by Segun Ogun
A special congress of the Organisation of Trade Unions in West Africa (OTUWA) held on October 22-24, at Abuja. Trade union federations from 13 out of the 15 countries covered by the sub-regional federation attended. The theme of the meeting was: Uniting Workers to Promote Regional Integration in West Africa.
OTUWA was established in 1984 but has been moribund for a while. Similar sub-regional federations like the Southern Africa Trade Union Coordinating Council (SATUCC) and the East African Trade Union Confederation have been much more virile. Challenges facing OTUWA include lack of resources on one hand and some characteristics of the colonial heritage in the sub-region such as linguistic differences and differences in the trade union traditions and industrial relations systems mainly between the English-speaking and French-speaking.
These are challenges that could be overcome and the special congress was a demonstration of that commitment on the part of the trade unions. Indeed, there are strong reasons for such unity in coordination to be given priority. A thread that runs through the 32 resolutions reached at the congress is the need to resist together or hang separately.
The Economic Partnership Agreements which the European Union has been battling to get countries in the region to sign to, is one of developments the trade union movement in the sub-region has to fight against. Privatisation and other anti-poor people policies and programmes are also issues that could and should be resisted with actions uniting local workplaces, national federations and the sub-regional union platform.
There will however also have to be continued comradely contestation within the OTUWA itself, if it is to remain true to the working class traditions it aspires to advance. For example, it took a long drawn debate for the 30% representation of women and 30% representation clauses in the newly adopted constitution of the organisation to be respected.
Eventually Comrade Damba Diop from Senegal emerged as president of the new OTUWA. Its secretariat was also moved from Cote d’Ivoire to Nigeria (at the Labour House) to be more effective.