EDUCATION WORKERS’ STRIKE REVS UP
EDUCATION WORKERS’ STRIKE REVS UP
Mass Rallies and Demonstrations in Lagos
As the strike of education workers in State Tertiary Institutions in Lagos State (in the South East, the strike is going to about three months now) entered its third week, the striking unions have stepped up action. The strike is for implementation of the 2009 Federal Government-ASUU agreement. This agreement covers issues of improved funding of university education, condition of service (a 53.37% pay rise), genuine autonomy and academic freedom.
On Wednesday, October 13 2010, about 300 education workers trooped onto the streets singing anti-government songs and clutching banners and placards. Some of the banners read “No education, No Mega City”, “Fashola: Implement the agreement so students can resume school”, “free and functional education is possible”, “workers need wage increase, students need adequate funding of education” etc. Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) members who participated in the protest carried placards that read: “build the labour party”, “for a socialist Nigeria” etc. The rally which was called by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) chapter of the Lagos State University (LASU) held at the popular Eyo roundabout of the University and had in attendance members of other striking staff unions (SSANU, COEASU and ASUP) who came on solidarity.
Fashola: “Meet Our Demands or Resign!”
It was a spectacle to behold as lecturers screamed anti-government slogans and marched from the University to the main road at Iyana-Iba to the rhythm of “aluta” songs. Speakers after speakers berated the state government headed by Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and called on him to either “meet demands or resign”.
The ASUU Chairman of the Chapter, Dr. Kabir Akinyemi said the union is prepared to continue the strike indefinitely until the demands are met. He said the aim of the strike is not just for improved wages alone but also to reposition the education sector. In justifying the strike further, the labour leader pointed to the recent dis-accreditation of ten courses at the Lagos State University (LASU) by the National Universities Commission (NUC) as a clear evidence of the under funding of education in Lagos State by the ACN government. The courses were disaccredited last week because they lacked the minimum standard required to run them. This includes adequate lecture halls, student-staff ratio, qualitative and quantitative teaching staff, good learning environment, welfare facilities, well-equipped libraries among others.
Dagga Tolar (member DSM NEC and Vice Chairman of NUT, Ajeromi-Ifelodun) called on the workers to link the struggle for education with the ultimate necessity of overthrowing the exploitative capitalist system and creating a democratic socialist Nigeria where society’s resources will be collectively owned under the democratic control and management of workers. This according to him is important because the profit-first system of capitalism in Nigeria is inherently incapable of fully meeting the yearnings and aspirations of the working masses for improvement in wages, working conditions and education funding.
Hassan Taiwo Soweto (DSM member and ERC National Coordinator) spoke on behalf of students. He called on students and parents to give ample support to the struggles of the striking unions as only the joint action of education workers, students and parents can win the struggle to reposition the education sector. He ended by calling on the striking unions for more public actions to be organised in order to get the message of the strike to the public. The chairman of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), Ms Funmi Sessi, pledged solidarity with ASUU and called on workers to be steadfast in the struggle.
A Tough Day for the ACN Government of Fashola
Dissatisfaction and anger at the Lagos State government was the hallmark of the day. For instance, to Dagga Tolar’s slogan of “meet workers demands or resign”, the crowd responded with wild jubilation. This was no accident. The Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) government of Lagos State which often prides itself as “progressive” has proved beyond all possible doubt to be an anti-worker government.
As we write, not just ASUU is on strike but also the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), Academic Staff Unions of Polytechnics (ASUP) and College of Education Academic Staff Union (COEASU) have joined the strike action over the state government refusal to implement similar agreement signed between the Unions and the Federal government. The implication of this is that five tertiary Institutions in Lagos, viz LASU, LASPOTECH, MOCPED and AOCOED, have been shut down on the basis of this action. With the shut down of all public hospitals as a result of the on-going strike action of doctors in Lagos State, only few other States are eligible to compete with Lagos in this pageant of failure and disregard for workers welfare. Yet, Lagos State ranks third in the record of monthly allocation from the Federation Account in addition to over N18 billion Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) every month!
But No Alternative
As workers are taking on the State government, the masses in communities, traders and artisans are being drawn into clashes with the Fashola government over issues of multiple taxation, police harassment and most recently the tolling of the Lekki-Epe expressway. On all these issues, workers and Lagosians are beginning to question the neo-liberal policies of Public Private Partnership (PPP) which the State government wants to use as a lever for infrastructural development to the detriment of the masses.
This process of sharpening class struggle could, especially as the 2011 elections approach, cause a glitch in the popularity of the Governor Fashola as more people draw the conclusion that the ACN is not different from the PDP in programs and policies. This section of people will naturally survey the political landscape for an alternative political party they can vote for. Indeed if the Labour Party (LP) in Lagos State were to be a mass workers’ party defending working class interests, this on-going strike could cost the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) dearly as workers who are disenchanted with the ACN government would want to give their vote to a party they can count on before and after elections. Unfortunately, the Labour Party is not being built as a mass workers’ party on socialist programmes thus losing the attraction of workers.
However, this disappointing situation is the more reason why socialists and genuine labour activists must and will continue to campaign before and in the aftermath of 2011 elections, for the building of a mass workers’ party on socialist programs standing for free and functional education for all, free and quality health care for all, massive government investment in the provision of infrastructures like motorable roads, pipe borne water and electricity and public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy under working masses’ control and management. If disenchanted workers and poor masses seeking change do not have a working class political party to vote in 2011 elections, they will need it even more after to defend themselves against the brutal neo-liberal attacks which any of the bourgeois parties of PDP, AC, ANPP or APGA that emerges will unleash with gusto.
The Struggle Continues
After Wednesday’s action, all the striking unions in Lagos State tertiary institutions under the auspices of the Joint Action Committee (JAC) have called for another mass rally next week. This time it is expected that the staff unions will be better prepared than they were for Wednesday’s action. Leaflets must be produced in large quantities as the inadequate quantity of leaflet in Wednesday’s actions limited its scope and success. With leaflets written in English and any of the indigenous languages, it will be possible to reach out to thousands of parents who are also affected by the insensitivity of government to education funding.
Four members of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) participated in the rally. About 26 copies of the Sept/Oct edition of Socialist Democracy and one copy of our perspective document titled “Nigeria on the Brink: Only a working peoples’ government can save it” were sold. So far, about 42 copies of Socialist Democracy and other materials have been sold in our interventions in the strike. Most were sold at solidarity prices. The DSM will continue to intervene in the strike and other struggles opening up in order to elevate the struggle of workers and orient them towards the necessity of socialist revolution.