International Development Planning Review

Labour power, materiality and protests in Ghana’s petroleum and gold mines

International Development Planning Review (2022), 44, (3), 289–315.

Abstract

We examine the role of resource materiality in extractive labour protests in Ghana. Focusing on petroleum and gold mining, we centre contestations as part of the resources’ socio-natural constituents. Research data was obtained from social conflict databases, newspapers and field interviews. The analysis focused on themes and discourses on protest emergence, mobilisation, negotiation and impacts. Findings show how petroleum labour protesters use passivity and chokepoints to impede gas supply to households. Ghana petroleum workers attempt to garner structural power through workplace power, albeit unsuccessfully. Conversely, gold mineworkers protest by actively reappropriating machinery and extraction spaces. They centre protests in mining towns to emphasise their work as lifeblood. The ‘landedness’ of gold and the introduction of surface mining reshaped such protest tactics. Thus, materiality can help excavate the relational and comparative logic, tactics and potentialities of labour power in resource extracting countries. We suggest extractive labour to forge stronger cross-class coalitions to align workplace exploitation with broader issues of accumulation by dispossession.

Published open access under a CC BY licence. https://creativecommons.org/licences/by/4.0/

Labour power, materiality and protests in Ghana’s petroleum and gold mines

Abstract

We examine the role of resource materiality in extractive labour protests in Ghana. Focusing on petroleum and gold mining, we centre contestations as part of the resources’ socio-natural constituents. Research data was obtained from social conflict databases, newspapers and field interviews. The analysis focused on themes and discourses on protest emergence, mobilisation, negotiation and impacts. Findings show how petroleum labour protesters use passivity and chokepoints to impede gas supply to households. Ghana petroleum workers attempt to garner structural power through workplace power, albeit unsuccessfully. Conversely, gold mineworkers protest by actively reappropriating machinery and extraction spaces. They centre protests in mining towns to emphasise their work as lifeblood. The ‘landedness’ of gold and the introduction of surface mining reshaped such protest tactics. Thus, materiality can help excavate the relational and comparative logic, tactics and potentialities of labour power in resource extracting countries. We suggest extractive labour to forge stronger cross-class coalitions to align workplace exploitation with broader issues of accumulation by dispossession.

Published open access under a CC BY licence. https://creativecommons.org/licences/by/4.0/

Introduction

Labour protests are pivotal for the collective power of workers. They provide avenues to air grievances regarding wages and work practices, among others. Yet globally, labour strikes face state repression, employer sanctions and threats. In 2020, 97 per cent of African countries violated workers’ rights to strike (ITUC, 2020) and 53.9 per cent of the continent’s workers currently live in poverty (ILO, 2020a, 40).

The extractive sector has been a critical part of African economies. In 2008-2020, natural resource rents contributed up to 40 per cent of Africa’s GDP (World Bank, 2021). However, beneath the GDP lies ecological destruction and exploitation of labour and communities (Obeng-Odoom, 2015). Extractive areas feature high unemployment rates due to the capital intensiveness of resource extraction. Landed labour also faces physical, economic and ecological displacements linked to extraction (Akabzaa and Darimani, 2001; Otchere-Darko and Ovadia, 2020). African extractive workers must contend with repression, exploitation and even state/corporate killings (see cases in South Africa, Ghana and Congo; Alexander, 2013; Daily Graphic, 2018a; Prause, 2020). Since the 2000s, various African countries have become sites of first-time petroleum discovery with the Gulf of Guinea now described as ‘the world’s next frontier for oil’ by the US-EIA (EIA, 2010, 2; 28). Coastal East Africa was similarly marked as an emerging gas territory (Ernst & Young, 2012, 3). These petroleum ‘discoveries’ have revalorised such territories, adding to their existing mining sectors. Straddling extractives and energy, these nascent petro-geographies require comparative analysis with existing mining.

Ghana typifies such shifting resource endowments, with historical and contemporary data allowing analysis. Mining in Ghana (both artisanal and large scale) employed about 318,000 workers in the mid-2000s (Ofei-Aboagye et al., 2004; Owusu-Koranteng, 2008). Gold deposits constitute 16-25 per cent of Ghana’s land area, with more wide-ranging labour livelihood implications than other minerals (Ofei-Aboagye et al., 2004; Hilson, 2013). Ghana’s 2007 petroleum discovery, however, introduced new material affordances, infrastructures and labour contestations. The oil industry currently employs about 7,000 workers (Ovadia, 2016; Ablo, 2018). About 25 per cent of Ghana’s gas is supplied through local sources, with a critical role for labour (Energy Commission, 2019). In 2016, gold and crude oil contributed over half of Ghana’s export earnings (GHEITI, 2018, 111-112).

In effect, labour is central to forging Ghana’s extractive sector, from gold to oil. Yet, a comparative analysis of labour power and protests in these sectors remains non-existent. Previous research has helpfully examined conflicts between artisanal miners and state-backed multinationals over mining territories (Akabzaa and Darimani, 2001; Hilson, 2002a, 2013; Andrew and Hilson, 2005; Hilson and Yakovleva, 2007; Okoh, 2014). These are driven by factors including limited economic prospects, deagrarianisation and general neoliberal economics. Among the many effects of such accumulation by dispossession, child labour has emerged in artisanal mining as part of family coping strategies (Ofei-Aboagye et al., 2004; Hilson, 2010). Can Ghana’s petroleum sector learn any lessons from such gold-mining labour issues? Here an extensive review by Obeng-Odoom (2015, 53) suggests the need to unearth the ‘complex ramifications’ of Ghana’s oil on labour exploitation.

This paper introduces a comparative material perspective to extractive protests. We examine labour protests in Ghana’s gold and petroleum sectors, emphasising the role of resource materiality in labour strikes (Richardson and Weszkalnys, 2014; Bridge, 2008). Materiality is essential in examining how both resources are differently contested in their production. We focus on the differential logics of labour power and entanglements with technology and territory. Using gold and petroleum extraction regions (Figure 1), we ask how and why resource materiality is inserted into labour protests. We analyse social conflict data, newspaper contents, field interviews and other empirical data. We undertake thematic and discourse analysis highlighting the basis, mobilisation, negotiation and impacts of labour protests and corporate/state action (Creswell and Clark, 2011; Wetherell et al., 2001; Baxter and Eyles, 1997).

