VENUE: Main Bowl, DATE: 16th July, 2013
Alfred Diete-Spiff Sports Complex,
Civic Centre, Port Harcourt.
Trade Unions are major stakeholders in the production process,national development and transformation. They are key agents of social change and are still playing active roles as representatives of not just the workers but of the ordinary people, in nation-building and transformation of nations. The importance of their partnership with nationalists like Dr.Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo etc in bringing about Nigeria’s independence cannot be overemphasised. In fact, without the Trade unions involvement, the independence struggles of most African Countries would have ended as a disaster. Trade Unions also partnered with civil society groups and provided a platform for the resistance to the Military dictatorships and for the emergence of democratic rule in Nigeria. Since May 29 1999 trade Unions have continued to provide a ‘voice’ for the ordinary people and ‘shocking’ the Government into ‘shape’ whenever the need arose. Clearly therefore, these antecedents of trade unions have broadened their roles from that of traditional collective bargaining agents to more developmental and transformational roles. It has also demonstrated that Trade unions have great potentials that can be harnessed for national development and transformation by government at all levels, Capital and other development agents in Nigeria. However, these potentials can only be harnessed through a genuine partnership that is built on mutual trust and mutual respect.
Keywords: Labour union, Potential, Partners, Mutual Trust.
*Comrade Hyginus Chika Onuegbu JP, FCA, is the State Chairman, Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) Rivers State and the National Industrial Relations Officer of Petroleum & Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN). He is a member of the International Labour and Employment Relations Association (ILERA)and a Justice of the Peace (JP). He is also a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) and an associate of the Chartered Institute of Taxation of Nigeria(CITN) trained by the now Akintola Williams Deloitte(Chartered Accountants) and holds an M.Sc Economics degree. He can be reached on: Tel 08037404222/ Email: [email protected]/ [email protected] Please note that opinions and comments expressed in this paper are strictly made in my capacity as State Chairman, Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) Rivers State and should be construed as such. For more information on TUC Rivers State, please visit our website: www.tucrivers.org
“Government, employers and workers have realized mutual gains over the years as a result of constructive tripartite relations, the labour movement’s participation in national development, and a proactive approach to labour-management relations. Externally driven challenges will continue to provide strong impetus for cooperation among the tripartite partners and the wider community.As a partner in national development, the role and contribution of the labour movement will continue to widen, beyondeconomic and employmentpolicy”(Wong, 2000, p. 12)1
I want to thank the leadership of the Rivers State Civil Service and the organisers of this programme for giving me this opportunity to share with us my thought on this very important topic. This topic is very significant especially as we celebrate100 years of Port Harcourt, 100 years of Nigeria and 100 years of Trade union movement in Nigeria.The topic I was asked to discuss today is “Harnessing the potentials of trade unionism for national development”. However after several thoughts, I decided, and I hope you will bear with me, to make a minor but very functionally critical adjustment to the topic. So I decided to change the topic by adding the phrase ‘as partners’ to the original topic and replacing ‘trade unionism’ with ‘trade unions’. So the topic we will be discussing today is “Harnessing The Potentials Of Trade Unions As Partners For National Development”.
I had to replace ‘trade unionism’ with ‘trade unions’ because ‘trade unionism’ is the principles,theory,ideals and philosophy of trade unions . Trade unionism therefore is essentially the ideological consciousness and construct built around the needs, expectations and expressions of workers both for themselves, their unions and for the larger society. It is the basic underlying assumptions of trade unions and consists of the unconscious , taken for granted beliefs and deeply held values shared by members of a trade union.It is upon these ideals, consciousness , philosophy , deeply held values and principles that trade unions emerge. It is therefore the spiritual or motive force that gave impulse to the emergence trade unions in and around the globe.
Trade Unions( as labour unions) on the other hand is basically the organisations of workers for the furtherance of their collective interest.
It is my considered view that the intention of the organisers is to have us share thoughts on how to harness the potentials of these organisation of workers( i.e trade unions) for national development rather than their philosophy, ideologies and theories.
Nevertheless, let me also quickly point that it is always very difficult to separate the two ( trade unionism and trade unions) as what ought to be is often seen from the prism of what is. The unseen often made manifest in the things that are seen!
Also I had to add the phrase ‘as partners’ to properly situate the role of trade unions in national development. Government at all levels through their policies, actions and programmes remains the major drivers of national development in any country. The trade unions are essentially key non-state actors and agents of social change. Their basic interest remains the protection of workers rights and priviledges, improvement in the welfare of workers and the advancement of the socio- economic and political interest of workers and ordinary citizens generally .
However you will recall that trade unions in Nigeria and Africa generally, since colonial times, have done more than being mere medium for bargaining for the improvement of the welfare of their members. They have whenever the need arose provided a platform for workers and ordinary citizens to resist oppression and obnoxious policies of government.This is in furtherance of the role of trade unions in the advancement of the socio-economic and political interest of their members and ordinary citizens, as well as social justice generally. In doing so, our members and those of our civil society allies have had to even pay the ultimate price.
In Nigeria, as in many African countries, this role was foisted on us by the ordinary people because of their genuine believe in the capacity of the trade union movement as true agents of social change. Moreso, the weakness of institutions of governance in the post independence Nigeria has meant that trade unions will continue to be vanguards of the Nigerian people. Unfortunately these secondary roles has placed trade unions in the difficult position where people sometimes inadvertently see them as active ‘opposition to the government in power’ or even ‘alternative government’.
