The Challenge of Globalization, Labor Market Restructuring and Union Democracy in Ghana
Abstract: The resulting labor market transformations imposed by
adjustment of national economies prompt changes in the organizational strategies
of labor movements. Such strategies impact union governance and undermine union
democracy. Strategies adopted by the Ghana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) and its
national affiliates to cope with the fall-out of economic adjustment since the
late 1980s included the expansion of union coverage and modifications in
internal union structures to improve avenues for female and rank and file
interest representation. This paper raises the major features of the challenges
posed by globalization and discusses the implications of union extension into
the informal economy as a response to these challenges.
Studies on trade unions,
especially those of the political economy approach, reiterate the importance of
trade unions in arresting the excesses of globalization, such as the threat to
the environment and increasing global poverty. They also underscore
trade unions' pivotal role in the search for alternative development
strategies. The ILO asserts unions role as an important tripartite workplace social
partner in its efforts to ensure that globalization is fair to all.
Unions role in the solution for world development concerns come at a point in
time when the positive benefits of globalization are being questioned in
several sectors. The growing amount of literature on the social dimensions of
future prospects of globalization shows that many are wary of the so-called
benefits of globalization.
Development theories, be
they ". conservative, modernisation. or dependency theory ., conceived development
as national development" and the nation state constituted the prime focus of
national decisions and actions. Nation states set out their priorities
for resource use on the basis of some set assumptions about how development
should proceed. These priorities set the framework for resource use for
production and consumption and citizens' mode for accessing needs. Present
notions underlying neo-liberal economic development, as are being pushed
through globalization, re-conceives development as national competitiveness
within the global market place. The object of production under
globalization is primarily for international markets not for national
consumption. This shifts the focus of development from the national to the
global, while the State's space in production gets contracted to private
enterprises.  Neo-liberal policies absolve the state of its
traditional responsibility towards welfare provisioning. Re-conceptualization
of development and the state's welfare and economic roles impact production and
distribution decisions within countries in ways that challenge the existence of
unions' ability to represent working people.
especially information and communication technologies that have been part of
globalization, have caused considerable changes in production modes and
relations. A characteristic feature of globalization is the ability of
trans-national corporations (TNCs) to split production over several locations
across the globe, giving rise to global production systems which allow
companies to take advantage of variations in national economic incentives. The
improvements in global production systems have been impressive; however they
impact work and work relations, compromising the observance of core labor
standards. As nations compete amongst themselves
to capture foreign direct investments of the TNCs, the content of their labor
laws are watered down to the detriment of their workers and the movements that
protect their rights.
The ILO's Director-General
on the World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization, whilst
acknowledging the benefits of globalization, expressed concern for its negative
social impact on work and working people, deploring the existence of global
economic imbalances as "ethically unacceptable and politically unsustainable." It is the significance of work in the lives of women
and men that direct the ILO's decent work agenda: a set of "policies which not
only mitigate the adverse human consequences of economic change, but which also
strengthen its positive outcomes for peoples' lives and their work." Accordingly the ILO's 2004 report states that the quality of work is "the
'litmus test' for the success or failure of globalization [and] the source of
dignity, stability, peace and credibility of governments and the economic
system." It is in this connection that the
impact of globalization in undermining the standards of work and job security
has implications for its sustainability.
Alterations in the direction
and position of production within national development practice and discourse
has impacted labor markets in ways that undermined fundamentally trade unionism
in several parts of the world. Trade unions have faced a consistent onslaught
from globalization policies that usurped labor's role in production. Employment
welfare became antagonistic to the efficient functioning of corporations
generating what Streeck and Hassel call a trilemma, where full employment,
price stability and free collective bargaining become untenable, any two can be
achieved at the cost of the third. Governments and corporations chose to
sacrifice collective bargaining under the guise that its benefits are available
to a very small section of the working population.
After recovering from the
initial shock, unions set to devising strategies to counter the impact of
globalization. Union strategies have been influenced by several factors, both
internal and external to their national contexts.
Internal factors have been historical (unions political role in nation
building) or contemporary (the prevailing industrial relations frameworks
within which unions operate). The Ghanaian state, since 1983, has
been keenly integrating her economy into the global economy. National policy
making therefore is geared towards liberalization, privatization, and
deregulation justified as making production entities competitive on the global
In response to the
systematic onslaught on workers' and trade union rights characteristic under
the liberalizing economies, the Ghana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) devised
several strategies to respond to the challenges. This
paper discuses the implications of some of the major strategies devised by GTUC
to respond to challenges posed by labor market reforms. The paper raises some
of the critical questions of union governance and internal democracy that have
to be resolved if such strategies should achieve their aim of strengthening
unions existence and relevance to their members as it seeks to expand its space
and operations within the informal economy. The paper begins by examining the
position of labor within the globalized production system, the state
relationship with labor generally, and specific forms it has taken in Ghana.
Later sections of the paper, which outline the nature of challenges organized
labor in Ghana has faced, sets the stage for examining some GTUC strategies and
points to issues of union internal democracy. Union strategies hold important
lessons for providing meaningful representation and engagement with globalized
policies that confront workers in their daily striving for meaningful and
sustainable livelihoods. The paper utilizes information from group and
individual interviews of trade union leaders and members as well as existing
documents such as research reports, historical accounts, and union documents.
Globalization is used to
refer to the unrestrained movement of capital world-wide that has integrated
national economies into a unified system of production and distribution.
Attitudes towards globalization and its impact are dependent on the claims to
its utility, resistibility, inevitability, and novelty.
Underscoring the various positions are the convictions of how present liberal
global production and production relations can improve the living conditions of
the world's citizens, irrespective of their location, through sustainable use
and equal distribution of the earth's resources.
Globalists or 'globaphiles' believe that the outcome of globalization is
equally beneficial to all who take advantage of the prospects it offers.
Global skeptics or 'globaphobes' however, point to the existence of poverty,
insecurity, environmental degradation, global resource depletion, and climate
change as proof of the inherently exploitative nature of globalization and its
threat to sustainable development.
