Teaching and Labor: Teacher Unionism in Ghana, 1931-1966

By Amoako, Samuel | The International Journal of African Historical Studies, January 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Teaching and Labor: Teacher Unionism in Ghana, 1931-1966


Amoako, Samuel, The International Journal of African Historical Studies


Introduction

Teachers' unions in Ghana have escaped scholarly attention even though they have been part of the political fabric of national life. Although there is little evidence to show that organized teachers mobilized actively to support the independence struggle, there is significant evidence in support of the role individual teachers played both in the struggle for independence and in the post-independence era. Indeed, of the 104 members of the 1950 legislative assembly, 29 percent were teachers. Similarly, teachers made up 6 percent of the country's delegation to the National Congress of British West Africa in 1920, and the first president, Kwame Nkrumah, had earlier served as a teacher.1 Teachers have been very active not only in associational life, but also in the political life of Ghana. The two major works on teacher unions in Ghana are those by Kwasi Asiedu-Akrofi and T.A. Osae, who deal with the historical development of teacher unionism. Their works, however, do not identify detailed connections among the unions and developments in society in general, and the relationship of the teacher unions with either the colonial government or postcolonial governments is seldom treated in any of these works.2 While the focus of this paper is not to examine the role of teachers in national politics per se, we investigate teachers' associations and their relation with the state, paying particular attention to the early 1930s to the end of the first post-independent government under Nkrumah's Convention Peoples Party (CPP). It is our contention that a study of the teacher union-state relationship has the potential to sharpen our understanding not only of the education system within which teachers operate, but also state-labor relations in the education sector, since labor relations is at the heart of teachers' salaries, benefits, rights, and responsibilities.

We argue that teacher unions remained confrontational towards the state when the teachers' material conditions deteriorated amid general labor and political discontent. Even so, if the state was able to mediate their economic needs and improve their work conditions, their agitation lessened, even if there remained general labor discontent. However, while the bottom line of teacher grievances (demand for wage increases and improved conditions of service) remained fundamentally the same during and after colonial rule, the attitude of the state towards resolving teacher grievances kept shifting. While the colonial government remained conciliatory in resolving teacher grievances in the period before 1950, the government of the diarchy (power-sharing government between African nationalist and British colonial officials) remained indifferent to teacher grievances and adopted authoritarian approaches in dealing with teacher agitations. The postindependence government however sought to co-opt teachers and their unions by offering teachers improvements in their salaries and conditions of service, and by interfering actively in the internal affairs of the teachers' union in order to bring their aims in line with the party and the state. Thus, even though the teachers' union, after independence had sought to remain professional, independent and non-partisan, it was nevertheless, just like other social groups, coerced albeit benignly to profess open support for the CPP and its government. The CPP government's co-option of the teacher's union reflected a general trend in its dealing with labor. We will however show that even though the teachers had a keen sense of their work conditions, they mostly expressed their grievances in narrow occupational terms rather than in class terms; they thus did not align their struggles or even show solidarity with other working class struggles.

The Emergence of Teacher Associations in Ghana

Given the history of educational development and the disparity between mission3 and government school teachers, teacher unionism in Ghana began as sectorial unions: mission school teachers and government school teachers had distinct conditions and terms of service, even though employers of the former received support in the form of grants from the colonial government to assist in running their schools. …

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