Labour Declares May 8, the Day of Nation-wide Rally Against Corruption
2008 May Day Reports:
Labour Declares May 8, the Day of Nation-wide Rally Against Corruption
Perhaps the only positive resolution out of this year May Day was the declaration of May 8, 2008 as a day of action against corruption nationally by the Nigeria Labour Congress at the central rally held in Abuja. The ongoing probes of the transactions and projects of the last administration have revealed that virtually every public sector in Nigeria is a haven of corruption. The proposed nation-wide rallies, according to the labour leaders, are to force Yar’Adua government to bring to book all the corrupt politicians and contractors implicated so far by the probes.
This is a welcome development as we of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) have called for this through public statements and speeches. However, as we have usually added, the proposed action will be only meaningful if used as part of the process to rally workers and poor masses together for a mass-based working peoples’ political alternative to wrest power from the thieving ruling elite at all levels. Such working peoples’ political alternative is the one which will put the commanding heights of economy under public ownership, with democratic management and control by the working people themselves. This is because the rallies no matter how massive cannot put an end to corruption, which is an offshoot of the capitalist economy.
Besides the proposed struggle against corruption, there were no concrete demands for improved living and working conditions for workers. The most radical of the speeches was delivered by the national labour leaders of the two trade union federations, NLC and TUC, which have been holding joint May Day rallies since last year. The labour leaders were critical of the economic policies of the government but did not provide any alternative. They raised the economic woe experienced by workers which has been worsened by spiralling food prices, but only said they “will demand living wage”, with no specific date given, as if the May Day was not auspicious for such demands.
Though, there were some shortcomings at the Abuja rally some of which were highlighted and captured in the report below, the national labour leaders deserve some thumbs-up. Elsewhere, in rallies held at the state capitals, it was oops for the labour leaders. Though DSM comrades were not able to intervene at all the May Day rallies the observation is the same at all the states, even going by reports in the newspapers. DSM members reported that it was “all is well” speeches which were read by the labour leaders. Rather than put in the front burner the interests and demands of workers, the rallies were celebrations of ghost achievements of their respective state governors.
Unlike last year, the security arrangement was relaxed at the rallies attended by DSM comrades except in Edo and Ondo States, where the governors’ continued holding on to power is threatened by the developments around and outcome of election petition tribunals. These two states witnessed a large presence of security operatives, especially in Edo where there was an armoured personnel carrier stationed at the entrance.
Below are reports from some of the rallies that were filed in by DSM comrades who intervened:
Eagle Square, the usual venue for May Day celebration whenever it is being hosted in Abuja, was filled to capacity. The celebration was more of funfair than a critical analysis of what affects workers and how to struggle ahead. Apart from delegations from most states of the federation, most affiliates of the NLC were present. It appears that most workers came to the venue to showcase their product they produce. It was more of an advert for the employers who must have bankrolled workers’ intervention. Most banners and placards only carried the name of the company and the products. Only one union, out of the 27 industrial unions, came out with slogans of increment in salary and better condition of service.
Current the majority of workers have completely lost hope in politics and are pessimistic that things can ever get better. Like the labour leaders, the workers only hope that the present government can change its mind and not on the basis of their own well organised struggle. Many workers complained of the rising inflation and feel that salaries should be increased to match the inflationary rate.
When we raised the perspective of an independent political party of the working people workers felt it is a good idea. Two workers complained bitterly of Adams contesting under a bourgeois political party (AC) instead of Labour Party. According to them “Labour and the struggles of workers made Adams what he is and he personifies labour”.
Workers went into joy when Adams Oshiomhole came into the venue mid-way into the programme. Right from the entrance workers massively followed Adams and held him shoulder high giving him a hero’s welcome. For about 15 minutes the whole proceeding came to a stand still as workers were massively cheering Adams. This demonstrates the fact that when the working peoples’ confidence has been won over, they are enthused to struggle, which has equally played out itself in Edo state.
The labour leaders of 2 labour centres, NLC and TUC as well as ASUU were at the May Day. All without exception complained about the policies and how they affect workers. The labour leaders rejected neo-liberal policies as anti-people but only concluded as a way forward by appealing to government to deal with the prevailing economic issues as they affect workers. But the President, through the Minister for Labour, appealed to the labour to partner with the government in his policies.
Although the NLC have declared a day of action against corruption on May 8 2008 wherein workers will demonstrate and protest, this struggle as usual is not linked to using such opportunity to build the consciousness for an independent working peoples’ party that will fight against the unjust system.
