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Luke, David Fashole (1983) The political economy of labour in an African public enterprise: Dock workers and the development of the Sierra Leone Port Organisation. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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This study is concerned with the problem of 'situating' lower paid workers within the political economy of an African state when these are workers in a public corporation which is in turn an integral part of a patron clientelist political and economic system. It is also a study of the responses of one of the largest groups of wage earners in Sierra Leone to their employment by a parastatal organisation. Two perspectives are considered; whether lower paid workers in African parastatals are employed (and exploited) in a capitalist mode of production (like Marx's proletariat) or, whether they are a part of a labour aristocracy (even a kleptocratic elite) which is parasitic on the peasantry. Neither of these perspectives seems fully appropriate. It is far from clear that parastatals (even in societies developing in the direction of capitalism) operate in the manner or by the criteria of capitalist enterprises, and consequently that the ideal or natural reponse of workers should conform to the classic Marxist model. On the other hand, it is far from clear that all public sector employees are non-productive, unexploited, or purely parasitic on the peasantry. A public corporation like the Sierra Leone Port Authority has, in the post-colonial state, been less geared to profit-making than to providing jobs for political clients. The provision of such political benefits via the public sector after independence has been limited less by financial than by political constraints and IMF pressure to reduce public spending on over-extended public bureaucracies. There is therefore a strong element of parasitism in the collective operation of such organisations and one from which lower paid workers might be considered in some ways to benefit. And, as we shall see, this does affect their attitudes. These factors are most accurately seen, however, as merely mitigating their exploitation since they do largely perform the labour entailed in providing a genuine service for commerce at low rates of renumeration (even when some graft is included). Moreover, there can be no doubt from socio-economic indices and from sociological observation of their way of life that they are very much a part of the urban poor. There are immediate differences between them and the peasantry over such issues as the level of official food prices but these are really subsidiary to the major conflicts between the interests of the political and administrative elite together with some capitalist business on the one hand and the low income rural and urban workforce on the other. This helps to explain the vitality of the trade unionism of the dockers.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 16 Oct 2018 15:05

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