Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM

A Bill To Stop The Unions From Strike Action

A Bill To Stop The Unions From Strike Action

By Dagga Tolar

Senator Heineken Lokpobiri of the PDP (Bayelsa West) has brought before the Senate a “Bill for an Act to further amend the Trade Union Act, Cap.T14 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 as amended 2005 to make provisions for balloting as a requirement before any action” or strike can be called by the trade unions. The process of going on strike or not, should in the thinking of Lokpobiri, be subjected to an electoral process of a simple majority, otherwise such action becomes illegal.

What is however playing out is the pretence that the bill wants to deepen the democratic process in the trade unions. What hypocrisy! Hardly any of these politicians has been genuinely democratically elected. Positions in parties are bought and sold with huge sums of money while elections themselves are frequently fraudulent or violent in the classic ‘win or die’ tradition of the corrupt elite. The reality is that, shocked by the huge support for January’s general strike, the ruling class are trying to find ways to attempt to limit Labour’s potential power.

If anything the ruling elite are far away from wanting to strengthen democracy in the trade unions, as they have been one of the major beneficiaries of the bureaucratization of the unions, with the leaders of the trade unions completely cut off from the rank and file members of the unions. Indeed, most trade union leaders have abandoned the idea of the unions as organs of fighting and defending the interest of their members, to a platform with which to strike a social partnership with the employers and the government.

The DSM indeed campaign for genuine democratization of trade union and active involvement of the rank and file workers in the decision making processes of their unions in order to build trade unions that truly represent the interests and aspirations of workers and the poor in general. The heavy bureaucratization of trade union, among other things, extremely limits the success the workers struggle could achieve. This is the case with minimum wage struggle, for example, where bureaucratic leaders have entered into rotten deals with government, or call off strike arbitrarily. In Oyo state for instance, a congressional committee had to be set up by the ordinary workers to prosecute the struggle after the official state labour leaders had compromised with the state government like their counterparts in other states.

We however strongly hold that the question of the democratization of the union is not a task that can be carried outside of the unions, especially by anti-poor pro-capitalist politicians. It is the task of the rank and file members themselves to deepen the democratic process of their unions with aim of building virile and fighting trade unions. Workers must continually put pressure on the trade union leaders to act in the interest of workers and also importantly organize themselves independently of the structures of the union if need be to ensure that needed changes both in leadership and in terms of ideas are brought into reality.

This bill is coming after the biggest general strike and mass protest in history of Nigeria that forced Jonathan government to reduce the fuel price to N97 after it had earlier cruelly increased it from N65 to N141. What actually sent jitters to the spine of Jonathan’s government was the call for it to go which gained a mass echo among the protesters.

Just like under Obasanjo in 2004, the ruling elites are responding to the role played by the trade unions in providing leadership to the entirety of the oppressed working masses both organized and otherwise in leading the resistance against the neoliberal capitalist and anti-people policy and programme of deregulation as witnessed in non-stop hike in price of petroleum products. This was the whole purpose of the 2005 Trade Unions Amendment Act, which is aimed at crippling the trade union under the guise of making membership of trade unions voluntary and among other anti-labour provisions.

The real motive behind the bill was betrayed by its sponsor, Lokpobori while speaking at the senate. He said, “It is instructive to note that strikes as contemplated by the Trade Unions Act do not accommodate strike against government except where the government is the employer. The use of the platform of trade union for political gains is not a trade dispute.”‘

The bill is meant to make strike against anti-poor policies like increase in fuel price illegal. At the same time the bill’s sponsors want to introduce complicated balloting procedures in the hope that this would slow down workers’ response to sudden attacks like Jonathan’s surprise New Year’s price hike. The trade union leadership has always failed to confront the ruling class with an alternative economic program to anti-poor neo-liberal policies because of their pro-capitalist disposition. But, the government and the entirety of the ruling elites are scared of the trade unions providing the necessary leadership to a movement of the working masses and poor farmers against them.

Workers and the trade union leaders and the working masses must challenge this heinous attempt to restrict the right of workers to strike with mass actions including rallies, demonstrations and strikes. Instead of the proposed stakeholders forum with attendance by workers representatives for “patriotic, progressive practical and abiding mechanism to protect the nation’ economy” being put forward by Peter Esele, president of the Trade Union Congress, the point must be made that the interest of workers and employer differ. What need to be done are building of fighting trade unions and use of the goodwill and resources of trade unions to commence the building of a party of working people, which seek to mobilise working people in general to the urgent task of freeing the economy from the grip of the capitalist sharks.