The Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC recently rolled out the drums to celebrate forty years of its existence with the theme: “NLC at Forty, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, National Unity and Social Justice.”
This theme was chosen to enable the leadership of the Labour Union, to review its efforts in the struggle for better living conditions for the Nigerian workers, achieve social justice that upholds dignity in labour and strengthen the bond of workers throughout the country.
It is pertinent to say that the Nigerian Labour Congress, which is one of the oldest labour movements in Nigeria, has had a chequered history since its establishment in 1978.
The history dates back to 1974 following the Apena Cemetery Declaration, were leaders of the then four labour federations agreed to jettison their political and ideological differences, to set up a united central organisation called the Nigeria Labour Congress.
This understanding was implemented in 1975 but not without incurring the wrath of the then military regime of General Murtala Mohammed, who some analysts said, was uncomfortable with the labour movements’ amicable resolution of the differences within the working class movements.
It would be recalled that the Murtala Mohammed regime on February 12, 1976 set up the Adebiyi panel to re-organise the trade unions. This move was followed by the dissolution and disbandment of the young NLC. In place, a new central labour organisation was created with the same name as the Nigeria Labour Congress, through the instrumentality of the Trade Union Amendment Decree number 22 of 1978.
Thereafter, the several minimum wage negotiations and struggles by the NLC against the employment of casual workers in Nigeria, especially by multi-national companies and the holding of mega rallies against the increase in the pump price of petroleum products among others, from 1981 till date, often placed the NLC at logger heads with the government of the day.
This led to the proscription of the labour union at one point or the other while the leaders and members were in and out of jail, with some having to pay the ultimate price of losing their lives.
In the last two years of the current administration of the NLC led by Ayuba Wabba, the union has seen so many trying moments. These range from the split of the organization into two parallel unions, to the blatant refusal of some State Governors to pay workers’ salaries in spite of federal government’s bailout interventions and the mass sack of workers in some States.
Speaking at the 40th anniversary celebration in Abuja, the President of NLC, Ayuba Wabba, acknowledged the strategic contributions of the Nigerian workers, journalists, social activists, some members of the armed forces and partners in the struggle for a better society and improved conditions of service for workers and pensioners.
The Labour struggles in Nigeria cannot be complete without the mention of the doggedness and the contributions of leaders like late Pa Michael Imoudu, Hassan Sunmonu, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, and others who made some modest positive impact on the lives of Nigerian workers in particular and Nigeria at large.
As the NLC celebrates its fortieth anniversary, it should not lose sight of the fact that the issues that led to the struggle of the past years are still very vivid and paramount in Nigeria today. It must therefore re-strategize to ensure the best means of engaging the government positively to leverage on the cordial relationship in order to deliver the dividends of democracy to the Nigerian working Class and the citizens in general.
Nigerian workers are among the most poorly paid workers around the world. As such the NLC should ensure that the current review of the Eighteen thousand Naira Minimum wage by the President Muhammadu Buhari Administration is fast-tracked to help Nigerian workers manage the economic recession in the country.
After forty years, the NLC leadership should reflect soberly on its successes and failures of the past and plan ahead for the next four decades sharpen its negotiating skills and tools and reunite the union into one big and strong family which the founding fathers of the congress established.
Also, the Nigeria Labour Congress must not remain in different politically but strive to be relevant to build a strong and virile Labour Party with a formidable ideology that will ensure social welfare for the masses, justice, peace and national unity to be able to compete effectively on the nation’s political turf.
NLC should be the rallying point not only for workers but indeed Nigerians by pushing for the rights of the people and remaining a united force at all times as it is only when such is done that the Nigeria Labour Congress could be said to have come of age.