Other areas of contention
are the presentation of globalization as a dominant, naturally evolving
economic form which draws into its ambit all world production processes. Önder,
Sutcliffe and Glyn, Gore, Rupert and Smith, Munck, and Buckman all contest this
view, arguing that globalization is an imposed phenomenon fuelled by the
ideological predisposition of the so-called Washington Consensus.
Globalization combines several strands, such as the consensus amongst global
economic policy makers who favor market-based development strategies over
state-managed ones, the control of G7 states over global market rules, and the
concentration of market and financial power in the hands of transnational
corporations (TNCs) and banks to facilitate its implementation. Others are ". public international financial institutions created to oversee
management of economic globalization.IMF, World Bank and WTO .technology
.transport and communications." The successful implementation of
globalization was buttressed by the collapse of state sponsored socialism in
the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
For developing countries
located in the economic South, the imposition of globalization was fuelled by
the 1980 debt crisis. World Bank/IMF Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) and
WTO negotiations served as vehicles for integrating such ailing, inward looking
economies into the global economy. Munck explains that in the early
1980s, the World Bank pointed those nations who dealt with it for solutions to
their economic problems to policies which entailed integration with the
capitalist market. Their weakened economies forced them to accept SAP
conditionalities as the basis for accessing badly needed IMF/World Bank loans.
These conditions included state withdrawal from direct production, the
privatization of existing state-owned enterprises, and the devaluation of
national currencies. Public sector workers were laid off under the misleading
name of labor rationalization in a bid to cut government expenditure. Other
policy conditions included the withdrawal of state subsidies on social welfare
like health, education, and support for agriculture. At
present, the IMF/World Bank maintain a strong grip on economic decision making
in African countries south of the Sahara. SAPs have been abandoned since 1999
but the numerous programs of the World Bank and the IMF that have replaced it
still bear all the hallmarks of SAP in terms of structure, form and processes.
At the fall of the Berlin
Wall not only did neo-liberalists celebrate the end of history, they also
commemorated the death of work. Improvements in production and information
technology had shortened spaces between countries almost rendering borders
irrelevant. The drivers of globalization,
computers and information technology, demanded minimal labor requirements in
the form of highly trained computer experts. With time this assertion has
proven to be untrue and globalization's latest labor force, highly trained
computer experts are yet to dominate production processes in developing
countries like Ghana. Labor remains central to
globalization because the spread of capital is dictated by production and
distribution of goods and services, artificial intelligence is yet to supply
all the answers for human needs. Globalization however has challenged
the justification for labor to secure fair entitlements for its contribution to
Neo-liberal economic policy
dictates that nation states relinquish their role in production to the more
efficient private capital, calling for a re-definition of labor's position
within the production process. Consumer satisfaction directs the goals of
national production for global consumption. Under what is generally termed
Import Substitution Industrialization (ISI), which characterized national
development policies in the 1960s and 1970s, the focus of development was
national. Countries such as Ghana and Kenya
pursued development through industrialization to feed domestic consumption.
Önder explains that under ISI national consumption was important to economic
growth and workers income crucial in sustaining that consumption.
Globalization replaced ISI with Export Oriented Growth and suppressed the
interests of labor in favor of capital. Manda and Sen note how
economic reforms in Kenya during the 1990s called for adjustments in labor laws
that increased the vulnerability of the Kenyan labor force. The
immediate post-independence phase in Ghana is characterized as a labor friendly
period. The Ghanaian state was engaged in
direct production and industries enjoyed protection from external competition.
Neo-liberal reforms soured the friendly state-labor movement relations.
interrogating the position of the nation state within globalization, writers
have been concerned about the tendency of neo-liberal principles to undermine
national sovereignty and citizenship entitlements.
Critics of the various economic packages that accompany financial support to
ailing economies of developing countries like Ghana have expressed concern
about national ownership of IMF/World Bank economic programs and the tendency
to submerge citizens' voices and welfare benefits in a bid to get market prices
right. Citizens who vote governments into
power no longer constitute the centre of national policy-making. Neither are
their inputs into economic planning guaranteed if they in any way contradict
the dictates of World Bank and IMF conditionalities.
The implementation of
neo-liberal economic policies depends on state power to curb citizens' rights
in so far as they are incompatible with the profit making interests of
transnational capital. Boafo-Arthur, Munck, Abugre, and Harcourt show how the
neo-liberal policy prescriptions of the World Bank and IMF were facilitated
mainly by the suspension, marginalization, and erosion of the efficiency of
democratic institutions as well as the suppression of human rights.
Citing Pickel and Austin, Harcourt shows that authoritarian regimes rather
than democratic ones are better able to carry out neo-liberal reforms.
Boafo-Arthur's discussions on the introduction of SAP in Ghana conclude that
Ghana's position as an adjustment success was only possible under a military
regime that utilized violence to suppress all forms of resistance, including
that of workers. He cites several examples of labor repressive undemocratic
practices to show how the government of Ghana, keen to ensure that labor
demands did not derail the demands of IMF/World Bank conditionalities, utilized
force to weaken representative groups like organized labor.
Labor's fortunes within
globalization are undermined by an ideological discourse that upholds profits
as a sign of efficiency that will generate the required levels of productivity
to sustain economic growth for national development. To succumb to labor
demands or interests would render an economy inefficient and directed towards
failure. Thus, from a favored position under a production system that produces
to satisfy national needs, labor now stands in the way of national progress if
it insists that its interests should be considered.
GTUC and the Ghanaian Labor Market
The GTUC, a confederation of
seventeen national unions, serves as a major labor organization in Ghana.
It emerged as a labor centre in 1946 under Ordinance as a response of the
British colonial government to persistent labor unrest. Prior to 1946, most
trade unions were short-lived and enterprise based, organized to lead demands
for better and fair working conditions. Prominent among the
factors militating against the survival and effective operation of unions were
the structure of the colonial labor market, characterized by a small waged and
skilled workforce, as well as the hostility of private expatriate employers and
the colonial government. Its growth as a labor centre was
greatly facilitated by labor friendly legislation under the CPP and NRC
governments in the early 1960s and 1970s.
