Deregulation, Minimum Wage: LASCO kicks off nationwide rallies in Lagos
Deregulation, Minimum Wage: LASCO kicks off nationwide rallies in Lagos
DSM on the demonstration
After the rallies Labour Should Commence Mobilisation for 24-hr General strike and mass protest
Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO) kicked off the planned series of nationwide rallies in Lagos yesterday May 13. The demands of the rallies which will also take place in other seven states and Abuja are opposition to the planned deregulation of downstream sector of oil industry, N52, 200 new minimum wage and full implementation of recommendation of Uwais electoral reform panel. The next rally will be held in Asaba, Delta State south-south Nigeria on Friday May 15.
The protesters led by Abdulwahid Omar, President Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Peter Esele, President Trade Union Congress (TUC) and Dipo Fashina, Chairman, Joint Action Forum (JAF) took off at the National Stadium Surulere and marched for about 20km through Ojuelegba, Ikorodu Road, Maryland and Ikeja before rounding off at Lagos State Governor Office in Alausa. By the time the protest march that had lasted for about 5 hours was brought to an end at least 5,000 protesters should have participated.
In the course of the procession the labour leaders waited at some strategic junctions to address people around. The protesters carrying various placards and banners raising the demands and slogans also massively distributed leaflets to the motorists, pedestrians, passers-by and those that came out from the various houses and shops to have the glimpse of the march.
At the Governor’s Office the Labour leaders officially presented the demands to Governor Babatunde Fashola for onward transfer to President Umaru Yar’Adua. Those spoke at the governor’s office were Omar, Esele, Fashina and Taiwo Hassan Soweto, National Coordinator, Education Rights Campaign (ERC) and a member of Democratic Socialist Movement. Soweto was called to speak on behalf of students.
The speakers provided various arguments to support why the demands must be met by the government. Omar for instance stated that soaring inflation and decaying infrastructure have meant that workers need a living wage to meet the basic needs of life. Esele harped on the outrageous jumbo pay of the political office holders to justify why workers should be also paid living wage. He revealed that as part of the jumbo pay package that President Yar’Adua collects hardship allowance and argued that that is admission by government that there is hardship in the land. Therefore, workers need much better pay than the current minimum wage to survive the economic hardship.
The Labour leaders reiterated the arguments against deregulation stating that it is synonymous to increase in fuel price. Omar stated that the current fuel scarcity is artificial and meant to justify the deregulation policy of the government. For the past one month there has been scarcity of petrol forcing up the price to as high as N120 per liter from N65. The LASCO leaders said that it is a national embarrassment for Nigeria to rely on importation of fuel and called for repair of refineries and building of more. We of DSM have added the demand for the refineries to be put under democratic control of workers and professionals.
On electoral reform, they argued that the full implementation of the reform would guarantee credible electoral process where the electorate could truly choose their leaders. Fashina added that LASCO also supports the electoral reform so that a party of workers and masses could contest election without being rigged out. We have added to the issue by openly calling on the Labour leaders to build the Labour Party side by side with agitation for the electoral reforms.
In his response Governor Fashola specifically reacted to the contribution of Soweto. He said, “I disagree with my brother and friend, Soweto. There is no absolutism in the demands of Labour”. Soweto had said that Labour’s demand on minimum wage, deregulation and electoral reform are non-negotiable. He said, for instance, the demand for N52, 200 Minimum wage poses the question of whether 80% of Nigerians will continue to suffer while a few benefit from the wealth, the demand against deregulation raises the question of whether our collective patrimony will be sold to profiteers while the masses live in penury and the demand for electoral reform poses the question whether the working masses can have a government of the poor.
Fashola is to some extent correct. There is no absolutism in all Labour demands. But he chose a wrong example to support his argument stating that by the time Labour meets the government they could appreciate the correctness of government position on deregulation as solution to the fuel crisis. The demand of labour on deregulation has to be absolute and unconditional. As it has been the case of diesel and aviation fuel, deregulation entrenches private monopoly and makes fuel expensive.
Significantly, Fashola was silent on the minimum wage in his almost 20-minute speech. This is not accidental. Fashola has just recently refused to meet the demand of Lagos teachers for 27.5% pay rise threatening mass retrenchment if forced to pay the increase. It is crystal clear that Lagos state will be among the most unyielding to paying the new minimum wage.
Fashola was introduced as a “comrade governor” and eulogized to high heaven by labour leaders for his “achievements”. But he did not hide his hatred for strike action as a means of pressing home demands. He praised labour for adopting peaceful procession as against strike. Unfortunately, nobody corrected his wrong impression. LASCO has not ruled out strike as the next action should the ongoing nationwide march protests/rallies fail to compel government to meet the demands.
Of course, the major question the labour leaders have been asked by the media is what next after the current action. The labour leaders have not been categorical but only stating that appropriate organs of Labour would meet to decide. This is correct but the leadership themselves should be prepared to go whole hog with the struggle. We call on the labour leaders to commence mobilization for a one-day warning general strike in the first instance should government refuse to meet the demands.
The DSM, which is also part of LASCO, was activily involved in the rally selling copies of our paper, Socialist Democracy, and with two big banners. One with the message; “Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) Says: Deregulation and Privatisation, Not Solution to Corruption in Public Enterprises; Nationalise the Commanding Heights of Economy and Put them under Democratic Control and Management of the Working Class.” The other banner reads: “Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) Says: Only Mass Action can win a Decent Minimum Wage; Build Labour Party as a truly Working Class Party”
Earlier in the morning, Segun Sango, the DSM General Secretary, appeared on the Kaakaki live programme on Africa Independent Television (AIT) as the Mobilisation Officer of LASCO to mobilize public support for mass rallies and their demands. Lanre Arogundade, another leading member of DSM, also appeared on a live radio phone-in programme in Abuja on the same issues with many callers to the broadcaster supporting his views and arguments.
Though the rally was a huge success, the protesters were mostly labour leaders and activists. There were also a number of pro-labour activists organized under Joint Action Forum. Each affiliate of the NLC was mandated to mobilize at least 100 members for the rally. The NLC has 37 industrial unions. Beyond the media, no serious physical mobilization on the ground was done ahead of the day to involve members of the public in the protest march, though some people joined the procession as it moved. The materials for the mobilization were only ready two days to the event. For the subsequent action, the leadership of LASCO has to do more to ensure that mobilization materials are available and massively circulated much ahead of the action.
Overall, there was warm reception for the DSM’s ideas. Partly this was a result of the DSM’s persistent and long term agitation on Labour and working class issues. Once more we had been involved right from the beginning in planning this action, the drafting of its slogans and leaflets. The DSM’s ideas are increasingly being appreciated because they correspond more with the realities of ordinary workers. This explains why some of the protesting workers openly displayed some of our placards that called for workers, control, nationalization and building of the Labour Party.
The very next day after the Lagos rally it became clear that the government is pressing ahead with fuel deregulation, including a new price hike. This makes it even more imperative that these rallies are used to mobilize support for a 24 hour general strike as the next step in fighting to defend living standards and against the continued actions of governments at federal and state levels.