by Lai Brown
The struggle of workers in the Obafemi Awolowo University against the management’s high handedness and for improved working conditions as well as better wages has been on for several years. But despite the fighting traditions of the workers against exploitation and oppression, many of their demands are yet to be met by management.
There are many factors that necessitate this but the most important of these challenges is the failure of the unions to synchronize their struggle and fight. This lack of unity in struggle is worsened by an inadequate grasp of the fact that workers’ struggles, even for economic demands are inherently political, because these challenge the power of the bosses and indeed emerge as fight back against the structural power of capital and its bureaucratic representatives, like universities’ managements.
There are four workers’ union in the university, which are; ASUU, NASU, SSANU, and NAAT. On many occasions their demands are near identical. This alone could have been considered as enough reason for them to harmonize in their struggle. But the “sectional” dimension of trade union dynamics on the basis of jurisdiction divides as well as unites workers. The divisiveness can however be overcome when trade union activists transcend trade union consciousness, deepening class consciousness by realizing that the workers united across all divides, cannot be defeated.
Such deepening of consciousness flows through shared struggle, solidarity and the commitment that comes with these. And such moments have been recorded in OAU. For example, in 2009, all the four unions made attempts to stand together under the banner of a united front called ‘JECOSSUN’ for a collective fight against the university management. But being conscious of how this would strengthen workers’ power, the management did everything it could possibly do to undermine such unity.
There were attacks against the united front, including its non-recognition by the management. These were successful and JECOSSUN was short lived because the leadership of the unions lacked a political understanding of the laudable efforts they were taking in forging unity and could not summon the will for a marathon struggle for the front’s recognition.
In the health sector for example, when the Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU) was first formed, it was not recognized. But today, even the courts of the bosses such as the National Industrial Court have had no choice but to recognize it as an entity which has even won court cases against the government, as part of its forms of struggle that has included strikes and negotiations in which JOHESU was recognized by the same government that initially said it is not a “union” par se.
The university workers are set to fight again to ensure the management complies with their unions’ demands. But this time around the fight is not only a faceoff between the university management and a union at a time. NASU and SSANU have united to fight. Socialist Youth League (SYL) activists had paid a solidarity visit to the secretariat of NASU before this, where we discussed on various issues and we commended their struggle and fighting culture, but also advised them to make some advancement in their fighting.
Then, we stressed the fact that, the union’s demands are basically not different from the demands of other workers in Nigeria and the world at large, hence their struggle is a class struggle and every class struggle is political. We also pointed out that there is strength in our unity; therefore there is need for us to harmonize our resistance. There also, we assured NASU of our solidarity at all time because now it is more necessary than ever for the workers and youth to unite for the emancipation of the working class.
It is obvious that the university workers are now ready than ever before to overcome all hurdles and create as many barricades as necessary to achieve victory with the acceptance of their demands. There are some demands which are yet to be met by the university management and it has sued the unions to court over these as part of a strategy to prevent the unions from taking industrial action since there is a pending court case on the matter.
Thus, the focus of the workers’ demands at this moment is for ‘Earned Allowances’ which includes 65 months arrears the management owes the workers and which many other universities have implemented.
In a press statement released by the management on the 26th of June, 2015 in the university news bulletin, it was stated that, ‘’The attention of the university community is hereby drawn to the fact that the university administration has not received any additional allocation from the federal government for the settlement of the said allowances other than what is received in 2013 as in the case with other universities in Nigeria.’’ and also ‘’The university administration therefore pleads for the understanding of all in this regards that our unions should ensure that our university is not made a springboard among other universities for violent agitation over this issue.’’
In a statement credited to the federal government, it is stated that all the universities should start the payment of the Hazard Allowance from 1st of February, 2013. Some universities such as the University of Ibadan (UI) have complied. This falsifies the university management’s claims, showing that it is only attempting to confuse the workers a tactic it uses within its usual arsenal of threats and deception/deceit.
The Socialist Youth League issued a communique in support of the workers, where we commended their efforts and called on the ASUU branch to give them solidarity support. We also condemned the belligerent attitude of the university management towards the workers’ demands and called on students to stand by the workers as the struggle is a collective one for us in the education sector, for a better society.