Sites of case studies

Source: Authors’ construct (2020)

Africa’s extractive labour has historically aligned workplace demands with broader waves of protests. In Ghana, colonial extractive labour protests aligned unfair working conditions with independence struggles (Crisp, 1984). Here, labour garnered worker power as part of the global resource supply chain. Labour protests in newly independent Ghana were mediated by quasi-corporatist resource import substitution (Kraus, 2007) while the post-1980s labour protests in Ghana were part of broader contestations against neoliberal policies (Kraus, 2007). Obuasi and Tarkwa gold mines and the Sekondi-Takoradi hub were central to such protest waves (Crisp, 1984; Kraus, 2007; Ampratwum, 2012; Nimoh, 2015; Asante and Helbrecht, 2018). These protests positioned Ghana within colonial world wars, gold rushes, different mining techniques and working-class consciousness (Owusu-Koranteng, 2008; Obeng-Odoom, 2014).

Protests in Ghana evolved from (colonial era) rural-urban spaces to urban areas post-1970s (Asante and Helbrecht, 2018). With petroleum discovery, ocean spaces have also become sites of protest. Ghana’s petroleum labour protesters use passivity and chokepoints to impede gas supply to households. Mitchell (2011) charts how pipelines historically reduced labour sabotage in global oil. Ghana’s gas distribution, however, primarily depends on road transport, providing fundamental protest leverage (c.f. Mufakhir et al., 2018; Lemanski, 2020; Klaeger, 2013). However, this leverage is only used for passive protests. We posit that offshore constraints, flammability risks, nationwide domestic needs and sector protest restrictions are reasons for passivity in the petroleum sector protest. The ‘uncooperative’ nature of gas (Bridge, 2004, 396) reshapes the tactics of labour contestation and government response strategies in Ghana. Workers attempt to garner structural power through workplace bargaining and logistical power (Silver, 2003), albeit unsuccessfully.

Conversely, gold mineworkers protest by actively reappropriating machinery and extraction spaces. Gold has direct economic significance for the mining towns. However, it is not a direct household consumable like petroleum. Hence, mineworkers actively protest using extraction areas and mining town centres. This is to emphasise their work practices as the lifeblood of the towns. The ‘landedness’ of gold and the introduction of surface mining techniques reshaped labour’s protest tactics. Ghana’s gold and petroleum labour protests represent differential modes of struggle and resource-making. Extractive protests are not only evident in industrial demands. They reverberate in broader ‘dispossessions’, including energy security, chemical spills, pollution, explosions and territorial displacements (Akabzaa and Darimani, 2001; Silver, 2016; Obeng-Odoom, 2018). Thus, materiality can help excavate the relational and comparative logics, tactics and potentialities of labour power. We emphasise the generativity of labour protests in becoming a resource (Richardson and Weszkalnys, 2014).

The rest of the paper is as follows. We first examine labour power and resource materiality, review historical waves of African labour protests, situating Ghana’s gold and petroleum sectors, and outline data collection for the paper. The analysis focuses on labour protest events, examining how materiality is utilised in both sectors. We discuss findings and conclude. Here, we challenge extractive labour to engage with the broader politics of accumulation by dispossession (Harvey, 2003).

Labour power, materiality and protests

Marx’s primitive accumulation captures the historical estrangement of labour from landed means of production (Marx, 1844; [1867]1976; Harvey, 2010). Through Europe’s industrial land enclosures and colonial plunder, this estrangement created wage-dependent labour. Harvey (2003; 2004; 2010) similarly outlines a relation between exploitative work practices (expanded reproduction) and the commodification of natural resources (accumulation by dispossession) in the development of global capital. Hence, the ‘macro-politics of accumulation by dispossession’ binds labour unions’ workplace struggles with broader extractive resistance (Harvey, 2003, 169). In contesting expanded reproduction, workers garner associational power by forming collective organisations, unions (Wright, 2000). Such associational power can also influence workers’ rights to bargain collectively (Silver, 2003). However, this depends on workers’ structural power: their location within the global division of labour (Wright, 2000).

Structural power emanates from tight labour markets, scarce skills, full employment conditions and non-wage income avenues (marketplace bargaining power). It also originates from workplace bargaining power highlighting key nodes susceptible to chokepoints (Silver, 2003). Globalisation arguably weakened workers’ structural power by creating reserve labour and deagrarianisation and weakened state sovereignty to protect trade unions and associational power (Silver, 2003). Similarly, Harvey (2003) highlights an inconvenient contemporary chasm between labour’s workplace struggles and broader accumulation by dispossession.

Within workplace struggles, workers depend on associational power if structural power weakens (Silver, 2003). This associational-structural relation forms a vicious cycle, reflecting differently across sectors. For industrial-extractive sectors, logistical chokepoints remain central to workplace bargaining as structural power (Alimahomed-Wilson and Ness, 2018; Silver, 2003). Logistical power enables workers to impede critical supply nodes and capital flows (Alimahomed-Wilson and Ness, 2018). Silver (2003) historicises a stronger workplace bargaining power for automobile compared to textile workers. This is linked to vertical integration and the possibility for chokepoints. Logistics industries (including extractives) are equally susceptible to associational power, premised on ‘just-in-time’ production and distribution (Cowen, 2014; Mufakhir et al., 2018).

Structural, associational and logistical power is therefore central to labour protests. Here, we introduce materiality to understand further the logic, tactics and potentialities of such protests. Materiality is central to labour bargaining processes and struggles. It denotes ‘the matters, knowledges, infrastructures and experiences that come together in the appreciation, extraction, processing, and consumption of natural resources’ (Richardson and Weszkalnys, 2014, 8). Resources are produced by validating and valorising their material utility (Bridge, 2008; Richardson and Weszkalnys, 2014). For example, mercury use was banned in 1930s Ghana to criminalise indigenous artisanal mining and ramp up extractives for the British world war efforts (Akabzaa and Darimani, 2001). Here mercury was harnessed to validate large-scale mining, until 1989 when artisanal mining became legal to help the government capture revenues (Ofei-Aboagye et al., 2004). Additionally, Ghana’s 1980s shift from underground to surface gold mining was conditioned by neoliberalism-inspired environmental and employment deregulations (Owusu-Koranteng, 2008; Akabzaa and Darimani, 2001). Offshore West Africa became a petro-geography due to its ‘frictionless’ profit-making spatiality compared to the Persian Gulf (Ferguson, 2006; Appel, 2012). Indeed, Ghana’s petroleum is equally an outcome of subterranean finds and state recentralisation to enable petro-capital (Otchere-Darko, 2020; Otchere-Darko and Ovadia, 2020).

Contestation is also central to resource materiality. Infrastructure and its embodiment offer generative potentials for (re)constituting resource materiality, potentiating particular politics (Richardson and Weszkalnys, 2014). In Bolivia, protests over water rights presented a bodily, moral and universal immediacy to livelihoods, whereas gas protests signalled development futures (Perreault, 2006). Kaup (2008) similarly highlights the generativity of Bolivia’s gas for different actors. Here, multinationals use capital to manipulate the gas materially but partially. Conversely, local communities inhabiting territory present possibilities to cut off supplies (Kaup, 2008).

