NIGERCHIN WORKERS STRUGGLE
NIGERCHIN WORKERS STRUGGLE
Labour Leadership Should Work For Victory
By Emma Adikwe
The workers of Nigerchin Ikeja Lagos, who staged a heroic three-month struggle to press home demand for recognition of their rights to belong to trade union of their choice, have been left to rot in lurch. They have neither won the battle nor returned back to their work more than 3 months after the intervention of the Nigeria Labour Congress, ably led by its outgoing president, Adams Oshiomhole.
For over one year now, workers of Nigerchin, alongside workers of several other companies in the metal sector have been involved in struggles to quit the Steel and Engineering Workers’ Union of Nigeria (SEWUN) with a resolve to join the National Union of Shop and Distributive Employees (NUSDE).
The centre grouse of the workers involved has been that the current SEWUN leaders are completely pro-management to such an extent that they are totally insensitive to the rank and file factory workers struggle for better working conditions and pay. For most of the period, the Nigerchin management held on to workers check-off dues without paying the same to either SEWUN or NUSDE.
Matters at Nigerchin however acquired a new dimension when SEWUN leaders made a surreptitious plan to hold a kangaroo election with a view to fraudulently claim that Nigerchin workers had endorsed its own leadership. In response, almost all the workers started a spontaneous strike action on June15, 2006.
For more than a month, the Nigerchin workers on their own paralysed production at the factory. However, due to absence of sufficient solidarity action in support of the Nigerchin workers, the management was able to recruit some casual workers and other desperate elements to resume skeletal production.
This was the situation until August 11, 2006, when the NLC president, Adams Oshiomhole, and NUSDE’s national leaders personally joined the workers picketing. The intervention was so overwhelming that the production was totally crippled and the black leg workers and pro-management staffs were effectively shut out of the factory premises. This development positively tilted the balance of forces in favour of the striking workers. For some weeks, the Nigerchin management was unable to commence production either skeletal or otherwise.
Unfortunately however due to bureaucracy and lack of effective coordination and consistent intervention plan, the labour leadership allowed the assured victory over the management’s obstinacy to wither. For instance, the promise by the NLC and NUSDE leadership to also cripple the operations of WAHUM and other subsidiaries of Nigerchin in order to bring the management to its kneel only turned out to be empty threat. Therefore, the management gained breathing space and was confident to resort to state apparatus of coercion, police and court injunction to resume production and frustrate the struggle of the victimized workers.
The Nigerchin management ran to the Industrial Arbitration Panel (IAP), which ruled that the status quo ante be maintained. This means that the workers should halt picketing while the management should allow workers to return to work unconditionally. But while the workers have fulfilled their own part, the management has not respected the ruling.
The steadfastness of the Nigerchin workers to defend their rights to associate and affiliate to the union of their choice in accordance with the relevant provision of 1999 constitution and Trade Union Act 2005 is highly commendable. Their struggle is a test case for the labour leadership. Their defeat will send jitters to the spine of other workers who could develop cold feet and be afraid to take on their managements in defence of their rights and interests at the workplaces.
The labour leadership therefore should resume their initial commendable intervention. They should support the affected workers with all legitimate means, legal and political, to ensure victory. As the Campaign for Democratic and Workers’ Rights (CDWR) which joined the workers in the struggle has consistently demanded, the NLC should mobilize its industrial unions operating in Lagos for a one-day solidarity action, in the first instance, towards the cause of the Nigerchin workers. An injury to one is an injury to all.