An Assessment of the Marxist Dialectical Materialism and its Relevance to Industrial Relations in Nigeria

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An Assessment of the Marxist Dialectical Materialism and its Relevance to Industrial Relations in Nigeria





  • Background of the study

In recent years, the nature of Nigeria’s contemporary industrial relations policies has been a subject of major debate. The debate centres on whether contemporary industrial relations policies in Nigeria have given the Government greater control of industrial relations or they have been supportive of all aspects of industrial relations in Nigeria. The many researchers review the theoretical and empirical literature relating to the debate. The analysis shows that Government’s contemporary industrial relations policies have not been supportive of all aspects of industrial relations in Nigeria. Rather, these policies have only succeeded in creating a poor and worsening industrial relations system in the country. This is because, instead of stabilizing the labour force, the Government’s labour policies have served to destabilize it1.

Industrial relations is a multidisciplinary field that studies the employment relationship. Industrial relations is increasingly being called employment relations because of the importance of non-industrial employment relationships. Many outsiders also equate industrial relations to labour relations. Industrial relations studies examine various employment situations, not just ones with a unionized workforce2. Industrial relations is used to denote the collective relationships between management and the workers. Traditionally, the term industrial relations is used to cover such aspects of industrial life as trade unionism, collective bargaining, workers’ participation in management, discipline and grievance handling, industrial disputes and interpretation of labor laws and rules and code of conduct3.

Although the Federal House of Representatives, and the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria have passed the Trade Union Amendment Act 2005, there are still some pertinent issues that needs to be considered. In the letter to the National Assembly, the Federal Government of Nigeria, the sponsor of the Bill to amend the Trade Act 1990, has raised some fundamental issues that deserve our consideration4.

This intervention by government is not the first time government and its Agencies would be interfering in the industrial relation system of the country – Odigie 2003. But this instance seems suspicious, because government seemed to be wary of confrontations from organized labour. From 1968 to 2003, several labour laws have been either enacted or amended, yet this Act has drawn more debates, and comments. The argument of government has always been that, being the single largest employer of labour in Nigeria, she has to do all within her powers to regulate the industrial relations climate that would lead to a peaceful industrial environment5.

Esan (2007), describes industrial relations as the relationship which exist between workers, employers and between workers and management, in an organisation and that government’s role is that of a third party which could be described as that of an umpire or arbiter6. While Lawal, (2011) defines industrial relations as covering all types of collective bargaining and relations between workers, employers, and workers/workers, personal administration and all that has to do with the atmosphere and climate of the workplace. From these definitions, industrial relation system is three party affairs, which include the workers /unions, employers and the government as the third party7. However, industrial relations is meaningful only in situations where people work for pay. There is nothing peculiar to any nation about industrial relations. However, some practices are not common to all countries and such practices constitute variations which are different from country to country. These variations do not necessarily make one country inferior/superior to other countries. Some are historical while others are products of prevailing circumstances, such as the political, sociocultural, legal, economic and technological environment.

Ubeku, (2013)  opined that industrial relations involves actors and institutions such as government and its agencies, trade unions with its workers and employers and its’ associations and the relationships between them. Issues like strikes, collective bargaining, joint consultation and how they relate to various government agencies are all within the purview of industrial relations. The main focus of labour relations in industry is seen as the one which emphasizes the development of peaceful relations, mutual respect for each other in an industrial organisation. Specifically, it focuses on how collective agreements are implemented and interpreted. One of the actors in industrial relations is the trade union which has played a prominent role in the promotion of industrial relations in West Africa State. There is therefore the need to look at their activities in West African countries8

1.2     Statement of the problem

Industrial relations is the term that describes how the management and the employees of a company interact with each other. Specifically, it is the relationship that exists between the upper management of a small business and the staff that carries out the duties of the small business. Because there is a divide between these two aspects of a business, problems also arise when maintaining a relationship between management and staff. In many businesses, an issue that arises out of industrial relations is a narrow focus by the employees of the organization. An employee or staff member may only view the task at hand that they have to perform to complete their job rather than viewing how the role the employee plays benefits the organization as a whole. Many employees simply see their managers as someone who tells them what to do rather than as a facilitator that can help the employee achieve their own professional goals as well as bring the company to a point where it reaches the goals of the business.