Additionally, Mitchell (2011) compares the potentialities of British coal and Middle Eastern petroleum labour protests. Here coal enabled greater chokepoint possibilities due to its bulk, rail and labour requirements. By contrast, petroleum’s liquid and gaseous matter rendered it transportable in elusive routes and pipelines (Mitchell, 2011). For Bebbington et al. (2008), open-pit mining and mechanisation have subsumed labour protests under broader accumulation by dispossession questions. This offers possibilities to traverse the disconnect between labour and community struggles (Harvey, 2003).

Resources thus become not only through the organisation but also contestation and disorganisation (Richardson and Weszkalnys, 2014). This contestation impinges on forms of worker power deployed through various mechanisms, including protests. Materiality broadens notions of labour power by integrating structures, associational ties and logistics under the knowledge, infrastructures and experiences that constitute resource matter. We subsequently annotate the timeline of extractive and broader social protests in Ghana.

Labour protest waves in Ghana

Protests have shifted globally from labour to cross-class coalitions in the last two centuries (della Porta, 2015, 77). For Silver (2003), capital’s remedy for the 1950-1960s economic crisis utilised spatial, technological and product fixes. This created precarious employment in particular geographies and sectors, increasing labour resistance. Such resistance reinstituted some social contracts (the 1970s), subsequently dismantled in the 1980s neoliberal fix. Global labour protests are thus located within cyclical crises of profitability and legitimacy (Silver, 2003). Here, we centre such protest cycles in the African context along four waves (Seddon and Zeilig, 2005).

Independence struggles are categorised as the first wave of African protests. Here trade unions were part of local resistance, aligning with nationalist groups (Dwyer and Zeilig, 2012; Kraus, 2007). The two world wars fashioned structural and associational labour power emanating from such protests (Silver, 2003). Ghana’s first recorded sit-down strike was in 1918. This was organised by railway workers in Sekondi-Takoradi seeking improved working conditions against the British colonial administration (Obeng-Odoom, 2014). The Sekondi-Takoradi railways and harbour were central to Ghana’s gold supply chain. The harbour is now a significant part of the country’s petroleum economy. From the 1920s, gold rushes emerged in Obuasi and Tarkwa to remedy the economic distress from the first and second world wars (Hilson, 2002b; Owusu-Koranteng, 2008). The Ghana Mineworkers Union was among the first nationwide unions formed in 1945. Ghana’s Trade Union Congress (TUC) was barred from registering with the Labour Department, albeit recognised as a labour mouthpiece (TUC, 2021). This was a recognition of structural power forms, as post-war Britain ceded to negotiations with colonial labour groups (Silver, 2003). Countries like Ghana were tightly interwoven within colonial resource supply chains, garnering some structural labour power (Silver, 2003). TUC was part of Kwame Nkrumah’s 1950s ‘Positive Action’ protests to stifle the colonial economy through civil disobedience (Kraus, 2007; Nimoh, 2015). Ghana’s first wave of extractive labour protests evolved from economic demands to independence struggles (Sylla, 2014). Mineworkers’ protests against appalling working conditions were significant for such struggles. Similarly, Nigeria’s petroleum workers joined independence protests amid Second World War economic hardships (Lawrence, 2018).

Corporatist modernisation objectives mediated the second African protest wave (the 1950s-1970s) as independent states co-opted unions (Dwyer and Zeilig, 2012). Nigeria’s petroleum labour wrestled against state subordination by courting public support and coalitions (Lawrence, 2018). Ghana’s TUC aligned with Nkrumah’s government, briefly losing autonomy. Exceptions include the Railway Workers Union who epitomised Sekondi-Takoradi as a working-class city (Obeng-Odoom, 2014). TUC utilised its increased membership (44,000 to 350,000) and government’s import substitution policies to garner associational power in the 1950s-1960s (Nimoh, 2015, 104). Such political alliances potentially expose unions to persecution when regimes change (Silver, 2003). Hence, TUC often had fractious relations with the subsequent post-Nkrumah governments in the 1960s-1980s. In Obuasi and Tarkwa, protesting mineworkers were shot and killed by police in 1968-1969 (Kraus, 2007). TUC organised wildcat strikes over wages, social security, housing costs and taxation. Minimum wages and price controls were instituted as a result (Kraus, 2007). Like Africa-wide, Ghana’s second wave centred on economic demands with a corporatist compromise.

Third-wave African protests (the 1980s-2000s) involved cross-class protests against neoliberal structural adjustment policies (Walton and Ragin, 1990). IMF/ World Bank-led deregulation policies triggered protests by trade unions, students and unemployed urbanites. Unions formed part of continent-wide calls for economic respite and democracy (Seddon and Zeilig, 2005; Walton and Ragin, 1990; Dwyer and Zeilig, 2012). For example, Zambia’s first trade unionist president epitomised such calls. Ghana’s mining sector was also deregulated, with reduced royalties, flexible bargaining agreements and rampant retrenchments. These were seen as neoliberal solutions to the profitability crisis. Ghana’s 1986 Mining Act liberalised surface mining technologies (cyanide heap-leach and bio-oxidation) for low-grade ore (GoG, 1986; Owusu-Koranteng, 2008; Panford, 2016, 80-81; Akabzaa and Darimani, 2001). This redefined the logic and technologies of legal mining despite its ecological havoc (Akabzaa and Darimani, 2001). It also reshaped the materiality of commercial gold in Ghana. Equally, a crisis of legitimacy emerged (Silver, 2003). In 1980-2003, there were forty-three mining labour strikes in Ghana (Ampratwum, 2012). Retrenched mineworkers also contested livelihoods in artisanal mining, with similar ecological implications (Hilson, 2002a, 2013; Ofei-Aboagye et al., 2004). Membership of the mineworkers union reduced from 22,500 to 12,715 in 1987-2004 (Kraus, 2007). Silver (2003, 158) notes that Africa’s cross-class alliances tended to dissolve post-independence. However, these cross-class protests mobilised against neoliberal policies as workers lost structural and associational power.

