How did the strike along the railway transform itself into a nationalist movement?

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God's Bits of Wood revolves around the epic railroad strike that took place in colonial West Africa from 1947 to 1948. Initially, the strike broke out over bread and butter issues such as pay and conditions, but before long it morphed into something much bigger, a full-scale political struggle against French colonialism.

This incredible transformation occurs for a number of reasons. First of all, the railroad line along which the strike takes place is trans-continental, cutting across a number of West African countries such as Mali and Senegal. This means that oppressed African workers from different countries can more easily see themselves as part of a bigger struggle, one that has profound implications for the future of Africa as a free continent.

Secondly, by participating in the strike, the workers become radicalized. Under the charismatic leadership of Bakayoko they realize that there's so much more at stake than better wages and conditions; if they're going to receive the dignity and respect they deserve, then they're going to have to take control of their own destinies. This means taking on and destroying the system of colonialism. Only then will Africans be able to address the causes of their oppression.

It's instructive that the wives, mothers, and sisters of the strikers are also transformed by their participation in the struggle. Through their intense political involvement they develop a sense of self-worth and dignity, which allows them to rise above the lowly position assigned to them by traditional African society. The women of the strike realize that the maintenance of that self-worth and dignity is dependent on their taking control of their destiny. That means getting involved in destroying colonialism and building a whole new system to replace it. It's no accident that it's women who lead the epic march from Thiès to Dakar to challenge the French colonial authorities. They know just what is at stake in all of this.

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