Comparing Gods Bits of Wood and Our Strike

In 1947 a railroad strike took place between 1948 in French West Africa, This strike has been seen in a variety of literature. Two prominent pieces of literature that has been written about this railroad strike is God‘s Bits of Wood written by Sembene Ousmane and “Our Strike” written by Frederick Cooper. One of these pieces of literature, God’s Bits of Wood is a fictional novel where as “Our Strike" is a scholarly article. Both these pieces of literature differ and intersect with one another.

In this essay I will argue that God’s Bits of Wood focuses on political struggle, the grassroots movement in the strike and, provides a nationalist perspective, Compared to “Our Strike" which shows a social struggle, the leadership of the strike and, providing a trans-national perspective First, 1 will explain how God’s Bits of Wood paints a picture of the strike being a political struggle, compared to “Our March" which paints the strike as a social struggle.

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In God‘s Bits of Wood the main point displaying a political struggle is the unity of the community that surrounds the striking miners. To begin, in God’s Bits of Wood there is a large focus on unity among Africans. This is seen in God’s Bits of Wood when Isnard shoots at Little Ka and his group. “The news spread like fire through the courtyards of the district, traveling from compound to compound and from main house to neighboring cabins. Men, women, and children flowed into the streets by the hundreds, marching towards the railroad yards,” (Ousmane, 163) This demonstrates two main things first, this demonstrates how united the African community is.

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Certain people may have been having problems with people when preforming the strike, such as the anger towards strike breakers which both texts show, When the trial is underway against Diara the group says one of the 2 wrongs he has done is “he went back to work." (Ousmane, 91) and in “Our Strike" “Women... tautened strike breakers" (Cooper, 95) but even though some have this anger towards certain people they all band together to march against the French.

This also is a great example of how Ousmane portrays a political struggle during these strikesi Ousmane touch‘s on how this strike creates an atmosphere where anger towards the colonial state is strong This atmosphere is shown very explicitly when after hearing about this event the people march not against the person who perpetrated the act of shooting at Little Ka. Instead, they marched against the colonial state and directed their anger about this shooting at the Colonial state. This displays true discontent towards the colonial state and that people are getting sick of the abuses the colonial state is preforming, already showing that many people are already lusting for a large change in how the colonial government operates, Well also showing the desire for a government where they are not abused by the colonial state, therefore putting vast amounts of pressure on the state to change or result in severe consequences, such as riots/ protests that we see here Therefore this railroad strike is portrayed as a political struggle in God‘s Bits of Wood displayed by the unity among Africans in God’s Bits of Wood Now I will speak about how “Our Strike” presents the strike as a social struggle and not a political one, like God’s Bits of Wood The two main things that convey that the railroad worker‘s strike is social and not political struggle is what the railroad strikers were fighting for and the lack of unity between strikers and politicians I will begin with the core of what the railroad strikers were fighting for, “The union's goal from 1946 onward was the creation of the cadre unique, a single scale of wages and benefits for Africans and white Frenchmen alike.”

These workers may have paved the way for the political struggles in French West Africa but, “The all-too»neat assimilation of social and political struggles is a matter of hindsight". These people and these workers were not at the time fighting for political freedom or political power in French West Africa. According to Cooper, these people were fighting for their benefit, they wanted to achieve equality between African and French workers when it comes to the pay and benefits African workers will receiver This shows how these strikers were striking just for themselves and were focusing on equality in wages between African and European workers and not trying to achieve much more than equality among workers. Next I will speak about how there was a lack of unity between the strikers and the African’s with political goals “In fact, the union and the major political movements of the day remained in uneasy relationship. The men who were the ultimate beneficiaries of decolonization — the Senghors and the Houphouet-Boignys — did not make the cause of the strikers their own” (Cooper 92) By Cooper explicitly focusing on how the strike had very little to do with African politicians he specifically shows that the strike should interpreted as a social struggle for the workers and not a political struggle, Like, what Ousmane interpreting it as, In conclusion, the aims of the strike and the involvement of African politicians according to Cooper has very little to do with a Political struggle as in the case of Ousmane and has to deal with social struggle, This can be seen through the fight for equal wages and lack of unity between aspiring African politicians and the workers. Next I will explain how God’s Bits of Wood looks at the grass root movement of the strike compared to “Our Strike“ which looks much deeper at the leadership of the striker In God’s Bits of Wood the idea adhering to grass roots movements of the strike is who it looks at The difference is that God‘s Bits of Wood looks at the strikers as general force and focuses on them much more than “Our Strike" which takes a much more in depth look at how the leaders of the strike play a much more crucial role than they did in God’s Bits of Wood. “The audience in the union hall had listened to Tiémoko’s story in total silencer” (Ousmane 91) “Everyone recognized him immediately as the first man who stopped work after the strike was called, and there was a murmur of approval from the audiences”.

