Since the beginning of democracy in 1999, the labour movement has to some extent, acted as the guardian of the poor by protecting their interest.
The history of trade unionism can be traced to the struggles of the English workers.
This workforce was made up of peasants who irrespective of their inputs to the English economy, had their lands coldly taken away from them.
Not just that, they were forced to work for long hours usually between 12-18 hours daily under poor conditions in the factories and mines in return for low wages.
This was around the historical 18th-century industrial revolution in Britain.
It was this struggle that birthed the earliest trade unions. But as expected, they were declared illegal and heavily subdued, but were later granted recognition by the government.
What is trade union?
According to the business dictionary, a trade union is an organization whose membership consists of workers and union leaders, united to protect and promote their common interests.
It goes further to state that its principal purposes consist the following:
1. Negotiate wages and working condition terms
2. Regulate relations between workers (its members) and the employer
3. Take collective action to enforce the terms of collective bargaining,
4. Raise new demands on behalf of its members
5. Help settle both internal and external grievances of members.
Be that as it may, it is right to affirm that trade unions in Nigeria have succeeded carving a unique spot in the country's history.
Unarguably, the trade unions in Nigeria have consistently been one of the largest and organised people force who has always presented a fighting force against the government and their policies.
But their fight hasn't gone well with the government who through constitutional acts, have tried to limit the scope and purpose of trade unions.
As a matter of fact, stories have it that they took part in the anti-colonial struggle. They also did their best to fight against military dictatorship.
And since the beginning of democracy in 1999, the labour movement has to some extent, acted as the guardian of the poor by protecting their interest.
However, there are other types of organizations that play the same role in the communities and educational institutions, such as social student organizations.
Owing to this, the government has tried to limit the range of unionism. And this effort was given Constitutional backing in the (Section 1 of the Trade Union Act of 1973, as amended in 2005); which prescribe the aim and purpose of a union are restricted to the representation of workers in the regulation of wages and working conditions within the industry.
This, however, has always been rejected by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) who has always gone ahead as a trade union to concern itself with all aspects of the lives of workers, not simply employment conditions.
Because a trade union is supposed to concern itself with the political life of the country, the economy, the social position of workers (education, health care, welfare), as they all affect the interest of workers.
It is important to mention that in times when the government has been unacceptably deaf, inconsiderate, bias, and intimidating, pressure groups such as the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASSU) and the numerous students union have either independently or together opposed the government.
And with brazen and constraining actions such as strikes, industrial actions, mass protest, deliberate disregard of government instructions and legal maneuvers, their demands have been met
Here are five influential trade unions in Nigeria
1. NLC- Nigeria Labour Congress
2. NUPENG- National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers
3. PENGASSAN – Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria
4. NMA- Nigeria Medical Association
5. ASUU- Academic Staff Union of Universities