What is your assessment of organized labour in the last 100 years?
President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Comrade Abdulwaheed Omar :
“If you look at the 100 years of the labour movement, you will agree with me that the labour movement in Nigeria has outlived the Nigerian nation. It is the struggle of labour union that put together what we have as an entity called Nigeria today. The history of labour movement has always been characterised by struggles.
In fact, if you remember the pioneers of labour movement in Nigeria, they came to lime light because of the struggles they put up. It is also worthy to note that that the very first strike that was carried by the labour movement in this country characterised a very significant factor in unifying this country where workers in Lagos, Enugu, Port Harcourt and Sokoto, etc came out united to go on nationwide strike, and that was the very beginning of Nigerian unity. Therefore, labour movement in Nigeria has been a unified factor. That fire has continued burning. In fact, that brought about the slogan, ‘the struggle continues’.
Successive governments have at different times tried to undermine the labour movement. Why is it so?
Successive governments have been characterised by selfish ends. As I said earlier, labour movement has been characterised by struggles. So, it has become the norm in this country that workers will get nothing on a platter of gold until they rise and struggle. Luckily, workers have been able to rise up for their rights.
Successive governments have always seen the labour movement as a threat. So, they always fight back to undermine the labour movement but the good news is that all these years, they have been unable to break the might of labour movement. I once made a statement in 2007 that I pray the labour movement struggle would end some day because there wouldn’t be need for it. But I was misinterpreted.
What I meant then was that labour struggle has been characterised by fights, oppression and injustice. The day government will settle down and work for the welfare of Nigerians, where the rights of its citizens are respected, that is the day the labour struggle will end.
Comrade Issa Aremu, general secretary, National Union of Textile, Garment and Tailoring Workers and vice- President NLC.
How relevant is organised labour in the current political and economic dispensation?
I don’t think there is anybody standing doubting the relevance of organised labour represented mainly by NLC. Perhaps we can discuss the quality of relevance but not labour relevance as such. First the test of relevance lies in the objectives trade unions set for themselves.
The main objective is to advance the material well being of working men and women. Certainly Nigerian workers still make up the 70 per cent bottom poor. Of course no Nigerian worker is listed among the Africa’s new billions of which 11 are Nigerians. That working people remain working poor is however not due to lack of efforts by unions.
To be continued next week