Which Way Forward for the Workers’ Movement in Nigeria?
Which Way Forward for the Workers’ Movement in Nigeria?
By Ayo Ademiluyi
Almost every day it is becoming clearer and clearer that the workers’ movement in Nigeria requires a radical revival as the movement is in a parlous state. At a time when a new economic crisis is developing, tens of thousands of workers are not being paid, tens of millions are unemployed, Labour is hardly doing anything. Yes, there are occasional press releases and protests, but only a few are serious struggles; more often than not they are token as we saw in a few states, like Ekiti, Ondo, Osun, around October 1. We are not seeing the Labour leaders striving to build a determined movement to defend living standards and to argue for the revolution Nigeria needs.
Instead we see the top bureaucracy of the labour movement running the unions aground through careerist ambitions, distorted labour ideals, undemocratic mannerism and ideological degeneration. Rank-and-file workers do not have a say, not just in the day-to-day decision-making, but also long-term policies and orientation of their own organisations, the trade unions. In most cases, these trade unions only act as “check-off dues collection machines” without leading basic struggles or campaigns to protect the interest of their members.
This rotten state of the workers’ movement was further blown into the open with the largely non-political factionalisation that rocked the foremost labour centre, the Nigeria Labour Congress, earlier this year. While there are signs that the two factions of the NLC have begun the process of reconciliation, it is apparently another issue what impact the reconciliation would have on rebuilding the labour movement as a fighting united working class movement that defends the interests of its members. Just as the fractionalization was not premised on any principle meant to rebuild the labour movement on revolutionary and fighting basis, the reconciliation is not premised on any programmatic policies meant to move the movement forward.
Tragically the sordid manner the labour union leadership handled the non-payment of salaries of workers put lots of workers in dire-strait. Both factions of the NLC could not organize national actions to defend workers, while their various state chapters largely only looked on while workers’ living standards continue to plummet. This obviously horrible inaction of the labour movement is a product of the pro-capitalist outlook of labour leadership, of different hues and colorations, which makes them to accept the lame and obviously perfidious excuse of the capitalist class.
It is crucial for socialist activists and working class elements to undertake a review of the state of the workers’ movement with the aim of drawing the tasks ahead in the struggle to rebuild the working class movement as a fighting mass organization of the working people. This is all the more important given the fact that the historic role that the working class would play in the coming battles against neo-liberal attacks.
RECONCILIATION OF FACTIONS OF NIGERIA LABOUR CONGRESS
Press reports confirmed the process to reconcile the Ayuba Wabba-led and Joe Ajaero-led factions of the Nigeria Labour Congress recently. It will be recalled that the National Delegates’ Conference of the Nigeria Labour Congress held earlier this year ended in chaos as a split occurred on disagreement over the results of elections into the leadership positions of the Congress. A Special Delegates’ Conference that was meant to resolve the impasse ended in a logjam with the emergence of Ayuba Wabba (the President of the Medical and Health Workers’ Union of Nigeria) disputed by Joe Ajaero, his contender and the General Secretary of the Nigerian Union of Electricity Employees.
A subsequent factional National Delegates’ Conference by the Joe Ajaero-led faction in Lagos led to emergence of Joe Ajaero as the President, and IssaAremu (General Secretary, Nigerian Union of Textile and Garment Workers) and Igwe Achese of NUPENG as Deputy Presidents. In fact, the May Day Celebration earlier in the year were held on factional basis, with the Wabba-led faction holding theirs in Abuja and the Ajaero-faction in Lagos.
However, the press reports confirming the reconciliation stated that the two factions have ironed out their differences and resolved to work together (ThisDay 21 August, 2015). But nothing exemplifies the unprincipled nature of the reconciliation than the fact that it was enforced on the two factions by National Industrial Court. The Wabba-led faction had dragged the Ajaero-led faction to the National Industrial Court at the peak of the disagreement over the contentious elections that ushered in the Wabba leadership. The President of the National Industrial Court, Justice Adejumo, when the matter came up for the first time, threatened to invoke the provision of the Constitution of the Nigeria Labour Congress for the appointment of Sole Administrator where there is disunity in the Congress.
The looming threat of an imposition of a Sole Administrator is arguably one of the reasons why the two factions of the Nigeria Labour Congress have resolved to unite. The reconciliatory meeting, which was reported to have been chaired by the Adams Oshiomhole, former President of the Nigeria Labour Congress and incumbent Governor of Edo State, resolved for a seven-man committee headed by Hassan Sunmonu, another former President of the Congress. Press reports also stated that the seven-man committee has three members from each of the two factions. (Daily Trust, 20 August, 2015).