Fourth wave labour protests focused on the fallouts of the 2007 global financial crisis and the 2014 commodities price slump when local and transnational antiausterity coalitions took centre stage in protests (della Porta, 2006). Anti-capitalist coalitions, including trade unions, looked to transnational organisations for solidarity (Dwyer and Zeilig, 2012). Cross-class protests in Egypt and Tunisia resulted in regime changes and independent unions (Beinin, 2016). ‘Occupy Nigeria’ involved loose coalitions utilising the street and online activism to protest petroleum prices (Branch and Mamphilly, 2016). By 2014, Ghana’s nascent petroleum industry had its first significant labour protests against wage disparities, often connecting with the commodities slump (Mensah, 2014; Daily Graphic, 2014a). Gold mining also saw sporadic labour protests, contesting the ongoing fallouts of structural adjustment (Okoh, 2014; Daily Graphic, 2018a). Therefore, our point of analysis highlights Ghana’s extant gold and emerging petroleum sectors within third and fourth wave labour protests.

Methods and materials

We focused on protests by gold mineworkers (in Obuasi and Tarkwa) and upstreammidstream-downstream petroleum workers (offshore Jubilee fields, Southwest coast including Sekondi-Takoradi and Tema) (Figure 1). We selected protest cases that have documented accounts. The gold mineworkers’ protests were sourced from the Social Conflict Analysis Database for 1999-2017 (SCAD, 2017; Salehyan et al., 2012). SCAD has catalogued 120 social conflicts in Ghana, recording six gold mineworkers protests. As already mentioned, previous research has helpfully analysed conflicts between artisanal miners and multinationals in Ghana (Akabzaa and Darimani, 2001; Hilson, 2002a, 2013; Andrew and Hilson, 2005; Hilson and Yakovleva, 2007; Okoh, 2014). We comparatively examine protests in Ghana’s gold and petroleum sectors. Hence, we select three gold mining protests in Obuasi and Tarkwa based on SCAD (2017). We focus on formal sector protests with clearly delineated worker associational power.1 Nonetheless, we highlight relations with (licensed and informal) artisanal miners’ protests within the broader struggles against accumulation by dispossession.

SCAD has not documented any of Ghana’s petroleum labour protests. Hence, we relied on fieldwork insights and initial newspaper scoping to identify seven worker protests. As we will show, the petroleum protests were not easily ‘contained’ in the spaces mentioned above. Hence, an upstream-midstream-downstream view enabled a more comprehensive analysis.

We subsequently conducted newspaper content analysis (November 2018-January 2019). Ghanaian news outlets have documented extractive labour protests focusing on causes, organisation and outcomes. We selected thirty-five such newspaper publications (1990-2018) from 140 overall labour protest publications in the top three newspapers (Daily Graphic, Daily Guide and Ghanaian Times). The newspapers were selected based on Table 1 criteria of Geopoll (2018). These newspapers were selected because they were generally factual in their representation of protests, as other studies utilising similar sources have suggested (c.f. Bob-Milliar and Nyaaba, 2020). While mindful of framing biases (c.f. Hilson, 2013), this allowed us to identify protest occurrence, negotiation and even casualties. Such coverage also follows multiple protest events surrounding an issue, enhancing analysis of protest outcomes. The newspaper content analysis delved into how and why extractive workers protest and the role of resource materiality and infrastructures.

Criteria for selecting newspapers

Newspaper Readership Ownership Year established Publications available from / selected from / selected to
Daily Graphic 1,500,000 State owned 1950 1960 / 1999 / 2018
Daily Guide 720,000 Privately owned 1988 1988 / 1999 / 2018
Ghanaian Times 530,000 State owned 1957 1957 / 1999 / 2018

Source: Authors (2020)

Interviews were also conducted with twenty-six individuals. These include gold and petroleum workers, NGOs and activists (Friends of the Nation, Hɛn Mpoano and COLANDEF) and two radio journalists covering extractive impacts in Ghana (conducted in November 2017-April 2018 and April-July 2019) (Table 2).

Categories of respondents and issues discussed

Category of respondents No. Issues discussed
Gold mineworkers 10 ·The basis for protests·Mobilisation for protests
Oil and gas workers 10 ·Negotiating labour rights
NGOs and local movements 4 ·Extraction-related issues, including labour
Journalists 2 ·Local extraction issues

Source: Authors (2020)

We analysed themes and discourses from the data (Creswell and Clark, 2011; Wetherell et al., 2001). Here, we congregated the themes and discourses that highlighted the basis, mobilisation, negotiation and impacts of labour protests and corporate/state action. We also used verbatim thematic quotations to illustrate results (Baxter and Eyles, 1997). To enhance the validity and reliability of the analysis, we triangulated the newspaper and interviewee data with secondary sources. We take extractive labour protests to mean collective actions by labour entailing active disruptions or passive halts in production activity for economic or other work-related demands. We use terms like ‘passive’ to describe workers’ protest tactics bereft of chemical and infrastructure destruction, fearing bodily harm. We operationalise ‘materiality’ to encompass the use of resource matter, knowledge, technologies and experiences in making workplace demands (Richardson and Weszkalnys, 2014).

Labour protests in Ghana: policies and procedures

Ghana has ratified forty-six International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions to guarantee labour rights to form/join unions, collective bargaining agreements (CBA) and equal treatment. The conventions also cover work hours, rest/holidays, minimum wages, social policies and working conditions (ILO, 2020b). Ghana’s 1992 constitution guarantees labour unionisation rights as economic and political freedoms (GoG, 1992, 21; 24). The principal 2003 Labour Act and previous Acts (1965 Industrial Relations, 1992 Public Services Negotiating Committee) all recognise the right and freedom to unionise (NLC, 2003, 79-95; Nimoh, 2015).

The 2003 Labour Act recognises CBAs between unions and employers. CBAs specify work conditions, remunerations, dispute settlement and termination procedures between unions and employers (NLC, 2003, 96-111). A CBA is non-negotiable and prevails over existing contracts unless the latter is more favourable to labour (NLC, 2003, 105-104; 107-112). Ghana’s Labour Commission settles industrial disputes (NLC, 2003, 135-152). The Commission is under the Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations, formerly the Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare (MOGCSP, 2020). An industrial dispute undergoes various processes before legal labour protests in Ghana (NLC, 2003, 153-171). First, there is a negotiation between employer and union, based on CBA terms. Then there is mediation by the Commission, then arbitration, protest and court action. Protest and court action are the last resorts if those above fail to address an impasse. The final resolution (at the negotiation, mediation, arbitration or appeal stage) modifies the CBA or any pre-existing contracts (NLC, 2003, 165-167). Illegal protests are subject to no pay and possible termination (NLC, 2003, 168). The path to legal protests in Ghana is stringent. Hence, some argue that there have been no lawful labour protests in Ghana since 2005 (Hanson, 2017). As a mediatory technology, such policies define how contestation is to be performed. Such policies, however, fail to circumscribe resource materiality into labour protests and power.

