Organised Labour’s 100 years of gains and pains

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By Funmi Komolafe &  Victor Ahiuma-Young

100 years ago, precisely, 1912, the Nigeria Civil Service Union was registered. That marked  beginning  of what is  best described as organized labour.

The working class in Nigeria did not get its ‘independence’ from the colonialists on a platter of gold.  Indeed, one would be correct to say that organized labour is older than the political entity called Nigeria by  the colonialists.

It was a story of sweat, blood and tears.   Workers took the bold steps to confront the colonialists even before politicians who have been the beneficiaries of the struggles of the working class.

The great and selfless leaders of the trade  union movement  such as Labour leader , N0.  1,  Chief Michael  Imoudu  fought the colonialists not just on the issue of wages but also on racial discrimination and  the attainment of Nigeria’s political independence .   Not a few lives was lost to the struggle.   The killing of miners in Enugu popularly referred to as the Iva Valley massacre was one of the numerous sacrifices of the working class to the attainment of Nigeria’s independence.

Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives, Chief Emeka Ihedioha (l), with NLC President, Comrade Abdulwaheed Omar, during a “Save Our Nation rally” at the National Assembly in Abuja

With independence in 1960,  Nigeria became a member  of the International Labour Organisation but this did not mean an end to exploitation of labour.  Subsequent Nigerian  governments, military or civilian saw labour as a threat.   Labour leaders were  detained several times by the military government which  forcefully intervened in the affairs of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC.

The military disbanded the united labour centre;  Nigeria Labour Congress  freely established by union leaders  and indirectly established  the present  NLC in 1978.   Trade unions were  organized along industrial lines in 1977. Since then organized labour has moved along this line responding to political and economic challenges of  workers.

It is to the credit of the NLC under the leadership of Comrade Hassan Sunmonu that Nigerian workers got the first National Minimum Wage in 1981 after an 11 day national strike against the government of democratically elected president of Nigeria, Alhaji Aliu Usman Shagari.   Successive NLC president, Comrades Paschal Bafyau, Adams Oshiomhole and Abdulwaheed Omar have improved on the national minimum wage through negotiations.

The Pension reform is also one of the gains of the century .  The latest gain being the Employees Compensation Scheme signed into law by President Goodluck Jonathan.

There are however losses that cannot be quantified.  Workers have continuously being maimed by so-called investors.

Government has never taken the ministry of labour seriously enough hence, it is incapable of conducting factories inspection which could guarantee safe working environment for workers. The Ikorodu fire disaster in which scores of workers were roasted in a textile factory in 2002 is still fresh in our memories.

The last 1000 years has seen global economic transformation which has had effect on organized labour, we asked key stake holders pertinent questions about the future of the labour movement.

Labour Minister, Chief Emeka Wogu  said as labour marks its centenary anniversary, emphasized the commitment of  the administration of President Gooodluck  Jonathan to organized labour and  gave a piece of advice.”    As we brace ourselves  to the realities of the emerging global institutional setting  and the challenges therein,  let me state that I have implicit confidence  in the ability  of the Nigerian labour movement  to surmount  the challenges  associated  with this development  and  partner with the administration of Mr. President to create  an egalitarian society that will cater for the enhancement of the socio-economic  well-being of Nigerians.  ”

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