DEEPENING CRISIS IN THE TRADE UNION MOVEMENT:
DEEPENING CRISIS IN THE TRADE UNION MOVEMENT:
Need To Rebuild the Movement as a Fighting and United Platform for the Working Masses
By Chinedu Bosah
The rival May Day rallies this year were an illustration that, for the first time in decades, the trade union movement is formally split. Many workers wanting a united Labour response to the country’s deepening crisis would have been dismayed by a split that seemed to be motived by rivalries between different labour leaders. There is no doubt that labour movement faces a serious situation. Despite the country’s crisis there has been no unified national action since the January 2012 mass protests and general strike, and the labour leaders did not lead, but followed that movement which began spontaneously from below. Although individual unions like ASUU waged struggles there was no generalized fight-back.
Unfortunately, these issues were not discussed at the NLC’s 11th Delegate Conference when it was held between February 8 and 12, 2015. Instead this Conference was inconclusive amidst complaints and disputes by some industrial unions, including the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) and National Union of Petroleum and National Gas Workers (NUPENG), over alleged irregularities in the ballot booklets that were being used for the elections.
The March 12 to 14, 2015, continuation of the 11th Delegates Conference eventually produced Ayuba Wabba from the Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria (MHWUN) as the president of NLC. The Joe Ajaero-led grouping, known as the ‘Restoration Group’ rejected the outcome of the election based on alleged irregularities and organised a Special Delegate Conference to elect a new leadership. Prominent in Joe Ajaero’s faction are Igwe Achese, President of the National Union of Petroleum and National Gas Workers (NUPENG) and Issa Aremu, General Secretary of the National Union of Textile, Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria (NUTGTWN), both of whom lost the NLC Deputy Presidential positions.
The proceedings and disputed outcome of the last Delegate Conference of the NLC is an unfortunate open manifestation of the growing degeneracy in the trade union movement. The trade union leaders have abandoned the very essence of the working class movement which is to advance and defend the economic and political interest of the poor and working people, especially those organized in trade unions and operating under the umbrella of NLC. Unfortunately, all the features of right-wing bourgeois politicking were eminent in the processes leading to the Delegate Conference. These include: the top-down undemocratic selection of the delegates by all the industrial unions; the monetization syndrome that solely determined the allocation of delegates to the affiliated unions by the NLC; the alleged ethnic configuration of delegates’ list of some of the unions; alleged mobilization of non-workers (non-union members) to vote; and the alleged bribing of delegates to influence votes by candidates. All this represents a serious backward slide in the central labour movement.
More fundamentally is the fact that the current fallout of the NLC Delegates’ Conference is as a result of the obvious absence of a fighting leadership in defense of the socio-economic and political interests of the working class. Casualization, contract staffing, poor wage and other anti-labour practices have been largely left to flourish unchallenged. Before the NLC Delegate Conference little or no concrete intervention had been made by either of the factional labour leaders to secure full implementation of the N18,000 minimum wage legislated back in 2011 which, while being actually a poverty wage, still has not been fully implemented by governments at all levels as well as most private sector employers. In the same vein, both factions before and after the Delegates’ Conference failed to state their position on the need for a working class political alternative especially given the fact that they have now had to accept that the Labour Party, formed by the NLC and Trade Union Congress (TUC), has become just one of the rotten capitalist parties.
The split was deepened by the conduct of parallel congresses in several states across the federation by both factions on April 23, 2015. The state congresses were supposed to be used to X-ray the trade union movement in different states and come out with concrete fight back program, but they turned out to be an opportunity for the factional leaders to show strength and deepen the division. The May Day celebration was also factionalised in some states. The May Day celebration that was supposed to give an opportunity for the trade union leaders and rank and file workers to evaluate the past period and come out with a clear program with which to fight back or resist the barrage of attacks including the unpaid salaries, oil marketers sabotage, power sector exploitation etc., turned out to be the usual jamboree where the state governors and highly placed politicians were given the platforms to justify some of the anti-workers’ programs. Though, both factional leaders through their speech at the May Day placed some demands on the government but as usual, there was no clear cut fighting programmes that will drive home the demands.
WHAT IS TO BE DONE
The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) demands the rebuilding of the trade union movement as a democratic movement with a fighting program aimed at advancing and defending the socio-economic and political interest of the working people, including building a mass based working people political party with a clear alternative different from the capitalist neo-liberal, anti-poor programmes. Unless this is done there is a grave danger that Labour will be weakened at a time when the employers and state are preparing an austerity offensive against working people.
The DSM is against splits in Labour based on personal rivalries and, while always calling for united action, understands that sometimes divisions can have a political basis. But this can only be determined by debate and so the DSM calls for immediate democratic discussion and debate at all levels of NLC and all unions on the split and on the way forward for Labour. We call for the unity of the workers’ movement on the basis of internal democracy, opposition to careerism and privileges for trade union leaders and linked to a fighting programme to defend and improve living standards of the working masses.
We call on both factions to strive to build the NLC as a democratic and fighting platform with a working class economic and political alternative. Being in the NLC does not stop individual unions or coalitions of unions waging campaigns and struggles that would advance the interest of labour and be an example for other unions and unionists to follow.
If the current split in the NLC remains, we are calling for united action by workers in all unions irrespective of the faction or trade union directly involved and non-union workers whenever conflicts and struggles with employers or the government develop. Both factions must begin to mobilise for independent and joint mass actions against fuel price hike and scarcity, deregulation, unpaid salaries and other austerity policies including calling for a 48 hours general strike to press home pro-workers’ demands. The DSM also advocates flexibility of tactics by socialist activists and the readiness to intervene wherever workers are embarking on struggle despite the split.