NLC and TUC Leadership Must Consistently Fight For Workers and the Downtrodden
The Campaign for Democratic and Workers’ Rights (CDWR) congratulates the new leaderships of both the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) on their election.
By Chinedu Bosah Publicity Secretary, CDWR
In view of the numerous attacks workers and the masses have been subjected to in the past years and are still on-going, Nigerian workers and the trade union movement needs a new leadership that truly defends their interests unlike the previous one. Over the recent past, workers have come under sustained attacks that have adversely affected living and working conditions. There are several workplace anti-labour practices that the new labour leadership will have to fight. These are casualization, contract staffing, poor wage and working condition, non-payment of pension/retirement benefits, power sector privatisation etc.
Given the rising cost of living and inflation, the N30,000 minimum wage has lost significant value. According to Afrinvest, the purchasing power of households with fixed earnings has fallen by more than 40% since 2019 due to inflation. This is aside the fact that several state governments and many private companies have failed to implement the N30, 000 minimum wage and currently owe backlog of salaries and pensions. There is a need for a new national minimum wage that puts workers above the poverty level and will be increased in line with the inflationary trends. The NLC and TUC leadership should begin the engagement of the federal government in negotiation for a new national minimum wage in earnest and, at the same time, begin mobilization so that if government and the capitalist ruling elite are foot-dragging, there should be nationwide protests backed by warning strikes. NLC should insist on the implementation of a new minimum across the board and across the country irrespective of the state or sector. The labour leadership should not accept a new minimum wage that is tied to the removal of subsidies on petrol. They should also oppose and fight the full deregulation of the downstream petroleum industry and the increment in the prices of petrol and electricity.
Casualization has become more prevalent as the majority of Nigerian workers are subjected to the anti-labour practice with its slave-like conditions. Casualization strips workers of decent working conditions in order to guarantee huge profits for the bosses. It is not only that casual workers are paid poorly and unorganised, the working conditions imposed on them strip them of basic allowances and disengagement entitlements. Currently, there have been many workers who have worked 15 to 20 years or more as casuals in many factories and workplaces and are not entitled to retirement entitlement or pension.
The CDWR commends NLC President Joe Ajaero for publicly pledging to fight casualization recently. We urge the Ajaero-led NLC to concretize this willingness by setting up, together with the TUC, anti-casualization committees at the national and state level and to be comprised of activists, rank and file, and committed trade union leaders with the mandate to develop a fighting programme, mobilize and organise workers to resist casualization at different industries and workplaces. It also important to link struggle against casualization to the struggle for a living wage, decent working conditions and a safe working environment.
We are aware that several trade union leaders are complicit in the implementation and entrenchment of casualization in different workplaces. For instance, leadership of the National Union Food, Beverages, and Tobacco Employees (NUFBTE) connives with some company owners to entrench casualization including setting up outsourcing companies to enslave workers in Sumal Foods in Ibadan and several other places. We have a similar attitude displayed by trade union leaders in other industries and workplaces. The only way to neutralize this imminent threat and sabotage from within is to mobilize the rank-and-file workers and make the struggle popular and a force to democratise and transform the unions.
Pension and retirement benefits are issues the trade union leadership needs to attend to and be taken seriously. The pension reform is largely a poverty retirement scheme for retirees who earn poverty pension and this is made worse wherein many business owners and several state/local governments deduct pension contributions but do not remit to the Pension Administrators. The labour leadership must insist that bosses and government contribute their fair share and remit accordingly. The lowest and poorly paid workers should be exempted from the contributory pension with a guaranteed pension, while also employers of labour should be made to contribute at least 4 times more than what workers contribute. The NLC and TUC should also take ownership of pensioners’ struggle for prompt payment of their pensions and also increment in their pension.
The privatization of the power sector has turned out to be a disastrous venture that needs to be reversed. Since November 2013, the private power companies have not made significant upgrade of the facilities and infrastructure despite having bought 51% of the sector at a rock bottom price and in addition to a regular bailout to them by the government and several hikes in tariff. The service is poor and many consumers are made to essentially pay for darkness as a result of the exploitative, fraudulent estimated billing system. Many communities are in permanent battle against poor supply and exploitation by these power companies. The NLC and TUC should unite these communities under its leadership for a national struggle against poor supply and exploitation and for the return of the power sector to the public. However, to avert a similar debacle of old NEPA and PHCN which was characterized with corruption and poor performance, such a re-nationalized power sector must be placed under the democratic control of workers and consumers. This is to ensure judicious use of its finance and provision of a regular and affordable electricity supply.
The NLC and TUC should resist subsidy removal and the deregulation of the downstream sector. Rather, the new leadership should insist on the turnaround of the existing public refineries as well as building new ones in order to keep the price of petroleum products affordable. In order to avoid the failure recorded when these sectors (oil and gas, electricity, aviation, etc.) were publicly owned, the commanding heights of the economy should be placed under public ownership and should be controlled and managed democratically by the working people.
We commend the commitment of the Ajaero leadership to the Labour Party. However, the party has to be rebuilt to truly represent and fight for the interests of working people and the poor. To achieve this, it must not support anti-poor, neo-liberal capitalist program, and its affairs including finance must be run democratically and transparently. This will make it possible to build a working-class base and enjoy the support of other categories of working people and youth.
Its leadership must not be political merchants, as presently constituted, who principally exist to sell its electoral tickets to money bags or the highest bidders and see the party as a bargain chip for their own corrupt, self-serving interests. This is what is at the root of the current leadership crisis in the party.
It is also misleading or preposterous for Ajaero who is committed to build Labour Party, which must be an alternative to both the APC and PDP, to express joy, in a statement, that Nasiru Idris, former NLC Vice President “has done us proud” by being elected Kebbi governor as the candidate of the anti-working class APC.
FIGHTING AND DEMOCRATIC TRADE UNIONS
By and large, in order to seriously engage the struggle and issues mentioned above, there is the need for a fighting and democratic trade union leadership which consistently protects the interest of workers and is accountable to them at all levels. A key part of this is for the trade union leaders not receiving wages out of line with what majority of their members receive and for expenses and allowances to be audited by representatives of the rank and file. Having such trade unions should be an important task that radical trade unions, pro-labour activists and workers must carry out.
In struggles that may break out in response to different capitalist attacks, trade union leaders should ensure the mobilization of different strata of society including the youths and community people. These struggles should be harmonized and the leadership should appeal to different segments of the oppressed masses for solidarity and support. Mass mobilization through mass meetings, circulation of political materials and media campaigns should be employed as well. There should be opportunity and allowance for grass root, community, and workers at the branch level to take independent mobilization and initiative towards actualizing resistance struggles. Trade union leaders must abandon their ‘strategic alliance’ with the self-serving ruling elite, such alliances have always assisted the capitalist ruling elite to consolidate exploitation and slavery. History will smile on trade union leaders who stand with the working mass and take actions that improve their working and living conditions.