Many comrades in the trade union movement became active to change the world, but neoliberalism has defeated too many and they have been changed – for the worse. This is especially the case for the trade union leaders. The combination of the dominant ideas in society, regular meetings with government officials and feeling that they deserve to be rewarded have eroded their original socialist values.
This is on top of the usual hesitation for trade union leaders to call strikes that actively involve the members and seek solidarity. And the too frequent practice of calling off strikes at the earliest possible opportunity – even just when invited to meetings with the government.
As a result, many trade unions have become the mirror image of government departments. The general secretaries, and especially the chairs, have become chief executive officers. They are the bosses and all significant decisions are reserved for them. They expect to be rewarded with large salaries, big official cars and expense accounts that can be used as the fancy takes them. Trade union presidents have become the bosses. Appointed general secretaries who before used to be more active and fearless have since been reduced to clerical officers.
This corrupting influence has then spread out to other trade union officials who defer to their leaders in the hope that they too will gain the rewards of high office one day. Trade union meetings are regularly held in hotels where the delegates are also housed enjoying expenses that they would never afford from their own salaries.
This is the thin end of the wedge and makes more open corruption harder to resist. We all know that some trade union leaders have been actually bought off with brown envelopes, vehicles etc. Others have refused to retire at the appropriate age of arranged irregular congresses, as with the civil servant unions. We need to change the whole culture of trade unions to ensure that all leaders and members are not there for their own personal financial gain.
Government officials benefit from per diems and sitting allowances when they are members of official committees. This practice has spread to the trade union movement, especially in the case of negotiating meetings.
This means that it is in the financial interests of both the government officials and trade union delegates to endlessly extend the negotiating meetings. This could explain why the last increase in the minimum wage to N30,000 was due in 2016, but only became law three years later in 2019.
We need to defeat neoliberalism and return to a more egalitarian society. To do this, we need to change this approach and return to the view that all trade unionists are comrades, leaders are just the first amongst equals who are there to implement the collective decisions of their members. We also need to break the hesitation to call strikes with mass picketing that actively seek solidarity action from other trade unions.
Salaries of trade union leaders should reflect the average salaries of their members. They should only be slightly higher than the salaries of the other trade union officials. This should ensure that the salary of the highest paid official or chair of a trade union is only 50% more than that of the lowest paid employee of the trade union.
It should not be the norm for general secretaries and chairs to have their own private cars. They should use pool cars at least, or just take public transport as do the members of their trade union.
Trade union meetings should not be held in hotels or conference centres etc. The NLC and other major trade unions all have conference halls and meeting rooms in Abuja and state capitals. These facilities should be used for all trade union meetings.
Trade union officials and representatives should be re-imbursed for official travel and accommodation to attend meetings in Abuja or other states. They should not be paid daily allowances (per diems) or sitting allowances for trade union meetings. Where trade union representatives are paid sitting allowances to attend negotiation meetings with government officials these should be immediately paid to their trade union.
If trade union officials are required to travel to Abuja they should stay in the hotels managed by MHWUN, for example. If this is not possible, they should stay in hotels that are no more expensive.
Decisions to call and to call off strikes should be taken by the full National Executive Committee of trade unions. These decisions should not be delegated to officers or the chair.
Trade unions should use gender sensitive language, for example, chair rather than chairman.
We should recognise that strikes are what win our demands, not endless meetings or negotiations with government officials. We need to rebuild a tradition of active strikes and mass picketing. The NLC led strike in Kaduna briefly indicated the way, with daily protests and many press releases to ensure mass coverage in the media. Stay at homes are not enough – and co-ordination with other relevant trade unions across the sector is necessary.
The division within the health and education sectors is making a bad situation worse. If the trade unions and professional associations work together and provide active solidarity, we are all more likely to win.
When the doctors and other health workers fail to support each other the government is relieved. When the lecturers and other tertiary education workers argue over who should get the inadequate funds for earned allowances then workers across the sector suffer.
We need to organise a campaign to make our trade unions more democratic, less susceptible to corruption and better able to organise effective strikes that work for solidarity with related trade unions and the general public.
Socialist Labour sees work in the trade unions as central to our work. To read about Socialist Labour’s policies on the trade unions see:
SOLIDARITY WINS STRIKES – https://socialistlabour.com.ng/solidarity-wins-strikes
RANK AND FILE ORGANISATION IS VITAL IN THE TRADE UNIONS – https://socialistlabour.com.ng/rank-and-file-organisation-is-vital-in-the-trade-unions/