ANOTHER ROUND OF EDUCATION WORKERS’ STRIKE
ANOTHER ROUND OF EDUCATION WORKERS’ STRIKE
Only Joint Struggle of Workers, Students and Parents Can Win
University workers’ Unions have started a rolling action of strikes across Universities owned by the State governments. At the last count, more than 10 Universities are on strike action. They are Abia State University (ABSU), Anambra State University, Ebonyi State University, Enugu State University of Technology (ESUT), Imo State University (IMSU), Rivers State University, Rivers State University of Education, Lagos State University (LASU), Cross River University of Technology (CRUTECH), Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU) and the Tai Solarin University of Education (TASUED).
In Lagos, even education workers’ unions of State-owned institutions like the Lagos State Polytechnic (LASPOTECH), Michael Otedola College of Education (MOCPED) and Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education (AOCOED) have joined the strike action. All Universities in the five states (Anambra, Abia, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo States) of the South east have been on strike for more than two months now.
Their grouse is the refusal of the state governments to fully implement agreement signed between the Federal government and the Staff Unions last year after a 4-month nationwide strike action that paralysed activities in Universities. The Federal government had signed agreement covering improved condition of service, education funding, University autonomy and academic freedom. This agreement also prescribed a gradual increase in education funding and the establishment, by all Universities governing council, a budget monitoring committee involving elected representatives of students and staff unions to monitor how the University authorities spend government allocations.
It has now been revealed by a recent communiquÃ© of the meeting of the National Executive Council (NEC) of the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (ASUU) published in the Guardian of October 21, 2010 that neither the Federal government nor any state government has fully implemented the agreement. Actually, the Federal government and some state governments only implemented the salary component of the agreement which includes a 53.37% pay rise. In reality none has implemented other components of the agreement like improved funding, University autonomy and academic freedom.
EXCUSE OF FEDERALISM
However, state governments defaulting on the agreement, especially the salary component, are Lagos State, Ogun State, Oyo State, Osun State, Abia State, Anambra State, Ebonyi State, Enugu State, Imo State, Rivers State and Cross River State. The Lagos State Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) government of Babatunde Raji Fashola leads the pack in providing justification for defaulting. According to the Lagos State government, the agreement is not binding on states because Nigeria is a federal nation. This is a fraud!
Firstly, representatives of Pro-Chancellors of state universities and the Council of States of which state governors are members gave their consent to the agreement before it was finally signed in October 2009. This means that the agreement is binding on all operators of universities in Nigeria. Also, Nigeria operates one University system with one set of academic standard. Therefore the argument of federalism is merely a ruse being used by the defaulting state governments to avoid meeting obligations on workers welfare and education funding.
Secondly, the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) is the agency in charge of the salaries and allowances of all public office holders at federal and state levels. This means that the Governors and legislators of each States irrespective of their resources receive the same amount of salary as other states. Despite the fact that this arrangement is unitary, no protest has ever been heard from the Lagos State government and any of the other defaulting states since they benefit from this arrangement. But when it comes to wages, the argument is always seized in order to short-change workers.
NO REASON TO DEFAULT
Interestingly, most of the States that are defaulting on the agreement have the resources and wherewithal to implement not just the salary component but other components as well. For instance, the Lagos State government rank third in the record of federal allocation. It receives about N7.358 billion monthly from the federation account and generates N18 billion monthly as Internal Generated Revenue (IGR). Yet it could not commit the resources to fund education and other basic amenities. Rivers State is second on the record of federal allocation as it receives N13.082 billion monthly. Yet, its universities have been on strike for about two months now. The same goes for the remaining defaulting states who also rank high in the record of federal allocation aside their Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). Meanwhile, Nassarawa, Gombe, Ekiti, Adamawa, Benue, Yobe and Edo States which rank 34th, 33rd, 29th, 30th, 20th, 21st and 28th respectively on the record of federal allocation have already started implementation of the salary component of the agreement. Nothing better exposes the anti-poor characteristics of the ruling party of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and opposition party of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) than the current strike action and the state of education in general. All the bourgeois parties today are responsible for the pitiable decay in the education sector.
According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDPP), in its Human Development Index reports of 2005, “Due to poor funding of education, education at all levels suffers from low academic standards; lacks requisite teachers; both in sufficient quantity and quality. Even the few qualified teachers available are no sufficiently motivated in terms of remuneration or conducive operating environment to maximise their output into the education system. Schools are over-populated and classrooms are over-crowded, facilities are inadequate and over-stressed, library shelves are empty and covered with cobwebs, while laboratories lack up-to-date equipment”. Equally statistics clearly paint a gory picture of how Nigeria has fared in the area of education provision in the last 50 years. For instance, no Nigerian University can be found among the first 500 in the world and the first 50 in Africa and there are over 12 million children of school age who are out of school. Just this year, Nigerians were shocked by the mass failure in both 2009 National Examination Council (NECO) November/December SSCE examination and 2010 May/June WAEC examination. In the first case out of 324, 682 candidates, only 4, 223 representing 1.8% passed with at least five credits. This is a damning 98% failure! In the second case, only 337, 071 candidates representing 24.94% out of a total of 1, 351, 557 candidates passed with five credits. In other words, about 74% failed!
