . . . All children are born equal and entitled to equal share of the wealth of the country.”[102] The commission’s report, which revised the Harragin report in arguing that wages for expatriate and African civil servants should both be based on local conditions, did contain some recognition of family obligations. It mentioned the usual criticisms of African kinship but added that family demands for support were not unique to Africa: “[A]s happens elsewhere in the world also, a member of a rapidly developing society who becomes endowed with what appears to be a handsome cash income is quickly confronted with the demands or expectations of his kin.” Unlike the Harragin report, which argued that such obligations were irrelevant to government calculations, the Gorsuch report, written nearly a decade later, stressed the importance of understanding labor in its social context. Family demands “may be expected to lessen as the general level of living rises, but at present it is a factor that must be recognized, though there are obviously limits to the extent to which it can be taken into account.”[103]

By the time the Gorsuch Commission met, family allowances had been overshadowed, at least in the Colonial Office, by family wages. Prompted by agitation throughout the African colonies, including the 1945 strike in Nigeria, British officials by the mid-1950s were rethinking their plans for African labor. Earlier, they had argued that family structures made African workers ineligible for family wages or allowances, but now they believed that the only way to make Africans modern was to change entire families. Family wages were a means to help create the type of domestic units officials thought African workers should have. At the Inter-African Labor Conference in 1950 and 1953, French representatives had drawn attention to the idea of family allowances as part of their moves to stabilize wage labor in French Africa. Although the British colonial establishment was also in favor of tying workers more firmly to their jobs, there was still no interest in applying family allowances to British colonies, both because of the peculiarity of African families and because of a general preference for collective bargaining rather than government wage fixing. The latter, it was argued, would provide incentives for political demonstrations in efforts to increase wages. Nevertheless, in a series of meetings of the Colonial Labour Advisory Committee in 1953, British officials affirmed the importance of family wages in the creation of a stable and controllable labor force, and they suggested that although wages should be related to productivity and based on collective bargaining, they should take reasonable account of responsibilities in a general way. In 1954, a circular dispatch informed African governors of the committee’s report and asked for relevant information from their colonies. Nigeria’s reply asserted that wage fixing, effected mainly through government commissions, included attention to workers’ families. “The bachelor wage is unknown in Nigeria,” it concluded.[104]

Nigeria’s resolution of the family allowances/family wages issue, in hindsight, looks rather similar to Britain’s. In both metropole and colony, the state was unwilling to interfere, at least overtly, in the labor market; and a relatively strong trade union movement did not find it useful to insist on family allowances. In Britain, this was for fear that such payments would facilitate a lower basic wage rate; in Nigeria, by the early 1950s, pay increases for government workers came in the form of cost of living adjustments, and the Harragin Commission had made it clear that metropolitan-style supplements would not be forthcoming. In French West Africa, by contrast, family allowances were granted to civil servants after the 1946 Dakar general strike and to all wage earners in 1956.[105] The difference likely has to do with the nature of British colonialism in Africa. In the absence of official rhetoric stressing the unity of metropole and colony and a centralized political structure for all of British West Africa—as in the French case—there were few grounds for arguing that African workers should get exactly what those in Britain did. Particular unions could confront specific issues, but there was little possibility of organizing on a West Africa–wide basis for universalistic, British-centered claims as Francophone trade unionists were able to do. Furthermore, family allowances were much more central to French domestic policy than breadwinner wages were to the British.[106]

Nonetheless, one should not assume that similar wage policies represented an automatic transfer of metropolitan ideas about labor reproduction to the colonies. As in French West Africa, Nigeria’s trade unions and their allies fought pitched battles over the cost of living, which explicitly included the support of workers’ families. Although family allowances were not granted to most Nigerian employees, the government’s promotion of family wages represented a political victory. Furthermore, unlike in Britain, working men in Nigeria never directly opposed women’s paid work as part of their own claims to breadwinner status. Whether in attempts to keep wages high by preventing the employment of lower-paid female workers, or to defend a putative masculine identity based on certain types of work and income earning, male trade unionists in many British industries pursued exclusionary policies in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.[107] In Nigeria, the sexual division of labor ran so deep that women never posed a serious threat to men’s wage jobs. Nevertheless, women did (and do) earn significant incomes, giving the lie to many men’s claims of supporting their households. Nigerian men agitated for family allowances and family wages in spite of their continued acceptance of, and reliance on, women’s economic contributions.

