NLC AND TUC LEADERSHIP: Support For Neo-Liberal Agenda is Anti-worker
Campaign for a Fighting and Democratically Run Trade Union Movement is Urgent
The latest suspension of the strike action called by the Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress against the crazy and callous increase in petrol price under the guise of removal of the so-called subsidy underscores the depth of ideological capitulation of labour leadership to the capitalist neo-liberal agenda. Just a mere bark by the government through a black-market court injunction the NLC and TUC leadership waved the white flag. Even though the basis for the planned strike, which was about the timing and illegality of the subsidy removal, was weak, it was valid and could have offered an opportunity for working people and youth to make a bold statement to the new Bola Tinubu government that it would not be allowed to ride roughshod over them with its accelerated neo-liberal assaults.
By Peluola Adewale
Unfortunately, since September 2020 the NLC under Ayuba Wabba, following the cancellation of another planned strike against fuel price hike, had formally accepted the neo-liberal policy of deregulation through an agreement it then signed with the government. The hope in the new leadership under Joe Ajaero, given his pedigree as a radical labour leader, to act differently has proved at present to be misplaced. Ajaero as the General Secretary of the electricity workers’ union had admirably led a spirited struggle against the privatization of power sector and when the struggle was lost partly as a result of the lack of solidarity from the NLC in 2013, the electricity union won decent disengagement entitlements for workers.
It is now clear that the uncritical support for Peter Obi by the Ajaero led NLC in the 2023 presidential election despite his capitalist neo-liberal mantra including his vow to remove petrol subsidy immediately if elected, was not just a question of political opportunism but principled agreement with Obi on his anti-poor capitalist program.
The subscription to the neo-liberal agenda as an article of faith has raised a serious question on the capacity or willingness of trade union leaders to sincerely and seriously defend the interest and rights of the rank-and-file workers. This is because by its logic and nature the neo-liberal program undermines the interest and condition of workers and the poor masses.
Therefore, we call on workers and radical trade union activists to agitate at workplaces and within the organs of trade unions for objection and resistance to neo-liberal agenda which include deregulation, privatization, devaluation of naira and underfunding of public education as they in the final analysis adversely affect jobs and wellbeing of workers.
It appears the strategy of the leadership of the NLC and TUC is to demand some pay and condition for workers with the belief it would help cope with the severity of neo-liberal policies which they are not prepared to oppose or fight. This explains why they are requesting wage award for workers instead of opposing the criminal hike in fuel prices. They do not reject devaluation of naira which has compounded the excruciatingly high cost of living and actually welcome it as for instance the TUC President Festus Osifo commends the new forex policy that liberalised the exchange rate (NAN June 16). Instead, they expect to demand a new minimum wage next year that factors in the effect of devaluation and inflation.
While we welcome the plan to demand a new minimum wage and have indeed consistently called for it in the last one year, the past experiences show that labour leadership have hardly won an amount that corresponds with the rate of inflation. Worse still, while many state governments and private sector employers even usually fail to fully implement the minimum wage, the inadequate amount itself is soonest eroded and almost rendered worthless by inflation and high cost of living including basic needs like food, energy, education and health care, triggered by the same anti-poor capitalist policies that labour leadership has refused to resist.
Again, as we stated in the last edition of this paper, we welcome the declaration of the Ajaero led NLC to fight casualization which has become a serious menace at workplace. We urge the NLC leadership to concretize this willingness by setting up of 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.
NLC AND TUC HAVE RESPONSIBILITY TO DEFEND THE OPPRESSED
However, sadly, it appears the current leadership of the NLC believes that they do not have an obligation to defend the interest and rights of working people and the poor outside official trade unions. Whenever they have to raise demands that accommodate the poor masses, they see it as doing them a favour. For instance, in reaction to the criticism over the cancellation of the last planned general strike, the NLC President Ajaero said on AIT, “the problem is that Nigerians are very docile. Protests must not only be led by NLC, what about 130 million Nigerians in multi-dimension poverty, can’t they come out to protest?” (NaijaNews June 7).
Ajaero is wrong. Working people and youth of Nigeria are not at all docile. This they demonstrated in the past with the active participation in January 2012 general strike and mass protest, the biggest in Nigeria’s history and also in the EndSARS uprising. The problem is the history of betrayal of working people by the labour leadership including the refusal to organize mass action against anti-poor policies, poor mobilization when one is actually called, beheading a mass movement without achieving its objective or entering a rotten compromise. Besides, the call or expectation on labour leadership to initiate a struggle against anti-poor polices is not because they are seen as messiahs or having a larger-than-life character but as a result of being in the headship and stewardship of the most cohesive, non-sectarian and biggest organization of the working-class people and therefore with enormous power to challenge the capitalist ruling elite and their iniquitous system. Nonetheless, in addition to consistently placing demand on labour leaders to present the NLC and TUC as platforms for defending working people and youth, within and outside trade unions, we support the building of a mass movement that links directly with workers outside the official trade union bureaucracy and organizes mass resistance against anti-poor capitalist policies.
LABOUR ARISTOCRATIC MENTALITY
However, the current leadership of the NLC does not lack sharp rhetoric to aptly describe the anti-poor policies or actions of the government. What is missing at present is the determination to mobilize for mass action beyond lamentation and hot air. An instance is the address of Ajaero at the opening ceremony of a recent four-day programme for leaders of the state councils of NLC in the south, that took place in Lagos (Vanguard July 6)
Represented by the Deputy President of Congress and President-General of Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria, MWUN, Adewale Adeyanju, Ajaero among other things, “that, clearly shows that the Nigerian State from all corners is clearly at war with the people and workers. They have mounted pressure on the people at all fronts and have robbed the people repeatedly even when the people have turned the other cheek refusing to acknowledge that governance must go hand in hand with social justice if it is to have any meaning. This onslaught, comrades, is not relenting and would continue if nothing is done to mediate it immediately.”
Again, there is a problem. While the NLC leadership correctly appreciates the fact the ruling elite through the state has declared war on workers and the masses, they don’t see themselves as part of the class struggle on the side of the working class but as a mediator or conciliator between the oppressed and the state. This reflects the mentality of labour aristocrats who live well above the means of ordinary workers whom they are supposed to represent and hence see any intervention they carry out as a favour to ordinary workers and people not an obligation. This is one of the reasons Socialists argue, in addition for a call for regular election of labour leaders who are convinced and prepared to resist every capitalist attack, that no labour leader should earn more than the average salary of workers who are members of a trade union.
FOR WORKERS TO GAIN FROM STRUGGLE
However, given the radical history of Ajaero, it is not totally ruled out that the NLC leadership under him can still organize action or resistance against some forms of anti-poor policies. Besides, mass anger in the society and pressure from below within labour movement can force labour leaders to call for actions as we have seen with many general strikes called since 2000. However, for workers and the masses to reasonably achieve gains from any action, the start and end of an action must be the summation of democratic decision of workers following a debate right from workplaces to the organs of trade unions. But this is only possible if there is a genuine democratic practice within trade union movement together with a fighting leadership. Hence, our call for a fighting and democratic trade union movement.
We 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. We call on workers, trade union activists and socialist activists 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 intervention in workplace struggles aimed at resisting all anti-labour practices. It also entails building influence in trade unions to challenge rightwing leaders for trade union positions