This displays the grass roots level of the strike that is so inherent in God’s Bits ofWood. By having the large audience of workers and a regular striker is able to on what to do with Diara instead of the leaders just making a decision on what to do to Diarai Compared to “Our Strike” which focuses very heavily on the leadership “The [strike] order was followed not only by the agents of the permanent cadre and the auxiliaries eligible to be integrated into it, the only people with an interest in the agreement under discussion, but also by the mass of ordinary auxiliaries — manual laborers for the most part - and by the personnel of the wharfs whose situation was not at all in question Led into this behavior by a limitless confidence in their leaders and their directions." (Cooper, 108) This can be seen by how Cooper highlighted the leadership in the strike and the amount of manpower the leadership is able to command shows how according to Cooper, the strike was extremely reliant on the leadership Compared to Ousman by highlighting the large amount of influence every single worker has by writing about how common strikers are able to influence a situation that is extremely serious like the trial of Diara. In conclusion, even though leadership is seen in both articles of literature in God’s Bit of Wood the leadership is downplayed much more than “Our Strike”, and highlights the average people in society to look at the grass roots level of the movement On the contrary in “Our Strike” the leadership’s role in the strike is much more prominent and pronounced, allowing for the reader to see how pivotal leadership was too the rail road strike. Lastly, I will explain how God’s Bits of Wood provides a National perspective when viewing the railroad strike where as “Our Strike" provides a Trans-National look into the event. I will begin with how God’s Bits of Wood provides a Nationalist perspective; God’s Bits of Wood shows the strike occurring in three different cities Bamako, Thies and, Dakar. Two out of the 3 cities Thies and Dakar are both located in present day Senegal, and Bamako is located in present day Mali.

This paints a perspective that these strikers coupled with the political struggle that is portrayed in the book are fighting for workers in a region of West Africa but it’s solely looking at two countries. Even though, this railroad strike occurred in most parts of French West Africa. This leads to the perspective that the strike is taking place and creating an atmosphere where the Senegalese and Malian strikers are fighting for more than just their rights, they are fighting for equality for the people of their country and not for all Africans located in French West Africa Now, I will speak about how this Nationalist perspective is fostered notjust by fighting for equality among railroad workers against the French but that these Africans are only able to rely on themselves and no one else This is seen most evidently when the railroad strikers ask the Syrian merchant if they can use his truck “They wanted to borrow the Syrian’s truck, but the matter was not easily arrangedt Lahbib, in fact was forced to resort of blackmail," (Ousmane 91) This shows that these Africans could not even get help from people who had also been ruled by the French government and because of that should be empathetic to the cause of the African strikers, But, even with this in mind they still only could rely on one another, as a result fostering a sense community and further showing that no one will help them. They need people who are like them and empathetic to their cause by being like them to truly achieve equality in their land. This, in turn creates this nationalist perspective that to truly be free and equal in their country they must do it themselves and cannot trust anyone else to help them. Lastly, I will explain how “Our Strike“ creates a trans-national perspective. This is seen by “Our Strike“ when “the Ivory Coast railway union issued and ‘Appeal to Africans’ in Late October and asked for ‘all black associations‘ to provide material aid... the union appealed to Lebanese shop-owners“.

This develops a trans»nationalist perspective where not even just Africans are helping these strikers. But, all people who have been affected by colonial rule have to come together to overcome the difficulties that have been created by the French. More specifically that all Africans have to come together to combat this inequality that has been directly inflicted upon by the French colonial government. This creates trans-national perspective of pan-Africanism that all Africans must come together to fight against their colonial oppressors. In conclusion, though both pieces of literature intersect by showing that strikers get help from sources outside the strikers themselves. They both are very different with God’s Bit of Wood displaying a nationalist perspective through the cities focused on in the novel and the reliance that must be placed upon one another. Compared, to “Our Strike" which presents a trans—national perspective by showing how all Africans and even some other colonially rule people must help with this strike. In conclusion, God‘s Bits of Wood displays a political struggle, grassroots movement in the strike and, paints the strike in a nationalist perspective, compared to “Our Strike” which displays a social struggle, focuses on the leadership of the strike and, provides a trans-national perspective. Both pieces of literature Gods Bits of Wood and “Our Strike” both differ and intersect with one another. But, they both illustrate different approaches and focuses on the railroad strike that occurred in French West Africa in 1947 and ended in 1948. Though it is easy to look back and see in hindsight that this railroad strike would help lead the way to gain independence for countries in French West Africa. I hope this essay has demonstrated that it is not as straight forward as this and that this strike can be seen and highlighted in multiple ways. This highlight and underplaying things that occurred to create a certain perspective in the strike can be seen very clearly in these two pieces of literatttre spoken in this essay.

Updated: May 03, 2023
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Comparing Gods Bits of Wood and Our Strike. (2022, Jul 12). Retrieved from

Comparing Gods Bits of Wood and Our Strike essay
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