opinionBy Issa Aremu
Mni — True to the commitment to keep faith with its constitutional requirement, the 10th Quadrennial National delegates' congress of the National Union of Textile, Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria (NUTGWN), affiliate union of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) successfully held in Asaba capital city of Delta State from 28th Wednesday to Friday 30th of March 2012.
The Conference co-hosted by the former President, Reginald Augulana and yours comradely, General Secretary, was declared open by Delta State governor, represented by his deputy, Professor Amos Utuama, Deputy Governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Mukhtar Yaro represented Governor Patrick Ibrahim Yakowa with a speech that reaffirmed commitment to efforts at resuscitating closed textile mills in Kaduna state.
Honourable Minister of Labour, Chief Emeka Wogu, the Registrar of Trade Unions, the Director of Trade Union services, Director General of Textile Employers Association, Senator Walid Jibrin of UNTL PLC, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, represented, Delta state council NLC leaders, NLC president Abdul Waheed Omar, scores of presidents and general secretaries of industrial unions witnessed the historic opening ceremony.
The conference theme; Transforming Nigeria Through Re-industrialization, Employment and Decent work sets the tone for the official reaffirmation for revival of dead industries, growth of the real sector, job creation and defence of workers' and trade union rights. Was this an official ritual rhetoric or a renewed commitment to productive (as distinct from sharing/corruption) agenda?
Time will tell if the moribund Asaba Textile mill will be reactivated as promised by the state governor in his speech. Notable fraternal development partner organizations that graced the occasion included Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES) Michael Imoudu National Institute for Labour Studies (MINILS) Ilorin, Bank of Industry (BOI), National productive Centre, National Directorate of Employment, (NDE), and National Pension Commission (PENCOM); Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) as well as Trust Fund pension administrator.
All the labour market/ development institutions were honoured with Partnership award for adding value to the work of the unions in areas of policy advocacy and industrial revival (BOI), productivity awareness (NPC), capacity building (MINILS), NSITF (employee compensation Act) and sustainable institutional support (FEF). There was a pre-conference workshop on Women participation in Trade unions in collaboration with the FEF.
True to expectation the Delegates' Conference featured discussions and debates on the union struggles in the areas collective bargaining and improvement in living and working conditions, defence of workers' rights, health and safety and general working conditions, unionizing the unorganized, internal union democracy, national and international trade union solidarity as well as assessment of the political economy of the nation and the world.
Scores of motions were intensely debated, adopted and rejected on areas of Unionization Drive, Occupational Health and Safety, Union Education, National and International Solidarity, HIV/AIDS, plight of members in closed factories, struggle for living wage and decent work agenda in general.
Students of labour studies, two perspectives emerged from the recently concluded NUTGWN congress namely; Unionism as a service and unionism as a cause. For one, it is clear that NUTGWN prides itself as an organisation concerned with the survival of the industry guided by realism. It has joined the campaign against smuggling, and wholesale trade liberalization and reopening of factories closed.
It has also moderated without compromising collective bargaining in the condition of crisis, factory closures and under-capacity utilization.
Secondly with respect to unionism as a cause, the textile workers see themselves as a family that acts in unity to pursue common goals. NUTGTWN participated in major strikes to press home its demands. In all NLC-directed collective actions, NUTGTWN had set the standard in scope and duration.
This is remarkable in a nation plagued in recent time by community clashes and even religious feuds and in which collective actions are proving difficult. Within the context of the broader labour movement, the textile workers are better equipped with an organization to promote a cause that fosters union rights and social justice.
The collapse of the Leninist vision and model of 'workers' socialist society has ushered in despair in national and international trade union movements.
Trade unionism has not only lost the generous material but the moral and ideological aid of the recent past. The NUTGWN conference shows that trade union movement has not accepted in any way the theory of the 'end of history' of unionism.
NUTGTWN within the context of NLC is championing the struggle for the promotion and advancement of trade union rights in Nigeria.
Bjorn Beckman is a Swedish political economist who has written extensively on Union Power in Nigeria's textile industry. In his solidarity message to the conference, he has asked a rhetorical question: is there no more "union power"? to which he answered, "Yes of course"! The high point of the conference was the election of new President, General Secretary, Deputy Presidents, Treasurer, Trustees and auditors to run the affairs of the union for the next four years.
The keenly contested elections were transparently supervised by South African Thambo Shabalala of the African regional office of International Textile and Garment Workers' Federation and Nigeria's Registrar of Trade Unions. Winners and "losers" alike embraced each other making all to be winners as long as the union's struggle for better future continues.
With this robust internal democracy, it is clear trade unions are not withering away even as they face new challenges to protect the gains of members and improve on them.
The NUTGTWN record also shows that trade unions perform meaningful roles within the Nigerian Federation and will continue to do so in the coming years.