Even though, many authors argue that the first teacher union was Government schools Teacher Union, (GSTU). This could be partly true and partly false. True because it is recorded to have been formed in 1926. Whilst the date for the formation of all the other unions were recorded from 1930 till date.
But one cannot only base on the date of formation to arrive at such a conclusion. This is because, according to a 2012 Rosa Luxemburg research report titled, 'Trade unions and Industrial Relations in Ghana, membership of GSTU were only teachers from government schools.
By then, missionary schools were all private-owned schools (as in managed by the Missionaries except for those which had been absorbed by the colonial government at the time. This is a clear indication that, though, the other non-government schools were having unions (school-based) but were not recognized.
It must be told that, per Adu-Amankwah, 1990; Britwum, 2007, the emergence of the Labour Movement in Ghana and/or Trade unionism started in the Gold Coast (now Ghana) in the 1900s, initially as craft unions in urban centres and gradually developed into industrial and national trade unions.
It can be deduced from the foregoing data, that, though there were trade unions, but were not recognized by then. It is not a secret that the first Teacher Training college established in Ghana(Presbyterian Training College), was a mission school, whilst the first SHS (Mfantsipim) was also a mission school. Except for the first elementary school which was established by Philip Quaque in1765, in his house at Cape Coast. But none of them was state-owned.
This is to justify that, before the formation of GSTU, when unions were not formally recognized, there was already in operation, separate groups of teachers under the various missionary schools, practising the culture of association as witnessed today. The only problem was that the missionary schools were being supervised by separate churches.
The existence of the coalition of mission school teachers was noticed when the non-government school teachers resisted the decision of the colonial government to reduce the salaries of mission school teachers who were already discriminated against in terms of physical infrastructure, salaries and other conditions of service, as compared to the Government school teachers who were regarded as part of the colonial administration.
One may argue that, since the numerous associations under the mission schools were unrecognized, we cannot properly refer to them as a union.
Such people are wrong in my opinion, this is so because, the Trade Union Ordinance which legalized the formation of trade unions, was enacted in 1941. And so, merely recognizing the existence of GSTU in somewhere 1926 doesn't mean it was legally the first union to be formed. In any case, the colonial masters didn't give recognition to so many of our cultures and practices, but that didn't change our history and origin.
This erroneously-held impression can be likened to the widely accepted idea that America was discovered by Christopher Columbus, whilst everything was clear even up till now that, Christopher Columbus didn't discover an empty land. The land was occupied by the West Indians at the time of discovery.
In 1941, when the Trade Union Ordinance (Cap 91) was passed by the colonial government, the Ordinance permitted any five workers to form a trade union but did not grant the right to collective bargaining.
It is believed that so many other teacher unions might have emerged, but much attention was not given to them. And it might have not been recorded because, of so many factors. Even presently, in this modern era of information, many people still think GNAT, NAGRAT, CCT are the only teacher unions in Ghana.
It must be noted one of the less popular unions at the time was the Union of Teachers and Educational Institutions Workers, UTIEW. But UTIEW was not TEWU, TEWU itself per their history published on their own website hasn't attached UTIEW to their history.
Lo and behold, the British government encouraged the establishment of a national trade union centre as it sought to avoid the kind of labour struggles that had accompanied the industrial revolution in Europe and North America. On September 8, 1945, the Gold Coast Trades Union Congress (TUC) was founded with an initial membership of 6,030 and fourteen affiliates at the offices of the Railway African Employees Union in Sekondi (Arthiabah and Mbiah, 1995)
The separate association (whether recognized or registered or not), came together to form the Assisted School Teachers Union (ASTU) in 1931. So technically, ASTU was just an amalgamation of all unions under the mission schools.
It was ATSU that changed its name to Gold Coast Teachers Union (GCTU) in 1937 in order to bring all teachers whether government or mission schools under one umbrella.
But some of the government teachers still didn't join ATSU so they changed their name from government schools Teacher union (GSTU) to National Union of Teachers to include all teachers whether from government or a mission school. Accordingly, the Gold Coast Teachers Union (GCTU) and the (UTEIW) which was also in existence, merged in 1958 and joined the TUC.
This was because from 1931 to 1958, immediately after the independence, TUC by way of subsidiary unionism pursuant to the 1941 Act of Parliament, forced the two unions to merge under the name Teachers and Cultural Services Union TCSU). It operated until GNAT was formed in 1962 after it was realized that the TUC-formed-union was a unifier. The other members who remained with the TUC formed union, was renamed TEWU in 1962.
Many other unions too emerge including, teachers teaching at the SHS, training colleges, polytechnics etc forming their separate unions.
GNAT was allowed to be recognized as the only teacher union for all other unions in 1975.
All in all, it can be concluded that, both TEWU wasn't the first teacher union, and TEWU didn't emerge from Gold Coast Teachers' Union.
The teacher unions which was first formed is yet to be found. What we are certain of now is which of the unions, came before the other.
Author: Owusu Baffoe Daniel (BEd Psychology, LLB Candidate, Candidate, MPhil Science Education)
1. Amoako, Samuel (2014). "Teaching and Labor: Teacher Unionism in Ghana, 1931–1966". The International Journal of African Historical Studies.
2. The history of Trade Unionism in Ghana. (n.d.). https://www.ghanateachers.com/about-us/history-of-gnat
3. Wikipedia contributors. (2021b, August 4). Teachers’ and Educational Workers’ Union. Wikipedia. Retrieved November 30, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teachers%27_and_Educational_Workers%27_Union
4. Anyemedu, Kwasi. "Trade union responses to globalization: A case study on Ghana"