Organised Labour and the National Conference

The March 17, 2014 inauguration of the 492-member National Conference opens another window of opportunity for conversation on broad areas of our national life with the key objective of finding our bearing as a nation which has been adrift after 54 years of political independence. Notwithstanding the doubts surrounding its convocation by the Jonathan Presidency, there exists guarded optimism that the conference provides Nigerians a prospect to reflect on what went wrong with Nigeria and the way forward.
The participation of organisedlabour and its civil society allies invariably brought some measure of integrity to the conference which would have been missing if they were absent. Organisedlabour has 24 representatives split evenly between Nigeria’s two labourcentres – Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC).

Since the inauguration of the conference, however, there is ample evidence for even the most disinterested observer of what transpires within and outside the conference to note that expectation of any positive role organisedlabour was meant to play may have been too presumptuous. This notion derives from the fact that labour, which traditionally has been led by the NLC, is yet to articulate any agenda on the basis of its well-known principles for which to canvas as part of the cardinal features of a new Nigeria that the National Conference is expected to give birth to. Ordinarily, the NLC has historically been the rallying point of all progressive forces and as a result it is our expectation that at the ongoing conference, the NLC ought to have been the natural leader around which other progressive elements, such as TUC, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) and other youth organisations, must of necessity hook-up to have a stronger voice and be more visible.

While we are mindful of the fact that as individuals, the representatives of organisedlabour have the capacity to coherently articulate their viewpoints, it is nonetheless inconceivable that as a formidable component of our society, the labour movement went to a conference, which has the mandate to discuss literally everything except the disintegration of Nigeria, clearly unprepared and uncoordinated; for that is what it is considering that neither the NLC nor the TUC has made public any known agenda that their representatives have the mandate to pursue. Though the CSOs have an 8-point agenda, but as strong and reliable allies in labour’s popular struggles for a free, just and egalitarian society, it does the mass movement no good for one of its key arms to go to the conference with a separate agenda. A collective agenda of both labour and CSOs definitely has the capacity to make huge impact, had the leadership of labour reflected on how issues like this were handled in the past.

We strongly believe that the current mood that has taken grip of the leadership of organisedlabour is highly destructive. Invariably, manifestly acrimonious squabbles within labour in the last few years inevitably combined with this mood to create a highly negative public impression leading to the prevailing low morale in trade unions and the disconnect between the movement and the mass of society whose support provided the momentum that for years kept in check even military dictatorships from doing what pleased them and which led to the eventual enthronement of democratic governance in 1999. The blame for any public apathy ultimately goes to the leadership of labour with the albatross hanging on the head of the current leadership of NLC under whose watch the flame of activism suddenly went out of the NLC making it a docile, complacent and pliable labourcentre.

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