Yet British exclusionary labor policies had parallels in colonial Nigeria. The market traders’ support for working men contributed to the ultimate success of the strike and reveals the crucial participation of women in the local networks between power brokers that helped to shape Lagos politics. But, at the same time, working men mobilized around images of male breadwinners and a distinctly masculine working class.[108] Colonial officials, in a similar move, often placed the blame for their own inability to control urban life on market traders, helping to position such women and their organizations as outside the reach of state power and thus a brake on the “progress” brought by colonial and postcolonial development efforts.[109] The government’s embrace of “family wages” represented a compromise with trade unionists over social reproduction and helped to legitimize men as the subjects of labor relations. Women’s relative marginalization from politics and union activism in later years, and the diminishing importance of their economic contributions to workers’ households, builds on this history.[110]

The 1945 strike reveals the gendered nature of colonial discrimination, and opposition to it, in Africa. Scholars have paid much more attention to the former than to the latter. Cooper’s monumental study of African labor and decolonization shows that colonial officials envisioned “industrial man” as decidedly male, but the ways in which Africans drew on gender images as part of their political strategies is largely beyond the scope of his work.[111] The same may be said of Mahmood Mamdani’s ungendered African “citizens and subjects.”[112] Mamdani argues that the colonial state in Africa was a bifurcated one, presenting to African nationalists the linked challenges of overthrowing racial discrimination in the cities and the structures of indirect rule in rural areas. “Subjects” struggled to become “citizens,” members of civil polities governed through universally applicable laws. The Nigerian general strike represents one type of urban movement described by both Cooper and Mamdani, but it suggests in addition the importance of gender to the cultural construction of citizenship, by colonizers and the colonized alike.

In Nigeria, as in the rest of the continent, the question of applying universalistic principles to colonial workers was related to what kind of men they were and what kind of households they should live in. The debate about family allowances, which so much centered on racial equality and the recognition of workers’ dignity, was articulated in terms of domestic life, especially fatherhood. Trade unionists gambled that the demand for family allowances would fall on sympathetic colonial ears because it entailed men asking men to support supposedly common ideas of gender and domesticity. The sticking point—in addition to a tight-fisted administration—was that all sides recognized this particular notion of masculinity as much more tenuous in West Africa than in most of postwar Europe.[113] Colonizers used local gender relations and household structures as justifications for racial discrimination in wage setting. At the same time, working men claimed political rights in gendered terms. Wage increases and other allowances were said to be necessary in order for workers to “live a decent life.”[114] What did such a life entail? According to the Supreme Council of Nigerian Workers,

As an essential part of the economic life of this country, every workman must be given a minimum just wage. This should be such as to enable him to buy proper food, to keep himself and family in good physical health, to live in decent healthy homes . . . Education must be provided for the children . . . Added to this the workman’s wages should allow him to enjoy lawful recreations and a few of the luxuries of life regarded as necessary in particular places. Old age must be provided for, so the workman’s remuneration must guarantee that, if he is thrifty, he is in a position to lay aside a little for the time when he can no longer work.[115]
In other words, wages should allow men to build respectable households in which they provide for their children and maintain themselves (rather than perpetuate patterns of extended family support) in retirement. The ultimate reward for wage increases would be stable, respectable family life ostensibly geared to the social vision of colonial planners.
Alternatively, denying working men such wage increases—and thus the ability to create such households—fueled charges of racial discrimination. The refusal of officials to pay African men benefits commensurate with those of Europeans amounted to a disparagement of both their race and their claims to respectable working-class masculinity. An editorial in the Daily Service, the newspaper of the radical Nigerian Youth Movement, cogently summed up this connection: “Until men are treated as men and paid as men on the basis of the services they render irrespective of their race and colour, no Nigerian would be stupid enough to regard himself sincerely as a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations.”[116] This was the crux of Britain’s dilemma in the immediate postwar period, when its economic need for African colonies forced it to pursue “development” and political liberalization. To what extent should the new policies bring Africa in line with British institutions and mores? The conflicts and debates surrounding the 1945 Nigerian general strike show that tensions between universalizing impulses and African particularities, key to postwar colonial politics, rested in large part on gender and family life—for both colonial officials and African workers. In spite of the active participation of Nigerian women in politics and the economy, the male breadwinner ideal came to stand for respectability and rights, in the colony as in the metropole.

Lisa A. Lindsay studied African history with Frederick Cooper at the University of Michigan and received her PhD in 1996. Her interests in gender and the social history of colonial and postcolonial Africa will result in two forthcoming books: a monograph tentatively entitled Putting the Family on Track: Gender and Wage Labor in Colonial Nigeria, and a volume of essays, co-edited with Stephan Miescher, on masculinities in modern Africa. Lindsay is currently an assistant professor of African history at the University of North Carolinia, Charlotte, but this fall she will move across the state to join the history faculty at UNC, Chapel Hill.


This essay draws on my dissertation, “Putting the Family on Track: Gender and Domestic Life on the Colonial Nigerian Railway” (University of Michigan, 1996). Research in Nigeria and Britain in 1993–1994 was assisted by a grant from the Joint Committee on African Studies of the Social Science Research Council and the American Council of Learned Societies, with funds provided by the Ford, Mellon, and Rockefeller Foundations. Additional research in 1998 was funded by the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. I am grateful to Anna Clark, Frederick Cooper, Lyman Johnson, Pamela Scully, Lynn Thomas, Luise White, and anonymous AHR reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier versions.