Passivity, immobility and risk: labour protests in Ghana’s petroleum regions

We work in the same environment with foreign workers, but we are not entitled to the same conditions of service, albeit we are exposed to the same risk in the line of duty… I can tell you that we are not violent. We are on a sit down strike, and we will not be forced from the platform to the shore. Secretary of the local petroleum workers union. (cited in Aklorbortu, 2014a)

In 2014, forty workers of the upstream Floating Petroleum Storage and Offloading vessel (FPSO Kwame Nkrumah) embarked on a sit-down strike offshore. They called for fair work conditions compared to expatriates in the Jubilee oilfield led by Tullow Company (Aklorbortu, 2014a; 2014b; 2014c; 2014d; Daily Graphic, 2014a; Mensah, 2014; Opoku, 2018).

In 2015, local and foreign petroleum workers’ annual salary ratio was $52,000: $115,000 (Obeng-Odoom, 2020, 146). According to a Ghanaian human resource manager working for one of the multinationals, ‘expatriates can earn up to 400 per cent more salaries than their Ghanaian counterparts’ (Authors’ fieldwork, 2017). This salary disparity created agitations on various upstream offshore infrastructures. While the local content law seeks to promote Ghanaian interest in the petroleum industry, much more emphasis was on employment quotas than conditions of service (Ovadia, 2016; Ablo and Otchere-Darko, forthcoming).

The local content law stipulates that 20-30 per cent of management and technical positions should be local labour (GPC, 2013, 29). The salary disparities stem from differential work conditions, employment terms and lower-tiered local workers (Ablo, 2012). Many Ghanaian offshore workers are employed through third-party service companies who pay comparatively lower rates (Ablo, 2018). Such third-party loopholes weaken the prospects of consistent and comprehensive petroleum CBAs. This creates significant wage disparities. Figure 2 shows the percentage loss in salary for categories of offshore workers due to undercutting by Ghanaian service companies. By reducing how much Ghanaian workers get, these activities further increase the disparities.

Variations in daily wages of rig workers (US$) and percentage reduction

Source: Ablo (2018)

These wage disparities triggered the FPSO labour protests offshore. According to the workers, they frequently complained to officials without any redress. They were often told that the regulator (Petroleum Commission) would address their concerns (Aklorbortu, 2014d). After several unsuccessful complaints, forty workers refused to disembark from the FPSO when their shift ended. The FPSO is a transformed technology. It is an oil tanker converted in 2010 in Singapore and shipped to Jubilee fields to process petroleum (Sembcorp, 2012). Aware of the 120-person capacity constraint on the FPSO, the workers enacted a momentary chokepoint. This transformed the infrastructure and oilfields into contested spaces of labour segmentation. The local workers protested by refusing to be airlifted onshore. The capacity constraints would prevent the boarding of replacement workers from Sekondi-Takoradi. FPSOs constitute compressors, high voltage electric equipment, chemical injection plants and other potentially eruptive components (Sembcorp, 2012). Hence, the risk of violent protests amidst the sea made the sit-down strike a ‘safe’ protest tactic for workers and potentially for management alike. The FPSO workers protested by impeding work infrastructure and practices. Here, the exposure to petroleum production risks influenced workers’ non-violent protests. The FPSO management reacted by firing the workers. The workers were later re-employed as solidarity protests ramped up, particularly by the General Transport, Petroleum and Chemical Workers’ Union (GTPCWU) (Aklorbortu, 2014d; Mensah, 2014). The protests brought significant media attention to these salary disparities without actual change.

Similar broader fourth-wave protests occurred in Ghana with increased media attention. These focused on energy security, living costs, gentrification and infrastructure issues (Aidoo, 2014; Silver, 2016; Asante and Helbrecht, 2018). Parallel labour protests occurred in 2017 at ENI’s onshore Sanzule gas receiving plant.2 Here, 400 workers went on strike:

we are hoping that our concerns, due to our salary issues, and these expats working with us, miscommunication and all that, we are hoping that those problems will be amended. If not, this tension will come back tomorrow. Kofi, Sanzule petroleum worker. (Authors’ fieldwork, 2017)3

The excerpt above (audio provided through a local journalist) is from Kofi, a seemingly middle-aged and migrant worker from another part of Ghana. He talks about workers’ demands for comparable day rates with foreign workers. The protests challenged the replacement of locals with neighbouring-country workers (Adotey, 2017). Here, Kofi describes the nature of the protest that attracted media attention. The workers embarked on a passive sit-down strike to impede work. Like the offshore protests, the Sanzule strike did not materialise into salary increases. Notwithstanding, the sit-down strike halted the planned transmission of 180 mmscfd (million standard cubic feet per day) of gas into Ghana’s thermal power grid (Adotey, 2017). These passive upstream protests are also evident midstream concerning refinery infrastructure and management issues.

Protests by Ghana’s midstream petroleum refinery workers predate the country’s oil discovery. However, they intensified in 2014-2016 as local gas production became possible. In 1999, workers at Tema Oil Refinery protested against the underutilisation of production capacity. The newspaper narrative described the protest as an ‘alleged breakdown of discipline among the workforce’ (Armah, 1999). This highlights the use of passive sabotage by workers. These refinery workers frequently contend with air pollution and accidents in their routine operations (Obeng-Odoom, 2018). Hence, protest tactics took cognisance of potential chemical risks (for example, the corrosive and flammable hydrogen sulphide). Thus, protests highlighted workers grievances while opening spaces for improving refinery management. The refinery is still in use. However, it remains unclear the impact of such protests on their continued existence.

Another 2014 refinery workers’ protest criticised the national oil company’s inability to refine oil from the Jubilee fields (Daily Graphic, 2014b). Likewise, in 2016, Ghana Gas Company workers protested against exclusion from building the Aboadze-Tema pipeline and related debts (Aklorbortu, 2016). The workers also protested against deteriorating welfare and ramshackle workplace equipment. Protest accounts highlighted its fourth wave nuances: some workers ‘took images of decommissioned equipment […] and circulated them in the media’ (Aklorbortu, 2016). Workers courted public opinion in a digital media-scape rather than a full-on active protest. Thus, the midstream protests entailed sabotage, press conferences, sit-down strikes and even digital activism (Armah, 1999; Daily Graphic, 2014b; Aklorbortu, 2016). These protests initiated chokepoints in petroleum refining despite not garnering significant gains. Such labour protests focus on ‘responsible management’ rather than ending production (Valdivia, 2008). They signal dissatisfaction with an inherent political economy.

Next, we look at 2012-2018 downstream workers’ protests over gas distribution services in Ghana. These protests have intensified since 2012, in seven significant petroleum transport, storage, liquefaction, gasification, distribution and marketing unions (Opoku, 2012; Arku, 2013; Obour, 2013).

