African Labour’s Cold War

The Conflict Over Trade Union Independence in Ghana, 1950s–1966


  • Carolyn Taratko



trade unions, labour, Ghana, Gold Coast, Cold War, Africa, Ghana Trades Union Congress (GTUC)


This article examines the conflict over “free” trade unionism within the Ghana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) during the 1950s and early 1960s. It demonstrates how labour leaders sought to anchor economic rights in ambitious development planning and extend their influence across the continent in the wake of decolonization. In contrast to colonial-era concepts of free trade unions as apolitical associations, anti- colonial and postcolonial leaders recognized the transformative political potential of labour organizing. On the basis of GTUC publications and the correspondence of its leadership with the International Conference of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) in Brussels, this article shows how Ghanaian labour leaders attempted to leave behind colonial-era dependencies while subordinating Cold War rivalries to what they per- ceived as the special, historically unique situation of newly decolonized countries. Ghanaian leaders eschewed existing models for international trade unionism, leading to a brief period of disaffiliation from the Western-oriented ICFTU as they attempted to chart their own path by mobilizing labour across the African continent. Ultimately, these attempts failed, and the forceful bid for a pan-African labour alliance under the Nkrumah government alienated many other African nations as leadership experienced increasing protest at home.