Three main sectors within the Ghanaian economy are
the agricultural and rural, the urban informal, and the formal sectors. These
sectors have varying characteristics which underlie their labor force demands.
The rural labor market, which is dominated by the use of family labor, is influenced
by local customs and traditions in employment. Wage determination and dispute
settlement processes in the sector follow such customs and traditions.
The urban informal labor market is made up of several self-employed and small
enterprises and here again family labor dominates. The formal labor market
stands out in terms of the fact that employment contracts tend to be subjected
to some measure of legislative control. The informal sector accounts for at
least 81% of the labor force. The predominant type of employment is
self-employment involving almost 59% of the population. The agricultural and
rural informal sectors dominate the Ghanaian labor market, employing more than
50% of the total Ghanaian labor force. Much of the rural labor force is employed
on small family farm holdings. The private formal sector employs 8% of the
Ghanaian labor force and the public sector 6%.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Gold
Coast (pre-independence Ghana) was an agricultural colony and paid employment
was relatively unknown. Agriculture was generally pursued by families and
under one person management, usually the male head of household. Most Ghanaians
therefore worked on farms that they owned. Private sector wage
employment occurred in few sites, such as palm, rubber and cocoa plantations,
in the forest regions. Mining also gave paid employment to mainly migrant
workers and some from the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast.
The government service provided the main source of
wage employment. The majority of such employees were civil servants located in
urban centers. In 1952, for example, the Gold Coast had a population of
4,500,000 with a male labor force of 1,500,000. The
total number of actual wage earners was about 250,000, with 93,000 working for
the Central Government and about 40,000 employed in mining minerals like gold,
diamonds, manganese and bauxite. The United African Company, the major
retailing centre, employed nearly 6,000. There were about
200,000 mostly unskilled workers from Liberia, Nigeria, and neighboring French
territories. Expansion in the formal sector labor market occurred with
investments in rail and road construction from 1920 to 1930. It created direct
employment for artisans, technicians and engineers in Ghana, providing formal
urban employment as an alternative to agricultural employment. Railway and
road expansion impacted the mining sector, enhancing the geographical mobility
of the labor force. The second and most important spate
of labor market expansion was experienced immediately after independence from
1957 to 1965 under the CPP regime of Dr. Nkrumah, with massive investments in
infrastructure, industrialization, and social programs such as education and
Labor market expansion in the immediate period after
independence (1957-1965) was fuelled by the industrialization program and the
policy of Africanisation, a conscious effort to replace all expatriates workers
with Ghanaians. The purpose was to effect a complete transformation of the colonial
economic system. Formal education received a big push from increases in access
and the quality of teaching and learning facilities. The CPP regime injected
huge investments into education and health and in direct productive activity
and infrastructure. The expansion in state activity as
well as the restructuring of the national economy contributed to the shift of
labor from the subsistence agriculture and unskilled jobs in rural and urban
periphery to technical, industrial jobs in the urban centers. By 1985 public
sector employment had increased from about 184,000 in 1960 to 397,000.
The capacity of the urban formal labor market to
absorb labor began to decline in the 1970s due to factors such as changes in
government and a corresponding change in political orientation. Declining
foreign exchange earnings, as a result of world economic recession and oil
price hikes, reduced revenue available to government for pursuing economic
expansion. From 1967 to 1972, formal employment declined as both the military
regime which overthrew the Nkrumah government and the civilian form that
succeeded it undertook to reverse his social and industrialization policies.
The expulsion of large numbers of migrant workers, through the infamous Aliens
Compliance Order of the PP regime led by Dr. Busia, contributed greatly to
reduce the component of African nationals of non-Ghanaian origin in the
Ghanaian labor force. Though the policies of the second military regime of the
National Redemption Council (NRC) brought some increases in formal sector labor
force, its subsequent economic mismanagement undermined all these gains. By
the late 1970s, economic mismanagement had caused a reduction in the capacity
of the formal public sector to provide jobs and to improve on the quality of
the labor force. The private sector was equally affected. Ghanaians moved in
droves to work in Nigeria and other African countries. It was under these
conditions that the PNDC took over power and set out to implement SAP with the
expectation to revive the Ghanaian economy.
All ruling Governments of
Ghana (GOG) have maintained keen interest in the activities of the GTUC for two
considerations: first, the reputation of the GTUC as the most organized social
force and its primary role of defending workers' rights; and second, the
proportion of formal sector labor force the GOG employs. Since independence the
GOG has remained the major employer of formal sector labor in the country. In
2000, after 16 years of SAP induced privatization, and consequent public sector
labor retrenchment, the proportion of Ghanaian workforce employed in the
private sector stood at nearly 8%, whilst the state employed 6% in public
sector enterprises. The GTUC's form and functions are underscored by an
ideological orientation which insists that the creation and distribution of
national wealth is the primary responsibility of government and should not be
abandoned to market forces. In the past this belief made it critical of GOG
policies, often to the point of mobilizing workers to resist the implementation
of any worker hostile policies.
The direction of the
Ghanaian economy has therefore dictated state and organized labor relations,
producing a checkered record of GTUC/state relations varying from close
collaboration to outright hostility and open confrontation. GOG's
interest in the affairs of trade unions has produced policies and practices
which according to Panford "often include interfering in internal union
affairs, such as union organizing, structure of workers' associations and the
selection of union leaders" or their appointment to key public positions.
Co-optation ploys or recourse to physical violence have often been utilized to
ensure that favorites or persons personally connected to ruling governments
became union leaders. The most notorious were acts by the
National Liberation Council (NLC) and Progress Party (PP) which resulted in
disbanding the GTUC and the shooting down of three gold mine workers. Panford explains how "the military cum police administration of the .NLC, which
toppled the Nkrumah regime, . use[d] the police to shoot striking mine workers
in 1969." Under the Provisional National
Defense Council (PNDC), vocal workers' leaders were arrested and detained; some
suffered police brutalities.
