Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM

“Class Collaboration or Social Transformation: What Sorts of Trade Unions Are Needed to Confront Tinubu’s Anti-People Policies?”

CDWR Holds Public Meeting

Participants Agree on Urgent Need for Workers to Rebuild the Trade Unions and Make them Fighting Platforms

By Davy Fidel

Amidst the low ebb of consciousness among workers, youth, and the working masses undergoing economic hardship under the failed “Renewed Hope” government of President Tinubu that has unleashed anti-poor and neoliberal policies, the Campaign for Democratic and Workers’ Rights (CDWR) organised a public symposium on Saturday 18 May 2024 to campaign for fighting and democratic trade unions. The CDWR is a campaign platform of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) – a revolutionary Socialist organisation affiliated to the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI).

The public symposium was held in PERESSA’s National Secretariat in Lagos. In attendance were workers from different trade unions like the National Union of Shop and Distributive Employees (NUSDE), Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations, Civil Service Technical & Recreational Services Employees [AUPCTRE], Precision, Electrical, and Related Equipment Senior Staff Association [PERESSA], Association of Senior Civil Servant of Nigeria [ASCSN], and Nigeria Welders Union and Fitters Union [NIWELFU]. Also in attendance were female workers, and comrades of DSM. Altogether, the symposium had at least forty-five (45) participants – 32 in-person and at least 13 via Zoom.

A view of the meeting’s audience

The lead speaker was Prof. Laja Odukoya, Coordinator, Lagos Zone of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). Other speakers were Aminu Megbontowon (NUSDE Acting President), Nurse Thomas Abiodun [a Labour activist], Abiodun Bakare [Secretary, AUPCTRE, Lagos Branch], Mayor Christopher Adeyeye [SEC. Member ASCSN, Lagos Branch], and Chinedu Bosah [Publicity Secretary, CDWR]. Rufus Olusesan [PERESSA National president and National Coordinator of CDWR] chaired the event.


The theme of the discussion was “Class Collaboration or Social Transformation – What Sorts of Trade Unions Are Needed to Confront Tinubu’s Anti-People Policies?” The lead speaker – Prof. Laja Odukoya – started by giving a background of the emergence of the trade unions. According to him, he said the trade unions didn’t fall from the sky. The trade unions started as a result of the industrial revolution that occurred in England in the 18th Century, which later spread to other parts of Europe and America.

In his analysis, he said the birth of capitalism created today’s working class. For the working class to survive the hammer of capitalist exploitation and oppression, workers consciously formed trade unions. Forming the trade union, he explained, is for workers to defend their interest against policies of both employers and government that undermine their working and living conditions as well as those of the oppressed people in the larger society.

He explained that after the Industrial Revolution in England and the capitalist controlling the means of production, and making profits via workers’ sweat and hard labour, workers began to recognize that the only way for them is to protect, engage, and organise themselves against exploitation, slavish working conditions, attacks, and victimisation from the employer of labour, whose interest is to make profit. In emphasis, he also said that workers recognising the class they belong to and forming the trade unions have aided them to win concessions and improve their working conditions.

Prof Laja Odukoy speaking at the meeting

However, he stressed that the trade unions as it stands now in most cases have lost their steam and rhythm as a result of the crisis of leadership. These problems are both political and ideological; and manifested in the mismanagement of the union and lack of internal democracy in the trade unions.

He said workers don’t have a voice in their union. Workers can’t challenge the bureaucracy in the affairs of the union. Workers are meant to obey every word the union leaders say without agitation. In summary, he said the trade unions today are now often a platform of individuals using it to build a career for themselves while abandoning the core principle why the trade unions were formed, which is organising workers, building consciousness, and solidarity among workers against anti-labour actions of the employer. So the trade unions in essence  a fighting  machine of the working class.

Prof. Laja said that consciousness needs to be rebuilt in the trade unions. And for that to be actualized, the question of workers’ education is inevitable in the trade unions. According to him, he said. “Workers need to know their strength and recognize the fact that they are an indispensable force in the larger society.” He emphasized on unions who were present in the symposium to deem it fit to start organizing workers education among their members.

Politically, he said, because of the low ebb in consciousness, the Tinubu-led government is having its way, especially on the anti-poor policies the government is implementing since his administration came to power. These include the removal of fuel subsidy, the high cost of living, inflation, the devaluation of the naira, and the poor wage workers are receiving. Ordinarily, he said, if the trade unions had been political and agitating with their enormous strength through a radical and ideological leadership, the government won’t be having its way.

But because the leadership in the trade unions is ideologically weak, it is not seizing the opportunity at hand to organise workers politically to resist the government’s policies that are compounding the economic hardship and well-being of the working masses in Nigeria. Therefore, Prof. Laja argued for the need for workers, radical trade unionists and left activists to begin to agitate for the rebuilding of trade unions such that they are run democratically and capable of defending workers at workplaces and mobilizing Nigerians masses for actions to resist government anti-poor policies.