1. James S. Coleman, in Nigeria: Background to Nationalism (1958; rpt. edn., Berkeley, Calif., 1971), 259, estimates that 30,000 workers struck; the Nigerian department of labor’s 1945 Annual Report put the figure at 42,951, including 34,000 government employees.

2. Wogu Ananaba, The Trade Union Movement in Nigeria: Promise and Performance (London, 1969), chap. 7; Robin Cohen, Labour and Politics in Nigeria, 1945–71 (London, 1974); Coleman, Nigeria, chap. 11; L. M. E. Emejulu, A Brief History of the Railway Workers Union (Lagos, 1949), 5–62; Wale Oyemakinde, “The Nigerian General Strike of 1945,” Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria 7 (1975): 693–710.

3. On the construction of (exclusively) male workers as legitimate citizens in Britain, see Anna Clark, “Manhood, Womanhood, and the Politics of Class in Britain, 1790–1845,” and Keith McClelland, “Rational and Respectable Men: Gender, the Working Class, and Citizenship in Britain, 1850–1867,” both in Laura L. Frader and Sonya O. Rose, eds., Gender and Class in Modern Europe (Ithaca, N.Y., 1996), 263–79, 280–93. An overview is provided in Colin Creighton, “The Rise of the Male Breadwinner Family: A Reappraisal,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 38 (1996): 310–37.

4. Anna Clark, The Struggle for the Breeches: Gender and the Making of the British Working Class (Berkeley, Calif., 1995), traces the origin of the breadwinner wage demand in Britain to trade unionists’ political weakness in the 1830s.

5. See Sonya O. Rose, Limited Livelihoods: Gender and Class in Nineteenth-Century England (Berkeley, Calif., 1992).

6. The literature is best summarized in the excellent introductory essays in Ava Baron, ed., Work Engendered: Toward a New History of American Labor (Ithaca, N.Y., 1991); and Frader and Rose, Gender and Class.

7. For instance, Kristin Mann, Marrying Well: Marriage, Status and Social Change among the Educated Elite in Colonial Lagos (Cambridge, 1985); Christine Oppong, Marriage among a Matrilineal Elite: A Family Study of Ghanaian Senior Civil Servants (Cambridge, 1974); and Karen Tranberg Hansen, ed., African Encounters with Domesticity (New Brunswick, N.J., 1992). An exception is Nancy Rose Hunt, “‘Le Bebe en Brousse’: European Women, African Birth Spacing and Colonial Intervention in Breast Feeding in the Belgian Congo,” International Journal of African Historical Studies 21 (1988): 401–32.

8. Colin Murray, Families Divided: The Impact of Migrant Labour in Lesotho (Johannesburg, 1981); Harold Wolpe, “Capitalism and Cheap Labour-Power in South Africa: From Segregation to Apartheid,” Economy and Society 1 (1972): 425–56.

9. Luise White, The Comforts of Home: Prostitution in Colonial Nairobi (Chicago, 1990).

10. George Chauncey, Jr., “The Locus of Reproduction: Women’s Labour in the Zambian Copperbelt, 1927–1953,” Journal of Southern African Studies 7 (1981): 135–64; Jane Parpart, “Class and Gender on the Copperbelt: Women in Northern Rhodesian Copper Mining Communities, 1926–1964,” in Claire Robertson and Iris Berger, eds., Women and Class in Africa (New York, 1986).

11. D. A. Low and J. M. Lonsdale, “Introduction: Towards the New Order, 1945–1963,” in D. A. Low and Alison Smith, eds., History of East Africa, vol. 3 (Oxford, 1976).

12. Frederick Cooper, Decolonization and African Society: The Labor Question in French and British Africa (Cambridge, 1996).

13. Cooper, Decolonization.

14. Two different formulations of the same broad concept appear in Frederick Cooper and Ann Laura Stoler, eds., Tensions of Empire: Colonial Cultures in a Bourgeois World (Berkeley, Calif., 1997); and Mahmood Mamdani, Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism (Princeton, N.J., 1996).

15. Ann Stoler, “Rethinking Colonial Categories: European Communities and the Boundaries of Rule,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 31 (1989): 134–61; and Stoler, Race and the Education of Desire: Foucault’s History of Sexuality and the Colonial Order of Things (Durham, N.C., 1995). Also see Cooper and Stoler, Tensions of Empire.

16. See Cooper, Decolonization, chap. 7.

17. Lindsay, “Putting the Family on Track.”

18. Buchi Emecheta, The Joys of Motherhood (New York, 1979). The novelist was born in Lagos in 1944, the daughter of a railway worker and petty trader, and her fiction often addresses themes from her mother’s and her own life. Historical treatments of Lagos in this period include Pauline H. Baker, Urbanization and Political Change: The Politics of Lagos, 1917–1967 (Berkeley, Calif., 1974); Sandra T. Barnes, Patrons and Power: Creating a Political Community in Metropolitan Lagos (Bloomington, Ind., 1986); Akin Mabogunje, Urbanization in Nigeria (London, 1968); G. O. Olusanya, The Second World War and Politics in Nigeria, 1939–1953 (Lagos, 1973); and Coleman, Nigeria.