The 1970s marked a period
when the Ghanaian economy was subjected to unprecedented levels of
mismanagement. When the PNDC took over power in a military coup on the 31
December 1981, the country was almost bankrupt. By
1983, a culmination of natural and political events in the form of drought,
bush fires, repatriation of one million Ghanaians from Nigeria, and withdrawal
of Western Aid worsened the already dire economic situation. Shillington notes
that: "disposable foreign exchange at the end of 1981 [was] barely sufficient
to cover two weeks of imports. . and there was hardly any commercial bank
abroad which would confirm letters of credit for any of Ghana's local banks."  Ghana's food stores were
depleted and drugs needed to support health care in short supply. The grim
economic situation was further worsened by world oil price hikes in 1980-81
which "meant that in the first six months of 1982 Ghana was forced to spend
US$100 million, three-quarters of all foreign exchange, on crude oil imports." Aryeetey (1996),
corroborating Shillington's observation, concluded that the economy of Ghana in
the early 1980s was ready for any form of reform and the IMF and World Bank
provided one which, in the circumstances, appeared as some kind of life line.
The recourse to IMF/World Bank SAP however, received stiff opposition from the
left-leaning members of the PNDC who had conceived of the military takeover
that brought them into power as laying the grounds for a socialist revolution.
Their hostility to the turn of events resulted in political tensions and
several attempts at counter coups d'état that were foiled. In the end some
protesters either fled the country or were detained.
The broadly populist
orientation of the early years of the PNDC prompted the emergence of the
community based People's Defense Committees and its workplace counterpart, the
Workers Defense Committees (WDCs). These designations were derived from the
central organ of power, the Provisional National Defense Council. The WDCs
waged relentless struggles to deracinate corruption at the enterprise level.
The struggles directed against management at the enterprise level took three
forms. The WDCs exposed management in
private enterprises who abused labor rights or they subjected management, whose
practices they perceived as inimical to the interest of the nation, to
'revolutionary' justice. The third form of workplace struggles saw workers
attempting to take over or actually taking over joint state and privately owned
enterprises. Enterprise-based trade unions did not
escape the 'revolutionary zeal' of the WDCs. The WDCs either subjected the
activities of the local union executives to close scrutiny or took over
completely the workplace representation of workers.
The central labor
confederation, the GTUC, also got its share of the 'revolutionary' intrusions
that characterized the early years of the PNDC rule. In 1983, the Association
of Local Unions (ALU), a coalition of militant local unions based in Tema, the
industrial hub of Ghana, with open support from the PNDC, took over the
leadership of GTUC. This action severely undermined the legitimacy of the
operating structures of the GTUC, especially its governing system. Members of
ALU sacked the national leadership, dissolved the Executive Board and set up an
Interim Management Committee (IMC) to oversee the affairs of the GTUC. Pockets
of resistance from sections of the rank and file were too weak to arrest this
move. Relations between the GTUC and the state were tense in 1983. In addition
government support for the take-over of the GTUC leadership had resulted in a
reconfiguration of its governing system and undermined internal democracy. It
was against this backdrop that the Ghanaian labor movement faced the labor market
restructuring which characterized the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Economic Adjustment and
Labor Market Restructuring in Ghana
One role of the state in
mediating capital/wage labor relations under globalization is to dampen the
cost of labor through the removal of traditional labor protection rights.
International competitiveness hinges on the ability of a nation to lower
production costs of its labor force through a restructuring of work and the
labor market. The main strategies have been privatization of public
enterprises and labor flexibility. Labor flexibility is usually justified in
the name of economic efficiency, the promotion of economic growth and job
creation. Its core measures however are downsizing (reducing the number of
workforce required to perform company tasks) and sub-contracting or
externalization (where firms only concentrate on their core functions and
sublet peripheral tasks to small scale informal operators). Other labor
flexibility methods include the modification of jobs, adjustments in working
hours, and wage flexibility (where wages are tied to labor productivity).
Such restructuring is not restricted to the private sector alone; market
principles also run in public sector enterprises subjecting the once secure
forms of employment to high levels of insecurity.
The notion of fulltime
secure wage employment disappears under globalization, leading to varying forms
informal work. Labor market informalisation is a
feature of both developing and the highly formalized western industrialized
countries. Informalisation has caused an
expansion in the forms of work that were hitherto outside the organizational
ambit of the trade unions, narrowing union coverage and reducing union density.
Trade unions find themselves confronted with new types of workers who are not
interested in organizing while their traditional core dwindled in the face of
labor market restructuring under an ideological orientation that positioned
trade unions as protectionist and interfering with market principles. Labor
market flexibility provided the answer for curbing trade union liberties
detrimental to economic growth.
Ghana's recourse to World
Bank/IMF SAP was the outcome of years of economic mismanagement of a
neo-colonial economy weakened by falling commodity prices and oil price hikes.
IMF/World Bank-induced SAP was introduced in two phased Economic Recovery
Programmes (ERP I and ERP II) spanning 1983 to 1986 and 1987 to 1989. SAP
policy goals included the stabilization of the economy with special emphasis on
arresting the decline in industrial production and exports. Specific labor
market-impacting policy demands under ERP I were the devaluation of the
national currency (cedi), a reduction of government expenditure, and withdrawal
of subsidies on food, agricultural inputs, fuel, and utilities.
Others were upward adjustment of capital cost and sustenance of positive real
interest rates. State owned enterprises were privatized and some labor force
within the public sector declared redundant. ERP I also included other labor
market restructuring methods like real wage flexibility and long term public
sector wage freezes.
ERP II, the second phase
economic reforms in Ghana, was designed to lay the foundation for sustained
output growth of about 6% per annum and attain a viable external payments
position with a significant development in social services. Macro-level
policies included a continuation of ERP I policies, curtailing public
expenditure by withdrawing more subsidies, imposing further public sector wage
freezes, and transferring state-owned enterprises to private foreign concerns.
Trade was liberalized and legislation amended to attract foreign investment.
