Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM

Fight For Trade Unions that Are Democratically Run and Consistently Resist Anti-poor and Anti-labour Capitalist Policies

Every worker and trade union activist should find it disturbing that well over six weeks after the expiration of a two-week ultimatum issued on February 27 to the Bola Tinubu government over the cost-of-living crisis, not a single word had been uttered by the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) on their next course of action. The ultimatum, which has expired on March 13, was issued after the NLC sadly and incorrectly cancelled Day Two of the two-day nationwide protest when it had shown every indication to grow bigger against the anti-poor policies of the government. It is especially worrisome that the conduct and inaction of the NLC leadership threw a spanner in the works of the independent protest movement which had been building nationwide before they called for the February protest.

By Peluola Adewale Organising Secretary, DSM 

Similarly, the leadership of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) did not act after the expiration of the 14-day ultimatum it jointly issued with the NLC on February 9.

This reprehensible silence of both leaderships of the NLC and TUC can only be seen as a result of the capitulation to the neo-liberal capitalist program or confusion arising from the lack of a clear-cut alternative to it by the labour leadership. This explains why there was no serious fight or objection against petrol subsidy removal. While the NLC chose to turn a blind eye to the devaluation of the naira, the TUC openly welcomed it when it was introduced. Both leaders have seen no evil in the wave of criminal hikes in school fees across higher institutions nationwide.

These policies have had devastatingly adverse effects on the income and living standards of ordinary workers, who are rank-and-file members of trade unions affiliated with the NLC and TUC, as well as other categories of working-class people, the poor and sections of the middle class.

Specifically, since September 2020 the NLC then under Ayuba Wabba, following the cancellation of another planned strike against fuel price hikes, has formally accepted the neo-liberal deregulation policy through an agreement it then signed with the government. The hope in the new leadership under Joe Ajaero, given his admirable role in the struggle against electricity privatisation, to act differently has proved at present to be misplaced. The current leadership of the NLC, as well as the TUC’s, only calls for palliatives, indicating it is not offering a serious alternative programme to capitalist attacks.

So, it appears the strategy of the leadership of both the NLC and TUC is to demand improved pay for workers with the erroneous belief that it would help cope with the severity of the neo-liberal policies which they are not prepared to oppose or fight.  Worse still, even the palliatives, which are very limited concessions including wage award, and encapsulated in the so-called October 2 2023 agreements, labour leaders have backed off from fighting for their implementation.

We call on workers to place demand on NLC and TUC leaders to fight for the implementation of the October 2023 agreement and seriously fight to win a new national minimum wage that workers can live on and is actually fully implemented. However, it is instructive to note that even if the palliatives are implemented and a better national minimum wage is won, they would be 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 have refused to resist.

Therefore, workers and radical trade union activists must also agitate at workplaces and within the organs of trade unions for objection and resistance to neo-liberal agenda which includes deregulation, privatization, casualization, devaluation of the naira and underfunding of public education and health care as they in the final analysis adversely affect jobs and wellbeing of workers. This also means an agitation for labour to fight for the reversal of the hikes in petrol price, school fees and electricity tariff.  Indeed, the current situation and the response of labour leaders underscore the necessity for a serious debate within the labour movement in general on what is the best socio-economic and political philosophy and programme required to advance the interest of workers and other oppressed, build a better society and guarantee basic needs and a decent quality of life for the vast majority.


Unfortunately, there is hardly democracy in the trade unions and this is why labour leaders brazenly ignore issues that affect workers or address them whimsically or nonchalantly. The majority of trade unions are run by labour leaders who do not involve the rank-and-file workers in decision-making process. Workplace mass meetings to take a democratic decision are hardly held; everything starts and ends with the bureaucratic and aristocratic labour leaders. Indeed, there are some trade unions where principal officers like the President and other top leaders are not even bonafide members of the unions. In other words, they are not staff in any workplace where the union is organized.  This is made possible because trade unions are run top-down such that mandates are not truly derived from workplaces. Mass anger in society and pressure from the below can force leaders to call an action. However, as we have seen with many examples, they call off struggles before they begin or as soon as possible if they begin as they often enter a rotten compromise with government or managements.


Therefore, we call on workers, trade union activists, socialists and pro-labour organisations to agitate and initiate a campaign for a trade union movement that is democratic and constantly defends the interests of workers at workplaces and resists capitalist anti-poor policies. Such a campaign which should bring together workers and activists from different union affiliates can become a network which meets regularly at affiliate levels, state levels and national levels and acts as a mass oppositional platform within the labour movement. Such a network must constantly place demands on labour leaders and mobilize workers to support the demands and mount pressure on the labour leaders.

At the same, the network should be prepared to independently mobilise and organise against attacks on pay, working conditions and democratic rights at workplaces and against anti-poor capitalist policies of the government. In a period of general strike and mass struggle, such a platform if rooted among the mass of workers, along with the poor and oppressed, can help to challenge sell-out and capitulation which sadly have now become characteristic of labour leaders! Such a platform can also be utilized to campaign for the replacement of the bureaucratic, pro-state and pro-management leadership of labour with a left, democratic and fighting leadership. Ultimately, a revived labour movement with a fighting leadership could in no time lay the basis for the building of a movement to change society from the capitalist exploitative system that protects the interest of a privileged few to a socialist society that meets the needs of all.

By and large, we call on workers and trade union activists to organize and agitate for the following:

1)  All trade union officials must be regularly elected and placed on the average salary of workers.

2)  A trade union movement built on mass participation of rank-and-file workers in the activities of trade unions through regular meetings, symposia, and democratically convoked congresses at all levels. In other words, actions of trade union leaders must be based on the aggregation of democratic discussion and decisions taken from the local level or factory floor.

3) A trade union movement that regularly intervenes in workplace struggles aimed at resisting all anti-labour practices including casualization, contract staffing, poor pay, slave-like conditions, unjust sacking, etc.

4)  Removal of trade union leaders who act against the interest of the workers.

5)  A trade union movement prepared to fight tenaciously at all times, involving the wider layers of poor and oppressed, against all anti-poor capitalist anti-poor policies including privatization, deregulation, commercialization, Public Private Partnership (PPP) etc.

6)  No to ‘paddy paddy’ 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.

7)  A trade union movement that orientates towards the building of a mass political movement to defeat capitalism and enthrone a Socialist Nigeria.