This actually, all things being equal, should not be so! Afterall trade unions are representatives of the employees of government and other employers. As employees and representatives of the employees, they are expected to work together with their employers (government and other employers) for the betterment of the employing organisations.
Trade unions are therefore stakeholders and partners for National development and their support or otherwise of the programmes, activities and policies of government and other employers will to a very large extent determine the success or otherwise of those programmes, activities and policies. This morethan anything else underscore the need for genuine partnership between the government, other employers and the trade unions.
Moreover partnership can provide a framework within which a more positive working relationship can develop. It will also improve communication and co-operative relationship between the government, employers and trade unions thereby enhancing mutual trust and perceptions of fairness. Partnership is viewed as representing a ‘positive-sum game’ where both parties ‘win’. Underlying the notion of partnership is the idea of social partnership. Social partnership reflects the stakeholder ethos which underpins certain models of employee relations where employer and employee groups and government are considered social partners charged with considering the needs of all parties in determining social and economic policies thereby leading to industrial harmony.
Agarwal (1982)2argues that:“industrial harmony is inextricably linked with economic progress of the country”.Industrial Harmony brings about greater co-operation between workers and government/management which ultimately results in better production that leads to the economic progress and prosperity of the country. In similar vein, Minket al (1993:p82)3buttressed that:“corollary partnership with the union leadership must be formed” to create the most successful partnership with represented employees.Some advocate transformation from an adversarial to a partnership relationship as a basis for labour/management co-operation on product quality and other issues that shape the enterprise or nationally realised strategy, while others argue for the creation of labour/government partnership as a strategy for achieving national economic success (Ferguson, 1980, p72 and Tichy and Devanna, 1986:p77)4,5.
One thing that many agree however,is that the shift from adversarial labour-government/management relationship to genuine partnership-driven labour-government/management relationship is more beneficial to both labour,government , managementand by extension, the national economy.
It is however important to point out that empirical evidence has shown that the philosophy of the union, its history, and membership pressure, management’s/government’s pattern of dealing with the union, the leadership characteristics and political objectives of the Union leadership could determine the strategy employed by the unions in the pursuit of its goals and objectives(Fashoyin, 1992)6. These could also support or hinder the adoption of the partnership approach. Nevertheless, it is important to approach any study of unions based on the ideological perspectives as an organisation formed by workers to protect their interests and improve their working conditions (Dankert, 1948)7.
Yet, with the changes that have occurred in the socio-economic and political structure in Nigeria and the transformation of the Nigerian trade unions, especially the labour centres, labour unions are steadily emerging as active and powerful non state actors with the capacity to truncate or propel any transformation effort. It is therefore expected that policy makers should begin to undertake studies on how these potentials can be harnessed for the overall good of the nation. Such studies should not be limited to the traditional roles of labour unions but must be creative and innovative, taking due cognisance of the changing role of labour unions. This is because an innovative approach would build on the achievements of traditional conflict theory and industrial relations traditions, yet extend beyond these confines by exploring less adversarial strategies while also investigating the relationship between organised labour ,the informal sector and the civil society organisations (Thomas, 1998)8.
Fortunately, recent studies are unravelling the potential for greater cooperation between workers, employers and government. For instance, in Britain, the TUC on behalf of trade union movement embraced the concept of partnership:
“The TUC has argued for the partnership industrial relations because we believe that it is the best way to achieve what our members tell us they want. Our members want good pay and conditions obviously. But they are also looking for interesting jobs, more secure and fulfilling working lives, and a chance to make a real contribution to the success of the organization they work for. Most of our members want their employers to be successful. That is hardly a surprise, some will say. After all, their jobs depend on the success. And union activist will want employers who recognize unions to look good compared with those who do not” (TUC quoted in Ewing, 2005, p10)9.
In similar vein, Onuegbu (2010:p9)10agreed that:
“without the enterprise, there would be no management, no workers and therefore no labour (Union)… both parties i.e. labour and management (should) focus on increasing the cake(value added) to be shared rather than concentrating only on how to get more from the existing cake, then, each party will have more to take home. This means that both parties (labour and management) actually have areas of mutually beneficial common interest. Emphasis should therefore be placed more on those areas of common interest rather than the areas of conflicting interest”
You may also recall that in my paper entitled “Labour Unions and Enterprise Strategic Business Plan”presented during the 10th anniversary celebration of the PENGASSAN Nigeria LNG Limited Branch in 2010, l highlighted the findings of a research at Harvard University on labour union and productivity which states that unions can contribute to increasing productivity by giving workers a “voice” at the workplace and “shocking” management into better practices. Challenged by these results, the Policy Studies Institute of Westminster University also sought to understand the relationship between labour unions and enterprise productivity and so undertook its own study. Research findings from the Policy Studies Institute threw a new light on what unions do in those British workplaces where they continue to have a presence. According to the report:
“Unions emerge as an important, and positive, influence not only for the employees they represent, but also in cooperating with management’s priorities…additionally; workplaces with a union presence are much more likely to have a range of “high performance work systems”, which are at the centre of firms’ drive to increase productivity and customer service. These systems include two-way communications, team-working, staff incentives, interchangeable employees, and continuous training and development. While apparently supporting management’s agenda, unions are also continuing to deliver a superior range of benefits for employees” (Gregg et al, 1993)11.
