The Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Foundation (FES) Nigeria office recently kickstarted a Young Workers Training (YWT) programme. The training which commenced in May takes place every weekend and will last for 6 months. FES supported the pro-democracy movement in the pre-1999 military junta era. And after the reinstatement of civilian rule, the foundation has helped to strengthen workers’ organizations with partnerships on education programs such a symposia, seminars and scholarship programs for workers and trade unionists.
Participants at the YWT include; workers, trade unionists and activists from a few pro-labour civil society organizations. There are two members of the Socialist Workers and Youth League (SWL) amongst the participants. Also FES brought in 5 facilitators that engage the participants in discussion on subjects such as; basics of trade unionism, collective bargaining, dispute resolution, Marxism and law, climate change, organising etc. Among the 5 facilitators we also have two leading SWL cadres, which add more quality to the program.
The program goes beyond lecturer-students dialogue, allowing for a robust discussion among the participants. At the end of each day the participants engage in group discussions and come up with positions which reflect their collective perspective and ideas on critical issues. At one of such discussions in the Month of May, the groups were asked; Should trade unions be part of politics?
Several answers came up. From one of the groups a representative presented as such:
Without laboring too much the answer is a clear Yes, trade unions or particularly rank and file trade unionists should be part of politics.
“It is not possible to divorce politics from trade unionism, because the very basis of trade unionism is political also the activities and actions of trade unions are political. Trade unions represent a platform which working people utilize to organize together and fight for their collective interests against the exploitation of the capitalists (employers).
Politics is a concentrated expression of economics. And workers who create the wealth play an important role in the economy development or situation of any area or nation. Definitely if the workers are critical in the economic space it is important that they engage in the political space just as the same.
In as much as it is correct to ask if trade unions should be involved in politics it’s equally important to discuss the kind of politics trade unions should advance.
Trade unions involvement in politics, as summed up in the NLC “Labour and Politics” policy, should be based on a socialist programme. This implies that workers’ organizations have to engage in politics to advance working-class people’s interests. Just as we have seen in the case of the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party (SRWP) which is a party organised by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA). The SRWP advances pro-workers and radical programs and represent a working class alternative to the pro-establishment politics of ANC and Co.
Also many of the reforms and victories that were won by the workers through struggle often could be eroded, but the only way the workers can ensure their victories are permanent is when they organize, fight to change the system…and build on the ruins of capitalism, a working-class democratic system (socialism). The working class and by extension organized labour is critical to this.
That is to say we need to abolish the era of class exploitation and advance the collective interest of the majority of the population over the private interest of a few. So it is paramount that young trade unionists and activists equip themselves with working-class perspective so as to on one hand organize the rank and file workers in our different units around socialism which is the only working-class people alternative to exploitation and on the other hand influence politics in our unions and communities.”
The program did not just provide a platform to advance knowledge on trade union issues. It has equally provided an opportunity to engage and win from the ranks of conscious and radical workers and trade unionists to the perspective and traditions of SWL. So far that has been a great success as we have 4 new SWLers among the participants with many others that identify with our perspectives.
The FES project manager, Comrade Remi Ihejirika, often expresses the need for the participants to come up with a plan or project that will manifest their participation in the 6 months long training. This project might come out as a communiqué for the trade unions which will address the evading founding traditions and principles of the trade union movement in the context of the changing world of work or come out in a more organisational form than that. One thing that is concrete is that with the ranks of trade unionists and labour activists that currently share training room together at the FES’s Young Workers Training, a reinvigorated spirit of movement unionism is being built within organised labour.
That is again, a manifestation of the epoch we are living through. We are living through an era of crisis and traditional workers’ organisations are not immune to the turbulence that comes with it. But it is also an era of popular revolts, which are rising and advancing pro-working-class alternatives. We thus urge other participants to join us as we march together equipped with political instruments that the FES’s training has provided us and more against our class enemy and their system of capitalism. Onward forward to working class liberation … onward forward to socialism!
by Lai BROWN