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International Workers’ Day in Nigeria

May 2, 2012

From Fraser Ottanelli:

May Day, or International Workers Day,  celebrates labor’s ongoing battle for social justice and commemorates the Haymarket Martyrs killed in Chicago in 1886 during the struggle for the eight-hour day.  Observed by workers and unions in countries around the world, this event is mostly ignored in the United States — the country from which it originated.  Our arrival in Asaba coincided with the town’s celebrations of this labor holiday. In the morning, representatives of scores of local unions paraded through the town.  In spite of the festive atmosphere, their demands were very serious, chiefly focusing on better working conditions, higher wages and the end of widespread government corruption.

In the evening we were invited to attend the annual dinner and award ceremony of the local Nigerian Labor Congress (NLC).  Founded in 1978 from the merger of four different organizations, the NLC is an umbrella organization that brings together approximately thirty labor unions in Nigeria. During its relatively brief history the organization has been on the forefront of the struggles for workers’ rights and in favor of democratic reform.  During military rule the NLC was dissolved twice and its leaders arrested. Following the return to democracy the NLC has become one of the largest trade union organizations in the continent.


The evening event combined speeches with musical performances, dance routines and even a stand up comedian. Among the honorees were several local political leaders recognized for their pro-labor stance. We were introduced to the Deputy Governor of Delta State, who we expect to hear from before the end of the week. The highlight of the evening, at least for this union man, was when we all stood and sang together “Solidarity Forever.” Rarely did the words, “We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old” sound more appropriate.

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