By Victor Ahiuma-Young
SATURDAY December 17 unveiling of United Labour Congress of Nigeria, ULC, as the third labour centre in Nigeria alongside the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, has unsettled the labour movement.
The emergence of the new labour centre did not come as a surprise to many keen watchers of the happenings in the labour movement in Nigeria in the past decade.
In fact, what is surprising is that it took longer time come because in the last 10 years, there has been increasing disconnect between labour leaders and the ordinary workers. While labour leaders have become super bourgeoisie and have joined in the exploitation of the proletariat, others use the movement as a platform to ostentatious life far and above the comprehension of workers who pay the dues.
Core values of labour movement
From their Olympia heights, the labour leaders have completely abandoned the core values of labour movement, interested only in personal aggrandizement, manipulation of union’s constitution to achieve primordial interest. If presidents of industrial unions are not extending their tenures, assuming executive powers, undermining unions’ secretariats and scribes, they are transmuting from president to unions’ scribes. Some have in their greed to retain power at all cost, even suspended their deputies to stop them from contesting against them.
Before now, some civil society allies of labour had warned of growing frustration and widening gap between labour leaders and shop floor workers, insisting that something drastic was needed to reclaim the movement from buccaneers masquerading as labour leaders.
Implication of ULC emergence: One obvious implication of ULC is that among its affiliates are unions in critical sectors of the economy such as Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG; National Union of Electricity Employees, NUEE; National Union of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions Employees, NUBIFIE; newly registered Association of Nigeria Aviation, Professionals, ANAP, and National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers, NAAPE. In other words, ULC has great influence in the petroleum industry, power sector, inancial, aviation, education, manufacturing, Telecommunication sectors among others.
The name ULC is not new to Nigeria Labour Movement, as it was the umbrella body for progressive unionists before the 1976 merger of unions following the restructuring of Trade Unions by then Military Government of Muritala Mohammed\Olusegun Obasanjo Government.
Incidentally, the new ULC relies on the Trade Union Amendment Act of 2005, by the Federal Government headed by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, to come into existence.
How far the ULC will go, time will tell. But if the passion exhibited or displayed at its unveiling by its leaders and members is anything to go by, there is no doubt that a new mass movement has come to alter the nation’s labour movement and industrial relations landscape.
Affiliates of ULC: Though 18 industrial unions were physically present at the unveiling , the new labour centre is said to have more than 25 industrial unions and senior staff associations affiliated to it as at today.
Among the affiliates listed are ANAP Chemical and Non-Metallic Products Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, CANMPSSAN, Fitters Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, FISSAN, NUBIFIE, NUEE, NUPENG, National Union of Shop and Distributive Employees, NUSDE, Nigeria Union of Mine Workers, NUMW, Nigeria Union of Railway men, NUR, Steel and Engineering Workers Union of Nigeria, SEWUN, Iron and Steel Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, ISSSAN, Metal Products Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, MEPROSSAN, Precision, Electrical and Related Equipment Senior Staff Association, PRESESSA, and Academic Staff Union of Research Institutions, ASURI.
Before the unveiling of ULC, Mr. Joe Ajaero had told the delegates that they were not contesting with anybody or faction, but “we are doing this because of the exigency of the moment.”
In his inaugural speech ULC President, Ajaero promised to work with other progressive groups and organisations including unions to better the lots of workers and ordinary Nigerians, saying “we are ready to fight for the interest of workers in line with the constitution of Nigeria.”
Collaborating, Igwe Achese said, “It is sad that workers have been abandoned to suffer without salaries across the states including the Federal Government. You ask where is labour when all these are going on and you will not get a convincing answer. I believe we have a responsibility to these workers. That is why we are here to celebrate the beginning of a new hope for workers.”
NLC reacts: While the TUC adopts a “wait and see” approach to the emergence ULC, the NLC seems to have been unsettled.
The response of NLC through its President, Mr. Ayuba Wabba, illustrated the concern in NLC over the new labour centre.
In a statement he personally signed and in an interview granted, Mr Wabba singled out Ajaero and Achese, President and Deputy President respectively, of ULC for attacks, claiming their ambition for positions led to the formation of ULC.
While recalling the crisis that rocked NLC since the disputed March 2015 National Delegates Conference, NDC, and efforts to reconcile aggrieved members, Wabba declared “We shall do everything within our power to preserve the unity and coherence of the labour movement which was handed down to us by our forebears in the movement. The relevant organ(s) of congress would soon meet to review the latest challenge posed to the unity of our movement. We implore all workers to remain calm.
“The congress wishes to assure all our members including those of NUEE, NUPENG and others listed as having attended the alleged launch of the new centre, that the NLC will continue to provide protection for them, and will ensure that their leaders do not out of their consuming ambition to be leaders of a ‘national center’ lead them into the wilderness. In this regard, we will ensure that no one take you away from the NLC without your express democratic consent to do so.”
ULC response: But in his reaction, President of ULC, Mr. Ajaero described Wabba as a drowning man who had lost touch with reality.
He said: “Ayuba Wabba can defend the unity of NLC, not ULC. He does not understand the difference between labour center and Labour movement. His statement is a lamentation of a drowning man. The honey has been taken away from the crumbs. You cannot stop me from changing from my faith in Catholic Church to Pentecostal. It is a right guaranteed by the constitution. We would not join issues with him. We have moved on. We make haste to point out that as a responsible centre, we serve the interest of all Nigerian workers and peoples no matter where they come from and if Ayuba so wishes to do the same, no problem.
“We advise Ayuba to instead of embarking on a futile mission outside of his capacities and capabilities to rather concentrate on dousing the fires within his NLC which is what we think should bother him more. He should be focusing on solving the internal schisms which his style of leadership has created for those who still share the same umbrella with him. This is our comradely advice.”
Committee report: While some have argued that the NLC should have adopted the TUC’s approach, others insisted the NLC reaction was not unexpected since the crisis that rocked it following the disputed outcome of the March 2015 NDC which created a faction in NLC. All efforts by NLC veterans including the immediate past Governor of Edo State, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, to resolve the crisis including releasing a reconciliatory report, ended up in vain. There is no record to show that any of the recommendations of the committee was implemented over one year after submission. Several calls by concerned individuals and groups including the Nati