Struggle for 19 months unpaid salaries continues

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For two weeks, workers of Galba Nigeria Limited, based in Port Harcourt occupied the premises of the company in a strike action lasting fifteen days. They are members of the Automobile Boatyards, Transport Equipment and Allied Senior Staff Association (AUTOBATE) and Steel and Engineering Workers Union of Nigeria (SEWUN). And their demand was the immediate payment of the 19 months salaries owed them.

Eleven workers, including Comrade Debora Ikiri, the AUTOBATE Branch Secretary had died while waiting to get paid. Many workers, who had put in over 25 years of service with Galba had been retired or verbally told to ‘go and rest’ without any terminal emoluments. The workers’ stories have been of pains, tears, and blood.

The workers led by the General Secretary of AUTOBATE, Sola Olorunfemi laid siege on the company’s gate on Monday May 21st. They locked up the gate and held a massive congress there. The congress resolved to meet with Mike Appier, the Managing Director, and the Head of Human Resources. At the meeting, which had representatives of the Trade Union Congress, Rivers State; and the United Action for Democracy (UAD) also in attendance, the management refused to make any commitment on the payment of the backlog of workers’ salaries and allowances.

The meeting ended with the management not showing any sign of responsibility or readiness to pay. However, the same management went to the pages of some national newspapers just two days later, with a full-page advertorial claiming the company is in highly indebted and asking workers to be patient. The vindictive advertorial spent paragraphs to eulogise and try to launder the image of General TY Danjuma, who owns Galba company. Horribly, the advert as well tried to portray the workers as same with the greedy management.

The workers responded to the blackmails and attempts to curry public sympathy by the management by organising a protest march across major streets of Port Harcourt on Thursday May 23. This demonstration was recievd solidarity from fellow workers at the Port Harcourt Industrial Lay-out and the general public.

Rather than the management appealing to workers or calling for negotiations, Galba’s Director, Dauda Danjuma, pushed the rent companies to lead pressures against the picketing. One of the rent companies, SGS, tried its best to break the picket line by lobbying the Labour centres and blackmailing workers. The picketing however, was resolute for the two weeks it lasted. The AUTOBATE and SEWUN local branches worked closely together, alongside the UAD Rivers state chapter.

One of the rent-companies in Galba, SGS, however got a court injunction against the picketing on Monday of the Third week, just three days after AUTOBATE filed a trade dispute against Galba.

Workers of Galba were gallant during the industrial action. They showed that workers can lead trade battles from below and carry on with resilience even without the express support of the Labour centres. SEWUN for instance, both nationally and at its Rivers state council level, never showed solidarity and support for the workers’ action. But the local branch never budged, and stood hands-in-hands with AUTOBATE, which had both local and national presence.

The TUC nationally too only tried to play a mediating role when the picketing was at its peak. The TUC state council however backed the struggle until the second week when it helped to pile external pressures against the picketing. Labour centres must learn how to be congressional in struggle and drop unnecessary bureaucratic traits when workers are fighting for their rights.

The 2-week Occupation in Galba was total, with workers in vigil all through the nights. The Danjuma Business empire was shaken to its foundations, and such other companies who live large on the sweats and blood of workers are worried about this development.

by Kunle Wizeman Ajayi