Permit me at this point to remind us that our main focus in this paper is how the government could harness the potentials of trade unions for national development and transformation. To achieve this aim, the paper adopts a Descriptive Approach and Content Analysis. The data used in this study were gathered through secondary sources which include newspapers, magazines, texts and electronic media. And also my empirical observation and participation in trade union activities as the Zonal Industrial Relations Officer of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) PortHarcourt Zone – which covers the former Eastern region (2008 April -2011 May), National Industrial Relations Officer of PENGASSAN (2011 June – Date) and State Chairman, Trade Union Congress of Nigeria TUC Rivers State Council(2009-date).
2. Conceptual Clarification:
The paper makes use of certain concepts, which require explanation. The definition will therefore remove ambiguity and make room for easy comprehension of the study. Some of these concepts explained are: trade unions, potential, partner and national development.
2.1 Trade Unions:
It is important to inform us that the term ‘trade unions’ under the Nigerian law includes not only association of workers( i.e labour unions) but also that of employers(i.e employers association), therefore it is broader. In this paper,however, the term ‘trade unions’ should be read as ‘labour unions’( i.e association of workers). Consequently both terms – ‘trade unions’ and ‘labour unions’ will be used interchangeably as they mean one and the same thing in this paper .Nevertheless, it is important to point out that the preference for the word ‘trade unions’ over ‘labour unions’ in reference to the association of workers is essentially because it emphasizes the dynamic nature of the movement.Especially, when used as ‘trade union movement.’
Yet, Marxist theorists still perceive this type of association of workers in capitalist society as merely superficial. They argue that the unions might be too exclusively bent upon the local and immediate struggles with capitalism and become too preoccupied with furthering the interests of their particular members. This may make them lose sight of the overall struggle between capital and labour. Modern Marxists like Miliband, Allen, Hyman and so on are of the view that the institutionalization of industrial conflict has merely dampened the more violent expressions of conflict between the proletariats and the bourgeoisies.
In any case, Trade unions (as labour unions only)can be defined ,taking a cue from Section 1(1) of the Trade Unions Act CAP 437 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990, as:
Any combination of workers, 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 or would not, apart from the provisions of theTrade Unions Act, be an unlawful combination by reason of any of its purposes ‘being in restraint of trade’ and whether its purposes do or do not include the provision of benefits for its members.
Onuegbu( op cit p.4)19 prefers this definition because it fits into a working definition for our empirical analysis, has legal support and correctly reflects the nature and dynamics of the organisations referred popularly to as labour unions (or trade unions) in Nigeria.
Nevetheless, permit me to add that some researchers like Wong (2000;p9)20 have suggested the need for the modernisation of trade unions and broadening their roles beyond collective bargaining on terms and conditions at the workplace to that of a socio-economic movement contributing to workers’ well-being in the wider community. The objective was to provide services which private businesses were not offering to lower-income workers, and to give workers a stake in the ownership and management of business ventures.
To this end, Trade Unions can , for instance, leverage on their numerical strength to negotiate and obtain discounted rates from airlines, insurance and shops etc for their members. They can also form strategic partnership with banks and other organisations to deliver value adding services and cost lower costs to their members. Trade Unions therefore need to be innovative and go beyond the traditional collective bargaining roles. For instance the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) recently rolled out its fleet of 150 buses, while PENGASSAN is also working on delivering over 650 housing units in Abuja comprised of Bungalows and duplexes at very competitive prices to its members who subscribed to the project.
Let me however quickly add that these additional roles, while being welcomed, are secondary to the primary duties of labour unions. The fact remains that the basic and primary duty of labour unions are as stated in our adopted definition and it is doubtful if members of a union will be satisfied with their unions if they neglect their basic duties for those additional services.
2.2 Potential: is an unrealized or unused ability or attribute. For instance, human potentials for an individual are abilities that can be developed into valuable or beneficial activities, or a professional career. The labour union possesses that which it has always used to achieve set objectives. Such potentials can be harnessed by government ,any institution including industrial organizationsto make positive impact.See: http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_is_potential#ixzz1x0xKrc6P21
2.3 Partner: Partnership is an arrangement where parties agree to cooperate to advance their mutual interests.Since humans are social beings, partnerships between individuals, businesses, interest-based organisations, schools, governments, and varied combinations thereof, have always been and remain commonplace. Within organisations, the term can correctly describe a collaborative endeavour between managers and employees, such as over skills training and health and safety etc (Munro and Rainbird, 2000)22. But to be considered a ‘partnership organisation’ surely involves significantly, more than demonstrating temporary, calculative co-operation over one or a handful of workplace matters. Indeed, it is important to rescue the potency of the idea of a partnership organisation from it’s almost associations with patently unequal and even exploitative work situations or, more commonly, with only modest joint consultative efforts or cynically-manufactured union recognition deals (Wray, 2001)23. Partners are individuals or organisations who are members or involved in a partnership.
2.4 National development:
When development is mentioned, what readily comes to mind is progress; a movement forward from the status quo and an advancement upwards from the previous position. National development is an attempt to describe the dynamics of a nation in terms of its ability to provide for its citizenry: providing security of lives and properties; granting access to quality and affordable educational system; good health care; an overarching need for a greater access to food and affordable housing; the provisioning of both emotive, psychological and spiritual needs of the citizenry in a sustainable way.Essentially it is the general and sustained improvement in all aspect of a nation and her people.