HOW TO FIGHT AND WIN
The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) supports all workers’ struggle for increase in wages and improved working conditions as this will enhance the confidence of workers to fight for greater demands. However, only an adequately funded public education sector that is placed under public democratic control and management can guarantee improved working conditions and wage for education workers.
Therefore in order to win this struggle, the striking workers must ensure that the struggle is aimed at challenging governments’ neo-liberal policies of education under funding and commercialisation. The agreement itself covers education funding and democratic running of schools. This section of the agreement must not be jettisoned in the struggle. Therefore, the staff unions must launch another full scale comprehensive nationwide action including strikes and mass protests to compel the Federal and state governments (including states where the salary component has been implemented) to implement all aspects of the agreement. Most importantly, workers must link the demand for adequate funding of education with the need to fight for an appropriate government that will be prepared to commit society’s resources to provide free and functional education. So far the capitalist system and its unjust policies of privatization and commercialization remains, adequate funding of education will only be a mirage as education will be run for profit rather than for the benefits of all. Only a workers’ and poor people’s government with socialist program and policy of public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy under democratic control and management of the public can reposition the education sector through the massive investment of society’s resources into providing free education at all levels and for all.
While the extent to which the struggle can go cannot be determined apriori, nevertheless the striking unions must consistently demand the implementation of all aspects of the agreement including the section on University funding, genuine autonomy and internal democracy. Naturally, the government will make the excuse that it cannot afford wage increase and increase in funding at the same time. In this case the striking unions must insist on a time frame within which all aspects of the agreement will be implemented. The argument must be that the essence of the struggle of the Unions is to reposition the education sector by ensuring the wellbeing of workers through salary increase as well as the provision of teaching and learning facilities through adequate funding.
NO TO SIT-AT HOME: FOR RALLIES AND MASS PROTESTS NOW!
Good enough in the last few weeks, the striking unions of education workers in State Tertiary Institutions in Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo, Rivers and Cross River States have stepped up actions. In support of their striking members in the State Universities, the national leadership of the Academic Staff Unions of Universities (ASUU) called a 3-day nationwide solidarity strike from October 11 and 13, 2010. Also, mass rallies have been held in Lagos, OAU Ile-Ife and particularly the South East where the strike has been on now for about 3 months.
On Wednesday, October 13 2010, about 300 education workers of the Lagos State University (LASU) trooped to the street 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) and Education Rights Campaign (ERC) 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.
Exactly one week after on Wednesday October 20, 2010, the Joint Action Committee (JAC) comprising all education workers unions in Lagos State tertiary institutions namely ASUU, SSANU, COEASU and ASUP called workers to the street in another round of mass protest at Epe in Lagos State. These series of actions in Lagos and the South East have enhanced the on-going strike of the education workers for implementation of the 2009 FG-ASUU agreement. The agreement covers issues of improved funding of University education, condition of service (a 53.37% pay rise), genuine autonomy and academic freedom.
After these actions, it is necessary for the unions not to rest on their oars. More rallies and protests should be called not just in Lagos and the South East but nationwide. More Leaflets must be produced in large quantities. 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. Also Students’ unions and the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) should wake up from their slumber and take initiative to organise solidarity mass actions to back-up the struggle of education workers as this is the only way to end the strike quickly and victoriously.
The entire experience of the education workers strike last year as well as the historical experiences of workers strike in the labour movement in Nigeria and international has shown that strike can only win when it is organised as a popular action involving congresses, leafleteering, rallies, protest and demonstrations. This is the best way to reach out to the mass of parents and students with materials like fliers and posters explaining the reason for the struggle.
However, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and individual trade unions have a responsibility to call solidarity strikes and other actions to back the strikes of the education workers. This is important because the collapse of public education is part of the neo-liberal attacks of the capitalist government against the living standards of the working class. If big business will not take over the running of the education sector out rightly, all hands must be on deck to wage a consistent struggle.
FOR A SOCIALIST PLAN OF EDUCATION AND SOCIETY
On the basis of capitalism, public education and the welfare of education workers and students will always come under attacks. This is because the Jonathan capitalist government subscribe to the philosophy of the market as the only way to run society. However, the condition of education, health and the living standards average Nigerians for the last 50 years has shown that this neo-liberal outlook has and will always fail. Capitalism is fundamentally an unjust system which enriches a few while impoverishing the rest. What neo-liberalism has achieved in Nigeria in the last 50 year is to create frightening wealth inequality and collapse of public education while enriching an infinitesimal minority.
Only a socialist plan of production and society can guarantee the adequate funding of education and the provision of a free and functional education at all levels and for all Nigerians. Therefore, the striking unions must link the struggle to reposition the education sector with the ultimate necessity to transform Nigeria from an unjust capitalist society to a democratic socialist society. This will involve building a genuine, mass-based fighting workers party committed to leading the working class to achieve its historical task of taking over political power from the capitalist ruling class.
Under a socialist society, the commanding heights of the economy will be nationalised and placed under the democratic control and management of the working masses. Under this arrangement, it will be possible for society to invest the huge oil wealth of Nigeria in providing free and functional education at all levels and for all members of the society.