Speaker: David Hyde (University of East London)
The essence of the severe financial crisis which beset East African Railways and Harbours [E.A.R.H.] lay in its struggle to fulfil its prescribed role as the provider of cheap transportation to underwrite the profitability of Kenya's settler economy. By the 1950s major reinvestment was required though its Renewals Fund was almost depleted. How could E.A.R.H., after years of overwork and underinvestment, renew its infrastructure to facilitate its enabling role to? The state monopoly came under intense pressure to reduce freight charges, to confront fierce competition from the colony’s many road haulage companies and to subsidise Kenya’s troubled plantation economy mired in a declining world market. E.A.R.H. attempted to pass the costs of meeting these problems onto its African workforce through a region wide programme of rationalisation involving large scale redundancies and intensified working practices. This crisis provoked fierce resistance marked by the inter territorial strike which began with Kenya’s railmen on November 14th, 1959. Railwaymen in Tanganyika and Uganda followed them into a strike which continued intermittently until August 1960. The strike seems to have given coherence, form and universality to working class struggles at a crucial moment coincident with the transition to independence.