One of the banners displayed at the main bowl of the Onikan Stadium reads, “AfriBank’s ASSIBIFIE and NUBIFIE commensurate with workers on the May Day”. The AfriBank chapters of the two unions in banking industry obviously had wanted to write, “commiserate”, but meant to celebrate with workers on the May Day. No doubt this is an unpardonable grammatical blunder, but it inadvertently reveals the sad reality that the average worker has nothing to celebrate on the May Day but to be commiserated for socio-economic hardship he/she has experienced in the last one year. The labour leaders did just that. Donning the same cap, shirt, trousers and shoes as the governor the Lagos State chairmen of the NLC and TUC painted a gloomy picture of living standard of workers, which has been worsened by the current soaring food prices. Beyond the lamentation of the situation no concrete demand for a living wage was placed before the governor.
If anybody was celebrated it was the Lagos State governor Babatunde Fasola who was the star of May Day. He was praised to high heaven by the labour leaders for his monumental achievements in the last one year! One could have thought they were talking of another Lagos. To underscore how special the governor was a special platform different from that for labour leaders was erected for him.
Most of the unions were apparently paid and kitted out by government and management.
Seeing the whole event as mere jamboree, most workers were more interested in sharing food and other material packages brought by the union leaders. They are generally made of middle age people, a fact which underlines the massive unemployment among the youths.
While not raising pay rise, the labour leaders did not forget to demand government sponsorship of pilgrimage to Mecca and Jerusalem and special support for Christmas and Sallah festivities. This underscores the fact that the labour leaders are in the union for self-serving interests and vainglory rather than articulating and defending the interests and rights of workers.
But some ordinary workers know where the shoe pinches and thus could not be suffering and smiling. The members of the amalgamated union of public service and National Union of Electricity Employees participated in the traditional march past with placards making bold demands for pay rise, improved working conditions and end to privatisation policy. Some of the placards read, “Governor, Thank you for BRT. But to succeed calls for Better Condition of Service for the staff”, “Our nation heritage should not be privatised or concessioned”, “Pay Salaries of the Parastatals Employees as and when due. We buy from the same market”, “Pay Workers a Living Wage, Political Office Holder have increased theirs by 300%,” etc.
It is interesting to note that the labour leader who compared the event did not call attention to the placards perhaps in order not to upset or offend the governor. It was for the same reason they did not call for solidarity speeches from the pro-labour organisations and activists present. Last year, Segun Sango like some other pro-labour activists, was invited to speak from the podium. Then, the main issue was the 2007 electoral farce and main targets of vitriolic remarks were the PDP, INEC and Obasanjo government.
Like last year, the Workers’ Day celebration witnessed no new demands/slogans. This year programme was jointly organised by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) at Akure Township Stadium. As usual the programme started by 9am with the introduction of the government officers, political office holders, traditional rulers, etc. The arrival of the governor of by 11:05, to the union leaders, gave life to the programme with the immediate recitation of the national anthem followed by a march past by various unions. There were close to 35 unions in attendance.
The atmosphere of this year May Day was less tense compared to last year. Yet there was large number of security operatives fully armed. Conspicuously missing were the workers from Owo, one of the towns in the state.
While presenting his speech, the state NLC chairman was full of praise of the governor. He only highlighted the general problems facing the workers without raising any demands. For the governor there were no better reactions to the chairman’s speech, the major issue of the governor speech was the food crisis in which the government ‘solution’ is that it will continue to assist the farmers in the state. While this is at least in order, the governor did not offer pay rise to state workers to cushion the effects of the food crisis.
The 2008 may Day celebration held at the Ogbemudia Stadium, Benin City, Edo State, lasted between 12 noon and 1.10 pm, had workers converging around the Stadium premises as early as 8am. These workers who were from various unions affiliated to the NLC and TUC were clad in different locally-made textile clothing bearing inscriptions/badges of their union – with face-caps to match – were seen making last minute efforts to put up their best representation at the march past parade when the State governor arrives.
The Stadium and its environs were completely militarized by heavily-armed plainclothed and uniformed security operatives that started trooping in as early as 7am and completely outnumbered the workers present at the Stadium. One armoured personnel carrier (APC) was stationed at the main gate of the Stadium as if the May Day celebration would lead to a break down of peace or to an outright war.
At first, it looked impossible for DSM comrades to gain entrance into the Stadium because of the watchful-eyes of strategically placed security operatives stationed within and outside the Stadium premises. We had to share and conceal copies of our paper, Socialist Democracy, among ourselves and proceed one by one, at intervals, into the stadium. Significantly the few labour leaders we approached for help were hostile and un-cooperative.
By 12 noon, a long convoy of siren blaring vehicles ushered in the Edo State governor, thereby signalling the commencement of the May Day march past.
Afterwards we left the Stadium to the adjoining streets close to the Stadium where we also sold copies of the special edition of the SD. We had one-on-one discussions with some persons that asked questions that couldn’t be ignored. Most of the questions asked were centred on the headline which reads: “Riggers defeated, Adams is governor”. They asked why we are making such a statement while the case is still in court. They accused us of taking sides instead of being neutral, that we are bias in our approach, and that our publication is capable of inciting the public, thereby leading to a break down of peace etc.