First, members of the 6,000-member gas transport unions have protested against unfair and improper use of the ‘Petroleum Loss Manual’. The Manual is a guideline for loading and offloading petroleum products:

We have loading and discharging procedures, but it looks like the loading procedure is being implemented by the various filling stations and BOST [Bulk Oil Storage and Transportation Company] as a whole are not using the [‘Manual’], and this is going against our drivers. In case of underground shortage, they debit our transporters, and the transporters also debit drivers through their salaries. NPA [National Petroleum Authority] is just not helping tanker drivers by not implementing the guidelines though they have them. Chairman of the Petroleum Transport Union. (Kubi, 2018a)

The drivers’ protests aim to initiate chokepoints in gas distribution and impede liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) supply to households. About 25 per cent of Ghana’s energy is from LPG; nearly a quarter is produced locally (Energy Commission, 2019). The excerpt below highlights this chokepoint as part of protest tactics:

We have spoken to our members in Takoradi, Kumasi, Buipe, Tema, and other parts of the country to get ready on Thursday. If the government refuses to listen to our concerns, we will put the trucks down and stop working. Chairman of the Petroleum Transport Union. (Kubi, 2018a)

The government has since launched the Manual, although its full implementation remains unclear.

Secondly, liquefied gas transport and gas station unions contest government’s planned gas re-circulation policy. The policy aims to delineate gas station risk zones, restrict small-scale transporters and older distribution vehicles. According to government, the policy seeks to curtail the nationwide gas station explosions and fatalities of 2015-2017. The unions, however, contend that this will increase the cost of entry (Kubi, 2016; Frimpong, 2018a; 2018b; Baneseh and Ocloo, 2018a; 2018b; Baneseh, 2018; Daily Guide, 2018; Daily Graphic, 2013; 2018b; Nyavi, 2018). The unions thus called for a nationwide strike by shutting down infrastructure:

After a grace period of one week was given to enable a favourable response to be issued by Government elapsed, [we have decided that] a nationwide strike action be called and all services to the general public at all LPG filling plants in the country should cease then until further notice. President of the Petroleum Liquefaction Union. (Frimpong, 2018a)

In response, government agency NPA similarly utilises flammability risk discourses:

Consumers must note that the government will prioritise their health, safety and security over any considerations, and accordingly, they are to bear with the situation and look out for [gas] stations that are still in operation. [The unions] have made this strike a war between their safety and their profit, and we find it easier to err on the side of safety and security. NPA’s response to the 2018 Liquefaction Union strike. (Daily Guide, 2018)

The gas re-circulation policy is currently run on a pilot basis in Ghana. These downstream protests halt the distribution network to gas stations and eventually households. This does not only affect the petroleum regions but nationwide. Gas shortage in Ghana (Figure 3) restricts households’ ability to coordinate domestic needs, work and other responsibilities. The materiality of LPG for energy needs creates significant leverage for such protest tactics. The unions leverage ‘just-in-time’ local gas demands to initiate chokepoints for claims (Cowen, 2014; Mufakhir et al., 2018; Alimahomed-Wilson and Ness, 2018).

Gas shortage in Sekondi-Takoradi

Source: Fieldwork (2020)

Petroleum in Ghana has become nationally pivotal after decades of disrupted hydropower failures (Silver, 2016). This grants forms of structural and associational power for gas transporters. These strikes connect with contemporary Ghanaian protests regarding living costs and infrastructure issues (Aidoo, 2014; Asante and Helbrecht, 2018). For gas-station owners, protests entail closing down the pumps. For transporters, protests involve immobilising gas distribution vehicles. As Kaup (2008) recounts from Bolivia, such immobility challenges the established modes of social regulation. In Ghana, these passive protest tactics do not discount the occasional violent clashes. An example is the 2018 clashes between the transport, liquefaction and marketing unions over protest objectives and tactics. This resulted in five arrests, with two injured by police shots (Daily Guide, 2018; Ocloo, 2018b; 2018c; Kubi, 2018b).

Notwithstanding, in most of these protests, petroleum materiality and the network of infrastructure centre chokepoints as tactics. Petroleum’s material and infrastructure requirements delineated forms of associational boundaries in the first place. Nonetheless, the broader logistical view of the entire petroleum production chain, with chokepoint possibilities, binds these unions. It enables them to ‘follow the petroleum’ in their protest tactics. These tactics differ from the gold mining sector.

Reactivating mundane work routines: labour protests in Ghana’s gold mining regions

Around 2007, both large-scale and artisanal mining employed about 318,000 workers in Ghana (Ofei-Aboagye et al., 2004; Owusu-Koranteng, 2008). Over the years, labour protests have emerged in Obuasi and Tarkwa gold mines concerning CBAs and redundancies. Artisanal gold mining has been present in Obuasi since the fourth century before large-scale colonial mining (Akabzaa and Darimani, 2001; Hilson, 2002b). Gold mineworkers were pivotal for Ghana’s first and second-wave protests, sometimes connecting economic and broader political struggles. These strikes similarly constituted third and fourth-wave protests against structural adjustment and the commodities crisis.

In 1999, mineworkers at Obuasi embarked on an 11-day demonstration through the town. The protests concerned disputes with AGC (Ashanti Goldfields Corporation) - over CBAs.4 Ghana’s 1986 Mining Law deregulated the mining sector as part of structural adjustment (GoG, 1986). As the extract shows, the workers used work machinery as an active part of the protests:

We took some of the company machinery, Wagner mining equipment, other surface mining equipment, and water trucks to the main office. Some blocked the gold bullion storage room to prevent access to the gold. Former Civil Engineer at Obuasi goldmines. (Author’s fieldwork, 2019)

The excerpt is from Kwao, a former worker at the civil engineering department resident at Obuasi, now in his late fifties. The Obuasi mineworkers union had agreed to a CBA with AGC. The CBA stipulated workers’ salaries would be indexed to the dollar as protection against depreciation (Gyasi, 1999; Ghanaian Times, 1999; Nunoo, 1999; Interviews, gold mineworkers, 2019). However, in 1999, aside from emerging deregulations, global gold prices slumped, reaching a thirty-year low (Money Metals, 2020). AGC hence attempted to renegotiate the already agreed CBA, intending to freeze salaries and halt the indexation (Gyasi, 1999). The 1965 Industrial Relations Act and the 1992 Public Services Negotiating Committee Act were in force. Hence, after unsuccessful renegotiations, workers embarked on protests in Obuasi (interviews, gold mineworkers, 2019).