19. Appendix XVI, Memorandum of the Commissioner of the Colony on Unemployment in Lagos, in W. Tudor Davies (chair), Enquiry into the Cost of Living and the Control of the Cost of Living in the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria, Colonial No. 204 (London, 1946), 199.

20. African Civil Servants Technical Workers Union to Chief Secretary to the Government, March 22, 1945, rpt. in Tudor Davies, Enquiry into the Cost of Living, 66–68.

21. A. F. B. Bridges (chair), Report on the Cost of Living Committee (Lagos, 1942). Also see Cooper, Decolonization, 131–34.

22. Appendix XX, Copy of script of broadcast by Sir Bernard Bourdillon on July 24, 1942, in Tudor Davies, Enquiry into the Cost of Living, 220–22.

23. Olusanya, Second World War.

24. Ananaba, Trade Union Movement, chap. 7. For the larger African context, see Cooper, Decolonization, chap. 4; and David Killingray and Richard Rathbone, eds., Africa and the Second World War (New York, 1986).

25. Tudor Davies, Enquiry into the Cost of Living, 108, 214–20. Family allowances had been first introduced for British soldiers during World War I. See Susan Pedersen, “Gender, Welfare, and Citizenship in Britain during the Great War,” AHR 95 (October 1990): 983–1006; and Pederson, Family, Dependence, and the Origins of the Welfare State: Britain and France, 1914–1945 (Cambridge, 1993).

26. Cited in Nnamdi Azikiwe’s column, “Inside Stuff,” West African Pilot, July 4, 1945.

27. “Artokhamen Imoudu Concludes Dramatic Series on Events Preceding 1942 COLA,” West African Pilot, June 12, 1945. For background on Imoudu, see Robin Cohen, “Michael Imoudu and the Nigerian Labour Movement,” Race and Class 18 (1977): 345–62; Cohen, “Nigeria’s Labour Leader No. 1: Notes for a Biographical Study of M. A. O. Imoudu,” Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria 5 (1970): 303–08; and Wale Oyemakinde, “Michael Imoudu and the Emergence of Militant Trade Unionism in Nigeria, 1940–1942,” Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria 7 (1974): 541–61.

28. Wale Oyemakinde, “The Pullen Marketing Scheme: A Trial in Food Price Control in Nigeria, 1941–1947,” Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria 6 (1973): 413–23.

29. Cheryl Johnson, “Madam Alimotu Pelewura and the Lagos Market Women,” Tarikh: Grass Roots Leadership in Colonial West Africa 7 (1981): 1–10; Nina Emma Mba, Nigerian Women Mobilized: Women’s Political Activity in Southern Nigeria, 1900–1965 (Berkeley, Calif., 1982), 226–31. For decades, Macaulay provided political assistance to the Lagos market women, which under Pelewura’s leadership supported his NNDP. Some of their correspondence is in the Herbert Macaulay Papers, Kenneth Dike Library, University of Ibadan, Nigeria.

30. Mba, Nigerian Women, 200–04; Johnson, “Madam Alimotu Pelewura,” 4–6, 6 quoted.

31. Oyemakinde, “Pullen Marketing Scheme,” 423; Ananaba, Trade Union Movement, 46–47; Mba, Nigerian Women, 227–28.

32. Johnson, “Madam Alimotu Pelewura,” 7–8.

33. Olusanya, Second World War, 64.

34. Johnson, “Madam Alimotu Pelewura,” 7–8.

35. Appendix VI, Memorandum of Director of Supplies on Measures Taken to Keep Down the Cost of Living; and Appendix VIII, Reply by Director of Supplies to Appendix 7, in Tudor Davies, Enquiry into the Cost of Living, 121–25, 131–32. Oyemakinde did the same thing, writing that “market women took advantage of the prevailing scarcity to profiteer.” “Nigerian General Strike,” 695. Also see Oyemakinde, “Pullen Marketing Scheme,” 415.

36. E. O. Oyefeso, “Cost of Living and Nigerian Workers,” West African Pilot, June 16, 1945; J. Ola Oluwole, “Regarding Food Crisis in Lagos,” West African Pilot, July 2, 1945.

37. Editorial, “So London Women Can’t Take It!” West African Pilot, August 24, 1945. Pullen had also raised the English comparison in regard to women’s income tax, arguing at a mass meeting with market women that women in England paid tax. Pelewura retorted that such a comparison was not fair, since “England is where the money is made.” Mba, Nigerian Women, 203; Johnson, “Madam Alimotu Pelewura,” 5.