Moreover, when an employer is inflexible, this can stifle the creativity of employees. When employees feel as if their creativity is being squashed or that their opinions do not matter, this can cause strife between the employees and management of the business. When creativity is squashed, this can cause the company innovation to lack, which can ultimately create an uncompetitive position for the company in the marketplace. Employers that allow employees to participate in running the company by allowing suggestions and feedback from the employees and even empowering employees to take on more responsibility for the route the business takes, typically enjoys a more successful business environment—internally and in the marketplace.  Another issue that arises in industrial relations is an “us against them” mentality. Many employees believe there is a great divide that exists between them and the management of the company. This division between the two groups of a business can cause a myriad of issues such as contract negotiation problems, strikes and the required intervention of trade and labor unions. When management and employees can relate and communicate with each other, it typically alleviates the problems, such as not being able to negotiate work contract agreements or having to bring in the labor union to negotiate the terms and conditions between employees and management.

1.3     The aims and objectives

The aim of this study is to assess Marxist dialectical materialism and its relevance to industrial relations in Nigeria

The specific objectives are to:

  1. To determine practice of industrial relations in Nigeria
  2. To describe the trade union and its function
  3. To examine the significance of the alienation in Marxist dialectical materialism

1.4     Research questions

  1. What is the level of practice of industrial relations in Nigeria
  2. What is the importance trade union and its function to industrial relations
  3. What is the significance of the alienation in Marxist dialectical materialism


1.5     Justification of the study

State intervention in industrial relations is essentially a modern development. With the emergence of the concept of welfare state, new ideas of social philosophy, national economy and social justice sprang up with result that industrial relation no longer remains the concern of labour and management alone. Many countries realized that for general progress to be assured, economic progress was a must. In no country is a complete laissez faire attitude now adopted in the matter of labour management relations. This study will serve as a call for government to regulate the practices of industrial relations where it has being adopted such that worker’s rights are protected. Lastly, the study will serve as an intellectual contribution to the improvement of industrial relations in such a way that a synthesis can be reached.






This research work will be limited to Marxist dialectical materialism and its relevance to industrial relations in Nigeria. The study will also focus on the practice of industrial relations in Nigeria.

1.7     Methodology

Method is next nature of any research work. Hence, this work combines expository, deductive, review and evaluative methods. This study shall reveal the position of Karl Marx on dialectical materialism.

1.8     Evaluation of related literatures

It is a common belief in nature that every existing situation or event has an organic link to something that existed earlier. Hence, there is always a background to any subject under study. History has it that Karl Marx, though very famous and influential in his time, could not be identified with a particular philosophical system. Instead, what later emerged, as his philosophical thought was the synthesis of his predecessors’ philosophical thoughts. Perusing through his method, the Hegelian categories of dialectics as detected by scholars was purged out of its idealism. Likewise, Feuerbach’s materialism lost its metaphysics and contemplative approach in place of socio-political struggle and in refutation of idealism and religion. This specifically brought the idea of materialism in Karl Marx. Thus, Marx’s achievement in social and political thought was based on a transformation and synthesis of two   traditions: German idealism as exemplified in the work of Hegel, and philosophical radicalism as expressed in the materialism of Feuerbach9.

Nonetheless, such philosophers like Heraclitus, Democritus, Epicurus, Kant, Francis Bacon, Machiavelli, and his father, as a lawyer and intellectual with strong rational inclinations, and of Ludwig Von Westphalia, a distinguished Prussian government official, all had influences on Marx. From F. Bacon, Marx was able to see knowledge from the practical perspective, and from Machiavelli; he saw that, “the end justifies the means”. Kant’s ethics, which admonishes that one, should always act in a way that one’s action could be universalized and that human beings should not be used as a means to an end also caught the sight and interest of Marx. From these different philosophical thoughts, Marx was exposed into the psychological and social humps of alienation in labour, which accounts for the historical change. Tracing the historical process of formation in economic factors, according to Karl Marx which have gone through the economic stages, ranging from “primitive communal, slave society, feudal society, and capitalism”, one could assert that Marx’s study of this process of formation of economic factor in various pre-existed epochs that necessitated his view of the classless society (communism) as forthcoming, enormously contributed in the make-up of Marx philosophical thought. Hence, the researcher wishes to view the aspects of the above-mentioned epochs that outstandingly seem very influential in Karl Marx10.

