Labour Must Declare a Two-Day Warning Strike and Mass Action
By Peluola Adewale
The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) calls on the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) to ensure that the struggle for the implementation of the modest new minimum wage go beyond mere propaganda which seems to be the prevailing approach to the issue at the present.
Rather, as we have consistently argued, they should realize that it would require mass actions, including protest rallies and strikes, to force the state governors to pay the new minimum wage. The national leaderships of the trade union federations have to centrally coordinate the struggle. The state councils of Labour should not be left alone to sort it out with their respective state governments. The fact that virtually all state governors have either refused or only shown lip service to implement this minimum wage almost three months after it has become law necessitates that the struggle has to be prosecuted nationally. Besides, the fact that even the federal government has not started to affect the new minimum wage has further strengthened the urgent need for a national action.
Already workers’ unions in two states, Oyo and Ondo, have so far shown indication to fight for the minimum wage. While the workers in Oyo state called off the plan to embark on strike on Monday June 13, their Ondo state counterpart has given a 7-day ultimatum to the state government of the allegedly “Labour” governor Mimiko for its implementation. The experience in Oyo state shows that without support and solidarity or a national action by the central labour leadership it would be difficult for one state to win the struggle. Already, the Oyo state trade union leadership has shown inclination towards watering down the agreement it earlier reached with the immediate past administration of Alao-Akala.
Since its last NEC meeting where it threatened fire and brimstone, the national leadership of NLC has not made any statement or come up with a plan of action on the minimum wage struggle. If not for journalists who have been seeking out the labour leaders for interviews, ordinary workers and the public, perhaps, would not have heard anything on the commitment of the labour leadership to the struggle.
It is good that the labour leadership has insisted in recent media interviews that the state governors must pay the new minimum wage and that a review of the federation revenue allocation must not be a pre-condition for the implementation. But this is enough. The two trade union federations and socialist and left groups organized in the Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO) must come with a concrete programme of mass action to compel the federal and state governments, in particular to implement the law on national minimum wage.
We call on NLC and TUC to immediately give an ultimatum of two weeks at whose expiration there should be a two-day warning strike. During the period of the ultimatum and warning strike, there should be a series of activities aimed at mobilizing mass support of workers, communities, youths and the public towards spirited struggle on the minimum wage. The activities should include symposia, mass rallies, protests and mass circulation of leaflets which would have to explain to non-public sector workers how this struggle can pave the wage for the implementation of a living minimum wage across the economy. At the same time, union activists need to step up their own activities to maximize the participation of union members and others in building the campaign and to strive to avoid any rotten compromises.
In the speeches and written materials the labour should always strive to provide facts and figures to prove the capacity of the states to implement the new minimum wage without stress even in the face of the existing federation revenue allocation formula. Labour should support the agitation of the state governors for a review of the revenue sharing arrangement but insist that it should not be a precondition for the new minimum wage. All the political office holders, both supposedly elected and appointed, pay themselves outrageously jumbo pays and live in provocatively lavish lifestyle at expense of the people without a review of revenue allocation.
The Labour should challenge the state governments that say they cannot pay the minimum wage to subject their books for thorough scrutiny of a committee of workers and relevant professionals. We are cocksure that the findings would reveal that over-bloated political offices, jumbo pays of political office holders, fraudulent budgeting, inflated contract sums, wastages, entrenched corrupt practices and the mortal fear that minimum wage could reduce the fund usually set aside for looting primarily account for the refusal of the state governments to implement the new minimum wage.
Labour must consistently insist that no worker should lose or her jobs on the account of the implementation of the minimum wage and be prepared for fight-backs, including industrial action, should any worker is retrenched.
Of all the states, it is only Lagos that claims it has not only started the new minimum wage but has also increased it to N18, 700. We strongly hold that Labour should not yet shout hurrah or give a thumbs up to the Lagos state government. Rather, it should investigate the character and terms of the minimum wage said to be paid by the state. It appears there is something misty and fraudulent in the arrangement. This perhaps explains why the state government renowned for its public relations craze has not celebrated the minimum wage in the usual manner as one of its achievements. Preliminary investigation reveals that the state workers have been made to forfeit some allowances they had won before the new wage. The state teachers for instance have lost the TSS allowances it took several months of national struggle to win. Besides, Governor Babatunde Fashola told the workers at May Day that the new minimum wage being purportedly paid is not sustainable if the revenue allocation is not increased. The most likely implication of this warning is retrenchment of workers in Lagos state in order to ostensibly continue with the new wage arrangement.
We also call on the labour leadership to adopt a fighting programme and work with relevant trade unions, communities and left organizations to compel the governments at all levels to always use the public resources for infrastructure development and adequate funding of social programmes like provision of schools and hospitals with adequate facilities and well-motivated personnel. There should be organized resistance against the anti-poor programme of privatization and deregulation. Already, some state governors have been saying that they will not be able to carry out developmental projects if compelled to pay the new minimum wage. This is a fraudulent excuse. Before the new minimum wage most of the roads in the country are in terrible states while most public schools and hospitals are sub-standard and poorly staffed.
The unison at which the state governments have come out against the payment on the minimum wage has further shown that there is no fundamental difference in terms of programs and orientation among all the political parties in public offices across the state. All main political parties in Nigeria are anti-poor and self-serving, and subscribe to anti-capitalist neo-liberal program of privatization and deregulation. This explains why there have been no improvements for the working people in terms of living conditions and infrastructure development in spite of huge revenues that the country has amassed since the advent of civil rule in 1999.
This is one of the reasons we of the DSM have been calling on Labour to spearhead the formation of a working people political party run on a socialist program. This means that such party while in power will put the commanding heights of the economy under the open democratic control of the working people and its officials only earn the salaries of skilled workers in order for the wealth of the country to used for the benefit of the vast majority of the population as against the current situation where only one percent of the population appropriates 80 percent oil and gas revenue annually.
The Labour Party which was formed by the NLC has become the party of anti-poor and corrupt politicians. As it is presently constituted and oriented it cannot serve the interest of the working people, as we presently see in Ondo. The labour movement will have to wrest the control of the party from the stranglehold of its self-serving leadership and anti-poor politicians or Labour leading the formation of a new fighting working people party.