38. Ben Oluwole, “The Pullen Market Must Go!” West African Pilot, August 21, 1945.

39. Examples are “Food Scarcity Heightens Again,” June 1, 1945; “Market Women Want Elimination of Gari Control,” June 18, 1945; “Stories Told by Working Class Mothers,” July 4, 1945.

40. “The Gari Situation in Lagos,” West African Pilot, June 19, 1945; “Human Approach to the Labour Crisis,” West African Pilot, June 20, 1945; Nnamdi Azikiwe, “Inside Stuff: History of the General Strike (3),” West African Pilot, September 5, 1945. The exception to this trend was Macaulay; see “Madam Pelewura & 2 Lagos White-Cap Chiefs Will Join NCNC Delegation,” West African Pilot, June 25, 1945. Women’s grievances were similarly downplayed by the British strikers Sonya Rose describes in “Respectable Men, Disorderly Others: The Language of Gender and the Lancashire Weavers’ Strike of 1878 in Britain,” Gender and History 5 (1993): 382–97.

41. “Human Approach to the Labour Crisis,” West African Pilot, June 20, 1945; “20,000 Mercantile Workers Endorse All Demands of Technical Workers’ Union,” West African Pilot, June 19, 1945.

42. ACSTWU to Chief Secretary to the Government, March 22, 1945, rpt. in Tudor Davies, Enquiry into the Cost of Living, 66–68; W. R. T. Milne, Acting Chief Secretary to the Government to ACSTWU, May 22, 1945, rpt. in Tudor Davies, 68–69.

43. ACSTWU Resolution, May 19, 1945, rpt. in Tudor Davies, Enquiry into the Cost of Living, 69–70.

44. J. O. Erinle, General Secretary of ACSTWU to Chief Secretary to the Government, June 1, 1945, rpt. in Tudor Davies, Enquiry into the Cost of Living, 70–71.

45. “MAO Imoudu Returns to Lagos after a Period of 2 Years in Detention: 50,000 Accord Him Fitting Welcome,” West African Pilot, June 4, 1945; Oyemakinde, “Nigerian General Strike,” 698.

46. G. F. T. Colby, Acting Chief Secretary to the Government to T. A. Bankole, President of ACSTWU, June 11, 1945, rpt. in Tudor Davies, Enquiry into the Cost of Living, 71–73. The West African Pilot ran an indignant editorial, “Repatriation of the Unemployed,” on June 21, 1945.

47. “Technical Workers Resolve to Order General Strike at Midnight on June 21,” and “Market Women Want Elimination of Gari Control,” West African Pilot, June 18, 1945. Ananaba has inflated the number of attendees at the workers’ meeting to 8,000; Trade Union Movement, 52.

48. Coleman, Nigeria, 257.

49. Interviews by the author in Ibadan, southwestern Nigeria, with retired railwaymen M. O. Shofekun and Francis Soetan, April 4 and 12, respectively, 1994.

50. Memorandum on Strike of African Civil Servants Technical Workers Unions, June–August 1945, in Nigerian Archives, Ibadan (hereafter, NAI), Resident’s Office, Oyo Province, 2/3/C.328.

51. Appendix II, Memorandum of Supreme Council of Nigerian Workers, in Tudor Davies, Enquiry into the Cost of Living, 54; also see Oyemakinde, “Nigerian General Strike,” 699.

52. Memorandum on Strike of African Civil Servants Technical Workers Unions, June–August 1945, NAI, Oyo Province, 2/3/C.328. Coleman made the same point; Nigeria, 259.

53. “Servicemen Drafted to Strikers’ Posts: Grave Diggers & Night Soil Men on Strike,” West African Pilot, June 25, 1945.

54. See “Govt. Control of Gari Ceases Today But May Reappear If Profiteering Creeps In,” West African Pilot, August 27, 1945; and “Pullen Scheme Must Now Go,” West African Pilot, February 7, 1946.

55. Tudor Davies, Enquiry into the Cost of Living, 17. Also see Ananaba, Trade Union Movement, chap. 8; Emejulu, Brief History, 64–68; Cooper, Decolonization, 136.

56. Even Azikiwe’s 74-part “History of the General Strike,” serialized in the West African Pilot in the fall of 1945, failed to acknowledge the significance of the market women’s support.

57. T. A. Bankole, “The June 1945 Unauthorized General Strike,” memorandum serialized in the West African Pilot, September 1945. Relevant sections are in “Mr. TA Bankole Describes the Meeting with Labour Commissioner Two Days before the June 1945 Strike,” September 12, 1945; and “Mr. Bankole Says Workers Were Incensed by Mr. Imoudu to Revolt Against Their Leaders,” September 13, 1945.

