A Call for a Campaign for a Fighting and Democratic Trade Union Movement
CDWR proposes the formation of network of workers, trade unions activists and socialists
Workers have come under sustained attacks not only in Nigeria but globally as workers have been made to pay for the crisis of capitalism worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic. In Nigeria, the crisis has been worsened by the weakness of trade unions occasioned by the class collaborationist policy and conducts of the right wing pro-capitalist labour leaders as they fail to seriously fight back as governments and bosses intensify attacks. So, upon reflection on the plight of workers and state of the trade union movement, we are sure that workers and genuine trade union activists would come to a conclusion on the need to rebuild the trade unions as genuine fighting and democratic platforms that consistently defend the interest and rights of workers and ordinary people.
By Chinedu Bosah
It is the weakness of the trade union movement that has given the capitalist ruling elite the confidence to intensify attacks on the working masses. For instance, 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. After the lockdown was relaxed, some of the workers were 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 capitalists used COVID-19 as an alibi to attack workers in order to bolster profit.
Poor pays and slave-like conditions including casualization policy is entrenched, unpaid salary regime reigns supreme, many workers have lost jobs, many states have refused to implement the N30, 000 national minimum wage, the basic right to belong to a union is trampled upon in many companies etc. On top of the economic crisis is the ongoing entrenched anti-poor policies of Buhari government like devaluation and hike in fuel and electricity prices, leading to high inflation, increasing rate of unemployment and worsening of the quality of life for workers and ordinary people.
Despite these attacks, the rightwing trade union leaders have failed to mobilize workers to resist these attacks. Where the trade union leaders intervene, in practice it is often abysmal and poorly organized leaving workers vulnerable. If a serious struggle starts, like in Kaduna earlier this year, in most cases, trade union leaders rush to ‘suspend’ the action in return for vague promises that sometimes are not implemented or even enter into an outright rotten deal.
Casualization which is a terrible scourge is sustained and deepened because labour leaders look the other way as employers of labour consolidates profit at the expense of better working conditions. Worse still, there are many cases in which labour leaders directly or indirectly assist employers of labour to perpetuate casualization, contract staffing and other anti-labour practices. Some trade union leaders have stake in the outsourcing companies which recruit casual workers for companies and thereby profit from the servitude of workers. Some trade union leaders also engage in business deals with employers of labour, they even join hands with the management to sack, arrest workers or persecute activists who lend support to casual workers they have abandoned.
This is the case in Sumal Foods Ibadan where Abbey Trotsky, member of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) and Oyo State Coordinator of the CDWR, got detained at different times by the DSS and Police at the instance of management and NUFBTE union leaders. For about three years Abbey has been facing four different cases in court over solidarity action of the CDWR with casual workers who had embarked on a strike for better pay and decent conditions in Sumal in October 2018. The cases where top trade union leaders join the management and the authorities to witch hunt workers are prevalent in not just the Food Union (NUFBTE) but in most trade unions. Simple disagreement or critique of trade union leaders attract attacks and possibly sacks. We have seen this happen in the Food Union wherein members of the Redemption Group have come under sustained attacks including sacks and redundancy that were initiated by the Oyelekan-led union executive in collaboration with the management.
In February 2021, the NLC leadership disclosed that at least 18 states had not implemented new minimum wage of N30, 000 that has been signed into law since April 2019, and yet no concrete action has been taken to initiate struggles and mobilise workers in order to actualize the implementation. Besides, inflation and rising cost of living have eroded the little wage improvement and therefore, there is the need for labour leaders to lead a struggle for an upward wage review.
Further emboldened by the refusal of labour leaders to consistently fight for the interest of workers, some states like Kano have started cutting salaries while Kaduna state government has brazenly sacked thousands of workers. There is hardly any state of the federation that has not carried out one anti-labour policy or the other including violating agreements, non-remittance of pension, non-implementation of minimum wage, mass sack etc.
