TRADE UNION MOVEMENT WEAKENED BY RIGHTWING LEADERS’ STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP WITH CAPITALIST RULING ELITE
For a Fighting and Democratic Trade Union Movement
Workers have come under attacks of monumental proportion across the sectors of the economy. Casualization is being consolidated, unpaid salary regime reigns supreme, many workers have been placed on fractional salary, the right to belong to a union is trampled upon in some companies etc. On top of this the economic crisis triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic is increasing both prices and unemployment.
By Chinedu Bosah
Despite these attacks, the rightwing trade union leaders have failed to mobilize workers to resist these attacks. Even worse, in some cases, the leaders have connived with the bourgeois management and capitalist state to exploit and victimize workers and activists. Where the trade union leaders intervene, it often has been abysmal and poor leaving workers vulnerable.
Casualization is being sustained and deepened because casual workers are placed on working conditions that are so poor while employers of labour profits. Casual workers are also not allowed to join the union of their choice leaving them more vulnerable to exploitation and attacks. In Dura Pack Industries Ltd, Lagos, workers are not allowed to join the union while the leadership of the National Union of Chemical, Footwear and Non-Metallic Workers (NUCFRLANMPE) is reluctant about organizing the workers; in Sumal Industries, Ibadan, the leaders of National Union of Food, Beverage and Tobacco Employees (NUFBTE) are conniving with the management to sustain casualization by running outsourcing companies that recruit casual workers and profiting from it – these are two case studies of how rightwing labour leaders directly or indirectly assist employers of labour to perpetuate casualization and other anti-labour practices- there are a plethora of cases across the unions.
Since March 2020, many employers of labour have used the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown as an excuse to either sack and or place workers on fractional salaries. This policy was rampant in the aviation, hospitality, education, manufacturing industries and sectors. After the lockdown was relaxed, some of the workers have been reemployed but on poorer working conditions. For instance, Dangote Cement, one of the richest Nigerian companies and owned by Aliko Dangote, illegally locked in workers for three months during the lockdown only to sack 3,000 workers after the lockdown was lifted; this shows how some capitalist used COVID-19 as an alibi to attack workers. Another case study is WEMPCO Group, Lagos, that has sent workers home since March 2020 and has only paid N14,000 housing allowance on an irregular basis.
Many state governments have not implemented the new minimum wage that has been signed into law since April 2019, yet the labour leadership have not considered it necessary to initiate struggles to force the anti-poor governments onto their knees.
This weakness of the trade union movement has given the capitalist ruling elite the leeway to intensify attacks on the working masses. Last year’s twin hikes in electricity tariff and petrol price show how emboldened the bourgeois ruling elite has become. The response of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) to these hikes and the way in which September 28, 2020, general strike was called off undemocratically by the rightwing labour leaders showed in action the monstrous bureaucracy the working class has to combat if it is to seriously fight back.
The organs of the NLC met and agreed to strike action but Ayuba Wabba-led NLC called off the strike action in the wee hours of September 28 without the courtesy of even convoking meetings of the NLC’s organs to formally decide. In any case, it does not automatically mean that members of the Central Working Committee (CWC) and National Executive Committee (NEC) would have decided otherwise if the meetings were called. There was only weak and muted grumbling among state leaderships with notable exception of the Edo NLC Chairman, though he was later intimidated into submission.
A majority of trade unions are currently run by rightwing labour leaders without recourse to the rank and file workers. Anger in society and pressure from below can force these leaders to call action, as we have seen with the many general strikes and general strike calls since 2000. However it is clear that the current union leaders are not prepared to challenge government, thus they either call off struggles before they begin or as soon as possible if they begin.
This has been made easier as in most unions workplace mass meetings and democratically organized congresses have been thrown to the dustbin, and everything starts and ends with the bureaucratic and aristocratic labour leaders. But it is significant that some recent local strikes have come about as a result of revolts by union members demanding action. The recent open revolt by Ondo nurses against the refusal of local leaderships of the NANNM and NLC to call a strike to win payment of the 50% of their wages unpaid since November is another sign of unionists looking for a way to fight back.
HOW TO RECLAIM THE TRADE UNIONS
In this situation workers, trade union activists and socialist activists have to come together in a network that brings workers from different sectors and trade unions together to sustainably campaign for a fighting and democratic trade union movement based on alternative socialist leadership and fighting programme. This will entail regular meetings, symposium, regular interventions in workplace struggles aimed at resisting all anti-labour practices. It will entail building influence in the trade unions to challenge the rightwing leaders for trade union positions.
The Campaign for Democratic and Workers’ Rights (CDWR) and the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) stand for a trade union that is constantly resisting capitalist economic policies as well as building a movement to change society from the capitalist exploitative system that protects the profit of a privileged few to a socialist society that meet the needs of all.