The quest of every nation is to attain a position where it is constantly able to provide for its citizens at all times both now and in the future.
Development Economics and social analysts have created many constructs to attempt to capture and quantify the development index of any nation. In essence many indices have been put forward to explain at a glance the outlook of a nation’s development effort. Some of these indices are; the Gross Domestic Product, Gross National Income, National Productivity index, the National manufacturing index, the gni – coefficient, the Poverty index and other macro and micro indicators.
3. Historical Background to Trade Unions Partnership Concept in Nigeria:
“The Ghana Trade Union Movement also played a great role in the struggle for Ghana’s independence. It is in appreciation of this, that the Government of OsagyfoDr. Kwame Nkrumah built a massive 6 storey building, “Hall of Trade Unions” in the Centre of Accra, for the Ghana Trades Union Congress”Sunmonu(2007, p2) 49.
The concept of trade unions as development partners in Nigeria, and indeed Africa is deeply rooted in the Unions’ contributions to the political, social and economic history of Nigeria and Africa. To this end, it will be very helpful for us to review the antecedent of trade unions as social and transformational partners alongside other actors inNigeria.
Organised labour was not only perceived to be aggressive, but also as having some credible potentials which could be harnessed for the successful transformation of societies. During the colonial era, the nationalist leaders realised this fact and collaborated with labour unions in the struggle for Nigeria’s political independence. For instance, nationalists like the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo was noted to be active in trade union issues as far back as 1937, while Azikwe’s:
“Brand of combative nationalist agitation and aggressive journalism… focused public attention on the various forms of colonial exploitation(including the exploitation of Nigeria labour) and inspired confidence among many Nigerians in their ability to end colonial rule through the intensification of activist political and working class agitations”(Ananaba,1969;p92)12 .
Consequently, the emergence in the early thirties of Chief Michael Imoudu on the labour movement scene was to serve as a catalyst for radicalism in the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s,60’s until his pre-mature retirement from trade union activities by the military junta in 1977(Darah,1986;p87)13. Among these struggles, the most celebrated, the most successful, and most effective in impact was the General Strike of 1945, which led the colonial state to set up the Tudor Davies Commission whose report among others, upheld the grievances of the workers against the high cost of living, awarded increases in the cost of living allowance (COLA) and made other recommendations. In the circumstances of increased tempo of trade unionism, the number of registered unions steadily rose from 14 in 1940 to 347 in 1959/60; with membership also rising from 4,629 in 1940 to 259,072 in 1959/60 (ibid)14.
The interest of organized labour in the decolonization politics was premised on the belief that the termination of colonial rule was a necessity since workers had come to view their low wages, poor working conditions and indignities in the hands of the white employers, both public and private, as arising directly from the colonial situation (Offiong, 1983)15. It was realised that the workers’ predicament was not as a result of bad management alone, but also due to the nature of colonial administration. The facts remain that the labour unions were catalytic to the realization of political independence in Nigeria.
The labour unions were also involved as partners in the eradication of military dictatorship in Nigeria.Trade unions partnered with other civil society groups andenforced a change of regime from military dictatorship to democratic governance. For example, in 1992, there was widespread discontent in the country as citizens were harassed, repressed and … (Akinyanju, 1997; p65)16. Labour stood its ground with other civil society organisations to challenge the oppressive regime.
The experience of the struggle towards revalidation of the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential election is another instance of workers’ struggle during the military era. The struggle was led by workers’ union in the oil sector, namely, National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) and other civil society organisations. While the strike was effective with regards to full participation of a large number of members, it failed to achieve its goal of reversing the annulment of the election, but propelled General Ibrahim Babangida to ‘Step Aside’. Above all, the strike further strengthened the unions and made members conscious that they could achieve a lot by remaining steadfast with their unions. During General Babangida’s regime (1986 – 1993) labour unions partnered with other civil society groups, mobilizing their members to protest against the negative effects of the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) of the government. The protest led to the introduction of some relief measures meant to caution the effect of economic policy on the citizens.Obasi (1986)17 observed that SAP has led to economic deprivation of workers, thereby heightening their consciousness which in turn, led to increased militancy on their part. Such actions on the part of workers through their unions have forced government to adopt some relief measures especially, in the areas of wages and salaries increment.
Labour Unions have also provided a platform for popular agitation against obnoxious policies of government. They have in partnership with their civil society partners, embarked on several struggle especially, in the areas that have to do with poverty reduction, bad governance, resisting unpopular policies, reforms in the public sectors, anti- corruption crusade etc. Their leadership of such struggles even at the risk of their lives and means of livelihood have been known to be effective and hence the continued reliance on the Nigerian labour movement by the Nigerian people. For instance:
“…When the nationwide strike and protest against the removal was suspended, there were widespread fears that the economy and social life of Nigerians were on the verge of a deeper, scary plunge. The Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, PENGASSAN, which, in solidarity with labour, threatened to shut down crude oil production, exacerbated the fear. Although PENGASSAN did not make good its threat President Goodluck Jonathan, in apparent move to calm frayed nerves, yielded to pressure and announced the reduction of the pump price of petrol from N141 per litre to N97, the implication of the threat was not a loss to the government, the Nigeria Labour Congress, Trade Union Congress TUC, Civil Society Groups and Nigeria in general” (Tell, January 30th,2012;p28)18.
