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Trade Union Movement in Nigeria and International Trade Union Movement

Trade Union Movement in Nigeria and International Trade Union Movement

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Published by akapoelizabeth

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Published by: akapoelizabeth on May 25, 2010
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The paper will be examining the developments in the Nigerian Trade Unionmovement and the International Trade Union Movement. Because capital isconcentrated social power, in a context in which the worker has only his individuallabour power, it is considered imperative for workers to be united in confronting theenormous power of capital. This can be done through the collective effort of the Nigerian Trade Union Movement and their international counterparts.
“Workers of the world unite; you have nothing to loose but your chain”.That was the clarion call of Karl Marx and his comrade with collaboration of Friedrich Engels in ending the communist manifesto of 1848. That call was based onthe enormity of the task before workers in the struggle between labour and capital, not just within the workplace but also in the general class struggle to overthrow the yokeof capital. Because capital is concentrated social power, in a context in which theworker has only his individual labour power, it is considered imperative for workersto be united in confronting the enormous power of capital. According to Lozovsky(1972), the only social force possessed by the workers is their numerical strength.This force, however, is impaired by the absence of unity. It is in the same vein thatAllan Flanders (1972) argues that the unity of workers makes the trade union acomplete organization and constitutes the foundation of the union’s strength. Nigeria’s trade unions movement has a rich history. It took part in the anti-colonial struggle and also contributed to the fight against military dictatorship. Sincethe beginning of democracy in 1999, the labour movement has acted as the guardianof the interests of the poor. In the early November 2006, 1,700 delegates from 156countries met in Vienna for an event unprecedented in the history of the internationaltrade union movement. They dissolved two globally operating and competinginternational confederations – the international confederation of free Trade Unions
(ICFTU) and the denominationally oriented world confederation of labour (WCL) andfounded the international trade union confederation (ITUC) comprising 304 affiliatedfederations in 156 countries in which 168million workers are organized across theworld. Congress delegates were firmly convinced that the globalization of politicalinstitutions and the globalization of business and markets must be followed by theglobalization of trade union.
Trade union has attracted variety of definitions from scholars. Definitionsdepend on the perception of workers and the definition imposed by legal framework of a particular country. According to Akpala (1982) the exact definitions of tradeunion may vary from one situation to another depending on the economic and political situation encompassing the worker – management relations. The NigerianLabour law Section 1 of Sub section 1 Trade Union Act No 31 of 1973 defines TradeUnions any combination of workers or employers whether temporary or permanent,the purpose of which is to regulate the terms and conditions of employment of workers whether the combination in question would not apart from this act be anunlawful combination by reason of its purpose or any of its purpose be in restraint of trade and whether its purpose do not include provision of benefits for its members.Another definition is “an association of wage or salary earners formed with the objectof safe guarding and improving the wage and employment conditions of its membersand to raise members’ social status and standards of living in the community” (Fajana,2000), Also, Sidney and Beatrice Webb (1920) defined Trade Union as a continuousassociation of wage earners for the purpose of maintaining or improving the conditionof their working lives.
The origin of trade union movement in Nigeria could be traced to the pre-colonial period. At this time, there existed guilds, mutual aid groups and professionalor occupational craft unions all of which function to play the role of trade union.However, these associations are not in the modern sense of its full fledged tradeunion. Rather, most of them are merely workers association (Otobo, 1987:12). Theinception of modern trade unions in Nigeria could be said to coincide withcolonialism. Consequently, the first set of trade unions were modeled after British2
unions. Unlike the situation in most developed countries, trade union precededindustrialization in Nigeria.The organized trade union movement in Nigeria dates back to 1912 when theworkers in the Southern Nigerian Civil Service under the then colonial administrationorganized themselves into workers representatives. This then became known as the Nigeria Civil Service Union (NCSU) in 1914. This became a pivot with whichworkers in other sectors began the agitation for the formation of Trade Unions beforeand after independence in 1960.At this period, trade union could not take the pattern of radical organization because of the paternalistic nature of colonial government which is the largestemployer of public labour. Other unions which emerged during this period were the Nigeria Native Staff Union (NNSU), Nigerian Union of Railway men, NigerianMechanics Union and the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT). It was in 1938 that theTrade Unions Ordinance was enacted which provided legal backing for trade unions.By 1975 during the military regime of General Murtala Mohammed, TradeUnion in the country have risen to over 1,000 which include Mushroom Unions.In 1976, the Federal Government established a commission of inquiry into theactivities of the various unions and appointed an administrator to administer theunions and come up with a structure for the proper administration of the unions. This became necessary as the Unions were polarized into ideological divide which wascreating problems in the country. Towards the end of 1977, these Unions wererestructured into 42 along industrial line. The government also insisted on theformation of a labour centre as there were various multiple centres. In February 1978,the Nigeria Labour Congress was formed and inaugurated. The then 42 IndustrialUnions became affiliates of the Nigeria Labour Congress with a legal backing of Trade Union (Amendment) Decree 22 of 1978.Several reasons have been given to explain the apparent late arrival of tradeunionism in Nigeria.
Limited wage employment: Since the largest proportions of the citizens areengaged in the informal work sector, the few wage earners are colonialemployers and these are restricted to the colonial officers as well as related parastatals.3

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