1.8.1 The Primitive Communal

This could be described as the first society of men and women, where they convoked as a result of social needs. Here, the factors of production were not sophisticated, but were communally owned. Marx saw this society as next to the communism, though it is too local and primitive. The gradual sophistication of means of production and the corresponding surplus product of labour led to the following consequences: First there appeared a chance to accumulate that product, to stockpile different kinds of material wealth and to re-distribute it. This produced an economic basis for inequality…Secondly, exploitation, that is, the appropriation of products of one man’s labour by another becomes also possible11. So, with the accumulation of wealth and exploitation, struggle became possible, leading to another stage—slave society.

1.8.2 Slave Society

During wars, the conquest kills their enemies and captives. As time went on, captives were no longer killed but subjected to slave labour, by their warlords. This eventually gave rise to private ownership of property. This is because slaves enriched their owners through their labour. This led to the ever greater material inequality, to the extent that the rich tribal lords eventually began turning into slaves, both prisoners of war and impoverished fellow tribesmen and women taken to debt servitude. This was done for material acquisition. With every epoch containing the seed of its own destruction, the slave society crumbled as a result of slaves not being allowed to own properties. This made them develop little or no zeal for work, and as a result of this, there arose conflict of interests between the slaves and the slave-owners. This led to a more progressive system—Feudalism or Feudal system.

1.8.3 The Feudal System

Here, the feudal lords receive land from the kings and Tzars in return for various services rendered. Sequel to this, other member servants, depended on the feudal lords, (semi-military commanders) for their own survival. But here, there was little division of labour, and the feudal lords having direct power over other servants (peasants), had to force them to work for themselves. As a result of this, there came a conflict between them, leading the historical movement to the next stage—the Capitalist society.

1.8.4 The Capitalist Society

The capitalist society was more progressive when compared to the previous societies. This epoch of history was characterized by invention of machines and population migration from their local homes to large industrial cities to search for work. Here, workers are distinguished from owners of the means of production. For workers to exist, they sell their labour power for wages. Men and women are no longer associated with their produce. The product of their labour goes to the owners of the means of production. Consequently, workers are alienated from themselves and their labour, because what they produce no longer belong to them, but belong to the owners of the means of production, which amasses wealth for the sake of amassing wealth. As a result of these, the society is sharply divided into the rich owners, and the poor workers, and Marx describe them as the “bourgeoisie” and the “proletariats” respectively. Here, the war and class struggle intensified, more than the previous societies. Marx, who saw contradictions in the society, envisaged the abolition of capitalism. For him, capitalism will give way to more progressive, liberal stage—communism or classless society. Following Marx’s view, one tends to question the extent his parlances on the condition of labour in the capitalist state could be helpful to the contemporary labourers, especially as it concerns the present situation of the Nigerian workers12.

In recent times, the voice of the Nigerian workers has become louder, industrial dispute is now a common phenomenon. These disagreements between employees and management had after led to work stoppages, strikes, workouts etc. and such other actions that out rightly reduce the productivity of the average workers. These actions therefore however, affect the entrepreneurs most since his/her profit on investment will in no doubt be reduced. Managing industrial disputes has been the primary concern of industrial relations practitioners and labour leaders. It has been recognized however, the various kinds of employee grievances often lead to industrial disputes. An industrial dispute is a situation in which two or more groups (management, employees, entrepreneur) perceive that they have in compatibility of goals and Inter dependence of activity. Unless one believes in an utopian world where all interests are additive, overlapping and compatible, one must admit to possible conflicts accompanied by deliberate behaviour, characterized by interference’s and blockages13. Employees and organizations need each other and are therefore interdependent. However, employees and organizations have some values that are conflicting e.g. Ego versus control, self-actualization versus divisions of labour, and freedom versus efficiency. Sustained your suffering, however breeds a brotherhood of under training, join endeavour and mutual assistance, and it is not surpassing that workers in the circumstances, found it necessary to organize trade unions at the most effective means of both exerting and defending better terms and conditions from their employees. This has been accepted institution with the industrial structure14. As a discipline, industrial relations involved as a study of economic class conflicts between employers on one hand and increasingly organized workers on the other.