We took time to explain to them that the publication was made immediately after the tribunal gave its ruling that declared Adams Oshiomhole as governor, and that the said publication remains relevant and valid even till today because of the message it contains. We made clear to them that the publication is not just a support for, but also a critique of Adams. We stated that through our intervention, we aim to win change-seeking elements into our fold, and that we advocate socialism, which is an alternative idea to capitalism. Pointing out that Socialism aims to bring about a world order that produces goods and services to meet human needs through a planned economy that is democratically managed by people’s representatives. While Capitalism ensures profit for a tiny few as against the well being of the vast majority, thereby creating inequality, poverty, starvation, crime, illiteracy etc.
We also told them to buy and read the SD because it contains so much more, and that they should contact us through our address/email, as well as our website for further information about Socialism, what we stand for, as well as our political perspectives about happenings and events around the world.
The May Day in Osun State, in an unusual manner, recorded little enthusiasm amongst workers. This unusualness is confirmed by the fact that despite the so-called salary increase acceded to by the Oyinlola led government; there was little joyful response from the workers. Even the labour leaders in the state, who have been mouthing this salary increase as a victory could not muster enough courage to shout eureka at the May Day celebration held at the Osogbo City Stadium, Osogbo.
The passivity and lack of happy mood amongst workers despite the promise of salary increase could not be divorced from the meagre nature of the increase (less than N9,500) and the non-committal of the government to the implementation by June as promised. Furthermore, the workers are piqued at the manner in which their labour leaders are running the labour movement especially on the question of salary increase and their obvious hobnobbing with the state government which most workers see as their enemy. This was clearly stated by some workers we discussed with at the venue, who while showing their total disinterest in political issue maintained that even their own labour leaders are sell out.
In fact, the labour leaders in their usual manner praised the government without any clear-cut programme on how to achieve the salary increase and stop the obnoxious tax being deducted from worker” salaries in the state. The state government on the other hand did not fail to use the opportunity to rail at its opponents in the state. It should be stated that there are allegations of corrupt practices and bribery against the labour leaders, which were echoed by some workers we discussed with.
The hatred to the state government, aside its ineptitude and repressive manner of relating with the opposition, could be attributed to the anti-worker nature of the state governor, who at a forum openly stated that workers would collect the salary increase over his dead body. Consequently, as a result of the absence of a vibrant and radical political alternative, civil society and labour movement, the political apathy of the workers was not unexpected. But with the presence of the vibrant organization, the massive potential of labour movement could be awaken given the result of our limited work in the state, especially during the May Day.
Comrades active in the Osun State Chapter of the Campaign for Democratic and Workers’ Rights (CDWR) produced a special leaflet for a May Day Symposium which addressed salary increase in the state, was circulated, it was enthusiastically collected by workers while state agents in the venue tried to stop the distribution with the threat of arrest having seen content of the leaflet. Many workers were asking about the symposium which was announced in the leaflet and wished to know more about us. The discussion we had with many workers reveals that they were less informed about politics as most of them could not reconcile the importance of Adams victory in Edo to their lives. This again shows the rotten state of the labour movement in the state. Many also complained about the failure of the materials to address their immediate needs while so many were happy about our treatment of the Obasanjo probe.
Two banners on the platform of CDWR were conspicuously displayed at the May Day venue..
Unlike last year activity in Oyo state was successful in the sense that there was not the usual police harassment as was the case during the May, 2007 when armed policemen were stationed at various venues of the May Day celebrations.
The atmosphere was as usual with the Nigerian labour movement, a celebration galore as time for jamboree as the labour leaders stopped at nothing to eulogise the current administration in the state saying that “he is a man of the people and a man of destiny”. This is a man who came in through electoral fraud and violence during the 2007 farce called elections. The same man refused the workers the payment of their pay rise approved by the immediate past governor of the state which led to the workers going on strikes for about three months during which he declared all the state workforce sacked for refusing to come back to work.
It is instructive to note however, that the crowd at the venue was not a true representation of the labour force in the state, which indicates that the workers themselves are disenchanted in the government of the day. But there are no clear-headed leaders in the labour movement with correct socialist ideas to lead their struggle and galvanise all their anger towards achieving a better living conditions for them. Majority of workers complained that there were no funds so they could not buy DSM materials. But for those who bought we encouraged them to read and understand and pass on to their friends and family.
In conclusion, it is obvious that the labour leaders in Nigeria lack correct perspectives of how and what a labour union should look like, and so many of them are only there to seek patronage from the ruling class so that they too can get appointment and also loot from the state treasury. This is a reflection of the state of the labour movement in the country at large and not until there is a clear-headed leaders of the workers with a rounded socialist perspective to lead the workers movement, there will continue to be mass anger and only for the careerists in the to use the labour movement to enhance their credentials to for government appointments.