Being the Text of an Address by the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) on the Occasion of the 14th Congress of HAK-IS on July 10-11, 2019
I bring you very warm fraternal greetings from millions of workers worldwide affiliated to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). I also bring you the heartfelt felicitations from my primary constituency, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) on this epochal occasion of the 14th Congress of the HAK-IS Trade Union Confederation.
First, I must salute the near perfect organization of this Congress. I commend the leadership of HAK-IS, affiliate unions, secretariat staff, and workers affiliated to this great organization. I thank you for your warmth and hospitality.
I was excited when I learnt that your great centre was founded on October 22, 1976. I was born on October 22. So, next time you celebrate the anniversary of HAK-IS, kindly remember to extend my own share of the cake wherever I am. It is also interesting that there are a lot of common grounds between the HAK-IS and the Nigeria Labour Congress. The two Labour Centres were formed almost at the same time. While the process to form the NLC started around 1975 and got consummated in 1978, the HAK-IS was formed in 1976. Please, do not ask me which is older of the two trade union centres.
Furthermore, the Nigeria Labour Congress has come under the brute force of military dictatorship. Between 1996 and 1999, the secretariat of the NLC was virtually under lock and key. At that time, the military government of Sani Abacha imposed a Sole Administrator on the NLC and ran our Congress as a parastatal of government. We resisted this and many of our comrades were jailed as a result. I understand that the HAK-IS also went through near similar experience somewhere between 1981 and 1982. The only difference was that you got your centre back a lot faster than us. Perhaps, this is a good place to compare notes.
Well, still in the spirit of comparing notes, I must say that our experience as trade union centres especially as developing economies operating under an atmosphere of fledgling democracy is about the same. The same applies to many trade union centres and their affiliates.
Apart from sharp turnovers in democratic outcomes, our countries face dire labour conditions. In 2018, the Nigerian government was reported to the International Labour Conference for gross violation of labour rights. In the centenary ILC a few weeks ago, it was the turn of the government of Turkey. The fact that these violations are not being swept under the carpet signifies the commitment by the trade union centres in Turkey and Nigeria. Yet, many of the challenges in industrial spaces in developing countries are simply part of the fallout of the level of our socio-economic realities. Yet, our situation must challenge us to deploy more efforts in changing the working and living conditions of workers and their unions who have sought shelter under our umbrella.
In order to achieve for workers the deserved shelter from precarious and indecent work conditions, we must devote significant resources to building stronger affiliates. It is only logical that stronger affiliates would automatically translate to stronger trade unions. We need to get our voices stronger in the face of the expanding exploitations of capital, diminishing platform for multilateralism and shrinking spaces for social dialogue. We must strive together to change the rules in the world of work. Workers must unite to Change the Rules! And Yes, We Can!
This is the persuasion of the ITUC – our international workers solidarity platform of which HAK-IS is a prominent member. You will agree with me that the current rule that promotes capital above people is not good enough. You will agree with me that the rule that promotes profit above social welfare is unacceptable. You will agree with me that the rule that sees labour as a commodity to be barely tolerated is antithetical to the kind of social progress, inclusion, and future of work we want to build.
As we progress into the 4th industrial revolution, we need an economic model that is socially and economically sustainable. The digital transformation should leave no one behind. Technological revolution should not be a threat to decent work. Going forward, we need a new social contract that will deliver decent jobs and entrench fundamental rights at work – freedom of association, freedom from discrimination, freedom from child labour, freedom from every form of gender-based violence, the right to living wage and the right to strike.
As I conclude this address, I urge workers everywhere not to relent in the fight for social justice. Like I said earlier, to win this fight, we must strive to build workers’ and trade union power. We must bear in mind that the fight for stronger unions are the best safeguards for democracy. In order to consolidate workers’ power and build resilient trade unions, the ITUC has prioritized the promotion of peace, democracy and rights.
We demand regulation of economic power and the redistribution of wealth. For us, it is “workers first, then profits.” We refuse to accept current historic levels of inequality. We reject the reality that more than 70% of the world’s people have little or no social protection.
We demand a re-jig of tax systems in a manner that restores the re-distributive role of government. We reject a situation where more than 50% of the global wealth is owned by less than 1% of the world’s population. We insist on social contracts that deliver social justice.
There is indeed enough to meet our needs but hardly enough to satisfy our greed. We must, therefore, make the necessary sacrifices to keep the wheels of economic prosperity moving, the engine of social progress roaring and the wings of inclusive innovation soaring.
Once again, I wish HAK-IS a very successful and memorable 14th Congress.
Viva HAK-IS… Viva
Viva ITUC… Viva
Viva International Workers Solidarity… Viva
Thank you for giving me your time and ears!
Comrade Ayuba Wabba, mni
President, Nigeria Labour Congress
President, International Trade Union Confederation