Nigeria: Victory for Kabelmetal workers

Rufus Olusesan, a worker, trade union activist, and DSM (Democratic Socialist Movement – CWI in Nigeria) member, was unjustly and arbitrarily sacked by the management of Nexans Kabelmetal Nigeria Plc, Ikeja, Lagos, who on 7 December, 2002. After strike action and an international campaign he has been reinstated. Eight days of strike action, beginning on16 January, brought work and other activities at the company to a standstill. The workers also picketed the factory daily.

The workers were demanding the reinstatement of Rufus who was sacked because of his consistent defence of workers’ rights in the company. They also demanded the immediate resignation or removal of Muyiwa Owotumi, the deputy general manager (human resources), whom workers think was the architect of most of the anti-worker policies and actions of the company.

The sacking was a pure act of victimisation. Rufus did not commit any offence. No allegations were made against him, no offence was stated and above all, he was not given any opportunity to defend himself. The sack letter from the management simply says his appointment was being terminated "for acts inimical to the interest of the company". The sacking of Rufus was meant by the management to serve as a lesson to any union activist who may want to stand up to fight for decent working and living conditions for their members.

The immediate cause of the Rufus’ victimisation was a levy of N1,000 deducted from workers’ November salaries by the then pro-management local union leaders in connivance with the company management. The local union executive and the management deducted the money unilaterally without any consultation with the workers. On 3 December 2002, 128 workers out of about 200 workers in the company wrote and signed a petition protesting against the deduction and demanding a refund. The next day, 4 December, the pro-management local union leaders wrote to the management asking that action be taken against Rufus Olusesan and some other workers for alleged acts of "insubordination".

Only struggle guarantees victory

The national leadership of the Steel and Engineering Workers Union (SEWUN) played a commendable role during the dispute, supporting the strike and picketing. The Campaign for Independent Unionism (CIU) also helped to organise solidarity against Nexans Kabelmetal both within and outside Nigeria. As a result, some trade unionists and working class organisations in Nigeria and abroad wrote to the company management to demand the recall of Rufus Olusesan. Protest letters were sent to the company from Germany, Britain, Belgium and United States.

The workers are still demanding the refund of N1,000 deduction, the removal of Muyiwa Owotumi, an end to the victimisation of union activists, refund of the National Housing Fund deducted from workers’ salaries and an end to casual labour.

The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) salutes the workers on their well-deserved victory, which shows that only struggle can guarantee victory for the working class. We call on the new union executives, who were elected during the struggle with Rufus as the chairman, to conduct the affairs of the union in an open, transparent and democratic manner. Mass meetings of workers should be held regularly to discuss the programmes of the union and take collective action.

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February 2003