From the foregoing, it is clear that the root of the crisis is an ego-tripping mission and tussle over leadership positions. The top layer of the labour movement is made of up of careerists and bureaucrats who count the capturing of lion-share appointments as a means of self-enrichment and self-perpetuation in the labour bureaucracy. However, the active participation of both factions at the joint action including protests and picketing of companies to mark this year World Decent Work Day suggests that big progress has been made in the efforts to reconcile them. But this is only a start. Socialists welcome a re-unification of Labour, but this must be a unification that will lead to the start of a serious, determined struggle to improve the lot of Nigeria’s workers and poor. A unification simply based upon the sharing out of top positions would not strengthen Labour as a campaigning movement.
LABOUR’S ANTI-CORRUPTION CAMPAIGN
Recently, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) held nationwide rallies to drum support for the purported anti-corruption fight of Muhammadu Buhari government. While we welcome a fight against corruption by labour movement, we hold that a such campaign should not be tied to the capitalist government’s so-called anti-corruption project, which in the real sense cannot achieve much under this neo-liberal capitalist regime. A genuine anti-corruption campaign by labour movement will mean leading independent mass movement against attacks on living conditions of workers, and fighting for massive investment in social services and public infrastructures, which will reduce the money available for politicians and their big business partners to loot. Moreover, labour movement will organize mass campaign for immediate full public probe, the opening of the account books for inspection by democratically elected bodies, the arrest and prosecution of all those involved on the mismanagement and misappropriation of public funds across the country.
However, this needs a labour leadership that is prepared to lead mass struggles to defend workers’ living conditions. Unfortunately, across the country, labour leadership from state to industrial and national levels seems to have reconciled themselves with the system and the ruling class. This explains why the non-payment of salaries, which is corruption of unimaginable magnitude, did not receive practical action from labour leaders. On many occasions, labour leadership has openly supported neo-liberal policies of privatization, commercialization, etc., which one way or the other deprive working and poor people better living conditions, while the ruling class get richer. More importantly, capitalism, a system that privatizes public resources for the rich few, is the mother of all corruption. Therefore, a serious labour leadership that wants to fight corruption must have an anti-capitalist outlook, not only in theory but in practice, that is by taking practical effort to build a political organization of the working and poor people that stand against capitalist system.
REBUILDING THE WORKERS’ MOVEMENT: WHAT TASKS AHEAD FOR SOCIALISTS?
Consequently, the urgent task before workers and working class activists in the workers’ movement is to redouble the efforts to begin the process of rebuilding the labour movement on democratic and radical socialist basis. Fundamentally, behind the crisis of leadership in the labour movement is the undemocratic ways unions are run, coupled with lack of clear-cut anti-capitalist ideology and programmes in the labour movement.
Lack of democracy in unions has meant labour leaders not being under the control of members and thus allowing labour leaders to be distanced from their members. On many occasions, labour leaders declare and call off strike actions without workers being involved in such decision, while negotiations are made behind workers. This allows labour leaders to sell workers out. A mass-based and democratic trade union movement will be able to mobilise the mass support of members to defeat government and employers’ attacks on workers’ rights. However, where labour leaders estrange themselves from their members, they are forced, even with the best of intentions, to be under the pressure of employers and government. This clearly underscores the need for real democracy in unions, for the leaders to be subject to recall by the bodies that elected them and to receive the pay of a skilled worker, plus audited expenses.
The political and ideological orientation of labour movement leadership has important role to play in the direction of labour movement and the ability of labour movement to defend the rights of workers. A labour leadership that sees nothing wrong in the unjust capitalist system, especially its neo-colonial version, cannot effectively fight in the interest of workers. It is the failure of labour leaders to stand on anti-capitalist ideology and programme that will make them accept the ridiculous excuse why, in spite of billions of dollars that had accrued to the country, workers had to be criminally owed salaries for months, or why public corporation will have to be privatized and thousands of workers thrown to the heap of unemployment.
To rebuild the labour movement on a fighting, revolutionary basis, there is the need to build left and socialist cells of working class cadres within the rank-and-file of the workers’ movement from the shop-floor level. This is with the aim of popularizing within the labour movement rounded-out revolutionary perspectives that can fight to reclaim the trade union movement as a united mass working class organization with a democratically-controlled and genuine leadership that can fight for the genuine interests of the working class people.
It is equally important that genuine socialists build pressure from below to force labour leaders into action. For instance, on the lingering issue of unpaid salaries, pressure is needed to be built from below with a campaign for a 24-hour nationwide strike action as the urgent and immediate step to be called by the labour leaders to force the defaulting Governors to pay their workers in their respective states. Such a one-day warning strike would serve an initial notice on the defaulting Governors that the entire labour movement would not take the struggle lightly. A basic demand and campaign for regular congresses in unions,so that workers can take practical collective decisions on how to take the fight to the doorstep of government is vital.