The class collaborationism with the anti-poor government by labour leaders was taken to a new height in September 2020 when the leadership of the NLC and TUC called off a planned strike and mass protest against hikes in fuel price and electricity tariff and also openly declared support for the anti-poor neo-liberal capitalist policy of deregulation. This has emboldened the ruling elite to consolidate the attacks; just recently, Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) announced a new electricity tariff hike.
The lack of democracy, entrenched bureaucracy and dictatorship in the trade union means that workers do not have a say in the union. The rightwing trade union leaders dictate top-down how the union is run and mostly at the expense of the rank and file workers. The fact is that a majority of trade unions are currently run by rightwing labour leaders who do not involve the rank and file workers in decision making. Anger in society and pressure from below can force these leaders to call an action, as we have seen with some strike actions. However, it is clear that the current union leaders are not prepared to challenge capitalism thus they either call off struggles before they begin or as soon as possible if they begin. The bureaucracy has been sustained in most unions because 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. This monstrous bureaucracy and pro-capitalist character of the trade union has to be combated if workers are to seriously rebuild trade union movement as a fighting and democratic platform.
Despite the unwillingness of the trade union leaders to fight, it is significant that some recent local strikes have come about as a result of revolts by workers demanding action. The sustained strike action of resident doctors has shown resilience and determination. The recent strike action of workers in Mouka Form Ltd was one of those struggles that defies the directive of the pro-bosses national trade union leaders.
The Campaign for Democratic and Workers’ Rights (CDWR) call on workers, trade union activists and socialists and pro-labour organisations to agitate and initiate a campaign for a trade union movement that is democratic and constantly defends interest of workers and resists capitalist anti poor policies. Such a campaign which brings together workers and activists from different union affiliates can lay the basis for the formation of a network of workers, Socialists and trade union activists which meet regularly at affiliate levels, state levels and national level and acts as a mass oppositional platform within the labour movement to campaign for a fighting movement while challenging any anti-worker programme and policy of the bureaucratic leadership. In a period of general strike and mass struggle, such a platform if rooted among the mass of workers can help to challenge the kind of sell out which happened with the suspension of the September 28 general strike last year! Such a platform can also be utilized to campaign for the replacement of the bureaucratic and pro-state leadership of labour with a new Marxist, democratic and fighting leadership. Ultimately, a revived labour movement with a fighting leadership will in no time lay the basis for the building of 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. The earlier we start building such a movement the better for the working people and the poor.
HOW TO RECLAIM THE TRADE UNIONS
We call on workers, trade union activists and socialists and pro-labour organisations to come together in a network that brings workers and activists from different sectors and trade unions together to initiate a sustained campaign for a democratic trade union movement with left leadership on a fighting program.
We propose that the demands and action program should include the following:
- 1 All trade union officials must be elected and placed on the average salary of workers, with audited and published expenses, and actions of trade union leaders must be based on the aggregation of democratic discussion and decisions taken from the local level or factory floor.
- A trade union movement built on mass participation of rank and file workers in the activities of trade union through regular meetings, symposia, democratically convoked congresses at all levels.
- A trade union movement that regularly intervenes in workplace struggles aimed at resisting all anti-labour practices including casualization, contract staffing, poor pays, slave-like condition, unjust sacking, etc.
- Trade union members and rank and file workers to organize with the aim of challenging the rightwing leaders for trade union positions.
- Removal of trade union leaders who act against the interest of the workers.
- A trade union movement opposed to and prepared to fight tenaciously at all times against all capitalist, neo liberal and anti-poor policies including privatization, deregulation, commercialisation, Public Private Partnership (PPP) etc.
- No to ‘sweetheart’ deals between Labour leaders and bosses such that union leaders get check-off dues or other gains in return for collaboration with bosses at the expense of workers. For the trade unions to reach out to casual workers and the unemployed to fight for their interests and build a united movement of workers and poor.
- A trade union movement that orientates towards the formation and building of a mass working class alternative and building a political movement to defeat capitalism.