#EndSARS vs NLC strikes: Older generation-inclined Labour Unions can learn from a youth-led movement

If we were to go down history lane, we will realise that ‘industrial strike actions’ – the threats of strikes – and the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) are interchangeable terms.

It has got to a stage where no one listens to their threats. In fact, you will not be making backward leaps if you said NLC‘s fangs have lost their potency. The threats of strike actions are now seen by workers nationwide as empty. And, the most recent threat where the leaders of the union called off the strike a few hours to when it was supposed to begin lends credence to the belief.

If the title of threats belongs to NLC, the crown for strike actions belongs to ASUU. You could even argue that the crown was handed over to the Academic Staff Union of Universities and they upped the game.

Being an association largely made up of and led by the older generation, NLC has had many attempts to prove its substance that it is capable of demanding government accountability and winning battles for the average Nigerian worker.

Indeed, NLC has the capacity to cripple the economy faster than all the youth would, yet it only keeps making threats. Whether the issue is indiscriminate fuel increase, delay in implementation of minimum wage or mass sacking of workers like it happened in June 2016 to thousands of bank workers, NLC should have picked a fight or a time to prove to the government that its excesses can be checked by the people who voted it into power.

The sudden removal of fuel subsidy by the Goodluck Jonathan administration on January 1, 2012, which made the price of petrol move from ₦65 to between ₦138 and ₦250 per litre was an opportunity to go all out. Yet, it met the government halfway and returned its rather blunt weapons to the armoury.

Now, it has become a yearly routine to cry wolf to the government with little results to show for it. The planned industrial action in Septemeber was called off, yet the electricity tariff increment was only suspended and fuel increase sustained.

By comparison, youth who have no union except social media town hall have gone on protests that have lasted 8 days and counting, and SARS has been disbanded, corrupt officers are being brought to book, cities are gradually being brought to a standstill and government left with no option than to pay attention.

One is then left to wonder why NLC – filled with pre-millennials – does not appear to possess the level of organisation and sophistication that the seeming inexperienced generation has.

When one takes a closer look, there are factors to be considered.

The first factor which sets the #EndSARS movement apart from the labour union is that there are no leaders. While NLC can be reined in through their leaders, the decentralisation of leadership across the country makes it difficult to cage the boisterous youth. When a virtual meeting held between select youth and a handful of governors and government officials, a barrage of criticism followed with emphasis on ‘we have no leader’. The likes of Omoyele Sowore and Segun Awosanya have been accused of chasing clout and undue glory of leadership.

Second is the manner of tools. Where NLC still writes letters and calls for press conferences, social media, Twitter especially, has been the perpetual village square for Gen Z. Information spreads fast with graphic illustrations taking the place of letters. During the course of the struggle, the accounts set aside for donations were reportedly frozen. Almost immediately, a switch was made to bitcoin and donations continued. In other words, there is an answer for every challenge. It underlines the importance of the 21st century and the exposure of youth.

Another is the need for the youth to prove themselves to be better than the older generation. For a generation which has always come under fire for being impetuous, extravagant and irreverent, this served as an opportunity to address misconceptions. Millions have been donated and are being accounted for daily. Whereas, the older generation would have spent billions before the impact is felt.

The manner in which the protests against police brutality have gone so far demands commendation and even though many issues remain, the little victories being recorded is a testament to things going in the right direction. The general indication is that the #EndSARS and #EndSWAT protests will not cease until the demands are met.

The NLC, with its intermittent strike threats, may have one or two things to learn from the younger ones.

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