Strikes in the Education Sector: Need for Unity of Education Workers and Students in Struggle
Strikes in the Education Sector: Need for Unity of Education Workers and Students in Struggle
Reports of ERC solidarity activities to back on-going ASUU strike
By Hassan Taiwo Soweto ERC National Coordinator
ERC Protest March at University of Lagos – photo DSM
Over the last three months, the education sector has been racked by one disruption after another. It is not even yet up to a week that Polytechnic lecturers under the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) suspended their 78 days strike over a promise from the government to address their demands. The strike, which was suspended with a threat of resumption if after a month it is not seen that government truly wants to meet their demands, rattled the government. Not just because of the determination of the Polytechnic lecturers but also because of the solidarity of polytechnic students.
Aside the efforts of groups like the ERC and the new group COSATEC, the National Association of Polytechnic Students (NAPS), despite the political limitation of its leadership, organised a number of protests which helped to ply pressure on the government. Compared to this, NANS which is the umbrella body of all students publicly opposed the strike of University lecturers. The senseless arguments advanced by the rightwing NANS leaders for this counterproductive strategy is not worthy of examination here. What should worry ordinary students is that this attitude of the NANS leadership essentially means capitulation to the government and its neo-liberal policies of education underfunding. It means NANS is not only ready to fight neo-liberal education policies, it would also try its best to weaken the efforts of those fighting.
The ERC believes the demands of ASUU if met would genuinely lead to improvement in the education system and as such is worth supporting by students. Students suffer the most from cuts in education funding, fee hike and decaying facilities. Added to the woes of students is the phenomenon of unemployment which in practice means that only a few hundreds of the tens of thousands graduating yearly can ever find a job.
NANS backing the government against a strike aimed at compelling the government to use Nigeria’s enormous wealth to fund education is therefore essentially a betrayal of the interests of students. The best strategy that would enormously favour students interest is for NANS to openly solidarise with the University lecturers in their strike while also declaring nationwide mass actions of students to put forward specific students’ demands for improved funding, reversal of hiked fees, repair of broken and decayed teaching and hostel infrastructures, restoration of banned unions, recall of victimised students activists etc. This kind of strategy which unifies students and education workers in collective struggle would have succeeded in putting enormous pressure on government such that the ultimate result would be that not only University workers but also students would win concessions at the end of the day
It is such a unity in struggle of students and education workers that the ERC has been arguing for since the beginning of the strikes. Despite the opposition of the rightwing leaders of students and the atrophy of the mass organisations of students, we have managed over the last three months to launch solidarity activities to support the strikes in polytechnics and universities while also advancing students’ specific demands. This consists of pasting of posters and handing out leaflets to students and the public. Also public meetings, symposium and rallies have been called.
At the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) Ile ife, ERC members have not allowed the fact the University is on break to discourage them. They have pasted posters and circulated leaflets. They are equally playing important roles in the on-going discussion among the “left” student groups on campus to organise public mass actions to fully back the strike. At the University of Ibadan (UI), the ERC was able to organise a successful public meeting which brought students and University lecturers to discuss how to jointly respond to the attacks on public education. Finally at the University of Lagos (UNILAG), we were able to organise a protest rally whose modest success is all the more surprising considering the over 10-year long absence of a students’ union in the University and the conspiracy of the faculty presidents and the University Management in scaring students from attending the rally.
Below we present fascinating reports of these activities at UNILAG and UI which are just the first leg of the planned activities of the ERC to campaign for a united struggle to win the strike and defeat government anti-poor education policies.
ERC Holds Rally in UNILAG on Strikes in Universities and Polytechnics
By Lateef Adams
ERC Protesters – photo DSM
The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) on Wednesday July 17 held a rally at the University of Lagos as part of the activities of the organization to mobilize mass support for the struggle of education workers in universities and polytechnics in order to mount pressure on the government to implement the agreements it has reached with the staff unions in education sector. The strike actions by Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) and Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Polytechnics (SSANIP) shut down the polytechnic nationwide for almost three months. These strikes have been called off this week but there are no indications that the agreements have been implemented.
The rally which started at the front of the main gate of the university as early as 8 am with chanting of solidarity songs by members of the ERC drew students from University of Lagos and Yaba College of Technology. However, before the rally started the police, on the invitation of UNILAG management had stationed their men who came in three vans to militarize the venue. We were not however intimidated by the presence of the police. It was part of the desperate efforts of the management to prevent the rally from being held.
In response to the mass circulation of ERC flier and leaflet to mobilize for the rally, the university management had sent mass text message sent to all the students warning against attending rally. Earlier, a pro-management group called Council of Faculty Presidents had issued flier to instill in students fears of dire consequence of attending the rally. For instance, the flier warns that “any student who joins any protest does so at his/her own risk”, and stresses that it is important for students not to join the rally so that “hostels are not closed down and students are not evicted from the hostels”. It is atrocious and distasteful that the faculty presidents are only interested in keeping students at the hostel even without academic activities taking place and not in efforts to mount pressure on the government so that academic activities can resume. It is therefore significant that about 50 people most of whom the students of the university attended the rally.
