Nexus between education and trade unionism



TO passers-by, the labour unionists roles are to protect, do lockout, protests and create civil disobedience, while furthering the interests of their members spontaneously without any prior planning and approach. But as the saying goes, ‘there is methodology even in madness’.

Therefore, there are rules of engagement within the trade unions on how to organize ‘disobedience’ within the work place. Indeed, as new ways of doing things emerge in the work place, new challenges on how to push new frontiers for the advancement of workers’ interests also develop.

As centripetal and centrifugal forces continually interact and struggle for relevance within the workplace, so also are the instruments of dialogue assuming vociferous sophistication.

Yet, the working class is expected to cope with these dynamics of interactions. In the unfolding scenario where employers have access to resources to widen their oppressive and suppressive know-how, it is the lot of the labour unions to also find avenues where they can update their knowledge about how to counter employers as well as government’s policies that are seen to be anti-workers.

It is for the singular reason of advancing the education advancement of workers that the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and some stakeholders congregated in Uyo, Akwa Ibom for the 13th edition of Congress Rain School. In addition to the Rain school, which takes place in the southern part of the country, NLC also has Harmattan School, which takes place in the northern part of the country as well.

Speaking on the relevance of continued education of unionists at the just-concluded 2015 Rain School in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom capital, the Deputy President Congress, Peters Adeyemi said the education programmes of the NLC were meant to expose unionists to the emerging trend within the workplace. His words: “We are living in a dynamic society that is ruled by information technology where labour can no longer remain static in terms of education. We are contending with employers of labour who are well trained.

Not only well trained to look after workers’ welfare but are also well trained to exploit us. So, we must be in a position to continually educate our rank and file on how to negotiate the best for the workers. Now, we are witnessing an emerging new trend where governors are now finding comfort in not paying our salaries. Prior to this time, payment of salaries is taking for granted because workers expected to be paid at the end of the month but that is no longer the case now. So, we now have to educate our rank and file on how to confront this latest challenge, which is the most dangerous one.

“Therefore, labour leaders cannot afford not to be educated and knowledgeable about all the developments within the world of work. We must continue to network with all our allies both within and outside of the country for us to be able to confront this new neo-liberalism where workers will be working without salaries and the capitalists will continuously confiscate all the resources we jointly work for.”

Also, the President of the NLC, Ayuba Wabba said the challenges confronting Nigeria will not abate saying since the capitalists and politicians are devising more sophistication in the way they deprive the working people their right, labour must seek to re-define social jargons to boost the relevance of trade union within the development space. He also explained that NLC picked the theme “the labour movement and the politics of change in Nigeria” to discuss how the movement should interpret the concept of ‘change’.

His words: “The world economy will nor get better any time soon. Why? Because the capitalists are devising more sophisticated ways of increasing money available to them. To capitalists, it is about maximizing profits irrespective of the state of the working people are. That is why we have chosen this theme in order for us to reflect on what change symbolizes for us. Is it just change for change sake? Change, to us, should be about the welfare of the working people. It must be about how to increase equality and improve the quality of lives of the working people.

Change to the politicians is about how to grab power and money but for us, it is more than that. We must seek to re-define what change means to us as working people of Nigeria and that is the reason we have gathered here to x-ray how to dissect the meaning of change that is beneficial to us.”

The NLC Chief also hinted that the proposed Labour College he promised to establish during his campaign would be domiciled in Uyo as a mark of gesture for the support Rain school has received from the state government. He said: “The NLC will upgrade this Rain School Complex which is located in the Workers’ Solidarity Centre in Uyo. The government of Godswill Akpabio donated the Centre to us for the purpose of organizing our annual educational programmes there. But Congress has decided to upgrade it into Labour College.

Congress is ever grateful to the government and people of Akwa Ibom State for helping the NLC to achieve one of its strategic objectives, in our quest to provide trade Union Education to our members. I will in due course call on the governor to discuss our plan for further expansion of the structure, so that it can fully serve our purpose for continuous education delivery.”

Wabba declared that trade union education is an important tool in building working class consciousness, practical and professional skills as union officers and cadres, saying labour education activities must promote core values of trade unionism such as internal democracy, transparent and accountable Leadership, among others. He pledged that his leadership will work towards a comprehensive review of NLC education and training activities to ensure that they are relevant and meet the present needs of workers.

Wabba explained: “We will be interested through the review activities to know how these educational programmes have impacted the workers that have gone through them. This Rain School for instance has been designed to build the capacity of the Leadership of trade Unions; develop our gender equity awareness among Unions and Unionists; as well as develop the capacity of our union organizers.

As a leadership, we will be interested to know how well the investment we have put into these programmes over the last 13 years have helped the growth and development of Cadres in these areas. For instance, after one week of participating in the Rain School Organizer’s Course, are participants better equipped to go back to their unions and carry out the job of recruiting new members into the fold of their industrial unions?” The NLC boss said if at the end of participating in the education programmes, the gains of the programme do not reflect in the tasks of the participants in their unions, then the NLC is still yet to live up to the ideals behind the establishment of the programmes.

On his part, the Officer-in-charge of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Office for Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone and The Gambia, Dennis Zulu, who lauded the theme, explained that change neither exists in isolation nor secured without sacrifice or hard work. He added: “It is also wise to be reminded of the need to pursue positive changes in the light of the global production of goods and services and economic realities of the day.

The theme places a special responsibility on workers themselves and their representatives to be prepared to play roles that would lead to positive changes for the benefit of all. To be able to perform these formidable tasks, trade union movements must be united and strong enough to be able to defend the fundamental rights of the workers. ”

Zulu submitted that experiences have indeed shown that multiplicity of unions and intra-union fighting ad personal interest among leaders may lead to rivalries and disunity among the rank of leaders and workers, adding that all of these have been responsible for lack of strength among trade unions.

He noted that in a rapidly globalizing world, the challenge of securing decent work, safe conditions of work, living wages, basic social security, gender equality and fair income distribution calls for better governance and application and enforcement of universally accepted standards by all tripartite partners at all level. Zulu added: Despite these challenges, it should be noted that trade unions are key civil society institutions in most democratic countries, including Nigeria, where the masses look up to for leadership in securing the much desired change for the benefit of the grassroots. This indeed is a responsibility beyond the expected mandate of trade unions. For a trade union to be able to provide leadership beyond its immediate constituency, such trade union needs to be adequately strengthened to face the challenges before it.

This indeed makes the NLC Rain school a veritable tool for achieving its objectives.” In his remarks, the deputy governor of Akwa Ibom state, Moses Expo, said achieving the change mantra is a collective responsibility out of which workers are an important part. He said: “It is my considered opinion that since the change we desire for the nation must begin with us, it is therefore necessary that this school should rightly endeavour to focus on setting benchmarks for workers that would promote diligence at work, transparency and accountability as well as finding lasting solutions to the festering cancer of corruption in our public lives and the problem of insecurity plaguing our nation.”

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