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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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Congress  |  COSATU Speeches

Address to the COSATU Special Congress by Adams Oshiomhole, President, Nigerian Labour Congress

20 August 1999

President of Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU),
Members of the National Executive Council of COSATU,
The working people of South Africa,

I bring to you warm greetings of solidarity from members of the National Executive Council of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), and the entire working people of Nigeria. The people of our respective countries have long history of solidarity with one another. We have instances of commitments to the cause of defending the rights and dignities of our peoples. In particular, the trade union movement in the continent, more than any other group, has contributed to building and sustaining this tradition.

We are anxious of strengthening the rich traditions of the African peoples, which command respect of our individual and collective rights. We believe that to sustain these traditions require extra vigilance and innovations, particularly at this period of computerised exploitation of the wealth and resources of peoples and nations. Millions of jobs are threatened daily on account of what today is ordinarily referred to as globalisation.

Challenges facing trade unions in Africa therefore include the fact that the major employers of labour are governments and multi-nationals, with very little indigenous entrepreneurs in the formal sector. Africa has continued to undergo tremendous political and economic changes that have had profound impact on workers. At the political level, the late 50`s and 60`s in Africa was a decade devoted to decolonisation, and the last decade of this century has been characterised by military dictatorships and the struggle for democracy.

Trade unions in Africa must as necessity create awareness and assist where necessary to confront their respective governments to transform rapidly from quasi-military and dictatorial governance to governance based on democratic norms, transparency, rule of law and friction free succession government. For we in Nigeria, this means in clear terms, trade union - led defence and sustenance of democracy and democratic government.

It is in this context that the Nigerian working people and in particular the labour movement wish to salute the courage, steadfastness and commitment of South African workers under the leadership of COSATU, which contributed to the eventual dismantling of the apartheid regime and the advent of majority rule in 1994.

Your principled and consistent resistance to the unjust racial system of apartheid and the tribulations you endured as workers has stood firmly as a source of inspiration to other oppressed people the world over in fighting for freedom.

The contributions of the working people of South Africa to the transformation processes in your society are also been keenly watched around the African continent and the world at large. The Comrades that have left the movement to join Government and parliament as direct participants in the transformation processes are therefore carrying the hopes and aspirations of not only the working class of South Africa but also those of the continent.

The success of your current involvement in the governance of the new South Africa will impact greatly on the direction of trade unionism in our continent. Elsewhere in the continent, the labour movement has been in the forefront of the democratisation crusade, yet in most of them there is no qualitative improvement in the conditions of the working people.

Our trade unions in the African continent are having a lot of problems. Despite the huge advancement in industrialisation and communication facilities, most of our unions are yet to enjoy the fruits of these developments. Communications within and between trade unions are still rudimentary in many parts of our continent. Sectoral linkages are yet to be effectively coordinated. We are still more likely to see each other at programmes and conferences organised outside the continent than inside Africa.

Trade unions in Africa, because of the central roles they play in the struggle to free the continent from exploitation, have a rich reserve of options and opportunities, which if utilised can serve to fuel the desire for the unimpeded development of the continent. The experience of the Nigerian labour movement confirms the vulnerability of the continent and the challenges of widening the scope of freedom for our people.

Our journey to the present position as a free trade union movement constitutes a classic verification of the recognition of the historic adage that `No easy walk to freedom!` The experience of Nigerian labour movement has in fact been very thorny. This ranged from an unencumbered trade union movement to that of direct state intervention in the internal affairs of trade unions. This rather sad period of our national and trade union history eventually climaxed during the late Nigerian dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha. That period witnessed the intensification of tight-fisted controls of trade unions through obnoxious legislation, arrest and detention of union leaders, etc.

In view of our population, size and importance within the African continent, our two federations will have to find creative ways of strengthening trade unions in the continent.

We have to support African trade unions and assist in mutually building up each other`s capacity. Our two countries have a number of similarities. We are both big and potentially very rich countries. However the riches of our countries are concentrated in very few hands, leaving vast majority of the population in intolerable poverty. Closer links between us will enable us to learn from each other`s experience of confronting these kinds of problems, and pulling our collective experiences together. We can pose a more forceful challenge to the problem.

At the wider international level, in this era of globalisation and its devastating effects on Africa in particular and the third world in general, means that as trade unions, we need to address this and other issues of socio-economic inequalities more vigorously.

Distinguished delegates,

The challenges for COSATU and NLC is therefore to provide leadership to African workers through intensified network of activities between national centres, and sectoral linkages; strengthening sub-regional and continental trade unions and exchange of resources both human and material.

We hope that this our meeting will pave way to concretise these urgent tasks.

Long live COSATU!
Long live NLC!!
Long live the solidarity of working people in Africa!