By Funmi Komolafe & VICTOR AHIUMA-YOUNG
Today, Nigerian workers join millions of workers all over the world except the United States of America to mark 128th anniversary of May Day. This special edition of Labour Vanguard takes a look at the relationship between the average worker and the trade union. What are the challenges for the average worker? It’s a special May Day Edition. Only in Vanguard.
FOR the average worker in Nigeria, a lot has happened between the last May Day and now. Issues of insecurity of lives and property, uncertainty of jobs, unemployment, and the effects of an ailing economy are some of the issues which the Nigerian worker had to contend with in the last one year.
The challenges notwithstanding, thousands of workers will be at several venues for rallies organized by their trade unions and the labour centres. However, it would appear that some are not impressed by these rallies.
The Campaign for Democratic and Workers Rights ( CDWR) said of the rallies, “. Unfortunately, May Day celebration is largely characterized by jamborees and partying rather than sober reflection of the appalling and worsening condition of the working class. We shall see display of company names and brands just for promotional values in addition to speeches from trade union leaders that lack a clear path to political and economic emancipation of the workers and the masses”.
Trade union movement
The views of CDWR signed by its publicity secretary, Chinedu Bosah are similar to those of Joint Action Front; another pro-labour Non- Governmental Organization, the Joint Action Front..
JAF stated “Our reflection on the state of the trade union movement in Nigeria revealed that Nigerian workers over the years have been weakened organizationally and ideologically by the anti-worker policies of global neo-liberalism. This has been responsible for the reduction in the numerical strength of the unions, attacks on jobs, indecent work conditions and environment, poor and slave wages and violations of workers’ rights as guaranteed by local and international labour instruments”.
JAF in its response to our enquiries endorsed by its chairman, Dr. Oladipo Fashina and General Secretary, Abiodun Aremu noted “ that the leadership of Nigerian trade unions across board have not lived up to the expectations of the Nigerian working people in organizing against the inimical policies of the neo-liberal policies of privatization, deregulation, casualisation, contract staffing, etc”.
CDWR on its part stated,
“ In celebrating the 2014 May Day, the Nigeria Labour Congress ( NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) should shift its focus to workplace conditions and work out clear-cut programmes on how to challenge all anti-labour practices taking place in all workplaces and establishments”
The NGO suggested, “ This should include mass mobilization and sensitization of workers and the public for a sustained struggle to win more concessions for workers. Rank and file workers have to put more pressure on the trade union leaders as a means of engaging employers of labour”.
The Joint Action Front listed critical challenges before the trade unions” and this include,
“The need for a renewed commitment to the ideological and political education development of the rank and file workers in the formal and informal sectors of the economy.
*A trade union movement that should be committed to organizing the unemployed and the informal sector workers.
*A trade union movement with an agenda for the unemployed and social security, Decent Work and living wage and that should ensure that employers and Government implement collective agreements reached with workers. *A trade union movement committed to struggle to ensure that Agreements reached with the polytechnic and colleges of education striking workers 9 ASUP, SSANIP and COEASU) and the entailments due to the pensioners are implemented soonest.
*A trade union movement that will be committed to provide leadership for a nationwide struggle against the policies of privatization and deregulation and for full industrialization drive that could ensure massive employment and expansion of infrastructure.
*A trade union movement prepared to work with its main partner in the civil society – JAF – under the platform of Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO) towards the emergence of a genuine mass party of the working class and the poor as the political alternative to the political parties of the ruling class of exploiters.
The CDWR insists that “ trade union leaders are doing little or nothing at unionizing and organizing defenseless workers in many workplaces who are in dire need of a union platform to defend their interest. Cases abound of union leaders who betray workers struggle or do little to defend workers rights and interests.
A whole lot of anti-labour policies abound in workplaces that are left unchallenged. Casualisation and contract staffing is replacing secured employment in many workplaces including the public sector”.
It noted that the national minimum wage is yet to be implemented in many states and organized labour seems helpless”. Though, the tempo of labour’s activities has drastically declined, it has a history to be proud off.
Nigerian workers need to be vigilant and participate actively in the next election of the NLC scheduled to hold in February next year so as to elect leaders they can be proud off.