58. Oyemakinde, “Nigerian General Strike,” 704; Johnson, “Madam Alimotu Pelewura,” 9.

59. This is evident from press reports of meetings and joint activities in the first half of the 1940s. Also see Mba, Nigerian Women, chap. 7; and Johnson, “Madam Alimotu Pelewura,” 9. Similarly, Azikiwe backed the strike for nationalist reasons but also because he actively sought the political support of wage workers. Thus nationalist and class interests are difficult to disengage from the practical stuff of price controls, wages, and political alliances between local power brokers.

60. Imoudu and Adediran, Railway Workers Union to Mesdames Pelewura and Lagunju, President and Vice-President of the Female Market Leaders Association (Egbe Awon Oloja Obinrin), original (in Yoruba) in the Macaulay Papers, Dike Library. Translation assistance by Jide Oyeneye is gratefully acknowledged.

61. Nigeria, Census of Lagos (Lagos, 1950), 17.

62. The survey was conducted in 1993–1994 among 167 retired railwaymen and fifty-three of their wives, with the assistance of Jide Oyeneye, Olufunmilayo Carew, and Olusanya Ibitoye. Forty-one of the informants were employed during the 1940s. More information is in Lindsay, “Putting the Family on Track.”

63. S. Comhaire-Sylvain, “Le travail des femmes à Lagos, Nigeria,” Zaire 5 (1951): 169–87. Also see N. A. Fadipe, The Sociology of the Yoruba, F. O. Okediji and O. O. Okediji, eds. (Ibadan, 1970), 88, 152–57; Wambui M. Karanja-Diejomaoh, “Perceptions of Marriage, Family and Work in Nigeria: Study of Lagos Market Women” (DPhil thesis, Oxford University, 1980); Akin Mabogunje, “The Market-Woman,” Ibadan 11 (1961): 14–17; Niara Sudarkasa, Where Women Work: A Study of Yoruba Women in the Marketplace and in the Home (Ann Arbor, Mich., 1973).

64. “Workers’ Week Celebrations,” The Nigerian Worker (published by the Federated Trades Union of Nigeria) 1, no. 5 (April 1944): 5.

65. Fadipe, Sociology of the Yoruba, 88; Eleanor R. Fapohunda, “The Non-Pooling Household: A Challenge to Theory,” in Daisy Dwyer and Judith Bruce, eds., A Home Divided: Women and Income in the Third World (Stanford, Calif., 1988); Peter Marris, Family and Social Change in an African City: A Study of Rehousing in Lagos (Evanston, Ill., 1962), chap. 4; Sudarkasa, Where Women Work.

66. Based on my examination of divorce records from Bere Native Court, Ibadan, located in the Obafemi Owolowo University Library, Ife. Also see Nigeria, Annual Report of the Federal Social Welfare Department for the Year 1955–56 (Lagos, 1956), 10.

67. Interview with the author, Rebecca Uchefuna, February 21, 1994, Ibadan. Raheem Balogun, head of the Lagos branch of the Railway Pensioners’ Union, seconded that opinion. Interview with the author, July 20, 1998, Lagos.

68. Emecheta, Joys of Motherhood, 117. Also see “She Prefers an Ex-Soldier to a News Vendor,” in Miss Silva’s regular column on women called “Milady’s Bower,” West African Pilot, March 23, 1946, in which a newspaper salesman reports being jilted by his fiancee because he did not have a government income.

69. Interview with the author, S. O. Akintola, May 2, 1994, Ibadan.

70. For similar views, see Ousmane Sembene’s fictionalized account of the French West African railway strike, God’s Bits of Wood (Oxford, 1970); and Frederick Cooper’s commentary on women’s involvement in “‘Our Strike’: Equality, Anticolonial Politics and the 1947–48 Railway Strike in French West Africa,” Journal of African History 37 (1996): 81–118, 95–96. For an analogous argument about family wage demands in Britain, see Creighton, “Rise of the Male Breadwinner Family.”

71. Criminal Record Book, Ebute Metta (Lagos) Magistrate’s Court, vol. 62B, E. O. Bukola vs. L. B. Lawal, 3596/50, June 21, 1950, 324.

72. Interviews with the author in Ibadan: Bernard Aruna, December 28, 1993; S. O. Akintola, May 2, 1944; Florence Owolabi, January 7, 1994. Also see Sudarkasa, Where Women Work.

73. See Pat Ayers and Jan Lambertz, “Marriage Relations, Money, and Domestic Violence in Working-Class Liverpool, 1919–39,” in Sandra Burman, ed., Fit Work for Women (New York, 1979).

74. I have withheld the names to avoid embarrassment. Interviews with the author in Ibadan, February 17 and April 12, 1994.

75. Examples include Oke Are (Ibadan) Civil Record Book, vol. 21, 1693/30, Ayi vs. Lawani, September 1930, 231–37; Bere (Ibadan) I Civil Record Book, no vol. [torn cover], 529/38, Moriamo vs. Raimi, June 1938, 16–19; Bere I Civil Record Book, vol. 23, 233/42, Foyeke vs. Obasawi, February 1942, 125–26; Oke Are II Civil Record Book, vol. 12, 33/50, S. A. Akinfanda vs. Sabititu, February 1950, 231–37, all located in the Obafemi Awolowo University Library, Ife.