Concerning the recent report that government is offering to pay a paltry N48, 000 as the national minimum wage, comrade Laja argued that such a ridiculous amount can’t even buy a bag of rice that is sold for more than N60, 000 in the market. This is not to talk of education, accommodation, electricity, and other needs which workers have to provide for themselves and their families. Without the labour leaders putting up a serious fight and workers mounting pressure on their leadership, it will be difficult to win a decent wage.

Sadly, without a fighting labour leadership, the government will continue to have its way, unleashing attacks after attacks on the working people. Unfortunately, unless capitalism is defeated, the masses may even consider this disastrous Tinubu government better after a few years when comparing it with succeeding administrations if the implementation of neo-liberal policies are sustained. The biggest problem is capitalism and these politicians are not different from each other because they represent the same philosophy and programme of capitalism.

In his conclusion, he refered to the theoretical works of Karl Marx and Frederich Engels and the impact they have in providing the alternative of planned socialist transformation of society compared to capitalism and its chaos. He said that because of the impact of Marxism and how it remains the only outstanding philosophy and theory that exposes the contradictions in capitalism and how to end it, something the bourgeois media acknowledged by declaring Marx as the greatest thinker of the millennium.

In brief, he appreciated the effort of the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) – in taking advantage of the slight democratic opening to put forward a political alternative. He also applauded the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) for building a campaign against the students’ loan scam.  He urged workers to appreciate the historical responsibility in their hands to organise themselves politically and ideologically to end the suffering and inequality in society. He added that “if we want to have socialism without struggle, it is impossible. And if workers don’t painstakingly educate themselves, the trade unions will remain the way it is. And the leadership in the trade unions will continue to ride it as they like and want”.


Mayowa Adeyeye, SEC Member ASCSN, Lagos

Following the lead off by Prof Laja, other speakers also highlighted other grey areas that are pressing in the trade unions. Mayowa Adeyeye [ASCSN] spoke about the Labour Party and the internal crisis in the party. Biodun Bakare (AUPCTRE) stressed the need for an ideological base of the trade unions and why it must be revived despite the challenges confronting many trade unions currently. He also shared the views of the lead speaker and said: “We need to move a bit from the trade unions traditional demands like minimum wage. Rather, the trade unions must begin to be political in their struggles”. His reason was that why economic demands like wage are important, workers have to begin to think in the direction of organising to politically change the system. He also emphasised on the need for solidarity among workers and trade unions and also the civil society groups. He appreciated the support of the CDWR in the struggle of the union organizing hundreds of Lagos state water corporation workers who have been illegally and callously disengaged. This was done as a step in the plan to privatize public water in the state.

Biodun Bakare, AUCPETRE Lagos State Secretary

In addition to joining other discussants to speak to the theme of the symposium, Nurse Thomas also talked on gender discrimination in the trade union and why it must be discouraged. She said workers in the trade unions must not allow the government to continue to divide their ranks. This is something the employers of labour have successfully been doing against workers, most especially on wages.

Abiodun Thomas, a nurse in Lagos

The last speaker was Chinedu Bosah CDWR publicity secretary. He started off with a commentary on political and historical significance of the October 1917 Socialist Revolution in Russia and the impact it had on humanity and various struggles in the 20th and 21st centuries. Then, he cited various examples of how the weakness and corruption of leaderships of trade unions as well as lack of genuine internal democracy undermine the interest and welfare of workers at workplaces. He disclosed that the situation is so bad that some trade union leaders actually work together with the management to put workers in slave-like condition called casualization. Some trade union leaders set up out-sourcing companies which recruit casual workers for profit. This partly accounts for why Labour has not been able to fight the scourge of casualization.

Chinedu Bosah, CDWR publicity secretary

He also talked about capitulation to neo-liberal capitalist agenda by the leaderships of the NLC and TUC, something which, in addition to a lack of clear alternative idea and program, explains why they have not been able to seriously mobilise workers against anti-poor policies which have compounded the cost-of-living crisis. All these underscore the need for fighting leadership and the rebuilding of trade unions. He calls for the building of a network of trade unionists, pro-labour activists and socialists to begin a campaign at workplaces and within trade unions for leadership that consistently defends workers’ interest and trade unions which are run democratically. The network should also organize workers education and also independently mobilize workers against attacks and anti-labour practices.

Contributions from workers at the meeting show that they are desirous of change in the character of the current trade union leadership and the need for fighting trade unions.  The CDWR plan to organize similar public meetings outside Lagos as a way of winning more support for the need to build a trade union rebuilding campaign. Only three copies of the Socialist Democracy, the DSM’s newspaper, were sold albeit at N1000. Most of the participants had already bought copies at different trade union events we had intervened recently.