· Calls for a Fighting Trade Union Movement to Rescue Nigeria
The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) has welcomed the recent reunification of the Nigeria Labour Congress as it called for the rebuilding of the trade union movement into a force to fight and rescue Nigeria.
A press statement by DSM on Wednesday, signed by Peluola Adewale, and made available to National Record said the reconciliation and reunification called “for sober reflection and the beginning of the conscious rebuilding of the labour movement” in order to respond to the yearnings of not just Nigerian workers but also all Nigeria’s suffering masses.
DSM noted that it hoped that the NLC has learnt a lesson from the conflict in terms of “what led to the split in the first place, and what happened since” as a basis for building a formidable trade union federation.
Below is the full statement:
July 22, 2020
DSM WELCOMES THE RECONCILIATION AND REUNIFICATION OF THE NLC
CALLS FOR THE REBUILDING OF A FIGHTING TRADE UNION MOVEMENT TO RESCUE NIGERIA
Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) welcomes the reconciliation and reunification of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC). However, we call for sober reflection and the beginning of the conscious rebuilding of the labour movement so it is able to respond to the yearnings of not just the Nigerian workers but also all Nigeria’s suffering masses. Therefore, the lesson of what led to the split in the first place, and what happened since, should be learned in order to lay basis for building of a formidable trade union federation.
The March 2015 10th National Delegates’ Conference of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) was hotly disputed and became irreconcilable and a faction created. The Joe Ajaero-led grouping eventually pulled out of the NLC in December 2016 and formed another trade union centre – United Labour Congress (ULC). The dispute was solely on the elections to key positions of the NLC including the President.
Unfortunately, this dispute or disagreement was not over differences in ideas, programs and methods with which vibrant trade unions should be built and workers’ interests defended. This was shown when both labour centres could not agree on a program of action, including when government at all levels and private employers were attacking the rights and living conditions of the working masses. For instance, when the Buhari-led government increased fuel price and hiked electricity tariff in 2016 and NLC in May 2016 embarked on a strike action, the Joe Ajaero-led grouping did not extend any solidarity but rather backed government’s phantom palliative programs. The consequence of this was to weaken an already poorly mobilized and executed strike action. Similarly, when the United Labour Congress (ULC) called for a strike in September 2017 demanding a review of the privatization of the power sector, upward review of the minimum wage etc., the Ayuba Wabba-led NLC and the Kaigama-led Trade Union Congress (TUC) did not extend any solidarity but issued a public statement and counter directive for workers not to support the strike. Hence, it became a strike action that did not take off the ground except in a few companies. Another pointer was the minimum wage agitation wherein the NLC initially demanded N56,000 minimum wage while the ULC demanded N90,000 minimum wage, but neither proposed any serious campaigning for their demands. This period of weakened trade union movement and lack of serious resistance gave the government, the ruling elite and private employers the opportunity to further attack the interest of workers and get away with it.
Following the split, we of DSM had in different public statements called on the trade union centres to collaborate in solidarity to defend Nigeria workers and the masses whenever the need arose and resisted all the anti-people policies. But the inability to work together, until recently during the final agreement on N30,000 as the minimum wage, flowed from the fact that the dispute was not on a principled working class issues but struggle over which wing occupied key positions in the NLC. To become effective, the trade unions need both a fighting programme and a democratic transformation to become organisations led by serious activists and not word-mongering careerists.
Therefore, the lesson to be learnt is that the trade union needs to be strengthened not only by formal unity but by democratic renewal and the adoption of a program of action that defends the working masses and aimed at rescuing this country from the self-serving capitalist ruling elite. Unfortunately the unity statement does not include any concrete proposals for action, it ends with the vague words that the reunited NLC is ready “to confront and overcome the myriad of challenges facing Nigerian workers”. But without a concerted effort to resist all attacks, the trade unions will remain weak even if all the trade union centres merged into one. The trade unions need to be led by leaders who realize that the previous and ongoing strategic partnership and alliance with the capitalist ruling elite that largely accommodates neo-liberal philosophy and policies is not in the interest of Nigerian workers and the masses in general. The trade unions have to be repositioned into a fighting trade union movement armed with a socialist program as the working class economic alternative to the prevailing and ruinous pro-capitalist program of the ruling elite.
Again, we welcome the reunification and reconciliation as a first step, and call on the trade union leaders to convoke a conference of trade unions, socialists and pro-labour organisations to discuss and adopt a fighting program for the labour movement. The mandate of the conference should include to discuss:
· A programme of action to immediately deal with the Covid-19 pandemic;
· How to defeat casualization and contract staffing;
· Resisting the deregulation of the downstream sector of the oil industry;
· Resisting hike in electricity tariff and for reversal of power sector privatization;
· An end to corrupt contract system. Establishment of democratically-run public works for judicious execution of projects and creation of jobs;
· Struggle for public funded free and quality education and healthcare;
· Reduction of jumbo salaries, allowances and pension of top political office holders to the wage and pension of an average skilled civil servant;
· Implementation of the N30,000 minimum wage without retrenchment and to be increased in line with the rising rate of inflation;
· Nationalization of the major sectors of the economy (oil and gas, banking, steel, maritime, aviation etc.,) and placed under democratic control and management of workers and consumers;
· Formation of a mass working people political alternative on a socialist program.
For us the starting point for reunified NLC and TUC should be the mobilisation for a 24-hour warning general strike in response to the Covid-19 crisis, the hike in petrol prices and electricity tariff, non-implementation of new national minimum wage and all anti-poor capitalist economic policies. This general strike will entail the organisation of mass meetings, demonstrations and wide circulation of materials.
The reality is that a fighting trade union movement can at best win some concessions but the ruling elite will always come back to undermine and take back those concessions through various other anti-poor policies. Hence, the need for the labour movement to establish and build a pan Nigeria mass working people political party that is capable of waging determined political struggle against all pro-capitalist parties (APC, PDP, APGA etc.), and defeating them. It is only the defeat of the capitalist class and coming to power of the working masses on a socialist program that can usher in a planned economy including nationalization and workers’ democratic management of key sectors of the economy that guarantees sustainable development, industrialization and use of all human and material resources for the benefit of the vast majority, and also fundamentally resolves all the contradictions created by capitalism.