Accepted paper:

Nigerian trade unions navigating in the political economy of oil: a case study of the 2012 fuel subsidy strike


Camilla Houeland (University of Life Sciences (UMB))

Paper short abstract:

Based on a case study of the mass protests and general strike against petroleum subsidy in 2012, this paper explores Nigerian trade unions' agency within the political economy of oil. Intra-movement dynamics and external constraints are analysed to understand the limitations of political spaces.

Paper long abstract:

Inspired by agency oriented social movement theory and theories of the political economy of oil, this paper explores opportunities and constraints for policy change through a case study of the popular protests against fuel subsidy removal in Nigeria 2012. In January 2012 the trade unions and a renewed civil society lead the broadest based protests in post-military Nigeria. Despite high expectations and talks of "a Nigerian spring", the achievements were limited. Unions where critiqued for not using the political opportunity at hand, whilst they claim they had exhausted the policy space. The deregulation of fuel subsidy relates to transnational and national power relations, where trade unions have specific and dual roles. Unions are both insiders (of oil industry and governance through social dialogue) and outsiders (as part of social movement and representative of the poor masses), reflected in a dual role of bottom up representation and top-down disciplining of workers in relation to state and companies. This paper discusses the political space for trade union agency. Trade unions' roles are shaped by their dual roles in politics and economics. This paper argues that the limited achievements must be understood through analyses of intra movement dynamics, in particular between the new social actors and the trade unions, and structural factors of the policy constraints found in the transnational political economy of oil.

panel P092
Contestation and political change: exploring patterns across borders and regions