Thousands gather in Lagos during the general strike over the removal of fuel subsidies. The Nigerian Labor Congress and the Trade Union Congress have called off the strike after the government announced a partial restoration., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Organised Labour’s 100 years of gains and pains: Labour unity, panacea for relevance
On December 20, 2012
ON the contrary, organised labour still represents the protected section of the poor. This is because trade unions have fought for right to collective bargaining which has improved wages and benefits in the world of work. Today Nigeria has minimum wage law which prescribes the pay floor bellow which no worker falls.
The struggle of NLC to enforce the new minimum wage in all the states and at the Federal level shows the relevance of organised labour in ensuring income distribution in a country in which few are getting richer and many are miserably poor.
Money paid as good wages cannot be stolen by corrupt ruling elite, so labour also minimises opportunities for corruption. Wage income tax is the most reliable source of national revenue, meaning labour creates wealth which indeed is the motto of NLC.
In the absence of vibrant political opposition, organised labour is also the unofficial opposition in our democracy. The labour struggle to ensure the cleaning up of the mess in petroleum sector and ensure people friendly pricing of petroleum products is one example of relevance of labour in the current dispensation.
More than ever before labour is also proving political relevance. NLC recently had a national rally for national unity at a time statesmen play politics with the destiny of the nation. Labour Party (LP ) is a party of organised labour and it’s social democratic allies in industry and society as a whole. It controls Ondo state with a social democratic agenda that has won a second time. Of course the main selling point of Edo governor is it’s globally acknowledged labour credentials and antecedents.
Comrade Adams has shown that labour is even more excellent as a state actor just as he was as a non- state actor; two time NLC president. Just see his amazing achievements as a Governor and unprecedented victory in all the 18 local governments of a competitive state like Edo. Labour is therefore a visible democratic actor and perhaps the only force to democratically rescue Nigeria out of the current crisis of governance.
Would you say, labour has lived up to the ideals of its founding fathers?
The ideals of the founding fathers of the labour movements are the same as the ideals of the current members; eradicate poverty, ensure property reigns for all and solidarity among working people worldwide. The struggle still continues for these ideals. However 100 years after the Micheal Imoudus (No1 labour leader) would be excited to see the progress labour has made and the challenges still outstanding.
In 1940s Imoudu and other founding members were criminalised for daring to ask for decent wages and even for going on strikes. Minus the likes of modern day colonial sergeant major governors like David Jang of Plateau state, the rights of organised are generally respected than it was under colonialism.
The likes of Jang are part if our sad anti- labour colonial heritage. There is a whole Federal labour Institute named after Micheal Imoudu. From few unions in colonial enclave sectors of railways, mines and civil service and few missionary schools before independence, we now have 50 unions affiliated to NLC from industrial, banking, telecommunication sectors etc. Trade union structures are visible everywhere.
There are laws fought for by labour to prevent indecent work. There are gratuities and pensions after work. These are the ideals that fired the imaginations of the founding fathers to form unions at the turn of the 20th century. But unionism is work in progress. It is like a nation building.
There is still more to be done. There are modern day slave masters masquerading as employers; they hire and fire at will especially in some banks and telcom companies. But much more scary is even bad governance that is turning Nigeria into a non- working container economy that imports everything and consumes every import.
If there are no industries, there cannot be working people. If there are no workers there cannot be organised labour in fact there cannot be an economy so called! So the threat to the ideal of founding fathers is bad governance.
Is there a future for labour unionism in this country?
I assure you trade unions are NOT withering away in the next 100 years and even beyond. As long as there is a working economy, there will be working people and their organisations called trade unions. However we unionists too must relook at our methods of operation.
We must improve on knowledge on organising and organising. We need more creative approaches to defend the working people. We must deepen democracy in trade unions. Trade unions have done better than political parties in internal democracy. But there are still rooms for deeper democracy; more meetings, more accountability and openness.
I also believe what is good for key elected officers like Presidents, Treasurer is even more desirable for visible political appointees like General Secretaries and their Deputies. In any case our secretaries are most elected at branch levels. What is good for industrial unions is good for a labour centre.
Best global practices
The best global practices demand that whoever speaks for working people must seek and get their votes. There is too much sit- tightism among some appointed officials that are unacceptable. There is also unnecessary problem of entry and exit for General Secretaries which democratisation would have resolved.
Major labour centres of the world, namely Ghana TUC, South Africa Cosattu, Canadian CLC, British TUC, even ILO elect their General Secretaries and Directors. Let no one leads the trade unions who is afraid of workers’s votes. We must also tenure the office of General Secretaries to allow for new younger comrades to add value.
Even the civil service notorious for conservatism, permanent secretaries are no more permanent. The future of trade unionism rests on more internal democracy not less. We must also allow for more women participation which tasks our capacity to unionise the informal sector where many working women reside. Future of unionism lies in more inclusion.
Should labour be moved from the exclusive list to the con current list?
Our political elite must have a developmentalist view of labour. Labour is the the real resource that will turn around other factors of production for development. The real resource control should be labour. Even British colonial authority centralised the control of about to build railways, ports as part of the strategy for colonial administration. The first Federal Ministry is Ministry of Labour in 1914 not Ministry of Finance.
We should stop treating labour at arms length. That means labour must be on the exclusive list not fragmented at concurrent list. We need minimum floor for wages and productivity for labour on the exclusive list. Let a worker justify his pay but don’t deny a worker his or her legitimate pay through silly fragmentation at the state level”.
With 2013 just a few weeks to go, labour begins a new phase . Union members are optimistic that the future of trade unionism in Nigeria is bright even as it faces threats from politicians daily. The working class needs a united front to remain relevant just as politicians remain united in their perception of organized labour as a political threat.
All the same the struggle continues.