NUCECFWW National Delegates Conference, Owerri
NUCECFWW National Delegates Conference, Owerri
BUILDING A WORKING CLASS POLITICAL ALTERNATIVE
By Ayo Ademiluyi
The Nigerian Union of Civil Engineering Construction, Furniture and Wood Workers held their Fourth Quadrennial National Delegates’ Conference on February 22 in Owerri, the Imo State capital. With the theme, “Employment Deficit and the Panacea of Construction and Wood Sector Growth in a World of Work”, the discussions at the Conference centred majorly on the spiraling rate of unemployment based on the spate of de-industrialization.
In the speech of the General Secretary of the union, Babatunde Ladi, which gave the most comprehensive breakdown on the theme of the conference, he outlined the systematic collapse of the wood and construction industry and the entire productive sectors of the economy as the underlining factor behind mass unemployment.
He equally outlined that the several neo-liberal capitalist attacks like casaulisation and low wages prevalent in the construction and wood industry, with the workers at the receiving end. He pinpointed the fresh threat of insecurity and terrorists’ attacks, citing the recent killing of SETRACO (construction multinational) workers in the northern part of the country as an additional challenge. He called for payment of social security benefits for unemployed people, full funding of the education sector and for the Federal Government to seek foreign intervention in confronting the challenges of terrorism.
He raised the threat of deforestation with the challenge of climate change that is being created through the profit-maddened activities of wood industries. In laying out solutions for re-industrialization, he called for enforcement of local quota-which means indigenous manufacturing and home-grown mass employment.
On the surface, many of the assertions and recommendations by the General Secretary of the union are progressive and welcome. However, when situated within the present prevailing context of the dialectical interplay of forces within the current neo-liberal socio-economic system, they are bound to put the fate of the organized industrial working class, whom the union represents, seriously in the balance.
The failure of the local capitalist ruling elite to meet the simplest task â€“for example, the construction of roads, bridges, etc is not unconnected to their dependence on imperialist powers and the twin forces of neo-liberalism, the IMF and World Bank that stipulate cuts in social spending.
To break free from the yoke of imperialist and neo-liberal subservience and create millions of jobs would require a revolutionary working class democratic socialist strategy of building a rounded-out, pan-working class, all-Nigerian, mass-based, trade-union rooted political alternative that will spearhead an unstoppable revolutionary mass movement to take political power from all sections of the entire local capitalist ruling elite and establish a revolutionary working masses’ government. Running on an express democratic socialist programme (entailing massive public works of putting in place every critical infrastructure) it will generate jobs for the millions of unemployed people.
However, the consciousness of the leadership of the organized trade union movement is far behind these scientific conclusions. This was reflected in the speeches of different trade union leaders, including the President of the Nigerian Labour Congress, who equally spoke at the Conference. Issa Aremu, the General Secretary of the National Union of Textile and Garment Workers of Nigeria (NUTGWN), in his solidarity speech saluted the union on their joint campaign for massive re-industrialization and against mass unemployment, including the mass protests against closure of industries at Lagos and Abuja in November, 2012, last year. To him, the solution to the closure of the industries and mass unemployment is indigenous industrialization and prioritization of home-grown products.
This clearly shows the under-estimation of the current neo-liberal and imperialist forces at play that hold down genuine, environmentalâ€“friendly industrialization of neo-colonial economies like Nigeria, and the limitations of the local capitalist ruling elite. What even depicts the precarious ideological situation in the trade union movement was the speech of the President of the Nigerian Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE), the major union confronted with the threat of mass sack based on ongoing privatization exercise. When tasked on the power question, he responded simply that the privatization exercise should be carried out without burying the interests of workers, particularly the settlement of their entitlements. How realistic this would be, he did not mention.
To buttress this erroneous position was the speech of the Nigeria Labour Congress President, Abdulwaheed Omar, who was ushered into the Conference venue with a roaring applause by the mass of workers. He cited a provision in the Privatization Act that subjects the privatization process to settlement of all conditions, including the payment of workers’ entitlements to affirm the position of the NUEE President. He assured NUCECFWW of the determination of the Congress to join the union in resisting casualization. He commented on the monstrous level of corruption citing the recent example of the perfidious ruling by a trial judge who sentenced a major pensions fraudster fingered in the pensions funds scandal, which is up to the tune of $15 million(in Omar’s words) to two years imprisonment with the option of $5,000 fine (still in his words)! He called on workers to become change-agents and fight corruption.
As radical as this may sound, it is completely hollow and begs the question of the role the organized working class needs to play in defeating the core capitalist arrangement that is responsible for the monstrous level of corruption in itself and what the alternative is. Equally, the blanket support the labour leaders give to neo-liberal policies such as privatization and liberalization while making radical speeches about their effects would lead rank-and-file workers finding a way out of the nightmare of oppressive neo-liberal attacks to a blind alley.
However, these pronouncements by labour leaders cannot be separated from their predominant petit- bourgeois consciousness, which has been deepened by deliberate state corruption through appointments into the boards of anti-worker bodies such as the National Council of Privatization, Infrastructure Concessioning Regulatory Commission, among others. This explains their support for neo-liberal policies, on one hand and their infamous role of beheading national mass movements and applying brakes on revolutionary mass radicalizations, as exemplified in the treacherous suspension of the January 2012 General strikes and mass protests.
Yet the question of the class character and disposition of the leadership of the trade union movement is equally dependent on the pressure from below and the radicalization of their rank-and-file. The near collapse of their membership base due to heavy casualization and de-industrialization has forced the leaderships of the industrial unions such as NUCECFWW and NUTGWN into the arena of mass struggle. But their rank-and-file would be unsatisfied with the petit- bourgeois reformist rhetorics of the trade union bureaucrats and will find genuine ideas of democratic socialism. This will aid them in reclaiming their unions as independent, fighting mass organizations with a leadership on wages of average workers and subject to recall.
This was reflected sharply in the discussions held with many rank-and-file workers, who tenaciously argued that the crystallization of a trade-union floated mass fighting working peoples’ party necessitates making the union(s) independent. The task of genuine socialists is to step up interventions in the entire trade union movement with the aim of winning the best minds, both in the leadership and rank-and-file into rounded-out revolutionary democratic socialist consciousness.
Hundreds of the special DSM leaflet for the conference, “Working People Need a Genuine Political Voice” were handed out and warmly received by workers. The need for a genuine, mass Working People’s Party, emerging directly from the trade union movement, gained echo and a large layer was enthusiastic about the formation of the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN)..
The DSM will continue to deepen its work within the NUCECFWW and the entire trade union movement with the aim of helping build a fighting and democratic trade union movement