A Scab in Ghana
Four years ago I spent a semester at the University of Ghana at Legon as the faculty co-director of the Missouri in Africa Program, and I have returned for a second tour of duty. Four years ago I blogged about my experiences, and published those blog posts as a paperback book Stories from a Semester in Ghana. People have been asking me if I’m going to blog again and write another book, but in reading over what I wrote last time I felt that what I would write would be highly redundant of my previous visit.
Now, however, a colleague has suggested that I could write a new book and it would be titled “A Scab in Ghana.”
The faculty union of public universities in Ghana has been on strike since I arrived on August 1 because of non-payment of benefits. Only no one bothered to tell me.
My first class met at 9:30 a.m. on Monday, August 12, the first day of the semester. I went to the classroom prepared to lecture, only to find out that only 2 students were present and they told me that the faculty were on strike. I returned to the history department to complain to the chair that he had made me a scab. He said no, we are not on strike, and opened his email to show me only to find an email from the union president telling us that we were effectively on strike.
People kept telling me that as a visiting faculty member I was not a member of UTAG, the faculty union, and the strike had nothing to do with me and that I should continue to teach. Furthermore, if the strike drug on there was a good chance that the semester would be extended beyond my December 10 return date, and it was in my own best interest to teach my classes.
With mixed feelings, I returned to the lecture hall the following week to have a “conversation” with the students. I informed the students that this was not a lecture because we were on strike. I fully expected the strike to be resolved promptly and that the semester would return to normal.
My view changed fundamentally when I attended a union meeting last Thursday, August 22. The union leadership made it clear that no faculty should engage in any activities approximating teaching, because otherwise the strike would begin to unravel. It also appeared that resolution of the strike was nowhere near a resolution, and it was a question of whether the faculty union or the government would blink first.
After this meeting, I decided that I would no longer teach my classes. Even though people continued to tell me that the strike has nothing to do with me and that I should continue to teach, it was an issue of solidarity with the permanent faculty.
Today the union had another meeting to see whether an agreement to conclude the strike was acceptable. The faculty were adamant that they wanted to bring the strike to a resolution, but they were equally adamant that they needed a signed and legally binding agreement with the government as well as a concrete timetable for the payment of arrears before returning to the classroom.
And that is where we are at right now. The government has agreed orally to make these payments, but will they be willing to put the agreement in writing? And will the agreement be acceptable to faculty at all public universities (which is necessary to bring the strike to a conclusion)?
A central underlying issue is budgetary. Where will the money come from to make these payments? The university and the government both claim that they do not have the money to make these payments, and the loggerhead is that the faculty will not return to teaching without these payments.
Life under neoliberal economic policies has led to a very similar budgetary crisis in Missouri. The main difference is that in Ghana the faculty are willing to go on strike, and in Missouri they are not.