Trade unions and 'responsible participation': Dahomey, 1958-1975

Phelan, Craig (2014) Trade unions and 'responsible participation': Dahomey, 1958-1975. Labor History, 55(3), pp. 346-364. ISSN (print) 0023-656X


The trade union movement in sub Saharan Africa during the struggle against colonial rule in the 1950s has long commanded the attention of historians. Numerous books and articles have detailed the growing strength and critical role of trade unions in France’s vast West African colonial federation, l’Afrique occidentale française (AOF). Far less is known about the fate of these trade unions in the nine newly-independent countries that emerged from the demise of AOF. In the fifteen years following independence, most autonomous trade unions in French-speaking West Africa were either marginalised or integrated into the political structures of ruling parties. With the exception of Burkina Faso, single national trade union federations controlled by ruling political parties existed everywhere in francophone West Africa by 1975. Whether capitalist, military or socialist, all political elites sought to create a trade unionism that would serve as a transmission belt for party control over the workforce, a type of unionism that was referred to as ‘participation responsable’. This article details the experience of Dahomey (now Benin), where independent trade unions struggled against responsible participation and continued to play a pivotal political role until 1975, when the state socialist regime of Mathieu Kérékou finally succeeded in imposing state-controlled trade unionism.

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