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Motor Transportation, Trade Unionism, and the Culture of Work in Colonial Ghana

  • Jennifer Hart (a1)
Abstract

The emergence of drivers’ unions in the 1920s and 1930s highlights the wide range of strategies for social and economic organization available to workers in the Gold Coast. Particularly among workers who operated outside the conventional categories of the colonial economy, unions provided only one of many models for labor organization. This article argues that self-employed drivers appropriated unions and an international discourse of labor organization in the early twentieth century in order to best represent their interests to the colonial government. However, their understanding of the function and organization of unions reflected a much broader repertoire of social and economic organizing practices. Rather than representing any exceptional form of labor organization, drivers highlight the circulation of multiple ideas surrounding labor organization in the early decades of the twentieth century, which informed the ways in which Africans engaged in the wage labor economy and implicitly challenged British colonial assumptions about labor, authority, and control.

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References
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1. Gene Quarshie (Chairman), P. Ashai Ollennu (Vice-Chairman), and Simon Djetey Abe (Secretary), La Drivers’ Union Officers Group, La, Accra, 23 March 2009, interview by the author.

2. Urry, John, Mobilities (Cambridge, 2007), p. 116.

3. See, for example, Davison, R.B., “Labor Relations in Ghana”, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 310 (March 1957), pp. 133141; Kraus, Jon, “African Trade Unions: Progress or Poverty?”, African Studies Review, 19:3 (December 1976), pp. 95108; Orr, Charles A., “Trade Unionism in Colonial Africa”, The Journal of Modern African Studies, 4 (1966), pp. 6581.

4. Cooper, Frederick, Decolonization and African Society: The Labor Question in French and British Africa (Cambridge, 1996); idem, On the African Waterfront: Urban Disorder and the Transformation of Work in Colonial Mombasa (New Haven, CT, 1987); Jeffries, Richard, Class, Power and Ideology in Ghana: The Railwaymen of Sekondi (Cambridge, 2009); Lindsay, Lisa, Working with Gender: Wage Labor and Social Change in Southwestern Nigeria (Portsmouth, NH, 2003).

5. Scott, Roger, “Are Trade Unions Still Necessary in Africa?”, Transition 33 (October–November 1967), pp. 2731; Trachtman, Lester N., “The Labor Movement of Ghana: A Study in Political Unionism”, Economic Development and Cultural Change, 10 (1962), pp. 183200.

6. Cooper, On the African Waterfront; idem, From Slaves to Squatters: Plantation Labor and Agriculture in Zanzibar and Coastal Kenya, 1890–1925 (New Haven, CT, 1981); Atkins, Keletso, The Moon is Dead! Give Us Our Money! The Cultural Origins of an African Work Ethic, Natal, South Africa, 1843–1900 (Portsmouth, NH, 1993).

7. Abdullah, Ibrahim, “Rethinking African Labor and Working-Class History: The Artisan Origins of the Sierra Leonean Working Class”, Social History, 23 (1998), pp. 8096, 80; Cooper, Frederick, “Work, Class and Empire: An African Historian's Retrospective on E.P. Thompson”, Social History, 20 (1995), pp. 235241, 236.

8. Abdullah, “Rethinking African Labor and Working-Class History”; Gutkind, Peter, “The Canoemen of the Gold Coast (Ghana): A Survey and an Exploration in Precolonial African Labour History”, Cahiers d'Etudes Africaines, 29 (1989), pp. 339376.

9. As Beverly Grier argues, in pre-colonial societies where land was abundant, but population densities were relatively low, “the struggle to control labor power was at the heart of social and political organization”; Grier, Beverly, “Pawns, Porters, and Petty Traders: Women in the Transition to Cash Crop Agriculture in Colonial Ghana”, Signs, 17 (1992), pp. 304328, 307.

10. Ibid.

11. Gracia Clark, Onions Are My Husband: Survival and Accumulation by West African Market Women (Chicago, IL, 1995); Claire Robertson, Sharing the Same Bowl: A Socioeconomic History of Women and Class in Accra, Ghana (Bloomington, IN, 1984); Jean Allman and Victoria Tashjian, I Will Not Eat Stone: A Women's History of Colonial Asante (Portsmouth, NH, 2000); Stephan Miescher, Making Men in Ghana (Bloomington, IN, 2005).

12. Robertson, Sharing the Same Bowl.

13. There are, of course, exceptions to this general statement, as illustrated by Arhin, Kwame, “Trade, Accumulation and the State in Asante in the Nineteenth Century”, Africa, 60 (1990), pp. 524537.