76. Interview with the author, Olukemi Alabi, December 4, 1994, Ibadan.

77. Much of the relevant literature has been summarized in Creighton, “Rise of the Male Breadwinner Family.” Also see Pedersen, Family, Dependence; Rose, Limited Livelihoods; Laura L. Frader, “Engendering Work and Wages: The French Labor Movement and the Family Wage,” in Frader and Rose, Gender and Class; and Martha May, “Bread before Roses: American Workingmen, Labor Unions, and the Family Wage,” in Ruth Milkman, ed., Women, Work, and Protest: A Century of U.S. Women’s Labor History (London, 1985).

78. Rose, Limited Livelihoods. It should be pointed out that, in the nineteenth century, only skilled men in certain trades were actually able to support their families on their wages, in spite of more widespread male breadwinner rhetoric. M. Barrett and M. McIntosh, “The ‘Family Wage’: Some Problems for Socialists and Feminists,” Capital and Class 9 (1980): 51–72.

79. Pedersen, Family, Dependence; John Macnicol, The Movement for Family Allowances, 1918–45: A Study in Social Policy Development (London, 1980). Also see Frader, “Engendering Work and Wages.”

80. British examples include Clark, Struggle for the Breeches; Rose, Limited Livelihoods, and “Respectable Men, Disorderly Others”; and Keith McClelland, “Masculinity and the ‘Representative Artisan’ in Britain, 1850–1880,” in Michael Roper and John Tosh, eds., Manful Assertions: Masculinities in Britain since 1800 (London, 1991).

81. Minute by D. E. Faulkner, Social Welfare Officer, to Commissioner of Lagos Colony, July 31, 1947, NAI, Comcol 1/3236.

82. Appendix I, Statement by the Chief Secretary to the Government, G. Beresford Stooke, in Tudor Davies, Enquiry into the Cost of Living, 52.

83. Nigeria, Annual Report on the Social and Economic Progress of the People of Nigeria (Lagos, 1936), 62.

84. Memorandum on “Rates of Pay of Laborers and Employees in the Southern Provinces,” Acting Chief Secretary’s Office, Lagos, September 3, 1935, cited in John F. Weeks, “Wage Policy and the Colonial Legacy—A Comparative Study,” Journal of Modern African Studies 9 (1971): 361–87, 375.

85. See, for example, Wally Seccombe, “Patriarchy Stabilized: The Construction of the Male Breadwinner Wage Norm in Nineteenth-Century Britain,” Social History 2 (1986): 53–76; and Sonya O. Rose, “Gender Antagonism and Class Conflict: Exclusionary Strategies of Male Trade Unionists in Nineteenth-Century Britain,” Social History 13 (1988): 191–208.

86. Some even publicly defended women’s access to wage employment. Lindsay, “Putting the Family on Track,” chap. 3.

87. Bridges, Report, 101.

88. Excerpt from April 26, 1944, speech on Lagos Radio Distribution Service, in The Nigerian Worker 1, no. 5 (April 1944): 4. Excerpt from speech entitled “Family Allowances,” in The Nigerian Worker 1, no. 7 (December 1944): 2. James Coleman points out that the Trade Union Congress was in contact with a number of foreign organizations, including the Fabian Society and the British Trade Union Congress, either of which could have supplied Shonekan and other Nigerian labor leaders with information on British debates and policies relevant to family allowances. Coleman, Nigeria, 257.

89. For the conceptual links between the family wage and public citizenship in Britain, see Rose, Limited Livelihoods, chap. 6; and Pedersen, Family, Dependence, chap. 6.

90. Appendix II, Memorandum of the Supreme Council of Nigerian Workers, in Tudor Davies, Enquiry into the Cost of Living, 63–64. That Nigerians were aware of the Beveridge proposals and compared them to Nigerian welfare provisions is clear from “Interim Relief for Unemployed Workers” (editorial), West African Pilot, January 28, 1946. For a letter to the editor stressing the links between citizenship and family allowances, see J. O. Lawanson (from Ile-Ife), “Family Allowances for Nigerian Worker,” West African Pilot, January 23, 1946.

91. Tudor Davies, Enquiry into the Cost of Living, 18, 48.

92. Minute by Deputy Financial Secretary S. R. Marlow, November 7, 1946, NAI, CSO 26/46820/S.1.

93. L. M. E. Emejulu, General Secretary of the African Civil Servants Technical Workers Union, to Commissioner of Labour, December 10, 1946; Minute by Marlow to the Governor, January 9, 1947, both in NAI, CSO 26/46820/S.1.

94. Walter Harragin (chair), Report of the Commission on the Civil Service of British West Africa, 1945–46 (Accra, 1946), 19 (first and third quotations), 8 (second quotation).

