LABOUR MUST FIGHT WAGE SLAVERY AND CASUALISATION
By Lexan Alli
On October 2 and 4 of 2018, 15, 000 young workers employed by the management of Summal foods walked out of the production line in a declaration of strike action. These workers toiled for 12 hours every day, without overtime bonuses, and for a miserable pay of N800 per day. The management denied them break-time. They had no access to the company’s medical facilities, which, in the company’s reckoning, were reserved for full-time staff alone. It took the strike action of the workers, along with the solidarity of socialists, for victory to be achieved over vicious management. The victory of the Summal workers would have been far-reaching and could have become a reference point in the struggle against casualisation in Nigeria, if not for the disloyalty of the trade union bureaucrats, who preferred to be friends of managements than stand and defend the interest of workers.
Despite this minus, casual workers in Summal Foods, based on their strike action and struggle, won some concessions from the management. Management increased their salaries by 30%; reduced their working hours from 12 hours to 8 hours, and now with a 30 minutes break every day; the working days were reduced to six days (Monday to Saturday), with Sundays and public holidays now treated as overtime for any worker who chooses to work. Summal Foods will not forget the three days between October 2 and 4 too quickly; casual workers demonstrated that only through the action of casual workers themselves, providing their leadership, could casualisation be brought to an end and unionisation achieved.
Painfully, however, is the fact that this victory of the workers against the Summal management was at the cost of subsequent victimisation of the leaders of the October 2018 struggle. This was made possible by the unwillingness of the NUBFTE leadership (the trade union responsible for the factory workers under Nigeria’s labour laws) to end its disloyal relationship with its union members through its conniving role in the management’s plot. The union was missing as per its responsibility of providing the necessary leadership for casual workers, with the full solidarity of fully-employed staff, in a struggle against casualisation and for unionization in the workplaces. Such a struggle should also have placed on the agenda the demand for immediate recall of the sacked leaders/workers.
This unwillingness of the leadership of the trade unions to fight casualisation is emboldening the bosses to depend on a casual workforce, whether in public or private establishment. Casual labour, disguised as ‘contract-staffing’, has become the new normal. As such casual workers are becoming an increasing part of the workforce in the country. They are made to work under inhuman working conditions to serve the crude need for the exploitation of labour and the maximization of profit by a few, self-serving, capitalist elites.
The capitalist elites sought after cheap labour because of their need for super-profits from investments. And the huge, unemployed population in the country readily provides employers with millions of people whose desperation to earn anything can be exploited for cheap labour. Hence every employer of labour from the banking sector to the oil sector, from telecommunications to manufacturing, enlists the services of casual labourers/contract staff as a rule. They either employ them directly without staff benefits and trade union rights or through outsourcing companies that are snobbishly described as “third party arrangement.” Sometimes, these outsourcing companies are surrogate companies or indirectly linked to management or pro-management trade-union leaders.
Under this exploitative arrangement, the capitalist elites appropriate for themselves as profits all of the benefits that ought to accrue to workers. Overtime bonuses, leave bonuses, medical allowances, transport, accommodation, pension savings and trade union dues are used as largesse to fund the luxurious lifestyles of the capitalist elites while condemning millions of workers into a life of penury. They are so willing to hand over a portion of this largesse to the “Third-party agents” (and of course to some pliant trade union leadership), who function as outsourcing companies that pay miserable wages and deny casual workers the right to form or belong to trade unions. These outsourcing companies are used by management to beat down wages, create disparities in workplaces and cause divisions amongst workers.
This is the case in BAGCO, a Nigerian Bag Manufacturing Company, and PASTA, a Food Manufacturing Company that are both located at Eric Moore, Lagos. The two companies are divisions of Flour Mills, where more than 70% of factory workers are casual labourers. Their employment with the Flour Mills management is contracted to Outsourcing Companies such as S-Lloyd, Piceco, C & I and Halogen. The terms of contracts or agreement signed with the management by these companies are not the same, which explains the disparity in their salary scales even though they do the same work. This also explains why some of these “third-party” workers under S Lloyd and C & I have started benefiting from payment of the #30,000 minimum wage by the management since February this year while others under Halogen Security have not. While other categories of “third party” casual workers have access to a meal per day at the company’s canteen meant for workers on duty, workers contracted to the company by Halogen Security do not.
This situation in BAGCO reflects the general situation in the entire Flour Mills, a situation that is not any different or any less bad than situations in other production companies or service industries elsewhere in Nigeria, where worst conditions of casual labour can be found.
This wage slavery called contract-staffing or casualization also happens in workplaces where workers belong to trade unions. In most cases, the union leaders are pliant to the management; some trade union leaders even have outsourcing agencies themselves with interest in the continuation of this slavish condition. This was why, during the Summal struggle, the leadership of the National Union of Food Beverage and Tobacco Employees (NUFBTE) joined forces with the Summal management to serve as a witness in court against activists/socialists charged for trespassing by the management. And this goes a long way to underscore how the bureaucrats of the trade unions are abandoning even the most elementary task of trade unionism, which is the defence of workers’ interest, for the satisfaction of their stomachs.
In some cases, managements sow division among workers by telling fully-employed workers that the contract staff are threatening their employment. But this too will be ineffective if the trade union leaders are not compromised or sell-outs. Fully-employed workers themselves work under worst conditions of service that are only different from casual workers by dimensions. And these full-workers are threatened also not to protest because management can easily replace them with casual workers. The divisive tactics of the management have become the norm only because of the failure of the trade unions to lead a consistent struggle, which poses the question of how workers can reclaim their unions and transform them into fighting organs for the interest and wellbeing of workers. For this to be achieved, young workers must develop interests in the unions, organise within its ranks and struggle for them to be democratised, with leadership directly elected by the mass of workers, and that can be subjected to recall, at any point when workers want other workers to represent their interest. Placing demands on the leadership, and challenging it to struggle for the benefit and interest of workers, and join in solidarity with other workers, and adopt an attitude of seeing casualisation as a threat to the future existence and survival of the union that must be mortally combated.
There is also the need for workers to orientate themselves to study and understand the ideas of Marxism, which remains the only authentic philosophy of the working class, the only body ideas with which workers can struggle for improved working conditions and for the birth of a new society and a new world where exploitation of labour in whatever form shall be a thing of the past. Marxism provides the Socialist Alternative, the only scientific means with which workers can seek to confront capitalism, the philosophy of the capitalist elites that rationalise their inordinate drive for profits, becoming the very basis for casualisation and exploitation of all forms of labour. The MSA is poised for the above task and calls on workers to join us, reach out to us and collectively let’s commence the task to end this modern-day slavery.
This is the only strategy for workers and trade union activists that will ultimately lead to a transformation of the trade unions, and transform them into fighting organs for the interests of workers that will wage a serious fight against the unlawful practice of the casualization in order to assure all workers better conditions of service.