Nigeria: Dangote workers step up pressure on union leaders to stand firm

 The struggle for justice for the workers at the Dangote Pasta Factory continues, and here is the latest news from the dispute and struggle against arguably one of the wealthiest and most powerful bourgeois figures in Africa.

At this point to recap on the story of Dangote, we remember that around 250 workers were unlawfully sacked from the Dangote Pasta Factory in Ikorodu, Lagos for organising themselves into a union. They were met with violence and intimidation from the hired crooks of Dangote, but persevered through all manner of union busting activity and victimisation. The physical abuse that some workers received left them scarred, but they were always prepared to fight on for the right to work and the legitimate right to organise in a union.

The dispute is now two years old and going into its third year, but the workers are maintaining a defiant and militant stance against tactics of evasion, bureaucracy and even physical fights; this coming from the trade unions, governors and even the bourgeoisie in the form of Alico Dangote himself.

On the 5th of August 2012 a protest group of around 80 workers from Dangote arrived at the Secretariat of the Union Offices in Dopemu, Lagos with a view to forcing the hand of the union, and were prepared to stay for ‘as long as it took’ to achieve this end. Significantly, the newly elected District Divisional Police Officer who came out with the statement that the 'Nigerian police is no longer the police of the bourgeoisie'.

They came equipped with mosquito nets for the night time and cooking and kitchen materials for meal times; they also took padlocks and chains, and with these they succeeded in disabling all business relations for the union on that day, by locking the bureaucrats inside their offices.

This may seem like a counter-productive activity from the perspective of some genuine union activists, but it is important to note that Nigeria has one of the biggest problems of corruption and overgrown bureaucracy of any country in the world. This is true of the Nigerian state, government institutions and also the Labour organisations. The latter employ excessive layers of Bureaucrats on exorbitant pay rolls: as we are witnessing in the case of Dangote, more full-time union officials does not necessarily lead to more action!

So in all fairness the tactics of the Dangote workers were completely justified and has been proved to be extremely successful, paralysing the unions activities.

At 11:30 in the evening, union officials decided rather than negotiating with the workers or mandating themselves to take action, to instead deploy pick-up trucks filled with policemen to try and dislodge the protesting workers.

However, when the policemen saw the placards of the workers, many had a change of heart and instead gave the workers their solidarity; this was a surprise to the workers, and the consolations of the police officers gave them more encouragement.

Returning to the protest on the 5th, the police officers intervened to negotiate between the union bureaucrats and the workers and a re-scheduled meeting was agreed for one week later, on the 14th of August.

This meeting took place with the union unhappy they had been forced into the position, but nevertheless they promised during this meeting to speed up the action against the management at Dangote Pasta Factory and to contact the Nigerian Ministry of Labour.

The Ministry of Labour then called for a meeting between the NLC and the NUBFTE (National Union of Beverage, Food and Tobacco Employees) and the workers’ leaders from the Dangote dispute. On the 13th of September they met again and the union executives again pleaded for more time and said they were discussing with ‘top government officials’.

The seemingly interminable inactivity on the part of union and government officials has much to do with the extent of corruption and influence that Alico Dangote has upon the upper echelons of Nigeria’s economic and political institutions. His money and influence among these ‘top officials’, and in almost all economic sectors, makes him a very hard man to track down.

Despite this, the workers at Dangote are still in a militant mood, and are preparing themselves for another wave of activity in the coming period. They are emboldened by the knowledge that in a country of 160 million people and a powerful working class of over 50 million, corrupt men from the bourgeoisie, however rich, cannot hide forever.