THE benefits of effective collective action were clearly shown in Kaduna in May 2021. The determined and resolute action of the working peoples, led and co-ordinated by our trade union leaders, provided hope for millions. It is the loss of that hope that leads some to turn to crime and worse.
In only three days the lives of tens of thousands of people were changed for the better and hope returned. The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) took the fight to one of the most powerful governors and won!
Governor Nasir el-Rufai had boasted for years about how he was building a model, efficient, public service in Kaduna State. He used mass retrenchment to weed out workers he claimed were poorly qualified and did not deserve their severance payments and so he had no need of paying them.
So, for example, in June 2017, all the teachers in the state were required to undertake a competency test and later in the year, nearly 22,000 were sacked. The NUT organised a 10-day strike in January 2018, but the sackings were still implemented.
But then the workers of Kaduna, led by the NLC, finally took a stand. The courage and sacrifices of the workers of Kaduna State withstood the vicious attacks by armed thugs of the Governor of Kaduna State. The strike showed the power of labour in sustaining society with all necessities of life. For the three days that the warning strike lasted, water, electricity, schools, offices, trains, airlines, banks and more, all came to a standstill. It shows that when the workers move in unity, everything grinds to a halt.
The three-day strike was successful in that el-Rufai was frightened. He stopped further retrenchments and promised to pay the entitlements for the 22,000 teachers whose jobs he had taken four years previously. Thousands of the sacked staff have similarly been recalled all due to the active strike by the Nigeria Labour Congress.
The nurse who was falsely accused in the media of removing oxygen from a child during the Kaduna strike has been absolved and reinstated. Lecturers and ASUU members in Kaduna State University who were initially sacked as a result of joining in the strike have been recalled. Contrary to the threats of penalising workers who participated in the strike, no single worker has been penalised because of the successful strike.
The Kaduna strike was important as it showed a way forward. United action of all trade unionists with direct and public support from the national NLC was successful. Ayuba Wabba, the NLC President, himself led the daily protests through the streets of Kaduna despite threats that he would be arrested. The size of the protests meant that when the hired thugs tried to attack, they were quickly chased away.
However, this wonderful victory was spoilt as the strike was ended after only three days. The originally planned five-day strike was suddenly ended on Wednesday evening when the NLC was invited for talks with the Minister of Labour and Employment who had apprehended the dispute in line with the provisions of the Trade Disputes Act (TDA). The process led to the setting up of a joint committee of Kaduna State Government and NLC chaired by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Labour.
The Committee set up a joint Technical Committee which sat in Kaduna for almost two weeks before turning in its report to the main committee. The report was adopted by the main committee and used as it’s main working document.
Members worked well together until towards the end when the Kaduna State government’s team wanted imported into the final report issues not in the terms of reference of the Committee. The government’s team also unsuccessfully contested the meaning of redundancy in TDA and precedent payments by the federal government. This led to heated debates and irreconcilable differences.
Although NLC promised a follow-up action in Kaduna but before it could get its act together, the Kaduna State government had set up a judicial panel to process and convict labour leaders who had participated in the first strike. Attention shifted to the courts as NLC challenged the capacity of the state government to set up such a panel. It won. Some of the unions in Kaduna went to court on other issues and won too.
Meanwhile, el-Rufai gradually got his confidence back and returned to his anti-worker activities. As a result, the entitlements owed to teachers retrenched in 2017 were never actually paid, although that had been agreed immediately after the NLC strike.
Over 7,000 teachers were recruited in July 2021, but were not posted to their schools until May 2022 and by December 2022 only some were paid, others were paid in January. Nothing is said about the previous unpaid months.
Nearly 2,500 other teachers, including NUT National President, were retrenched in May, 2022 for either refusing to write a competency test or allegedly failing the test. Although NLC wrote the Kaduna State government, the Minister of Labour and the presidency drawing attention to the implications of the governor’s erratic behaviour and demanding a reversal, it is not clear if there was a meaningful response.
What is deductible from all this is that governments like that of el-Rufai have little or no respect for processes other than mass actions.
Comrade Batubo, a member of Socialist Labour, writes from Abuja.