Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Was It Worth It? (1961)

From the November 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard
The following letter has been received from a sympathiser and we think it will be of interest to our readers.
On September 4 dockworkers and railwaymen at Takoradi and Kumasi in Ghana went on strike against a deliberate attempt by the government to decrease the workers' share of what they produce. The austerity budget introduced in July provided for measures which would lead to an all-round rise in prices. In addition a compulsory savings scheme was introduced and a wage freeze announced.

The strikers were told that they didn’t really want to strike but that they were being forced to; if anyone wished to return to work the government would gladly provide protection. Very few workers took up this offer and President Nkrumah from a holiday resort on the Black Sea coast of Russia ordered his Ministers at home to get tough with the strikers. All those who refused to return to work were threatened with dismissal and troops were moved into Takoradi. The strike was, of course, unofficial since the leadership of the trade unions supports Nkrumah. The general secretary of the T.U.C. hurried back from the neutral's conference in Belgrade, quickly got to know the facts and did not hesitate to call the strike a “counter-revolution" and to denounce it as illegal.

This is not the first time that Ghanian workers have protested. Last year they were demanding wage increases. The opposition newspaper Ashanti Pioneer supported these demands and in September the legal daily minimum wage for unskilled workers was raised from 5s. 6d. to 6s. 6d. The austerity budget will make the workers worse off than they were before September last. Not surprisingly, then, they have gone on strike. The reasons given for last year's trouble are interesting:
  T.U.C. spokesmen blamed the workers’ dissatisfaction on the remnants of a capitalist, imperialist, colonialist system which still darkened the economic and social horizon. The minority and the Ashanti Pioneer, felt that the workers were dissatisfied because they saw top trade union officials and Government Ministers becoming wealthier while the workers suffered. (Observer, 28/8/60.)
For daring to make such observations on the development of capitalism in Ghana and for supporting the demands for wage increases the Ashanti Pioneer found that in future it would be subject to censorship. The Ghana T.U.C. spokesmen are right in attributing the cause of the trouble to Capitalism. But it is not the remnants but the beginning of Capitalism that is responsible. Ghana is just entering a period of capitalist development despite all the talk about "Ghana's way to Socialism." As Capitalism develops and more workers are needed to operate the new machinery the tribes are broken up: simultaneously classes begin to appear among the urban inhabitants. Already Ghana has a wealthy upper class:
  Ghana's first gambling casino will open shortly—but only for foreigners and certain classes of wealthy Ghanians. A company set up to run the casino announced today that in conformity with casino licensing laws passed last year, Ghanians will not be admitted to membership unless they have a yearly income of more than £1.500 and are not members of the armed forces, judiciary, police force or public service departments. (Guardian, 9/6/60.)
Very few workers in this country, let alone Ghana, get £1,500 a year. As it is, with the legal minimum wage at 6s. 6d. a day these Ghanian capitalists get about ten times as much a year as an ordinary worker.

Little wonder, then, that the workers are beginning to feel that perhaps they have no interests in common with all classes of wealthy Ghanaians including the Nkrumah ruling clique. Many must be asking themselves as they survey the part they played in the struggle for independence: “Was it worth it? ” Socialists have said all along that national independence movements merely end in the setting up of capitalist nation-states and are therefore not worth supporting. The leaders of nationalist parties once in power are faced with the harsh realities of running and expanding Capitalism in their countries, and Capitalism can never be made to run in the interests of the workers. If we look outside Ghana we see the same sort of thing happening: men like Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore and Julius Nyerere of Tanganyika with more regard for democracy than Nkrumah have been forced to act against the workers in their countries, as the following report from Tanganyika shows:
  Relations between Mr. Nyerere, Tanganyika’s Chief Minister, and the territories’ trade union leaders are sharpening. The strike at the Williamson diamond mine which Mr. Nyere firmly ended after 12 days, brought this division into the public eye. After Tanganyika obtained an elected majority in the legislative council in September, trade unionists expected quick action to improve wage levels. But Mr. Nyerere has to be pushed into rash promises or actions. Working closely with Sir Arthur Vasey, his Finance Minister, he is endeavouring to maintain the climate of quiet confidence for foreign investment. (Daily Telegraph, 29/12/60.)
Dr. Banda, after his sweeping victory in the Nyasaland elections, seems to be planning similar actions to those of Nkrumah. The Sunday Express (17/9/61) reports that Suzgo Msiska, leader of one of the two rival trade union congresses in Nyasaland "has lost a great deal of prestige in the eyes of Banda and his colleagues. No sooner had Malawi emerged victorious at the polls than Msiska brought 800 workers out on strike for more pay. Now Banda urges: ‘Msiska must go.’ ’’

In the Congo politicians like Lumumba were elected to power on promises of wage increases which the workers didn’t get. So they went on strike. At first, Lumumba called out troops against them but eventually gave in and granted the wage increases, but not before he had devalued the Congolese franc. So that the workers merely received an increase in money wages.

The plain fact of the matter is that independence merely brings a change of masters for the workers—and their new masters are more often than not their former leaders. Socialists see no reason why they should help such men to power. Even the elementary democratic rights of “one man, one vote ” and freedom of political activity that independence may bring are not secure as in events in Ghana in particular show. To those Ghanian and other workers who ask if the struggle for independence was worth it, Socialists reply that it was. not. We do not, of course, expect colonial workers to suffer colonisation forever. We are just pointing out that independence is not the solution to their problems. Indeed, in many cases, it is just the beginning. Socialism is the only solution to the problems of the workers throughout the world.

Adam Buick

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