95. Minute to Chief Secretary to the Government from Financial Secretary, January 17, 1947, NAI, CSO 26/46820/S.1.

96. Public Announcement, n.d. [February 1947], NAI, CSO 26/46820/S.1.

97. “The Excuses of Harragin for Refusing Africans Marriage Allowance,” West African Pilot, December 11, 1946.

98. “Hell Is Let Loose: Tear Gas and Water Hose Are Used to Disperse 500 Loco Workers,” West African Pilot, March 13, 1947; “Railway Men Are Hopeful after a Long Meeting with Officials over Harragin,” West African Pilot, March 15, 1947. Emejulu wrote that 3,000 railwaymen and other workers were involved; Brief History, 71–74.

99. General Manager’s Staff Circular No. 11/50, December 6, 1950, Nigerian Railway Corporation file (hereafter, NRC), GMS 335 vol. 1, located in the NRC Headquarters, Ebute Metta, Lagos.

100. C. J. Mabey, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health, to Civil Secretaries of Northern and Eastern Regions and Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Public Health, Ibadan, November 16, 1953, Public Record Office, London (hereafter, PRO), CO 554/1340.

101. Nigeria, Annual Report of the Labour Office, Ibadan, 1951–52, 5, in NAI, Oyo Province, 1/1589/1; minute from S. L. A. Manuwa, Inspector-General of Medical Services, to Secretary of State, July 20, 1953, PRO, CO 888/10.

102. Memorandum submitted by the Railway Workers Union to Gorsuch Commission, November 1, 1954, NRC, GMS 337/8. Also see “Union Urges Pay Increase for Juniors,” Daily Times (Lagos), November 1, 1954.

103. L. H. Gorsuch (chair), Report of the Commission on the Public Services of the Governments in the Federation of Nigeria, 1954–55 (Lagos, 1955), 41. Also see Cooper, Decolonization, 448.

104. Colonial Labour Advisory Committee, Report of the Sub-Committee on Wage Fixing and Family Responsibilities, PRO, CO 859/810; Cooper, Decolonization, 331–33; Lindsay, “Putting the Family on Track,” 160–66.

105. Frederick Cooper, “From Free Labor to Family Allowances: Labor and African Society in Colonial Discourse,” American Ethnologist 16 (1989): 745–65; “The Senegalese General Strike of 1946 and the Labor Question in Post-War French Africa,” Canadian Journal of African Studies 24 (1990): 165–215; and Decolonization, chaps. 6–7.

106. Cooper, Decolonization, chap. 8; Pedersen, Family, Dependence.

107. For instance, Rose, Limited Livelihoods; Seccombe, “Patriarchy Stabilized”; Laura Lee Downs, Manufacturing Inequality: Gender Division in the French and British Metalworking Industries, 1914–1939 (Ithaca, N.Y., 1995).

108. For parallels among British textile workers in the 1830s, see Clark, Struggle for the Breeches, chap. 11.

109. For example, the commissioner of the colony’s 1946 slum clearance recommendations alleged that “much of the dirt and mess in the township is due to the women.” T. Hoskyns-Abrahall, “Recommendations for the Planning and Development of Lagos,” May 1946 (NAI, CE/H9). For similar outlooks in postcolonial Ghana, see Claire Robertson, “The Death of Makola and Other Tragedies,” Canadian Journal of African Studies 17 (1983): 469–95; and Gracia Clark, Onions Are My Husband: Survival and Accumulation by West African Market Women (Chicago, 1994).

110. See Mba, Nigerian Women, 234–89.

111. Cooper, Decolonization. But compare Timothy Scarnecchia, “The Politics of Gender and Class in the Creation of African Communities, Salisbury, Rhodesia, 1940–56” (PhD dissertation, University of Michigan, 1993).

112. Mamdani, Citizen and Subject.

113. Of course, it was often contentious in Europe, too. Jane Mark-Lawson and Anne Witz, “From ‘Family Labour’ to ‘Family Wage’? The Case of Women’s Labour in Nineteenth-Century Coalmining,” Social History 13 (1988): 151–74; Pedersen, Family, Dependence; and Susan Pedersen, “The Failure of Feminism in the Making of the British Welfare State,” Radical History Review 43 (1989): 86–110; Rose, Limited Livelihoods; John Tosh, “What Should Historians Do with Masculinity? Reflections on Nineteenth-Century Britain,” History Workshop Journal 38 (1994): 179–202.

114. “All We Ask for Is Fairplay!” West African Pilot, November 28, 1945.

115. Appendix II, Memorandum of the Supreme Council of Nigerian Workers, in Tudor Davies, Enquiry into the Cost of Living, 61.

116. “Justice Ends Where Colour Begins,” Daily Service, June 27, 1945, quoted in Nnamdi Azikiwe, “Inside Stuff: History of the General Strike (50),” West African Pilot, November 17, 1945, emphasis added.