Nigeria: President introduces anti-union legislation

Workers’ movement needs to adopt independent, class policies

At the end of March, Nigerian President Obasanjo signed into law an anti-trade union measure aimed at crippling workers’ resistance to his government’s neo-liberal measures. Since June 2000 there have been four official general strikes, the longest lasting 8 days, called against Obasanjo’s policies, especially increases in the price of fuel. On four other occasions since 2000 mass upsurges of protest, most recently last November, developed around planned general strikes that were called off at the last moment by the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC).

The following statement was issued in Lagos on 1 April by the Democratic Socialist movement (DSM).

President introduces anti-union legislation

Obasnjo’s anti-labour law:
Oshiomhole and others should quit Obasanjo’s ‘confab’ now

If there is still any doubt about the anti-people intention of the Obasanjo government in the pursuit of neo-liberal policies or its disrespect for democratic rights of workers, the new trade union law just promulgated should have removed such. The law is undemocratic, anti-worker, anti-people, vindictive and draconian. We of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), condemn this reprehensible law and call on the all the labour centres, NLC, TUC and CFTU, to set up processes and actions to defeat this anti-worker, anti-people law.

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) should resume the campaign it commenced when the bill was before the National Assembly and later suspended out of illusion in the legislatures.

With this latest crushing attack on the labour movement, the NLC president, Adams Oshiomhole, and other labour elements, should by now have no reason to dodge the persistent call for them to quit the on going confab. They ought to have been convinced beyond reasonable doubt that the confab is a useless forum, since Obasanjo’s government has made up its mind on how it wants to restructure Nigeria and the labour movement even without regards to the opinions of conferees.

We, therefore, reiterate our call for the immediate withdrawal of labour elements from the confab. Labour leaders cannot continue to fiddle at the unelected National Political Reform Conference (popularly known as the ‘confab’), and lend credence to Obasanjo’s government self-seeking agenda while their constituency is being destroyed. If the labour leaders are genuine in protecting workers’ interest at all times, massive mobilisation of workers and masses should commence immediately to kick-start a mass protest against the obnoxious trade union law.

This year’s May Day should be dedicated to the struggle against this anti-people law along other attacks on the workers’ interests. Adams Oshiomhole’s leadership of labour must not insult the intelligence of Nigerian workers by inviting Obasanjo to the Workers’ Day (May 1) as is usually done, as Obasanjo’s hatred for workers’ interests knows no bounds.

The draconian, unconstitutional provisions

Among the vexatious areas of the law is the provision that makes it illegal for workers in the so-called essential services, which include education, health, electricity, air traffic control and aviation, communication and water services, to go on strike. It is not only ironical but also shamelessly hypocritical that the government that does not deem education and education sectors, for instance, so essential to deserve adequate funding, could come around to see them as such while it is determined to use it as an undemocratic law to quell workers’ inevitable resistance.

Another obnoxious provision of the law is the one that outlaws embarking on industrial actions by the labour in protest against anti-people policies of the government like perennial increase in the pump price of the petroleum products. The provision allows other categories of workers to go on strikes but strictly on the direct labour related issues like wages, welfare package, etc.

The foregoing cited provisions are not only draconian but also blatantly unconstitutional. It sharply runs contrary to the spirits of the section 40 of the Nigerian Constitution which stipulates rights to freedom of association. While the trade union law pretends to recognise the freedom of association, it defeats the essence of existence of such association which is the protection of the workers’ interests. The law outright denies workers in the so-called essential services enjoyment of this fundamental right, while it creates impression that the interests of workers are limited mechanically to the issues pertaining to their condition of services. But the fact is that workers are not isolated from the entire society, like every citizen any policy of the government is of interest to the worker. Therefore, if such policy is against general interest for decent living the workers have right to protest.

Obasanjo’s Agenda

The essence of the law is to clip the wing of the labour that has been providing leadership for the working masses in their opposition against the characteristic anti-people policies of Obasanjo’s government, euphemistically called ‘economic reforms’, especially the incessant increase in fuel prices. It is on record that the labour has led seven popular nationwide strikes and protests in the life of Obasanjo administration against hikes in fuel price. It should be recalled that the government rushed to the National Assembly with the vindictive trade union bill shortly after one of such general strikes and protests in June 2004.

If the government thinks that with this anti-people law it has secured a field day to unleash neo-liberal attacks on the people, it will be seriously disappointed. Any legislation meant to perpetually subject working people to abject suffering, more so, in the midst of abundance as obtains in Nigeria, will be naturally resisted sooner than may be imagined.

The Labour must mobilise to defeat the law

We call on the labour and masses to reject this anti-worker, anti-people law. The labour leadership must not allow itself to be held down by the obnoxious law made by outright corrupt politicians who revel in treasury looting and election riggings.

We are of categorical position that there are two major lessons the labour leadership should learn from the spirits and letters of the law. First, while the labour leadership has always tried to help save the face of Obasanjo’s government at the peak of masses’ anger, the same government has stopped at nothing in the attempt to emasculate and cripple the labour movement. Second, the government with the support of all the major pro-capitalist parties, is hell-bent in implementing neo-liberal policies of privatisation, deregulation, downsizing, increase in fuel prices, and is prepared to crush anybody or group that stands in its way.

We therefore call on labour leadership to convene a conference of workers, civil society groups, pro-labour activists and working people’s organisations with a view of forming a genuine working people’s party, as the political platform to wrestle power from the anti-people corrupt governments at all levels. The massive support labour always enjoys from the masses whenever it calls for action, if well harnessed, is an indication of the good prospects for a labour-led party at the polls. If such a party, resting on the masses, existed it would be extremely difficult to rig elections without causing a popular revolt.

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April 2005