The aftermath of the fuel subsidy nationwide strike is the Fuel Subsidy Report produced by the Adhoc Committee of the House of Representatives, National Assembly, Abuja led by Honourable Farouk Lawal. Subsequently, President Goodluck Jonathan ordered the Federal Ministry of Justice to commence the probe of those indicted in the Report. The rest is now painfully history.Nevertheless, Nigerians should not give up hope but continue to insist on the prosecution of all those found wanting.
4. Theoretical Consideration:
Having clarified the concepts, I shall proceed to adopt a framework for this study.Although there are several theories that attempt to explain social relations in industries and polity, we shall for our purpose in this paper, consider the Partnership Approach based on the internal dynamics of partnership relation at workplace and in the polity.
According to Haynes and Allen(2001:p169)24“Partnership’’ as a mode of union-government/management co-operation contains certain elements in common with a series of historical initiatives promoting union-management co-operation on a formal basis,whether at workplace, enterprise or national level. The current notion of workplace partnership should be seen as the latest incarnation of the former tradition, but also as consistent with the less formal patterns of engagement.
Cooke (1990)25 provides a theoretical framework to guide analysis of decisions to participate in and maintain co-operative relations. Generally, the participation of all parties is contingent on their expectations being met (as perceived by the parties themselves) in such away that the benefits of participation outweigh the costs relative to alternative approaches. Given the joint interest in national development and transformation , one party seeking to facilitate positive change through national development and transformation and the other to influence it, union-government partnerships are closely associated with efforts to improve performance and good governance, especially through the fundamental reorganisation of work practices and relationship(Peterson& Tracy, 1992; Nissen, 1997)26,27.
Clearly, the expectations of the parties are critical. They limit the otherparty’s room to manoeuvre, while disappointed expectations, particularly of the other party’s behaviour, may result in withdrawal from cooperation (Hammer & Stern, 1986)28. The critical clash of expectations in union-management/government partnership revolves around the scope for the union to pursue those of its members’ interests that it identifies as important but which are not necessarilyreconcilable with those of the government/employer, as identified by management, and vice-versa.
Although conflict is not totally eliminated by engaging in partnership relations (Woodworth & Meek, 1995; Cohen-Rosenthal & Burton, 1993)29,30, the partnership approach however provides an agreeable platform for the swift and sustainable resolution of industrial conflicts.This is an important advantage of the partnership approach and greatly underscores its adoption as a framework for sustainable labour and employment relations practices.
5. Trade Unions , Nation building and National Development in Nigeria:
“An alliance of trade unions, civil society groupings and the citizens is a progressive platform for the articulation, propagation and affirmation of popular political, economic and social causes and ideals essential for the egalitarian transformation of Nigeria. The concept of the apoliticality of trade unions is an ideological weapon used by the ruling elite to shut out the unions from a decisive involvement and participation in the processes that shape the destiny of the nation. This must be resisted. The trade unions, civil society bodies and the general citizens must take a collective stand in all matters that affect the destiny of the people” (Udenta,2013, p.34)31
Again, on a special note, l would have preferred if the title is ‘nation building’ rather ‘national development’ because of the challenges of unity and considering the hetrogenous nature of our country – morethan 250 ethnic nationalities. Generally speaking, it would be difficult to convince the ordinary Nigerian that Nigeria is indeed a nation.
Empirical evidence seems to suggest that Nigeria is more or less a forced collection of ethnic groups. This is made worse by the fact that the citizens are first and foremost loyal to their ethnic groups. Loyalty to the country seems to be secondary, where it even exists! This essentially kills patriotism and nationalism which are essential ingredients for nation-building. It also explains why national development continues to lag behind.Virtually every good ideology for building the Nigerian nation has been killed on the altar of ethnicity.For instance, the much talked about fight against corruption has become imbelicised because of ethnicity, and corruption is now on a freeway in Nigeria. And as Udenta has observed and I agree with him, the
“Nigerian nation-building project will remain incoherent and unrealizable in the absence of a national ideology. Our unity in diversity theme is too generalized and fluid to serve as a national ideology (ibid,p.29)32.”
Udenta seem to be even diplomatic in painting the true picture. Unity in diversity would seem to suggest that there is some form of unity of purpose, thought and values by the different ethnic groups that make up the country. The reality however, and which can be attested by the headlines on our national dailies is that each ethnic group in their daily activities are more focused on promoting our diversity than our unity .It is therefore a mockery of sort to talk about national development in Nigeria when in actual fact the people that make up the country think in terms of the development of their various ethnic nationalities. The focus therefore in Nigeria should be on nation building since that is the foundation for any sustenable national development.
Nation building requires patriotism and cooperation by all to develop the economic, social, cultural and political status of the country and all her peoples. It must be anchored and rooted in a strong ideology that promotes the interest of all Nigerians without exception and that places national interest above personal, sectional, ethnic, religious and every other interest. The ideology must ensure that loyalty is first and foremost to the nation (i.e Nigeria) and not to the government, political office holders, religious groups nor ethnic nationalities. Nation building also requires that the views and interests of the people, their trade unions and civil society organisations are given priority consideration.
This has also been canvassed by Udenta when he said that:
“ in building a modern Nigerian state we should be mindful about which ideology we want to promote. Is it the ideology of the political elite, most of who hide under the cover of representative democracy to exploit the people, oppress them and loot their collective wealth, or the ideology of the working people, their trade unions and their civil society platforms striving to make Nigeria an egalitarian, compassionate and just society? It is my contention that only a pro-people political, economic and social order can engender a national ideology that will serve not only the people’s best interests but, more decisively, will guarantee the collective empowerment of the Nigerian state to great heights of affirmation” (ibid)33.