In recounting the 1999 protests, others narrated similar reappropriation of work machinery and extractive spaces. The excerpt below is from Kwadwo, a mid-forties former pit worker at the Adansi Shaft:

People from [George Carpendal Shaft] and surface mining workers came from Anyinam to [Eaton Turner Shaft]. They blocked the mining premises with tankers, including the gate, to prevent entry or exit of working staff. Former pit worker at Obuasi goldmines. (Authors’ fieldwork, 2019)

Kwadwo centres the machinery and tactics of shaft-workers like himself as the fulcrum of the protests. From appropriating mining equipment to blocking premises, the workers eventually congregated at Obuasi city centre. The workers protested by centralising in Obuasi, the locus of their entire mining activities. Obuasi is where the gold blasting, crushing, leaching and bullion production happens mainly via surface mining. The workers are cognisant of their involvement in gold production and its centrality in Obuasi. Hence, they use work machinery to re-enact their labour practices as part of protests.

Adama, a similarly middle-aged male, worked at multiple shafts. He recounts the enrolling of machinery in the protests:

We used Wagner mining equipment and water trucks (sometimes remote controlling them) at designated points to cause disruption, especially at ETS. Multiple shaft worker at Obuasi goldmines. (Authors’ fieldwork, 2019)

Working at the mine’s engineering workshop at the time, Yaw also recounts the protests:

As things intensified, machinery such as the Wagner dirt digger was used to protest at the town centre. Most of the protesting workers blockaded the entrance in the morning to prevent others from working. Worker at engineering workshop. (Authors’ fieldwork, 2019)

At 4.5 by 2.5 by 1.5 metres, the Wagner dirt digger represented an active part of the 1999 Obuasi protests. It is used for digging, scooping and dumping, particularly for surface mining activities. It was newly introduced at the time. ‘Wagner’ represented a significant aspect of AGC’s operations moving forward, according to Ata, a worker at the Kwesi Mensah Shaft sinking unit. The workers thus reappropriated such machinery to emphasise their labour and work routines as essential to gold production.

In some cases, mineworkers threatened violence and property destruction as part of protests. The description by Ata, now in his late forties, emphasises these threats:

[We] threatened to destroy property with Wagner dirt diggers and dump trucks if our demands are not heard. We even placed some dynamites at specific mining spots if things turned violent. Worker at shaft sinking unit. (Authors’ fieldwork, 2019)

Mineworkers reappropriated work practices (such as dynamite use, albeit extreme) as part of protest tactics. The use of dynamites for blasting ore during mining was repurposed as a protest tactic. Nevertheless, the salary indexation was eventually scrapped, with some protesting workers fired afterwards (interviews, gold mineworkers, 2019). Similarly, Hilson (2002a) and Okoh (2014) catalogue violent clashes between Obuasi artisanal miners and AGC/AngloGold Ashanti (AGA) company, backed by local security muscle. These clashes have culminated in dozens of artisanal miners being killed, hundreds arrested and millions in property damages (Hilson, 2002a).

The second gold mineworkers’ protests focus on the Tarkwa mines in 2009 and 2018. Much like Obuasi, Tarkwa workers contested the ongoing fallouts of workplace deregulation in 2009. However, their subsequent 2018 protest was situated within the global commodities crash. The Tarkwa protests thus straddled third and fourth-wave protests.

In 2009, the mineworkers’ unions at Tarkwa and Tarkwa-Iduapriem mines protested over salary indexation issues. They protested against Goldfields Ghana Limited (GGL) and AGA in Tarkwa. The workers contended that both companies had abrogated a CBA-agreed dollar salary indexation (Adu, 2009). Workers also protested AGA’s plans to abrogate contracts with a local company - MBC - hence laying off 2,000 workers (Adu, 2009). Over 2,300 GGL Tarkwa workers again protested in 2018 over flexible contracts and redundancies. As the general secretary of the nationwide mineworkers union noted:

We have raised issues with Goldfields’ [GGL] intended contract mining and the negative impact on workers, but the government, particularly the Ministers of Land and Natural Resources and Employment as well as Labour Relations, have not attempted to give a hearing to the union. General Secretary of Ghana Mineworkers Union. (Daily Graphic, 2018a)

Citing a short life span and ageing mine infrastructure, GGL flouted existing CBAs to introduce such contracts. The Tarkwa workers challenged the legality of the redundancy. They took the issue to the high court, calling for an injunction. The workers decided against mediating with the Labour Commission, fearing lack of support, although mediation is central to the Labour Act (NLC, 2003). The injunction was dismissed in court. The ruling deemed GGL risked losing more if the layoffs were halted before the legality of the flexible contracts was determined (Cudjoe, 2018; Daily Graphic, 2018a).

After the ruling, GGL allegedly forced workers to accept redundancy letters and fixed-term contracts with tacit military support. This led to protests. Workers besieged the mining offices, blocked access for staff entry and hurled stones at security (Cudjoe, 2018). The workers protested despite a pending national appeals court hearing and mooted sympathy strikes (Cudjoe, 2018). Thus, workers appropriated workspaces, town centres and work machinery to voice their concerns. They were met with military and police who fired deadly rubber bullets at them.

Similar to Obuasi, both laid-off workers and affected communities in Tarkwa sometimes venture into artisanal mining. Surface mining concessions constitute 70 per cent of Tarkwa’s land area. This has brought harmful effects on land and agricultural livelihoods. Over 30,000 people were mining-displaced in the 1990s alone (Akabzaa and Darimani, 2001). In effect, laid-off workers and communities contend with shrinking employment prospects, land dispossession and deagrarianisation. Artisanal mining thus becomes a way out (Hilson, 2013). Here, artisanal miners also clash with multinationals over mining territory while contending with state restrictions despite being legal (Ofei-Aboagye et al., 2004, 44; Akabzaa and Darimani, 2001; Hilson, 2002a, 67). Such accumulation by dispossession sometimes produces unwieldy coping strategies, including child labour in artisanal mining (Ofei-Aboagye et al., 2004; Hilson, 2010).

Like the Obuasi protests, the Tarkwa workers subscribed to active - sometimes violent - protests. In conjunction, both large-scale and artisanal gold labour protests highlight precarious work and broader livelihood struggles despite differential structural and associational power forms. Similar to petroleum, gold extraction has diverse socio-material implications for Ghana’s extractive labour protests.