14. Nketia, J.H. Kwabena, Drumming in Akan Communities of Ghana (London, 1963).

15. Arhin, Kwame, “Rank and Class among the Asante and Fante in the Nineteenth Century”, Africa, 53 (1983), p. 5.

16. Dumett, Raymond, “Tropical Forests and West African Enterprise: The Early History of the Ghana Timber Trade”, African Economic History, 29 (2001), pp. 79116, 92.

17. Idem, “African Merchants of the Gold Coast, 1860–1905: Dynamics of Indigenous Entrepreneurship”, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 25 (1983), pp. 661–693, 662–664.

18. Lydon, Ghislaine, On Trans-Saharan Trails: Islamic Law, Trade Networks, and Cross-Cultural Exchange in Nineteenth Century Western Africa (Cambridge, 2012).

19. Dumett, “African Merchants of the Gold Coast”.

20. Gutkind, “Canoemen of the Gold Coast”.

21. As Polly Hill argues, lorry ownership and operation were some of the only “common forms of economic enterprise which sprang directly from cocoa farming”. By the beginning of what Hill characterizes as the “lorry age” in 1918, “it became the fashion, for those who could afford it, to travel by lorry for most of the way” during their migrations as cocoa farmers; Hill, Polly, The Migrant Cocoa-Farmers of Southern Ghana: A Study in Rural Capitalism (London, 1998), pp. 190, 234.

22. The lorry is so important to the rise of cocoa that Polly Hill uses the advent of the lorry to establish periodization in her study of migrant Akwapim cocoa farmers. She argues that 1918 marked the end of the pre-lorry age, which corresponds with evidence of an increase in the number of drivers post-World-War-I as well as the increased investment in road building as a result of Guggisberg's Ten Year Development Plan. See Hill, , The Migrant Cocoa Farmers of Southern Ghana, p. 6.

23. Public Records and Archives Administration Department, National Archives of Ghana, Accra, Ghana [hereafter, PRAAD-NAG], Colonial Secretary's Office [hereafter, CSO] 14/2/329 Road Transportation Board – Formation of.

24. Akpeteshie is a type of local gin distilled from palm wine. For more information on the history of akpeteshie, see Akyeampong, Emmanuel, “What's in a Drink? Class Struggle, Popular Culture and the Politics of Akpeteshie (Local Gin) in Ghana 1930–67”, Journal of African History, 37 (1996), pp. 215236.

25. Fufu is a local food staple, most commonly made by pounding cassava and plantain (though also sometimes with yam). Fufu is pounded with a large mortar and pestle and often requires two people – one to pound and one to turn the product.

26. Ibrahim Ato, Anum Sowah, Yii O. Yem, J.F. Ocantey, La Drivers’ Union Group Interview, Accra, 26 March 2009, interview by the author.

27. Ibid.

28. Ibid.

29. Anonymous Circle Odawna Driver, Accra, 27 August 2009, interview by the author.

30. Ibrahim Ato, Anum Sowah, Yii O. Yem, J.F. Ocantey, La Drivers’ Union Group Interview, Accra, 26 March 2009, interview by the author; Abraham Tagoe, Teshie Linguist, Accra, 5 August 2009, interview by the author.

31. PRAAD-NAG (Accra) RG 3/5/1134 “The Gold Coast Apprenticeship System”, Annual Report of the Department of Labour, 1938–1939, Commissioner of Labour to the Colonial Governor.

32. The National Archives (United Kingdom) [hereafter, TNA]: PRO CO 323/1339/8 Transport – Road and Rail Competition, 1935; PRAAD-NAG (Accra) CSO 14/2/23 1930–1931 Road and Rail Competition; TNA: PRO CO 937/49/4 1947 Transport – Road and Rail Competition; TNA: PRO CO 323/1393/3 1936 Transport – Road and Rail Competition; TNA: PRO CO 262/652 Sierra Leone Railway-road competition, Gold Coast Model 1936.

33. PRAAD-NAG (Accra) CSO 14/2/150 1929–1947 Road Policy.

34. PRAAD-NAG (Accra) CSO 15/1/65 1932–1940 Registration Statistics of Motor Vehicles Abroad – Forms for.

35. PRAAD-NAG (Accra) CSO 17/1/24 1935–1937 Motor Traffic Ordinance and Regulations 1934 – Petitions against.

36. Denzer, LaRay, “Wallace-Johnson and the Sierra Leone Labor Crisis of 1939”, African Studies Review, 25:2/3 (1982), pp. 159183, 162.

