The Nigeria Labour Congress is well positioned to change this country for good if and only if its leadership understands that lasting collective gains in the future are better than temporary wins and immediate personal glory of its leaders. In the early days, protesting workers were easily dismissed and replaced with workers ready to accept even lower wages. Employers of labour were feudalistic in methodology. To confront these monsters, it became necessary for labour unions to spring up and give workers the necessary voice to balance the equations with employers. Organised labour unions fight for the better working conditions of their members worldwide. Labour unions have always emanated out of the need to protect the common interest of workers whose basic needs include good shelters, good affordable schools for their wards, robust health care system, good wages for workers to be able to afford good meals for themselves and members of their families and general safety at working places and homes.
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Negotiations with authorities on improvements of standards of living of workers are the mainstay of the Unions with strike actions as veritable tools of bargaining, In effect, Labour Unions are designed to give workers stronger voices in their affairs. Labour unions can be as strong as the headship desires. On December 14th 1970, workers from the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk, Poland went on strike, the Nationalist-Communist Government headed by WladyslawGomulka was not happy with this and ordered troops to brutally put down the revolt resulting in deaths of 75 people. But the deaths did not deter the workersin continuing with their strike. The strike pushed on until it consumed the governance of Gomulka who was replaced by Edward Gierek who was more open to the demands of the workers.
Labour strike resulted effectively in a change of Government. The new government now headed by Gierek resorted to borrowing lots of money from the Western capitalist world, in order to provide basic amenities in Poland. Most of these loans were, however, misspent, and led to a very heavy debt burden which had to crush debilitating effects on the populace. This led to yet other workers strike, citing political and economic problems of the period. The new workers strike started from same Lenin Shipyard. It was led this time, by an electrician, Lech Walesa, and in August 1980, Walesa was able to secure a mutually benefitting agreement with the then-troubled Gierek-led Polish government. The agreement was known as the Gdansk Agreement or Gdansk August Agreement.
The Gdansk Agreement which was also known as the Gdansk Social Accord had 21 prominent points. Number 6 was: The undertaking of actions aimed at bringing the country out of its crisis situation by the following means: a) making public complete information about the social-economic situation, and b) enabling all sectors and social classes to take part in the discussion of the reform programme. The Polish example remains till date a demonstration of the good and effective use of Labour powers; Lech Walesa would later become a Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1983 and President of Poland between 1990 and 1995. In Nigeria, Late Pa MichaelImoudu led the Railways Workers Union on strikes against the colonial government in 1941, the workers’ grievances which mainly was the improvement in conditions of services of the technical employees of the Nigerian Railways back then, were implemented. There were further clashes between Pa Imoudu and the European managers over preferential treatments in favour of the Whites
In May 1981, Hassan Sunmonu led all Nigerian workers on strike, to demand for a minimum wage and minimum pension scheme, These demands were met by the ShehuShagariled Government.Virtually all strikes in Nigeria (and they are so numerous to list) have been to demand for increase in wages for workers. The exception is the Frank Kokori –led Nigeria Union of Petroleum, and Natural Gas (NUPENG)workers strike, which was aimed at solving a political logjam. Even though the NUPENG strike could not get the then Military government to reverse the annulment of the free and fair June 12, 1993 election, the NUPENG strike is on record as one of the most successful workers strike in Nigeria history in terms of its mobilisation and coordination for effectiveness. Workers and others outside the union umbrella are subjected to the ruling elites, to the similar poor living conditions the Labour Unions are always fighting to reverse for their members. The condition which made the minimum wages of the Udoji era untenable today is bound to make today’s demand irrelevant in very few years to come.
The real roots of worsening poverty and economic hardship in Nigeria for example, are mainly bad economic policies and poorly-thought out development choices of governments. These in most cases, are the causes of inflations and unaffordable high costs of living which Labour Unions mostly call out their members to protest with strikes to back demand for wage increases. Effectively, labour’s demands for increases in wages will always come to nullity if Labour does not seek to have a strong voice to change wasteful extravagance and other profligacy and corrupt diversions of public funds at all levels of governance in Nigeria. Union leaders in Nigeria have been threading same paths for decades, without any consolidated successes for future generations of workers.
In the Polish Labour “wars” example, the demand was not limited to mere increase in salaries; point number 6 actually proffered an open system of Governance, not the dark goggled governing system we operate. It is inconceivable that State Governments owe months in Workers’ salaries. But it is equally unacceptable that the proposed minimum wages are being subjected to endless debates now, yet, there will be problems with implementing whatever figure as agreed, because state governments for example, simply have limited capability to pay salary bill beyond a certain point. The governments revenue and other internally generated income sources are not unlimited hence there are different ceilings above which many state governments cannot simply operate. If Labour demands as in the Gdansk agreement to seek an open system of governance where every kobo spent by every government arms is known to all, we will end up with more than enough to take care of the populace, and much more for improving our derelict infrastructures. Openness in governance is bound make the Labour Unions more liberal in outlook when dealing with Workers issues. Earnings and challenges of States differ from one to another.
Labour Unions may as well understand that a minimum wage in Osun or Taraba State should not be same as in Lagos or Rivers State.
Yes operators of dark goggled economic policies will fight back and cite constitutional provisions, Labour has more in its quivers to rebuff this and effect necessary amendments in the constitution to ensure our lives are run more effectively and efficiently. This can be the only true way to nation building and a sure way to ensure all that workers deserve are truly guaranteed permanently.
Going through this route too, Labour can count on the backings of average Nigerians from the remotest hamlet to our big cities, as this will address all issues of economic wastes in Governance, from the humongous take home payof politicians in our National assemblies who are earning in excess of awesome multiple folds compared to the highest paid worker in the land for efforts at sittings, meetings and travelling, totalling less than 100 days of a real worker time frame. It is such openness in governance that will expose the quantum of waste in the so called “Security votes” being accessed and spent by virtually all Executives in government.
The truth remains that Labour remains the only legal potent force to engage our immoralities in governance and bring about changes without bloodshed.The question now is which labour leader will take on the gauntlet to become a modern nation builder?
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