Memorandum by the Acting Labor Adviser, Bureau of Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs ( Handley ), to the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs ( McGhee )1


The following is a summary of a memorandum (attached) I prepared on a meeting held with Mr. Harold Snell, Assistant to the President, United Transportation Service Employees, CIO, about his observations as a member of the ICFTU West African Mission:2

1. The trade unions in West Africa are in general weak and immature. With assistance from the ICFTU, however, they can become very important factors in West African affairs.

2. The British have done the best job in encouraging trade union development. This was particularly true in Nigeria where the trade unions were the most promising of all in West Africa. British labor officers, taken from the British trade union movement and working through the various labor departments, were actively assisting the infant trade union movement.

3. In the Belgian Congo, only Europeans were at present permitted to establish trade unions. Despite this, the Belgian Socialist trade unions were planning to carry out an organizational drive among native workers. The Belgian Government, while strongly opposed to native trade union organization, was at the same time carrying out and fostering commendable social schemes, particularly in the way of workers’ housing.

4. Trade union development in the French territories were along ideological and religious lines, similar to those followed in metropolitan [Page 1223] France. The communist-controlled CGT was the strongest and was probably doing the best job.

5. There were no trade unions in Liberia. Wages paid by Firestone were, with the exception of the French Cameroons, the lowest paid in Africa, beginning at 25 cents a day. Firestone was, however, carrying out very elaborate social programs. There was no device whereby Firestone workers could discuss their grievances or working conditions with management. In view of the belief in West Africa that Liberia was an American colony, he recommended that the United States Government exert its influence on Firestone and the Liberian Government to raise wages and permit trade union organization.

6. He had high hopes that the influence of the WFTU in West Africa, although strong, could be dissipated by the ICFTU. He thought that West Africa offered a unique opportunity for the ICFTU to take the initiative.

7. The USIS program has been good but could be made more effective if greater contact were made with African intellectuals and trade union leaders.

8. Our diplomatic and consular people were not circulating sufficiently among Africans.

9. He was strongly critical of the invitation that had been extended to Mr. Couzens, the Commissioner of Labor in Nigeria and a British civil servant, to visit the United States on a leader specialist grant.

10. He recommended that a small, carefully designed program to bring prominent West African trade unionists to the United States be developed.

11. He recommended that, as a minimum, the United States station a labor attaché in Lagos, with regional coverage, and preferably assign labor reporting officers at Dakar and Accra as well.

  1. This memorandum was also addressed and seen by Deputy Assistant Secretary Berry and African Affairs Director Bourgerie. The source text bears McGhee’s handwritten notation “Good—thanks—GCM.”
  2. The five-page memorandum attached to the source text is not printed. Paragraph one of that memorandum read as follows:

    “A meeting was held on Friday, April 13, 1951, in the NEA Conference Room to hear from Harold D. Snell, Assistant to the President, United Transport Service Employees, CIO, about his experiences and observations on his trip to West Africa as an American member on the ICTFU Mission. Representatives from NEA, NEA/P, AF, E, P, UND, DRN, ECA, and the Labor Department were present. Mr. Snell first of all traced the itinerary of the ICFTU Mission through West Africa. The Mission, which was divided into two groups, traveled through French West Africa, Sierra Leone, Liberia, the Gold Coast, Nigeria, French Equatorial Africa, and the Belgian Congo. The two groups rejoined each other, and together with representatives from the countries visited, held a regional trade union conference in Douala, French Cameroons, from March 5 to March 7. This conference, the first of its kind ever held in Africa, was considered by Mr. Snell to have been a success. Based on it he had every hope that the ICFTU Executive Committee would approve the idea of establishing a regional center for West Africa. The locus of this center was undetermined at the moment, however, and would be left to the judgment of the Executive Committee.”

    Regarding the ICFTU mission to West Africa, see also the circular telegram of January 16, p. 1210.