37. Ibid., p. 165.

38. Spitzer, Leo and Denzer, LaRay, “I.T.A. Wallace-Johnson and the West African Youth League”, International Journal of African Historical Studies, 6 (1973), pp. 413452.

39. Davison, R.B., “Labor Relations in Ghana”, p. 135.

40. Ibid.

41. Ibid.; PRAAD-NAG (Accra) CSO 14/1/711 1940–1946 Courses of Instruction in Labour Problems.

42. PRAAD-NAG (Accra) CSO 14/1/789 1943 The Bekwai Motor Transport Union.

43. PRAAD-NAG (Accra) CSO 25/3/132 1942–1946 Trade Unions – Registration of.

44. Davison, , “Labor Relations in Ghana”, p. 133.

45. PRAAD-NAG (Accra) CSO 15/7/13 1939 Moses Acquaye – Motor driver request for restoration of his driving licence.

46. PRAAD-NAG (Accra) CSO 15/7/18 1934 Adjei Badoo, Motor driver – Complaint against ETO Mr (Cruickshank).

47. PRAAD-NAG (Accra) CSO 15/7/7 1930 Tetteh Amartey, Motor driver – Complaint against confiscation of his driving licence and 10s fee paid to licensing officer.

48. PRAAD-NAG (Accra) CSO 17/1/39 1935–1938 Ashanti Motor Transport Union, “Petition from Motor Transport Union Ashanti (W.W. Taylor, Secretary) to the Chief Commissioner of Ashanti, November 29th, 1937”. See also PRAAD-NAG (Accra) CSO 15/7/81 1939 Mr Kofi Baah – Petition praying for grant of Gold Coast driving license: “I have seen on many occasions that there are some lorry drivers who does not know how to read and write but are Drivers.” For other petitions from unions concerning the 1934 Motor Traffic Ordinance and its subsequent amendments, see CSO 15/7/99 1938 Motor Traffic Regulations – Amendments to; CSO 17/1/13 1934 Regulations under the Motor Traffic Ordinance; CSO 17/1/24 1935–1937 Motor Traffic Ordinance and Regulations1934 – Petitions against.

49. PRAAD-NAG (Accra) CSO 14/1/270 1938–1939 Lorry parks, Accra.

50. This period also resulted in a noted shift in the gendered distribution of trading – from men to women, as men increasingly pursued wage labor work and cash-crop farming that had increased throughout the 1910s and 1920s.

51. PRAAD-NAG (Accra) CSO 14/1/270 1938–1939 Lorry parks, Accra; PRAAD-NAG (Accra) CSO 17/4/6 1940–1941 Native Administration – Lorry parks.

52. PRAAD-NAG (Accra) CSO 14/1/270 1938–1939 Lorry parks, Accra; PRAAD-NAG (Accra) CSO 14/1/271 1938–1939 Land at Salaga Market Required for a Lorry Park – Ownership of.

53. For more information about Ga governance structures and traditional offices, see Parker, John, Making the Town: Ga State and Society in Early Colonial Accra (Portsmouth, NH, 2000).

54. Gene Quarshie (Chairman), P. Ashai Ollennu (Vice-Chairman), and Simon Djetey Abe (Secretary), La Drivers’ Union Officers Group, La, Accra, 23 March 2009, interview by the author.

55. Ibid.; Abraham Tagoe, Teshie Linguist, Accra, 5 August 2009, interview by the author.

56. For further information about chieftaincy and the okyeame, see Yankah, Kwesi, Speaking for the Chief: Okyeame and the Politics of Akan Royal Oratory (Bloomington, IN, 1995); Salm, Steven J. and Falola, Toyin, Culture and Customs of Ghana (Westport, CT, 2002); Odotei, Irene K. and Awedoba, Albert K. (eds), Chieftaincy in Ghana: Culture, Governance and Development (Accra, 2006). For discussions of chieftaincy outside Akan communities, see Stacey, Paul, Traditional Uncertainty; Chieftaincy in Northern Ghana: Land Control and Ethnic Conflicts, 1901–1996 (Saarbrücken, 2009); Parker, Making the Town.

57. Davison, , “Labor Relations in Ghana”, p. 135.

58. I argue elsewhere that these actions represent citizenship claims in the context of colonial rule, rather than resistance – demands for belonging and protection rather than calls to revolution. See Hart, Jennifer, “Suffer to Gain: Citizenship, Accumulation, and Motor Transportation in Late-Colonial and Postcolonial Ghana” (Ph.D., Indiana University, 2011).

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International Review of Social History
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