Also, closely related to the concept of nation building is the idea of national development which is one of the concepts in this paper. I have done the conceptual clarification earlier in this paper, nevertheless, l will still make further illumination for proper understanding.
Development is a multi dimensional concept which involves physical and mental aspects. By national development, we refer to the sum total of the results of the functional relationship between manual and intellectual labour of a nation in the struggle for self sustenance. It involves everything that is done within a nation with a view to uplifting the standard of men and materials (Uduigwomen and Ogbinaka, 1991:18)34.
National development is examined on the grounds of how well we approximate the attainment of our national objectives. Obviously there is no doubt that we have failed as a nation in meeting our national objectives even as contained in each of our national development plans. It is very painful and disapointing that all the national development plans made in this country since independence including the more recent 7-point agenda , vision 20:20:20, NEEDs, and the transformation agenda ended up as illusion and mere
“Sloganeering by our leaders on the grand themes of reconstruction, renovation and transformation and the debasing and imbecilized material circumstances of the average person”( Udenta, op cit, p.22)35.
This will continue to happen unless we first and foremost address squarely the issues of nation building, as the foundation for progressive and sustainable national development.
6. What are the imperatives of the potentials of trade unions
Why is there a need for the harnessing of the potentials of the movement for national development? Why is it important to a nation like ours especially when we have found ourselves at the crossroads? These questions find answer in the general position that Nigeria is presently in search of viable, credible and vibrant alternatives to the present developmental frameworks that have largely remained dysfunctional. These are as a result of some of these factors;
• Inadequate Levels of Political and Economic Participation by the citizenry
• Paucity of Vibrant Opposition
• Existing Main Parties Built On Objectives Other Than That of the People
• Need for Alternative Platforms for Development
• Incoherent Structures for Popular Mobilisation of the People
• Absence of strong and veritable nation building ideology and core values
• Loyalty to ethnic groups and individuals over loyalty to the nation
The prevalence of some of these variables poses serious challenges to the development agenda of the nation. It thus calls for platforms that would be deployed in confronting and resolving them adequately to ensure that the nation experiences development within its structures that would eventually crystallise into national development.
7. The Potential roles of Trade unions in National Development
Again permit to go back to the foundation of trade unions, which is trade unionism. As I have previously explained, trade unionism is the conscious framework and philosophy upon which trade unions were founded. It is replete with various ideologies that any serious nation can tap into to add impetus to the overall quest for national development. For instance ideologies like “injury to one is injury to all” and “solidarity forever” underscores the value of brotherhood. It ensures that the strong protect the weak and that the bond of brotherhood is everlasting. Also ideologies like “forward ever backward never” reminds the people that development must be progressive and that they should resist any attempt to for retrogression.
These ideologies have helped build the trade union movement from the gathering of view men unhappy with the then statusquo to a great and glorious movement. It can also help Nigeria! The trade unions remain a strategic partner that is positioned to play critical roles in releasing developmental impulses upon the different structures of the society.
However, it should be noted these potentials may atrophy if they are not consciously activated and channelled towards the attainment of national development objectives. Some of the readily identifiable potentials of the movement for national development are:
• MOBILISATION PLATFORM FOR CITIZEN ACTION:
The people remain the most critical resources available to any nation in its drive to national development. Without the people, no serious conscious development effort will be possible. They do not only provide the workforce, they also provide the entrepreneurship and the patriotism that is needed to propel development.
These masses must therefore be mobilised and their disparate energies aggregated for specific actions that would drive national development. The Chinese built massive infrastructure by mass mobilisation of the citizenry and this can also be replicated in our clime.
Trade unionism offers a credible platform for mobilising citizens for development actions. Since it is already a mass – based organisation, it not only lends itself as a platform for citizen action but also allows the wider society to key into its framework to take positive action for national development.
Historically during the struggle for independence, the movement provided the cover to nationalists in their quest for independent Nigeria. It is still providing a vibrant base for Nigerians to engage in Governance processes giving direction and support for successful developmental efforts.
• POSSESSES INNATE SOLIDARITIES:
The trade union movement consists of innate organic, wide and inclusive solidarities which create the necessary bonding needed for building a cohesive and progressive nation. Its bonds are built across ethnic lines and cuts across religious cleavages thus could be used for the forging of a strong and patriotic citizenry thus a strong nation state.
A strong nationhood which Nigeria is yet to attain is one of the basic drivers for national development. You cannot truly talk about national development without talking about nationhood first. The movement possesses the intrinsic qualities needed for building a cohesive and vibrant nationality.
• GROUNDS FOR ARTICULATION AND PROJECTION OF POPULAR AND PROGRESSIVE VIEWS:
Being a popular movement, trade unionism provides for the polity a credible crucible for the articulation and expression of progressive views from all corners of the country over any issue. It creates a ferment of views from across a wide spectrum of the society thus enabling the national issues to be thoroughly debated and diverse views from across the different divides expressed and collated.
This provides opportunity for dark areas to be illuminated and strong areas reinforced allowing the nation the opportunity to march forward with boldness and greater assurance of success.