More also, while there is a growing demand for a new national minimum wage, the labour leaders shy away from providing a scientific and coherent strategy for the struggle. This is added to the fact that the five-year period for the N18,000 minimum wage is due for renewal aside the fact that the current, very low, N18, 000 minimum wage has not been fully implemented by most state governments without any sustained resistance mobilized by the labour leaders. While labour leaders talk of the need for a new minimum wage, no practical actions have been taken to drive this point home. This is because the labour leaders have tacitly accepted the bankrupt excuse of the capitalist class that the country is in economic crisis. However, this so-called crisis has not stopped capitalist big businesses from making huge profits, while politicians in power collect millions of naira as emoluments.
Socialist activists must pose a scientific strategy for the struggle for a new national minimum wage by pushing that the labour leaders must be prepared to mobilise mass actions and must not yield to illusions that the Federal and State Government would agree or implement it by law. The demand for a new national minimum wage must be with the concurrent demand that no single worker should be retrenched by virtue of the new national minimum wage.
LABOUR MOVEMENT AND QUEST FOR A GENUINE WORKING PEOPLE’S POLITICAL ALTERNATIVE
It is also important that the labour movement reappraise itself to the task of building a genuine working people’s political alternative with a clear programme of opposition to all neo-liberal attacks and policies. While there is an ongoing struggle for the control of the Labour Party (LP) between the labour leaders and the Labour Party leadership, it is entirely another issue whether such squabble can transform the Labour Party into a genuine working class political alternative.
Recently, the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Nigeria Labour Congress resolved to position the Labour Party to “articulate and advance working class perspectives on the wider political and economic situation in the country”. This is after the original certificate of registration of the party was handed over to the NLC leadership by Dan Iwuanyanwu, the former National Chairman of the party.,
In the first instance, the so-called renewed vigour of the NLC leadership towards LP is premised not on any well thought-out action plan but an accidental event precipitated by the fight between Dan Nwanyanwu and Salaam’s LP leadership. It will be recalled that it was the same Nwanyanwu who, as chairman of Labour Party for more than nine years, sold the party to all factions of the capitalist political class. His leadership destroyed the LP. In fact, the last convention that ushered in Salaam’s LP leadership was organized by Dan Nwanyanwu, against the wishes of the NLC leadership which opposed the holding of the convention in Ondo State, hosted by Olusegun Mimiko, then the LP and now the PDP governor of Ondo State. Interestingly, Nwanyanwu, after failing to continually control the party, both as chairman and Board of Trustee chair, played the fast card on Salaam leadership by handing over the party’s registration certificate to NLC, rather than to Salaam’s leadership. Even so, the handing over of the original certificate does not change the fact that currently INEC and indeed the Constitution recognize only the Salaam leadership as heading the Party.
Therefore, it will be erroneous to see the handing over of registration certificate to NLC as a sign of good omen. Since the NLC formed the Salisu Caretaker Committee for LP in the aftermath of the disagreement over the last convention, no reasonable step has been taken by the committee to mobilize rank and file workers to take over and transform the party, and begin the process of popularizing it as a fighting political platform of the working people. As we in the DSM have said severally, only a fighting programme that seeks to obtain real change can make the party popular among working people. For instance, if the NLC leadership was serious about rebuilding the party, the first step it should have taken is to convene a summit of labour unions, workers’ activists, socialist groups and pro-labour political parties, to discuss political orientation of the working class. This should be followed up at local and state levels. But this presupposes that the labour movement itself is ready to take on capitalist government at all levels. If for years, the present labour leadership failed to take up its position in the Labour Party NEC, and played no active role in the direction of the party, it would be unlikely for them to undertake any serious action now, more so that most labour leaders at all levels have taken compromising attitude towards capitalist bosses and governments.
A genuine approach to building a genuine working people’s political alternative would entail a conscious mobilization of the rank-and-file of the workers’ movement on a clear programme to build a democratically-run political movement funded by the millions of workers and not the millionaire looters, and that will bid for power on a socialist programme. The combustive events of the coming period would place this boldly on the agenda. While the opportunities to reclaim the Labour Party as such a genuine working class political movement is quite narrow, genuine socialists would keep up the campaign for a genuine working people’s political alternative.
The Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN), initiated by the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) and other working class forces, when eventually registered by the Independent National Electoral Commission, would serve as a striking example within the broader trade union movement of the genuine approach to building a wider genuine working people’s political alternative. It will espouse a clear socialist programme and run working class candidates in elections without ties to big business and the bourgeois political elite. Genuine socialists, while battling for the registration of the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN), would continue the campaign for a genuine mass-based working people’s political alternative.