Strike Here, Strike There, Strike Everywhere

There is this ‘toli’ told umpteen times about one of the nation’s most popular District Commissioners (DCs) of old (not those of today who are at the mercy of footsoldiers) whose popularity was based on his manipulation of the Queen’s language to suit particular occasions.

In the days of yore, we were told that the Osagyefo used to delegate his DCs to represent him and deliver speeches on his behalf. It is unlike today when Ministers fight Vice Presidents over who should deliver which speech on the President’s behalf.

In one instance, we were told that this DC, called Kwame Kwakye was to address a gathering in the stead of the Osagyefo. He began by introducing himself and went on to tell his audience that ‘since Kwame Nkrumah cannot division himself into twice, I am standing in his feet today’. The applause, we were told was deafening. We were told again that there was a strike by students in a particular secondary school within his jurisdiction. As the political head, he went there to address the students and to attempt to persuade them to rescind their decision to embark on the strike.

The students assembled to listen to the DC who we were told, began by saying ‘I have heard that you are on strike’, naturally the students murmured. Not too sure as to whether he was right or wrong in his choice of words, he was reported to have attempted correcting himself. This time ‘I hear you have gone on stroke’, the murmurs grew larger. ‘You are strikingking,’ yea was the response of the students, ‘you are on strokinking’, yea, the students again. ‘You are strikingly on strike’, yeeeeeee. Unsure what the problems were, he pleaded, ‘okay let’s speak Twi’ and that ended his problem.

Strikes by organized interest groups the world over are no new phenomenon, they are accepted as democratic expressions of the way organized groups, be they labour or Civil Society Groups, feel about what affects them negatively and draw the attention of those who have the power to remedy the situation for the collective benefit of the society. Every government in this country has had the challenge of strikes by organized labour in agitation for better working conditions, the reasons offered always to justify such strikes.

Strikes have also often been used as political tools to get government to change policies and programmes considered by the general society as being inimical to the general interest. In autocratic societies, governments have responded with brute force to suppress the expression of such sentiments of members of the society through strikes and public demonstrations. It must also be stated that under the Fourth Republican Constitution, with an exception to the transitory brutality and murder of three innocent teenagers by NDC during the ‘Kumepreko’ demonstrations in Accra in 1995, all other governments have been very tolerant in the series of strikes this nation had witnessed since then.

There were times in this country when strike actions had crippled the whole nation. I remember in the 1960s and the 1970s, the then Ghana Railway Corporations which included the Ports and Harbours could take the whole nation to ransom. Has anybody heard about the popular ‘Bottom Tree’? That was where the nation’s fortunes were shaped and implemented for our good or ill because the Railways at the time carried all our major exports from their natural abode to the port of Takoradi for onward transportation to Europe in their raw form. The Railways also served at the time as a very major form of internal transportation by the citizens of this country. To cripple the wings of the Corporation at the time, the Government of Kutu Acheampong de-coupled the ports from the Railways. This decision did not only stem the blackmail tendencies of the Railway Corporations on government, but also exposed the corporation as being a parasite on the ports. That is why today the Corporation has collapsed and GHAPOHA is rising.

While admitting also that it is not always possible for governments to realistically meet the demands of organized labour at whichever levels of their services, the management of such ‘unrealistic’ demands or the ‘inability of the budget to contain the demands by organized labour’ as governments are wont to say, are as important as the demands themselves. Under the Mahama administration, the number of strike actions and public demonstrations the nation has witnessed is very bewildering.

Under the Mahama government, traditional professionals who have served this nation from the colonial era under the employment of the state till today without any hint of a strike, have embarked upon one form of strike or the order. The Judicial Services Association of Ghana (JUSAG), Staff of the Attorney-General’s Department, Pharmacists of public health facilities have embarked upon one form of strike action or a threat to strike has rent the air. Strikes by teachers at all levels are no new situations, from GNAT, NAGRAT and lately Concerned Teachers of Ghana

Members of University Teachers Association of Ghana (UTAG) have also at various times resorted to strike actions to back their demands just as POTAG members. Doctors and nurses have done that on several occasions under various governments, pharmacists have joined the fray lately. The issue is not the strikes but the management of the issues that necessitated the strikes in the first place. The Mahama administration has failed woefully in the management of strikes in this country which has needlessly affected service delivery to the poor and the vulnerable in our society.

In many instances, the government has used its propaganda machinery to create a wedge between labour and the public to make workers look bad in the eyes of the people outside of government payroll instead of negotiating with them. In 1993 or1994, medical doctors in public health facilities embarked upon strike actions on the old age issue of conditions of service. Instead of the government, addressing the issues with the doctors, it branded them as NPP people, just because Dr. Kwame Addo Kufuor, the younger brother of Mr.J.A.Kufuor, who later became the President of this country, was the President of the GMA. During this same period, there were a number of NDC officials and Ministers who sought and received medical treatment at the Cromwell Hospital in London, U.K., they could therefore ignore threats of strikes and strikes by doctors and nurses in the public health facilities. Today, the services have changed from London to South Africa, because they can afford it.

Which sensible government will sit down unconcerned about the cries of freshly recruited young doctors in public health facilities who have worked without salaries for 11 months until they have besieged the Controller and Accountant General’s premises before action is taken to pay them? Doctors have withdrawn their services for those of us fortunate enough to be healthy as of today. Should anyone of us fall sick, we will not be tolerated in any of the public health facilities. Life and death will determine where we belong to.

Similar situations persist with the nursing graduates as well as Trained Teachers from the various Colleges of Education. As I write, graduates from various Nurses Training Schools and Teacher Training Institutions who traditionally are supposed to be posted to Health facilities and Public Schools on completion of their courses are at home for many months after coming out of school. Their fate hangs in the balance.

Some innocent people suspected to have committed one crime or the other are behind bars because personnel of the A-Gs Department are on strike and government does not seem to care. They, like many others, did not wake up one day to embark on withdrawal of services. They had shouted their voices hoarse for months if not years, but those who were supposed to listen to them feigned deaf. The last resort is what is happening today. Will that be part of the reason why an inexperienced Police Prosecutor rushed a suspect to court to be handed a 10 year conviction within 24 hours for a charge of first degree felony?

In as long as the Staff of the A-Gs Department remains on strike, justice will flee to the brutish beast and men will lose their reasoning. Cry My Beloved country. Daavi, just three tots.