In essence therefore, the logic of industrial relations seems to have been derived from an interest class conflict. A total absence of conflicts would be unbelievable, boring and strong indications that such conflicts are being suppressed. One of the characteristics of a mature group is its willingness and ability to bring higher degree of resolving them. Conflict per-se is whether bad nor contrary to good of the organization. However, the first step in conflicts resolution is their discovery and exposure. There are many upwards demands of communication that can be developed for the purpose of bringing dissatisfaction to the surface15.
Industrial conflicts have no final or permanent victor as such, for both side employers and workers-mutually supportive. In an important aspect, the problem of industrial relations is derived out of how to organize production and share the returns of their joint endeavour. Madan (2001) defined conflicts as a dynamic process, a type of behaviour involving two or more parties in opposition to each other16. Stoner (1977) also have it that organizational conflicts is a disagreement between two or more organizational members or group arising from the fact that they must be scarce resources or work activity and or from the fact that they have different status, values or perceptions. High productivity and stable market economy can only be achieved where there is cordial relationship between employers and employee for this reason as (Marx, 1984) puts it. Government regards itself as mandated to produce trade unions powers, and has adopted a strategic approach. Laws and decrees have been promulgated at several instances to restrict the scope of industrial actions at risk and reducing the scope of closed shops and union membership agreements, but this has only succeeded in reforming rather than eliminating them17. Although, studied have been advanced on conflict management, very little has been done having in mind the contemporary Nigerian organizations and little emphasis has been given to the process of generating and exposing distraction faction in organization. Not with standing, managerial industrial relations policies could also help.





  • Okaka, E. O. (2004) Government Intervention in Industrial Relations in Nigeria 1861 –2004 and the Trade Union Amendment Bill 2004.


  • Adeyemi, M. (2012) ‘Opposition Mounts Against Obasanjo’s Moves to weaken Labour, Lagos, Guardian Newspaper June 26, p. 1 & 2.


  • Holley, H. W. and Jennings, M. K. (2014) The Labour Relations Process;Fifth Edition. The Orland, Harcourt Brace and Company


  • Oshiomhole A. (2004) “Government Bill and Labour Path to Perdition’ Lagos GuardianJune 26, P. B2.


  • Odigie S. A. (2003) State Intervention in Industrial Relations in Nigeria1860 –1988. Warri, Exco-Siro Printers, Nigeria.


  • Esan, R. S. M. (2007) ‘Legal Framework of Industrial Relations in Nigeria, in Dafe Otobo and Morakinyo O. (eds) Readings in Industrial Relations In Nigeria,Lagos Mathouse Press, Lagos.


  • Lawal, H. (2011) ‘Government Insist on Reforms, Labour Disagrees at Senate Hearing? Lagos, Guardian August 26, P. 1 & 2.


  • Ubeku, A. K. (2013). Industrial Relations in Developing Countries: The Case of Nigeria. London: Macmillan Press.


  • Madan,S. Marxism and Education(London: Routledge and kegan Paul LTD., 1978), P.110



  • Craig, E.  Encyclopedia of Philosophy(London: Routledge vol.1, 1998),  p.178


  • Marx,  Labour and Capital, in The Philosophy of Dialectical Materialism(Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1984), p. 145.


  • Edward, P. (1974). Encyclopedia Britannica, vol. II (Chicago:  Willeam Bentom Collier Macmdlian pub), p.554.


  • Aptheker, M. (ed) Marxism and Alienation: Symposium, (New York: Humanities Press, 1965), p. 13.



  • Olowo Onyanemuzi Omonofan, Essential Economics, First Published in 2002, Revised edition 2003.


  • Mcclellan’s, Karl Marx Viking  press 1975, p.3


  • Madan, A History of Western Thought, Gunner Skirbekk, and Nils  Gilje. (London: Routledge, pub., 2001), p. 321.


  • Marx,  Labour and Capital, in The Philosophy of Dialectical Materialism(Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1984), p. 145.
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