Discussion

Ghana’s petroleum labour protests involve passivity and initiating chokepoints. This is to impede oil and particularly gas supply from wellheads to households and export markets. Although unsuccessful in most cases, the workers attempt to utilise workplace bargaining and logistical power to garner structural power forms (Silver, 2003). They use capacity constraints on offshore vessels and halt refinery work through sit-down strikes. They also immobilise gas distribution trucks, ultimately closing down petrol and gas stations. They even utilise digital technologies, albeit sparingly. This is to internationalise local content issues, to challenge the post-commodities crash onslaught and the global division of labour. Detached and enclaved infrastructure like FPSOs have become technologies of worker defiance. Compared to coal, petroleum pipelines reduce distributional vulnerabilities and risks of labour sabotage (Mitchell, 2011). Pipelines nonetheless weaken petroleum’s enclavity as it ventures uncomfortably into spaces that render it manipulatable and contestable (Weszkalnys, 2013). Vehicular gas transport in Ghana introduces another layer of such contestation. This makes labour protests more accessible and ubiquitous through everyday mobility infrastructures (Lemanski, 2020; see Mufakhir et al., 2018 for Indonesia’s case). In Ghana, downstream gas distribution currently depends on road transport. This presents a fundamental chokepoint ‘to manipulate and disrupt the everyday of the road itself ’ (Klaeger, 2013, 464).

The material underpinnings of petroleum protests go beyond logistics to emphasise distributed materiality (Weszkalnys, 2013). Ghana’s petroleum organisation and labour contestation are shaped by its ‘uncooperative’ nature (Bridge, 2004, 396; Kaup, 2008). In effect, passivity and chokepoints have so far remained the principal labour protest tactics. We highlight four reasons why. First, upstream petroleum extraction is offshore, requiring delicate forms of protest. Secondly, the status of petroleum labour as ‘essential service providers’ impinge on ‘legal’ protest strategies available. The national labour policy categorises energy generation and fuel distribution workers as such (NLC, 2003, 163). Third, LPG is a significant household energy source in Ghana. The country’s natural gas is mostly refined and used domestically as LPG. Gas has greater power density, propensity for expansion and risks of ignition (Bridge, 2004). Like many countries, LPG provides a quarter of Ghana’s gas energy sources (Energy Commission, 2019). Petroleum is, therefore, a profoundly intrusive part of everyday spaces beyond extraction areas. Not only is its spatial reach extensive, but so is its temporal reach (part of daily energy needs). Finally, the necessity of gas for domestic use also makes the risks ubiquitous. Liquefaction and gasification technologies rely on maintaining specific containerised temperatures, pressures and volumes to transport gas adequately (Bridge, 2004). Gas must also be properly contained to prevent dissipation and manage its corrosive sulphur and carbon dioxide content (Kaup, 2008). Petroleum is also highly flammable, and in Ghana, has been quite deadly to the public (Obeng-Odoom, 2018). Hence, Ghana’s petroleum is produced and contested around its material risks through discourses, policies, practices and technologies. Petroleum materiality allows labour to, at minimum, challenge the government’s legitimacy as a provider of energy security and sovereignty (Broto, 2017). Whether such generative possibilities for labour protests stay passive, however, remains to be seen.

Conversely, gold mineworkers’ actively reappropriated machinery and extraction spaces during protests. This sometimes included threats, violent occurrences and property destruction. The ‘landedness’ of gold and the introduction of surface mining reshaped such protest tactics. Here, protest tactics emphasise labour’s work routines as essential to mining operations. Despite the enclavity of petroleum, Ghana’s gold production chain is comparatively more insulated from the lives of non-mining towns. This does not discount gold’s primacy for the country’s foreign exchange earnings. Gold is a high energy conductor, and in Ghana, it is mainly exported. Gold is not a direct household consumable in Ghana like petroleum. In the mining towns, gold has a direct economic significance. It is the largest economy in both Obuasi and Tarkwa. Hence, active protests become useful, as workers court local community support during protests. In effect, gold mineworkers use extraction areas, town centres and reappropriate machinery as focal points of protests. Mineworkers are cognisant of their involvement in gold production and its centrality within these spaces. Through labour protests, both gold and petroleum become socio-natural commodities. They offer potentialities as ransomed materials wielded in pursuit of claims.

Ghana’s gold and oil sectors are similarly capital intensive and require limited labour. They are generally more lucrative for workers compared to other sectors. They, however, present significant pollution and health impacts on workers and communities. Both sectors’ workers contend with multinationals and governments over workplace and, to a lesser extent, livelihood exploitations (Harvey, 2003; Bebbington et al., 2008). Despite these parallels, petroleum remains an energy resource, unlike gold. Hence, petroleum contestations straddle between workplace exploitation, subnational land-sea dispossessions and national concerns over energy security and material risks at pipelines, roads and petrol pumps. In effect, petroleum labour protests remain cognisant of its diffused use and risks in broader everyday energyscapes. Conversely, gold labour protest tactics and geographies are concentrated in defined mining towns. Artisanal gold mining however potentiates a unique challenge to large-scale mining by exposing employment and societal exploitations. In effect, materiality is important in examining how these resources are differently contested in their production.

Conclusion

To various degrees, Ghana’s extractive workers occupy shifting positions. They oscillate between disembedded enclaved actors and embedded local inhabitants similarly exposed to local extraction risks (Appel, 2012). Hence, they are continually undergoing casualisation, fighting repressive work conditions and state/corporate violence. This is a function of structural adjustment and the commodities crash. The forcefulness of extractives, particularly oil, manifests in a ‘material vacuum’ of development promised but ever-elusive (Weszkalnys, 2013, 272). Labour unions and artisanal miners are essential sources of worker power in contesting workplace and social exploitation. However, the workers’ protests against workplace exploitation are fairly divorced from the broader politics of accumulation by dispossession (Harvey, 2003). The splitting of Ghana’s ministry of employment and social welfare in 2013 institutionally highlights such a divorce (MOGCSP, 2020). Ghana’s extractive labour force has to forge stronger connections with local organisations and activist groups for broader common gains. Cross-class coalitions have historically provided the backbone for social change (Bebbington et al., 2008). Broader coalitions between extractive labour, community groups and international organisations are therefore needed. This is particularly important in the current wave of weak local institutions, re-centralisation of political power and precarious neoliberal work practices in many African countries. These processes decimate local livelihoods, institutional accountability and democratic potentials in extractive regions. Future research can further examine linkages between current extractive and broader societal protests.

Ofei-Aboagye et al., (2004, 12-13) highlight restrictions and ‘lack of formal union representation’ in Ghana’s artisanal mining.

About 90 km from Sekondi-Takoradi on the Southwest coast.

Interviewee pseudonyms and generic titles are used henceforth, unless quoted from newspapers.

AGC is now AngloGold Ashanti (AGA).

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Details

Author details

Otchere-Darko, William

Ablo, Austin Dziwornu