• GENERATOR OF ORIGINAL AND CRITICAL IDEAS CENTRAL FOR DEVELOPMENT:
The movement is replete with critical thinkers who have sharpened their skills over the years through the ever robust debates that keep going on within the movement. Being a negotiating platform, its processes are driven by severe thought processes with increasing depth which makes it imperative that participants within its processes become original thinkers on their own right.
With this deposit of original thinkers, it becomes easier for the movement to constantly be on the look- out for issues that may adversely affect its membership and truly interrogate it laying its dynamics bare so that inherent danger to the nation may be exposed
This somehow explains why most of the time, positions taken by the movement on critical national issues have at the end of the day proven to be the wisest course of action that should have been taken.
• STRATEGIC PARTNERS FOR POLICY GENERATION:
The movement offers to the polity a productive partnership in generating policies to drive Governance in all sectors of the socio-polity. It is a fountain of diverse and deep knowledge in every sphere of endeavour at a very critical level as its membership cuts across all skills, knowledge, profession and indeed a very wide spectrum of the nation’s key sectors.
It also provides a pool of well-trained strategists with global experience and best practices and these can readily be brought into the service of the nation whenever demanded or needed. They are the men and women in the field and have acquired wide experiences not just theoretical but hands-on and are always willing to avail themselves to the quest for critical policy directions to turn the key sectors of the economy around.
• KEY PARTNER FOR IMPLEMENTING NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT STRATEGIES, POLICIES AND PROGRAMMES
The same way the movement is awash with skills to generate policies and programmes that may be crucial for national development, it also has deep capacities and capabilities for guaranteeing the implementation of these policies and programmes.
Its natural structures offer the nation, a spread that is crucial for delivering programmes and projects very fast and equitably to all facets both geographical and social within the polity. This is available and could be mobilised anytime for national development.
• MOBILISING CRITICAL INTERNATIONAL SUPPORT FOR DOMESTIC AGENDA
The nation’s development effort can easily be boosted when the movement musters its international partners to support the projects and programmes. The international arm of the movement can not only mobilise resources for national use in development but can also bring pressures to bear on Government actors domestically to act appropriately to ensure development. They can also bring pressure to bear on international multilateral agencies and creditors to scale down demands made on national economies on debt repayments which will free resources for domestic projects and programmes.
The international labour movement was at the vanguard of the crusade for cancellation of the debt owed to creditor nations and bodies by third world countries. The campaign was largely successful as many nations including Nigeria benefitted either through reduction or outright cancellation of such debts. When this happens, more resources are freed for investment in capital projects domestically that may spur national development.
• TRAINING AND EDUCATION FOR CITIZENSHIP AWARENESS
The movement through its activities and programmes offers its structures, intellectual depth and reach for continuous education both for its wide membership but for the populace. A trained and educated citizenry is a huge resource waiting to be marshalled for national development.
• CRUCIBLE FOR CULTURING PROGRESSIVE LEADERS THAT WILL LEAD THE DRIVE FOR NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
The ferment of ideas and the structures of the movement have meant that leaders at all levels have to go through rigorous experiences as they move through the ladder of the movement’s leadership. They are grilled and exposed to ideals and practices all over the world and also are exposed to the diverse dynamics in people management and general leadership. There is indeed no union leader especially at the States and national level that has not become fully equipped to lead the society.
It is not just providing leaders but leaders with progressive thoughts that are anchored on the needs and desires of their peoples and community – men with conscience and integrity. I would not want to mention names but when we look around Nigeria today, we would see the difference being made by our people in various leadership positions.
• RESOURCE MOBILISATION PLATFORMS FOR MICRO SEGMENTS OF THE SOCIETY:
Micro segments of the society are very critical to overall national development. They constitute the informal sector and when they are mobilised for production, service and civic duty, a critical mass is often generated that would create multipliers within the polity.
The movement is very crucial in the mobilisation of this segment using its structures. When the artisans, Waste pickers, Bone crackers, rock breakers, sand carriers, day-labourers, domestic workers etc are mobilised, they form a huge force that will be channelled towards national transformation.
• AS A STABILISING INFLUENCE IN THE POLITY:
When other sectors of the polity fail, the movement will remain one of the only standing sectors as it is not driven by religion, politics, tribe and other primordial considerations. As a result of this stability within its ranks, it serves as a stabilising factor in times of turbulence within the polity.
It could become a moral authority that other actors within the polity would defer to when a nation goes through crisis. Within its ranks, voices across the different expressions and divides could find a common ground to converse which provides the springboard that could be used for resolving the entire national crisis.
A platform that can therefore act as a rudder in times of upheavals is paramount to national development. Without stability, a nation will flounder and disintegrate eventually.
8. Harnessing The Potentials Of Trade Unions As Partners For National Development
The full potential of trade unions as partners for national development or nation-building can only be harnessed when government and trade unions work together transparently in an environment of salubrious relationship based on mutual trust and mutual respect.In such circumstances, the trade unions will support transformation and change programmes(Gyes, 2003:p64)36.Onuegbu, op cit a:p1337 agrees that such environment of will deepen the mutual trust between the government and the trade unions, improve communication by erasing the barriers to honest communication, increase productivity, win the ‘hearts and minds’ of workers,erase some old-fashioned stereotypes about labour unions as strike agents, reduce the fear of some workers, regarding joining the union/participating in union activities as well as change completely, the erroneous perception by some government officials that union leaders are averagely unproductive persons who should not be trusted with high value creating responsibilities in the workplace.