These policies were supposed to increase private foreign investment, expand
industrialization and product markets, and promote job creation. Ghana's
foreign exchange earnings, it was expected, would rise to enhance her capacity
to service her foreign debts and wean the economy off dependence on foreign
The Ghanaian economy made
dramatic improvements and by 1986, Ghana was hailed as an economic miracle.
Import liberalization provided domestic firms access to otherwise scarce inputs
and equipment while price liberalization allowed firms to pass on their higher
costs of production to consumers. The manufacturing sector for example, bounced
from decline to growth with real annual growth rate rising sharply from 13% in
1984 to 24% in 1985. The capacity utilization in the sector increased from a
low level of 18% in 1984 to 40% in 1988.
The short spell economic
'success' came at a cost, and already in 1986, when the Ghanaian miracle hype
was reaching a crescendo in international circles, the social toll of
adjustment was too glaring to be ignored. A Programme of Action to Mitigate the
Social Costs of Adjustment (PAMSCAD) was instituted to offer relief to some
social groups identified as vulnerable to adjustment shocks. The
immediate victims of ERPs I and II included workers in traditionally secure
public sector employment where GTUC recruited most of its members. Accounts of
the GTUC have therefore focused on how SAP-induced policies of the 1980s to
date impacted the labor movement and affected its membership and structures.
Others have documented the decreasing membership size and shrinking union funds
for pursuing union activities. These were the direct result of job
losses and work restructuring. Job losses were caused by privatizing
state-owned enterprises, whose new owners sought to maximize profits by
reducing their work force, and by public sector labor rationalization. Mining
sector reforms transferred state-owned mining concerns to private hands. Large
scale surface mining, the predominant form adopted by the new owners, displaced
rural subsistence farming communities from their farm lands. The privatized
mines failed to provide the promised employment for the displaced farm
rationalization became the euphemism for massive labor layoffs from the civil
service, local government, and public educational and health institutions
across the country. From 1985 to 1991, retrenchment and
the divestiture of State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) caused public sector
employment to fall from 397 000 to 156 000. By 1994, the GTUC had lost 40% of
its membership to various sector reforms. The categories of
affected workers were unskilled laborers, artisans, apprentices, farm hands and
revenue collectors, the bulk of whom were members of the GTUC.
Graham, Ninsin, and Panford
explain that the introduction of ERP policies into the Ghanaian economy
contributed to making the mid 1980s and early 1990s the longest period of
acrimonious state/labor relations in Ghana. It was during this
era that the GTUC faced the stiffest challenge to its existence. Discussions on
the trade union situation and working conditions in the mid-1980s to the end of
the 1990s give several accounts of how labor rights were flouted with impunity
and established labor relations practices manipulated to the disadvantage of
Ghanaian workers. Such excesses included the misuse of
legal facilities to freeze wages and avoid paying due compensation to
retrenched workers. Legislation like the COCOBOD Retrenchment and Indemnity
Law, PNDC Law 125 (1985) and the State Fishing Corporation, Re-Organisation and
Indemnity Law, (1986), were passed to obstruct the efforts of the National
Unions to utilize legal facilities to access the right of retrenched workers to
compensation. Where union leaders persisted in their demands they were issued
direct threats from ministers of state. Wage levels were
determined by government without consulting the established tripartite
structures. The Prices and Incomes Board set up under the NRC/SMC was used by
GOG to reduce salary and wage levels reached through collective bargaining.
Workers' protests to adjustment conditionalities that sought to reduce social
wages were countered with violence.
Domestic private sector
enterprises suffered greatly from the effect of liberalized trade, currency
devaluations, and high interest rates which undermined their capacity to
survive and continue to provide jobs for Ghanaian workers. Practices adopted by
private foreign and domestic employers to cope with the impact of trade
liberalization on their enterprises informalised formal work relations. Such
practices included recourse to hiring casual or contract labor and outsourcing
through sub-contracting to informal economy operators. Enterprises used such
arrangements to relieve themselves of worker overheads like pensions, annual
bonuses, meals, housing and transport subsidies and weekend rest from work.
Contract and casual workers have no security of employment; neither do they
have social protection.
For Ghana, as for other
sub-Saharan African countries, the economic and political principle underlying
economic globalization was an injection of SAP to energize ailing economies.
It has since taken various forms as country after country struggled to overcome
policy failure and increasing poverty. By 2004, some 43 countries, 33 of whom
were from sub-Saharan Africa, had moved on from SAPs to the World Bank/IMF HIPC
initiative which provided countries considered to have unsustainable levels of
debt acces to the Growth and Poverty Reduction Facilities (GPRF) on condition
that they met some conditionalities. These included the production of a poverty
reduction strategy paper (PRSP) and evidence of having submitted the national
economy to macro-economic policies of free market-oriented reforms
(privatization, deregulation as well as production and trade liberalization)
that were characteristic of SAP. In 2001, the newly elected government of the
New Patriotic Party (NPP) announced a decision to access debt relief under the
HIPC initiative; an admission that SAP policies had failed the nation.
Ghana prepared its first PRSP, the Ghana Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper I
(GPRS I), covering the periods 2003-2005. In 2004, Ghana reached completion
point within HIPC under an enhanced initiative. Again in October 2005, the
second PRSP, Ghana Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy II (GPRS II) covering
the periods 2006-2009, was submitted to the boards of the IDA and the IMF.
The fall-out of Ghana's ERPs
I and II was reforms, in the labor market that called into question the benefit
of worker welfare to economic growth. Submission to the dictates of World
Bank/IMF conditionalities set the stage for Ghana's integration into the
globalized system of production and distribution as a liberalized economy. The
underlying policy requirements introduced during the adjustment periods of the
1980s and 1990s continue to shape the Ghanaian labor market in ways that
undermine rights of labor and their movements. Twenty-two years of adjustment
in various forms has benefited very few Ghanaians. The first GPRS I, a policy
requirement for accessing relief under HIPC, lamented how economic policies of
the 1990s had resulted in an uneven economic growth across regions, among
socio-economic groups, and along gender lines. The document therefore raised
doubts about how a continuation of policies pursued in the 1990's could improve
the socio-economic conditions of the poor in Ghana. A
World Bank sponsored evaluation of ERP in Ghana also concluded that adjustment
had a negative impact on trade, education, and mining communities.
