by Raymond- Oise-Oghaede
The origin of trade union as an effectively organised body which strives by means of collective bargaining with threats of strikes and strikes to raise the earnings and improve the working conditions of its members could be said to be not a far development in Nigeria. The first of such was the Nigerian Civil Service Union which was founded in 1912.
In general terms, the necessity for a union in an organisation may not arise until the working conditions somehow begin to deteriorate. It is then that unions are formed to make representations to government or management of such an organisation (hereinafter called the Authority) with a view to enhancing general improvement in their working conditions. It is mostly when such representations fail in achieving the desired results that the unions call for strike as a means of pressing for their demands.
Simply defined as organised stopping of work by employees because of disagreement with the employers of labour, strike or industrial action can also be described as a situation whereby workers press for their demands by laying down their working tools.
Considering the fact that all sectors of the economy are closely knitted, it therefore becomes obvious that any strike action embarked by a unit of the economy will directly or indirectly have a spill-over effect on other units. As such, the gains derived from such a strike action will be minute when compared to the extent of damages caused. That is, a situation where a few people benefits at the expense of the majority. One then wonders if embarking on strike to press for one demand or the others is actually worth its salt.
At this stage, it is very pertinent to state that the aim herein is not to apportion blames to trade unions and or the authorities/government, but to bring to the fore, the evils associated with strike actions and the need to discourage its commencement towards ensuring stability and development of the polity.
To this end, strike actions would be linked to some sectors of the economy/polity with a view to showing their negative effects.
Take doctors’ strike for instance. Assuming that it took the union and authorities about one month before agreeing on terms, the casualty figure could be better imagined as a result of denied medical attention. At the end of the day, a lot of lives might have been lost while the action lasted.
When such an action is embarked upon by lawyers, a lot of people would be denied justice as a result of delayed hearing or non representation in the law courts.
Taking teachers’ strike as another example, as is the case with the lingering strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, the result would always be disruption of the academic calendar which will adversely affect the standard of education.
When bankers go on strike, several businesses will be jeopardised and most opportunities will suffer as a result of inability of people to transact business through their respective banks.
The same would be the case when the road transport workers withdraw their fleet of vehicles from the roads as a means of pressing for their demands. People’s movement would be hampered and several activities would breakdown.
From the few instances highlighted above, there is no gainsaying the fact that the aftermath of any strike action will always have adverse effect on the polity and this negates the advantages for which the actions were meant to achieve.
However, this is not to say that the workers’ demands are uncalled for; in fact, most demands made are genuine and reasonable but the truth remains that strike actions should not be seen as the only viable option or means for pressing for those demands. If we agree that the society is dynamic and things are changing over time, then, we should also have it at the back of our mind that it is very pertinent to change or modify our approaches to the changing environment. If embarking on a strike action was a viable option in the 1930s and today we still think that it is the best way to achieve results, then, we are not changing with time.
In this modern era, emphasis should be placed on negotiation as the most viable tool of pressing for demands. When negotiation fails or is stuck, the parties involved should renegotiate until they come to a compromise. We should learn to disagree to agree without causing havoc.
Based on the foregoing, I wish to advance the following workable tips towards ensuring a strike-free polity;
On the part of the unions, they should ensure that people elected as leaders or representatives are highly articulate and well-informed. It is only by so doing that they would know the right time to put forward their demands and the avenue to explore. This would prevent a situation where unrealistic demands are made.
Union leaders should be apolitical as much as possible. This will prevent a situation whereby politicians will manipulate them to cause problem for their opponents.
Demands should be based on concrete facts and the authorities should be adequately enlightened as to why such demands are made.
Union leaders should not always call for strike as a result of pressure from their members. Unionism should not be seen as an avenue for championing selfish interests.
Union machineries should not be used to derail the goals and objectives for which the organisations are established. Putting it differently, unions should desist from using their machineries to obstruct the good policies of government or organisations.
Union leaders should be able to convince their members to see reasons with the authorities/Government for the inability to meet certain demands at a particular point in time.
The authorities/government, on their own, should be fair in their dealings with the unions. Decisions on genuine and reasonable demands should be promptly taken.
Instructively, communication gaps should be bridged if not totally eradicated to avoid misinformation and misinterpretations.
Intimidation and victimization of labour leaders or representatives should be discouraged and totally eradicated.
Union leaders and the authorities/government should always see themselves as partners in progress.
The authorities/government should not always wait for the workers to embark on a strike action before taking their demands seriously. They should be proactive and responsive in handling union demands.
The lawmakers should always be prompt in advising the government on best decisions to make to avoid strike actions.
The ministers and relevant committee members in the House of Representatives and Senate should be made to vacate their seats in the event of any issue degenerating to strike action in their respective sector.
If the aforementioned tips are allowed to guide the relationship between the unions and authorities/government, the frequent occurrence of strike actions would be drastically reduced if not totally eradicated.
The current face-off between ASUU and the Federal Government will be a thing of the past in the coming days going by the aforementioned.
I wish to use this opportunity to appeal to the leadership of ASUU and the government to come to immediate resolution of the current impasse so that our children will go back to school and learn under better and conducive conditions as proposed and demanded by ASUU.
The Federal Government should show an unequivocal commitment to its resolutions with ASUU so that the lecturers would be comfortable and at least have a basis to trust the government of her good intentions. This is in view of the fact that the government has been accused of reneging on an earlier agreement.
The government should be seen as a government of continuity and better life. Agreements reached and decisions taken should be enduring even if there is a change in the mantle of leadership.
Once again, I appeal to the leadership of ASUU to take the government’s proposal for now while we crave for a better tomorrow.
Raymond- Oise-Oghaede, a policy analyst, wrote in from Surulere, Lagos, via [email protected]