It is therefore clear that in a climate of mutual trust between trade unions and government, the unions help rally workers to co-operate with programmes (Beisheim, von Eckardstein and Müller, 1993 quoted in Gyes, 2003:p74)38. Quirke (1995)39 agrees that a climate of trust has considerable impact on how communication is received, and that it is hardest to establish this during times of transformational change.
It is however important to note that trust in regards to partnership in the workplace can be viewed from three set based on relationship’s structures and parameters. First, trust is mutuality or reciprocal principle (Fox, 1974: p67)40; it requires at least two parties. Second, trust must exist in a context of risk; it “cannot exist without the possibility of being in error” (Bhattacharya et al, 1998: p462)41. Trust is of trivial value if one enjoys certain knowledge about the other’s intentions and actions. Relatedly, all parties should be vulnerable to actions from the other; all parties should be in a position to damage the other’s interests, and to have recourse to mechanisms for enforcing trust, and for coping with any fall-out, including the freedom to withdraw from the relationship if necessary. This “mutual dependence” and shared vulnerability distinguishes trust from other approaches employed in securing co-operation, such as coercion. Third, trust is necessarily incremental; it can only emerge in any credible form “through repeated exchanges of benefits between parties” (Whitener et al, 1998: p515)42.However, the attitudes and behaviours exhibited by parties to a relationship develop the quality, or otherwise, of trust, not institutional constraints.
Whitener et al further identified five categories of behaviour required for “managerial trustworthiness”. They are:
1. Behavioural consistency. This means: reliability and to some extent, predictability of actions.
2. Behavioural integrity. This involves telling the truth and keeping promises: “the consistency between what [someone] says and what he or she does”.
3. Sharing and delegation of control. This mean: shared input into decision-making at a variety of organisational levels.
4. Communication. Information needs to be shared openly, it needs to be accurate and timely, and it also should be explained in its proper context.
5. Demonstration of concern. This means “showing consideration and sensitivity for [each party’s] needs and interests; acting in a way that protects [each party’s] interests, and refraining from exploiting others for the benefit of one’s interests”.
Dietz (2004)43 concluded that the highest level of trust is one based on unity of purpose, where each party can represent the other’s interests with their full confidence. That is, allowing for greater shared input into decisions reflectmanagers’ trust in employees and a willingness to be trusted in return . . . in particular; it helps employees render the factors affecting their working lives subject to some influence (ibid)44.
9. Challenges of Trade unions as partners for national development:
Giving the imbalance of power in the employment relationship, government and other employersare morelikely to define the terms of a partnership agreement and retaina greater degree of power, even where trade unions are strongly entrenched.Moreover, Ackers and Payne (1998: 530)45 suggest that partnership could combine seductive rhetoric with ambiguous and shifting meaning. In particular, questions arise over partnership as a viable long-term model for the relationship for government/employer and employees, particularly in an employee relations climate of historic distrust and antagonism. To a large extent, the disquiet over partnership agreement lies in their true representation of redistribution of power as implied by the use of the word ‘partnership’.
Onuegbu op cit.p946argues therefore warns that:
“True Labour- Management Partnership will not be achieved when meetings are devoted primarily to management(or government) expressing its final views on issues and where management(or government) is unwilling to alter, modify, or improve those views as a result of their partners’ (labour) input. Good and quality Labour-Management relation should also mean that management(or government) does not search for legal justifications to avoid addressing issues that their Union partners feel are important to employees. Such an approach dooms partnership to failure. In addition, senior management(senior government officials)should not avoid contact with the Labour Unions when contentious issues are on the table, by delegating such onerous duties to subordinate staff, which typically lacks the authority to resolve the issues
Furthermore, he argued:
“….that without credible elections and good governance, Labour-Management Relations in Nigeria will continue to have more than proportionate challenges when compared with what obtains in other countries. This is because Labour-management relations do not exist in a vacuum and are in fact regulated by the laws made by the government and the general disposition of government towards enthroning an atmosphere of industrial peace and harmony. Moreover, empirical evidence has shown that when those in government are truly elected by thepeople (rather than imposed on the people)they will embark on people oriented projects, review the laws that affect workers, including those that will impact on labour-management relations, as well put in place policies that will tackle poverty and unemployment and ensure that in line with Section 17 (3) (b and c ) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria the conditions of work are just and humane”(ibid)47.
Nonetheless, the continuationof the agreement relies on managerial/government adherence and commitment to itsterms. Furthermore, this positionmight be challenged in hard times or where government/managementfeels that it is not in its interest to continue with the partnership agreement.Thegovernment/management may be inclined to continue to prioritise its ‘needs’ over those of employees (Martinez Lucio and Stuart, 2002)48.
Partnership may also face challenges within the trade union.Especially,if within the trade union itself, some unionists feel that unions who enter into partnership agreements compromise their positions as ‘adversaries’ of government, surrendering the independence necessary to effectively defend the rights of their members. Secondly, there might be concern that union officials may lose touch with their members and become the agents of government, making greater efforts to rationalise and explain the government position rather than representing their interests.It is imperative to note that even in the United Kingdom where partnership was legalised based on Employment Relation Act, 1999, the Trade union still suffers oppression.
Trade unions remain veritable and ready partners for national development and transformation of any country. They possess great potentials which can be harnessed for national development and nation-building by the government, communities, civil societies, citizens and even the trade union movement itself! And genuine partnership anchored on mutual trust and mutual respect remains the best route to harnessing these potentials.
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