The policies of ERPs I and
II generated an industrial relations environment that was hostile to the
existence of unions at the national and enterprise level. These policies were
implemented at a time when the GTUC and its affiliated National Unions were
engaged in leadership struggles brought on through the ALU takeover. The
legitimacy and existence of organized labor were called into question. It
required innovative strategies to remain a credible and effective labor
organization to continue protecting labor rights in a hostile environment.
SAP in Ghana shook the very
foundations of trade unionism, generating what Hyman has described as the
crises of workers and interest representation. The three types of crises
challenging trade unionism were: the crisis of interest representation, as the
labor force becomes increasingly heterogeneous; the crisis of workers,
introduced by the decentralization of employment regulation to the company and
workplace; and the crisis of union representation, as unions fail to organize key
occupations in the dynamic sectors of the economy. The
GTUC's claim to represent the Ghanaian worker was called to question with its
overwhelming presence in the formal sector. As informalisation of the formal
sector labor market, increased workplace management practices abandoned
traditional adversarial approach, raising doubts about union role in workplace
dispute resolution. The declining size of the formal public sector labor market
shifted the dynamism of the Ghanaian labor market to the informal economy,
pushing the GTUC to assume a more prominent role in order to remain credible as
the main labor centre in Ghana.
After the shock and
disorientation wrought by labor market restructuring to its membership base and
presence in national politics, the GTUC and its affiliates set out to
re-strategize to deal with the challenges posed by globalization. The three
main strategies utilized by the GTUC and its affiliates to deal with
globalization challenges fall in line with those identified by Hyman for unions
elsewhere. These strategies have tried to deal
with the problems of representation by creating structures to improve
representation and participation of hitherto neglected categories of workers
(e.g. women) and by extending union coverage into the informal economy. The
implementation of these strategies was not accompanied by changes to trade
union organizing principles and notions of trade unionism. They have affected
internal governance systems of the GTUC and the National Unions and therefore
impacted union democracy. The next section presents some of these strategies
and raises the challenges they pose to internal union governance.
Within the GTUC's operating
system are three structures, the governing, consultative and administrative
wings. The governing structure is the site for union decision and policymaking,
whilst the consultative wing, provides union officers contact with membership
in whose trust they hold office. It is the administrative wing that services
the governing and consultative wings. These two structures of the GTUC,
provides its distinct character as a political organization. The consultative
structures of the GTUC include the Regional and District Councils of Labor (RCL
and DCL). Also located within the RCLs and the DCLs are the Women's Regional
and District Committees which provide avenues for women's self-organization.
The DCLs are the last operating units within the GTUC's consultative structure
and ideally designed to provide channels for the union members outside the
governing structures to make inputs into GTUC decision-making. The DCLs also
serve as membership mobilizing centers to back union political decisions and
actions. In short effectively functioning DCLs are the powerhouse of the GTUC.
The appearance of DCLs in
union history dates to 1947, but until 1985 when attempts were made to revive
them, they remained dormant in the few districts where they were present. A
former Sectary-General of the GTUC explained that the ALU takeover of GTUC
leadership in 1982 sounded a warning about the need to improve internal union
democracy by strengthening the locals of the national unions and the DCLs.
The late 1980s and early 1990s saw the DCLs very active in union
decision-making and their meetings provided the membership at the district
level direct contact with the governing and administrative structures of the
GTUC. Discussions at DCL meetings enabled workers to make a direct connection
between their living conditions and socio-economic policies of government. Such
observations encouraged the Executive Board to intensify the role of GTUC in
the general struggles for improved conditions of life beyond the workplace.
Through the activities of
the DCL's, the GTUC was able to fashion out a consistent opposition to the
anti-worker impact of ERP, with regular protest memoranda to GOG. A significant
outcome was the establishment of a Standing Joint Consultative Committee (SJCC)
that served as a direct avenue for union representatives to engage within state
policy making apparatus. The SJCC, composed of representatives of the PNDC and
the GTUC, dealt with socio-economic and political issues that fell outside the
jurisdiction of the Tripartite Committee. This included issues such as the
salary freeze imposed in the Budget of 1994. The SJCC created space for direct
consultation between government and the GTUC during the turbulent period of
adjustment in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This enabled members
to keep contact with the leadership of GTUC and allowed them active roles in
the call for a return to civilian rule. The GTUC used the DCLs as a platform
at the district level to collate membership views for the development of a new
national constitution and derive inputs into the formulation of the Labor Act
(Act 651) of 2003. At present, however, the revitalization of the DCLs have
been constrained by the financial standing of the GTUC and the re-conception of
the Political Department, making it difficult to mobilize members at the
district level as was done in the 1980s and 1990s. The consultative structures
serve more as conduits for communicating union decisions from the top layers of
the GTUC governing system with limited avenues for making inputs into union
The Female Factor in Union Organization
Two peculiar features of
trade union membership in Ghana are the heavy formal sector representation and
male dominance. These features are in sharp contrast to labor market conditions
in Ghana. The proportion of the Ghanaian labor force located in the formal
sector is 12% female and 23% male. Adjustment-induced changes caused the
formal sector to shrink while the informal economy expanded. At present the
informal economy holds about 81% of the Ghanaian labor force. In
the formal sector, informalized labor practices created several forms of
atypical work blurring the sharp formal/informal economy distinctions. We have
referred to the recourse of formal sector enterprises to casual and temporary
labor and use of informal economy agents through outsourcing, and
sub-contracting. The dramatic decline in union membership in the face of a
shrinking formal sector and a fast growing informal economy called for
alterations to trade union operating structures to allow for the extension of
union coverage to the informal economy and provide its female members better
access to union decision-making.
