The negative sides of labour’s wage struggle




It appears that Alex Gourevitch, Professor at Brown University, had the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), in mind, when he stated that; every liberal democracy recognizes that workers have the right to strike; that such right is protected in law and sometimes in the constitution itself. Yet, strikes according to him; poses serious problems for liberal societies. They involve violence and cohesion, they often violate some basic liberal liberties, they appear to involve group rights having priorities over individual ones, and they can threaten public order itself.

Indeed, aside from being an indispensable means of ‘enabling the seller of labour take due care of their own interest under a system of competition’, wisdom born from experience has taught Nigerians and of course the organized labour that strike could be used as a disruptive or a constructive tool to shatter set patterns of thinking, threaten the status quo, or at the very least stir up people’s anxieties.

The recently tensed but now suspended strike action by Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) over a disagreement with the Federal Government on the relativity and adjustments for different categories of workers in the new minimum wage law signed by President Muhammadu Buhari in April supports this assertion.

However, like science which is advanced by a community of investigators who often disagree about explanation for an important phenomenon, so has the organized labour/FGs minimum wage debacle led to a divided opinion on the usefulness of, or otherwise of the organized Labour to the ordinary Nigerian not captured under the umbrella of organized labour.

Specifically, while it been canvassed in some quarters that Labour movement as presently postured remains a body in limbo when it comes to tackling national issues that will bring greater good for the greater number, others complained that labour have opted out of watchdogs of the society position which Comrade Michael Imoudu, Paschal Bafyau and Comrade Adams freely performed during their times. But to the rest, labour should not be blamed for their inability to compel the  government  to  soften the blow of inflation and recession, subsidize education, build infrastructure, stabilize the fallen standard of living and reduce to the barest minimum the high cost of living in the country. The reason  in defence of labour by this last group is simple.

Right from the day the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), was unbundled with the creation of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the United Labour Congress (ULC), the energy with which the Labour used to fight fizzled. 

Appreciably, the division may be a factor looking at the recent statement by the United Labour Congress (ULC) where it stated that since critical sectors that would make the strike to be successful were left out of the decision, the planned strike by the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), is “dead on arrival’

Could this be the only explanation for not being holistic when making demands from the federal government? Absolutely not as there are other separate but similar reasons.

The value of any system depends on how it’s employed. The present labour movement was both defocussed and narrow in their demand. They ignore links between minimum wage and bad government policies and failed to appraise the entire process in order to situate if the strategy will achieve results that will be sustainable and encompassing.  NLC/TUC has become reputed for focussing on trivial concerns without addressing the fundamental issues in the nation’s economy. Their systematic failure to demand for an accelerated revamp of the nation’s economy may consequentially plunder our nascent economic space into a more chaotic situation and make nonsense of the new minimum wage.

Essentially, why organized labour’s inability to speak for the entire Nigerians should be a source of worry to all is that a peep into their fundamental aims and objectives will reveal that they promised; to protect, defend, and promote the rights, well being and the interests of all workers, pensioners, the trade unions and the working class in general; as well as promote and defend a Nigerian nation that would be just, democratic, transparent and prosperous.

By its admission, the NLC/TUC leadership in a release dated, 2nd October 2019, issued after a meeting with the Joint National Public Service Negotiating Council (JNPSNC-Trade Union Side) at the Labour House, Abuja, noted that; the naira suffered devaluation from N150 to $1 in 2011 to N360 to $1 in 2019, a depreciation of 140%. – Furthermore, petroleum price has been hiked from N87 per litre to N145 per litre which translates to 60% price increase. Electricity tariff has been increased by about 60%. – Of recent, the Value Added Tax (VAT) has been reviewed from 5% to 7.2%.

This new awareness may necessitate the questions as to; why did the NLC/TUC not push for the reversal of all these obnoxious policies since promotion and defence of the nation Nigeria forms part of its fundamental objectives? Why was their attention only on minimum wage increase? Where lay the transparency and prosperity they promised to protect?

Very regrettably, in maintaining silence on the current state of the economy, there are fundamental points the organized Labour failed to remember.

Admittedly, it is believed globally that the relationship between employers/employees is always strained, always headed towards conflict. Unions do not strike on a whim or use the strike to show off their strength. They look on strikes as costly and disturbing, especially for workers and their families. Strikes are called as last resort’. That notwithstanding, a decision not to speak up in the face of harsh economic policies in the country that drives more Nigerians to destitution cannot reflect a responsible and responsive labour movement.

To, therefore, catalyze the process of securing true victory that will  respect, and  put the economic conditions of other Nigerians and their basic humanity into consideration, labour  in Nigeria must learn to create professional characters embodied with virtues that the government can respect, develop moral and ethical principles that the masses can applaud and trust– develop genuinely independence from partisan political personalities so as to discharge their responsibilities with unshakeable confidence.

The government on their part must learn to manage relationship with the people profitably as failure to do so the society sooner will than later find itself degenerating into chaos.

Utomi writes from Lagos via [email protected]

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