In any democracy it is important that everyone has access to the freedom of expression: we all have the right to say or do anything provided we don’t infringe on the rights of others. With this in mind, I think that industrial actions are important because they demonstrate society’s willingness to allow its members to register protest at apparent wrong. In the same vein, the freedom of expression comes with the right to communicate that expression in an effective manner.
In Ghana we tend to associate industrial action with strikes, even though there are many other forms. These include extended dialogue at the work place between the strikers and management, not working beyond the set hours, and our beloved demonstrations. While strikes appear to be the most effective, they have a direct impact when the services that are withdrawn have immediate benefit to the government. Two classic cases demonstrate this point: in the early 90s university lecturers went on strike yet the government maintained a hard stance so that the strike dragged on for a year. The result was a backlog that meant that that after SSS, students had to wait a year or two before entering tertiary institutions. On the other hand, when in 1999 workers at the Obuasi Goldmine went on strike, in few weeks the impasse was swiftly resolved. These examples are not meant to privilege some jobs over others, but it is telling that the various professional groups that are currently undertaking industrial actions – doctors, teachers (I hear nurses will follow suit soon) – do not have that explicit economic value. Now to my point:
These industrial actions constitute a vicious cycle due to two facts: the first is that we repeatedly hear of “measures” (in that proverbial pipeline) being taken; the second is that these measures notwithstanding, strikes keep happening. It is not out of place to say that strikes are now part of the Ghanaian fabric. This cycle therefore suggests something is wrong, and I think stakeholders should communicate efficiently to address the issue.
There is an implicit refusal of recognition, e.g. when the government uses hostile rhetoric to talk about workers on strike. Government must rather be honest about their stance and show genuine intent to ameliorate the situation. The professional bodies should likewise communicate effectively with the general public through their PR units so we better understand their reasons. The media, which typically facilitates communication, should not report and/or comment on these issues through overtly political lenses. It is awful to read two newspapers from opposing sides on one issue: you might think the reporters attended different events. The final stakeholder in this equation is the general public who should help both sides put positive pressure on each other. Especially with the rise of social media as a tool for communication it is important that people talk about these things and provide specific solutions. After all, Ghana is all we have.