Women constitute an
estimated 25% of GTUC membership and hold 12% of union decision-making
positions. Representation of women on
decision-making structures within the national unions varies from zero in
male-dominated unions like the Railway Enginemen's Union and the Ghana Private
Road Transport Union (GPRTU) to a high of 31% for the Teachers' and Educational
Workers' Union. The proportion of female labor force located in the informal
economy is 85% as against 12% in the formal sector. This does not suggest that
females have no need for union representation. On the contrary, they have a
greater need, for their working conditions and experiences in the Ghanaian
workplace differ in significant ways from that of males.
They congregate in fewer occupational categories where labor protection is
lowest, they have unequal access to work benefits, and they earn lower wages.
Their unequal workplace conditions are compounded by gendered social relations
creating additional labor concerns for working women.
The main tenets of
strategies outlined by the GTUC to address union gender disparities consist of
a threefold affirmative action provisions. The first involved the creation of a
special administrative organ, the Women's Desk, to coordinate women's
activities located within the GTUC and the national unions. The activities of
the Women's Desk are spelt out in a gender policy which is reviewed every four
years. Secondly, women's self-organizing units, the Women's Wings and
Committees, expand avenues for women to access union leadership positions.
GTUC and its affiliates, in further pursuit of affirmative action, operate a
quota policy which calls for at least 30% of female participation in all their
educational and training programs and a reserved seat within union governing
structures for women alone to contest.
The women's self organs
operate in tandem with the consultative structures at the regional and district
levels, the RCLs and DCLs. The women's wings and committees have a
constitutional mandate to pass on their concerns and decisions to the DCLs and
RCLs for action. Decisions of the National Women's Committee are supposed to
feed into Executive Board deliberations. The potential of women's self
organizing structures is constrained however by financial allocation to the
Women's Desk and a policy orientation that focuses on women and not union
gender relations. There has been some improvement in
terms of an increase in the number of females ready to hold union office.
Female presence in union decision-making has enlarged considerably and there is
every indication that the numbers might rise even more. But the women-only
focus avoids tackling gendered relations within the structures of the GTUC.
Failure of the DCLs to function effectively also constrains women's
self-organization within the districts. Again, the women's wings and committees
have no relations with the woman occupant of the special seat within union
Unionizing the Informal
The national unions
intensified their efforts at extending union coverage into the informal
economy, an area where the labor force operates outside the confines of the
protection offered by the legal provisions governing labor rights in Ghana.
GTUC's origins have been located in the informal economy despite the large
formal sector membership. One of its affiliates, the Ghana Private Road
Transport Union (GPRTU), which has been affiliated to the GTUC since May 1967,
draws its entire membership from the informal economy. These members are a
combination of transport owners and drivers. The GPRTU has no collective
bargaining functions and operates as a welfare association working to enhance
the working conditions of its members and regulate their trade. It acts as
their mouthpiece in seeking to influence national policies that will enhance
the opportunities under which members operate their transport businesses.
The GPRTU also acts as a conduit for accessing state and private bank loans for
its members. The remaining sixteen national unions draw their members largely
from the formal economy.
In the face of fast
dwindling membership in the 1980s, national unions of the GTUC engaged in a
systematic and determined approach to organize informal economy workers. The
GTUC sets the standard for its national unions to operate in the informal
economy through its informal economy desk and policies. The informal economy
desk provides technical support in the form of capacity-building workshops,
manuals, and networking platforms for unions engaged in the informal economy to
share experiences. It has been the expectation that national unions will
undertake to do the direct organizational work and identify informal economy
groups located within their operational jurisdiction for organizing. In cases
of jurisdictional ambiguity, the informal economy groups are given direct
affiliation to the GTUC. Two such unions affiliated to the GTUC in 2007 were
the Makola Traders' Union and the Madina Traders' Association.
The GTUC and its national
unions utilize two models for organizing informal economy workers. GPRTU and
the General Agricultural Workers' Union (GAWU) have used the direct recruitment
of individual members whilst the remaining unions organize through existing
associations. None so far are organizing informal economy workers as
cooperatives. The unions find organizing existing groups cost effective. The
approach involves identification of a contact person who convinces an existing
informal economy group to accept union affiliation. The contact person
sometimes serves as the main link between the union and the informal economy
Since GTUC set out in 1996
to intensify organizational work in the informal economy, twelve national
unions so far have engaged in some levels of organizational work in the
informal economy. A GTUC—LO/FTF review report on GTUC's activities in
the informal economy revealed that varying levels of commitment and activity in
the informal economy produced five categories of national unions within the
GTUC. GPRTU, GAWU, Timber and Woodworkers'
Union (TWU), and the Local Government Workers' Union are actively engaged in
organizing informal economy groups and seeking to deal with the challenges that
organizational work in this sector brings. Others had informal economy members
who were not active in union activities or had abandoned efforts at organizing.
Some national unions had organized informal economy groups and failed. The last
two had never organized in the informal economy. Whilst one category had just
identified prospective groups which it might organize, the last had no interest
in organizing in the informal economy. Demands from the formal sector-based
members leave such national unions no space for engaging with informal economy
National union enthusiasm
about organizing in the informal economy is largely dependent on both internal
and external factors. The dynamics within the economic sector that national
unions organize serve to provide motivation for informal economy organization.
GAWU, for example, moved into the informal economy in the early 1970s when
plantation agriculture began to use out-grower and small-grower schemes to
support its expansion. Internal factors somehow outweigh the external so union
capacity (both human and financial) and the perception of union leadership
about the utility of informal economy organization to union resources and
profile sometimes outweigh the external changes within union jurisdiction of
operation. Success in organizing informal economy workers have varied across
and within unions. Some obstacles to success have been traced to the inadequate
human and material capacity, the expectations of informal economy groups, and
labor relations within the informal economy.
once surmounted, bring to the fore problems of representation and union
membership rights for informal economy workers. Such rights derive from union
internal democracy and the institutional positioning of informal groups within
union structures. National unions organizing in the informal economy have faced
the problem of negotiating with the formal sector workers for acceptance of
equal representation and union rights. Membership location within formal
sector-based national unions for informal economy workers is usually confused
by dues payment and attachment to unions. Formal economy workers have direct
membership through their national unions. Informal economy workers are
connected to unions through their associations. Moreover, regularity of dues
payment determines voting rights and access to union office. Informal economy
members pay yearly associational and not individual dues.
