Workers determined, but leaders hesitate
Osun State Minimum wage struggle
Workers determined, but leaders hesitate
By Ayo and Raheem
In a wonderful display of workers’ power, early August saw major government activities brought to halt in Osun State on the basis of an industrial action called by the Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress over implementation of the new N18,000.00 minimum wage. While the Rauf Aregbesola led state government had on different occasions made promises on implementation of the new minimum wage, workers had not received the payment despite the new wage being passed into law.
Following breakdown of negotiations between the Joint Negotiation Council of the state and the Aregbesola Government on Friday 5th August, 2011, where government claimed that it can only pay the new wage for level 1 to 6, a notice of an indefinite strike action was issued on the government. However, the state government sustained a dubious position in the media that it had agreed to implementation of the new minimum wage.
DSM comrades in Osun State had organized a public symposium on the N18,000.00 minimum wage struggle which coincided with the calling of the aforesaid indefinite strike action. At the symposium which was held at NUT Secretariat, Iwo Road, Osogbo, rank and file trade unionists present supported the call for action committees at state and local levels to coordinate action during the strike. Equally, the symposium, which had DSM comrades Dagga Tolar and Alfred Adegoke as well as Wale Oyeniyi (Principal Assistant Secretary of NUT and a long time labour official in the state), had significant press coverage. DSM comrades maintained that workers must take the road militant mass actions and the need for state strike committees which will coordinate the activities of the strike. Ultimately, we raised the idea of a working peoples’ party with socialist programme; an idea that was variously emphasized by DSM comrades: Dagga Tolar, Alfred Adegoke and Kola Ibrahim (moderator). During this symposium it was announced to the press that a public congress of workers would be held on the following Monday, August 8th, the first day of the strike.
On the Monday hundred of workers gathered at Fakunle Comprehensive High School, Osogbo, the congress’s venue, by the early morning. Workers mobbed DSM comrades who circulated leaflets and all 200 copies of the Osun State edition of Socialist Democracy, which carried a banner headline on N18,000.00 minimum wage, were sold, along with 13 copies of the national edition of Socialist Democracy. This showed a deep hunger for ideas among rank-and-file workers. Equally, DSM comrades were given the podium to speak to the congress, notably Alfred Adegoke and Kola Ibrahim. In their separate speeches both highlighted the fact that the N18,000.00 minimum wage has become law and it is tantamount to law-breaking for the Aregbesola Government not to pay. They maintained that while over N1 billion has been shared by 33 unelected government caretaker committees peopled by ruling party members, the Aregbesola Government claimed there were no resources to pay workers. They called for popular mass actions like protests, rallies, pickets, etc, the formation of strike committees from the local levels to the state and the need for a workers’ party; which were well received.
However, the state labour leaders, aside denying workers right to participate in decision making, dispersed the gathering to go back home, while fixing Wednesday for another congress. Yet when taken up by DSM comrades on how to carry out the strike, the labour leaders claimed that they had mobilized to close down the state Secretariat at Abere and other Government offices.
DSM comrades later resolved to produce a press statement, leaflets and posters to publicize the strike and create pressure on the official leadership of the labour movement in Osun state to sustain the struggle. At the same time DSM comrades will discuss with workers the necessary tactics to be employed to gain total victory while also producing a new Osun special SD edition as the July edition had been sold off completely.
On Wednesday, August 10, DSM members participated in the workers’ congress at the Fakunle High School venue. A new DSM leaflet had been produced that underlined the need for militant strategies to defeat the government. The leaflet was not only massively circulated but the workers eagerly and patiently read it. Unfortunately, the labour leaders, afraid of independent actions of workers cancelled an earlier plan of mobilizing the workers at the congress to go to a meeting with the state House of Assembly. Workers were hurriedly dispersed under the guise that leaders of all unions want to meet to discuss what to tell the House of Assembly.
As against the previous Monday, the leaders did not provide opportunity for DSM members to address the gathering, which might not be unconnected with the fear being raised by some of the leaders that our proposals are too radical. A prominent labour leader in the state, in a private discussion with Alfred Adegoke, had clearly expressed fear that he did not want to associate with us so as not to be seen as being in opposition to the government. When he was informed that what we are doing is the traditional responsibility of the labour leaders, he tactfully avoided further discussion. Indeed, we had earlier been told that the many of the NLC state executive had earlier wanted to prevent our Saturday symposium from taking place.
All of these developments are coming against the background that the DSM is now the only organization openly supporting workers’ struggles and confronting the state government as other so-called civil societies and activists have dissolved into that government. In fact, some of these activists had earlier organized a rally for the same venue on Monday, under the guise of celebrating the anniversary of the formation of the then Western Region government in 1952. They were however stopped by the calling of the workers’ congress. In fact, some of the labour leaders, like NULGE president, who are openly pro-government, avoided the workers’ congress.
However on a positive note, the strike was effective, although government is trying to break it. For instance, some workers were reported to have been mobilized to the LAUTECH hospital in Osogbo to work. This place was heavily besieged by the security forces. Other workplaces in the state capital like government secretariats were also under heavy security presence. Another thing is the continuous open display of the youth OYES Volunteers in strategic places, to give the impression that things are happening in the state, which may become a tool to break the strike.
The fact that the strike is effective may make some workers believe that there is no need for strike committees and mass action, but as the government refuse to yield, workers will realize the need for further mass action to compel the government. This is clearly reflected in the number of people who came to the Wednesday congress (far over 1,000 as there were not enough DSM leaflets to go round), which was more than those who came for the Monday congress. In fact, the idea that workers should march to the House of Assembly was widely welcomed by the workers at the Wednesday congress. All this shows that our ideas and proposals will gain mass echo as the strike get more protracted, even among some layers of labour leaders.