Also problematic is
determining the nature of representation to offer informal economy members.
Traditional trade union structures are based on a particular notion of work and
work relations, a workplace where a large number of workers congregate and have
distinct relationship with employers or their representatives. These features
do not exist in the informal economy which is usually composed of isolated
self-employed individuals and micro- to small-scale enterprises employing
various forms of non-wage labor, for example family members and apprentices.
In some instances, enterprises are dependent on casual wage labor. Cases of
permanent wage labor with distinct employee/employer relations are few. The
lack of uniform labor types within the Ghanaian informal economy challenges the
traditional trade union mode of organizing labor. As operators struggle to make
ends meet, their employment statuses tend to be diffused, straddling employee
and employer concurrently. The heterogeneity of labor types and fluid
employment status of workers located in scattered and small enterprises produce
forms of labor relations that vary across sectors and localities.
Informal economy labor
relations depend on the social norms within which the enterprises are located.
These social norms uphold some basic standards of social justice and provide
some framework for seeking redress. They allow for employee employer mediation
and arbitration through traditional social networks. However they have the
tendency to be paternalistic, pandering to norms that privilege males and
persons who hold high social positions. These social norms
have turned increasingly commercial as state social provisioning in the form of
subsidies has been withdrawn.
National unions, unable to
tackle social norms underpinning informal economy labor relations and address
the policy environment that impact their livelihoods, resort to service
provisioning. Micro-credit schemes, skills training, provision of production
equipment, and marketing avenues are some of the services that have been
engaged by national unions as a measure of maintaining their informal economy
members. Union capacity to satisfy such needs has been insignificant in the
face of the enormity of the informal sector and declining union finances.
GAWU's experience in the
informal economy offers some lessons for formal sector-based national unions
extending union coverage to informal economy workers. GAWU's membership
profile changed from predominantly formal to informal from 1980, and by 2005
over 50% of its members were the rural self-employed. It was one of the
national unions worst hit by adjustment-induced rationalization, restructuring,
divestiture, and privatization. Its membership reduced by more than two-thirds
from 130,000 in 1982 to 40,000 in 1997. Extension of union coverage to the
rural self-employed was in response to informalization in rural plantation
agriculture. The necessary constitutional amendments have now been effected to
facilitate institutional representation for informal economy workers within
union structures. GAWU's strategy has altered from performing purely
collective bargaining for formal sector-based members to include
representation, campaigning, and advocacy to pursue national policies and
programs that will enhance the livelihoods of agricultural workers. GAWU,
together with the GTUC, engaged in a legal battle to have government repeal a
law that facilitated the dumping of cheap poultry and rice imports on the
Ghanaian market to the detriment of local rice and poultry farmers, the
majority of whom are informal economy workers. GAWU, however, remains caught
in service provisioning like training and skills development, as well as
savings and credit schemes. It is also involved in the promotion of group and
pre-co-operative activities, provision of access to appropriate rural and
agricultural technology, and community re-aforestation programs. These
services are putting a strain on union finances and dampening group moral as
GAWU's capacity to deliver becomes strained.
Organizing informal economy
groups in the past has seemed an insurmountable task for the GTUC and its
affiliates. However, as informal economy membership within unions grows,
representation and membership entitlements within unions pose issues that have
to be confronted. These are issues for discussion that call for a re-thinking
of union identity and the basis for determining membership entitlements within
unions. This review of union membership presents a dilemma for national unions
that had hoped that their extension into the informal economy would provide not
just an occasion to expand membership but shore up their financial base and
intensify their presence on the national political scene.
While globalization is about
removing state restrictions on capital, it seeks also to control labor by
making believe that social protection and job security are uneconomic and
inimical to economic growth. Labor within production is composed of human lives
that should not be subjected to the rigid rules of market demands of
neo-liberalism. Workers and their movements have been at the negative
receiving end as the free movement of capital sought the fastest returns for
investments by reducing production costs. The recognition of labor rights
within production provides an important avenue for ensuring that globalization
benefits are shared by large numbers of the world's population. Trade unions
are well placed to secure a fair distribution of benefits through its worker
members. Their ability to do so however derives from their strength, presence,
and relevance to their members; all of which are dependent on internal union
Union strategies to counter
the globalization threat to their existence can be effective to the extent that
they lead to stronger unions. It is strong unions that can secure a strong
political presence within national policy-making. So far the GTUC's strategies
at reviving the DCLs and improving female representation and participation
within union structures have managed to show what potential exists and what
tools such strategies offer to improve membership morale for mobilization for
union activities. Thus, union entry into the informal economy has also offered
occasion for workers to gather lessons about engaging with state policy. The
success of these strategies, however, remains constrained by internal union
democracy. Questions still remain about real representation of DCLs, the
Women's Wing, and informal economy workers within union structures. Effective
representation should provide these sections of the GTUC and the national
affiliates equal status within union structures and voice in union
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Akua O Britwum is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Development Studies (IDS) at the University of Cape Coast, Ghana and currently a Ph.D candidate attached to the ICIS at Maastricht University, The Netherlands. Pim Martens is Professor of Sustainable Development and Director of the International Centre for Integrated Assessment and Sustainable Development (ICIS), Maastricht University, The Netherlands. He is also Research Professor of Globalization, KOF Swiss Economic Institute, ETH Zurich, Switzerland.
Reference Style: The following is the suggested format for referencing this article: Akua O Britwum and Pim Martens, "The Challenge of Globalization, Labor Market Restructuring and Union Democracy in Ghana," African Studies Quarterly 10, nos. 2 & 3: (Fall 2008) [online] URL: http://africa.ufl.edu/asq/v10/v10i2a1.htm