Almost all speakers invited were in attendance, representing the ASUU was Dr. Babatunde Jegede, the union treasurer Unilag branch, who took time to list out the agreement the union reached in 2009 that is still awaiting implementation. After describing the deplorable state of the institution, he warned that if actions are not taking to force the thieving ruling elite to improve the sector in the country that soon public education will totally collapse. Other speakers at the event were Dr. Dele Ashiru member of the ASUU and former Students Union President in UNILAG , Biodun Aremu Secretary Joint Action Front (JAF), comrade Austin Okoh (SSANIP Chairman YABATECH), AJ Dagga Tolar (NUT Chairman Ajeromi Ifelodun), Rashidat Adesina (Assistant Secretary JAF) and Comrade Chinedu Bosah (Protem Chairperson Socialist Party of Nigeria, Lagos State).
All speakers at the rally drew similar premises that the present rulers are not interested in funding education as a result of neo-liberal capitalist agenda and therefore neglect agreement reached with workers. The same ruling elite who fail to improve budgetary allocations to education do not fail to award themselves jumbo pay and allowances.
The rally was rounded off with a solidarity march through the main road on the campus to the ASUU secretariat where a meeting Ibadan Zone of the union was being held. The number of students as we were marching as some claimed that they would be victimized if seen by management at the ASUU Secretariat.
The ASUU members at the meeting came out to welcome the students and pro-labour activists. In his solidarity speech, the ERC coordinator UNILAG Lateef Adams raised the need for ASUU not to limit the strike to a stay-at-home action but rather organise a series of mass activities including a day of action that will witness mass protest of lecturers in the country. He also called for a joint struggle of the education workers unions and students to fight against underfunding and non implementation of agreement reached by government. The experience of the commercialization of education in LASU where the government, after huge drop in the number of students as a result of high fees, is planning to start the rationalization of courses which will result in sack of staffs (both academic and non academic) was cited.
AJ Dagga Tolar urged the union as they meet to call on the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) to declare a 48 hour general strike on the education sector since the collapse of education affect all sectors of the economy.
The ASUU members who addressed the gathering included Dr. Segun Ajiboye, ASUU Chair University of Ibadan and Dr. Ademola Aremu ASUU National Treasurer.
University of Ibadan: ERC HELD A PUBLIC SYMPOSIUM
PARTICIPANTS AGREED ON A UNITED STRUGGLE FOR ADEQUATE FUNDING OF PUBLIC EDUCATION.
By Ogundele Michael
Oyo State ERC Co-coordinator
Demola Aremu, ASUU National Treasurer at the ERC Symposium at University of Ibadan – photo DSM
As part of the effort to deepen the mobilization education workers and students towards a struggle for the proper funding of public education, members of the Education Right Campaign (ERC), University of Ibadan branch, on Tuesday 16th July, 2013, organized a public meeting of students and Academic Staff Union of University (ASUU) to discuss the ongoing ASUU strike.
The meeting which actually started at about 12:30pm at the SRC Chamber of the Students’ Union building University of Ibadan was attended by many National and local officers of ASUU, socialist activists and students Leaders. Notably among these were: Dr. `Demola Aremu, ASUU National Treasurer; Dr. Tajudeen Akanji, Convener of ASUU committee on Students and labour related matters; Dr. Segun Ajiboye, Chairman, ASUU-UI; Dr. Gbenga Olajide, Chairman ASUU-UI strike monitoring committee; Comrade, Abbey Trotsky, Secretary, Oyo State Chapter of Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM); Babatunde Badmus, President Student Union â€“UI and Adeyemo Monsuru Coordinator of NANS zone D.
Holding this kind of public meeting at a critical period when the Federal Government of Nigeria is using all forms of propaganda machineries at its disposal to misinform the Nigeria public including students actually provided an opportunity for the ASUU leadership to actually and clearly explain to participants in the meeting who were largely students issues that are involved in the ASUU/FGN agreement signed by both parties since 2009.
Dr Demola Aremu while leading the discussion stated that the only demand of ASUU is that government should honour the agreement it signed with the union 2009 after almost five years of negotiation. Against the government propaganda that all that ASUU is fighting for is earned allowance, Aremu emphasized that the main priority of the ASUU demands is the improve funding of public education by the government to 26% of annual budgetary allocation as recommended by UNESCO towards the revitalization of the university system.
Aremu went further to reveal that not all university teachers who are currently participating in the ongoing ASUU strike are entitled to the so called earned allowance which he defined as just incentives meant for the extra workload done by university teachers. After outlining the very few categories of university teachers who will benefit from the earned allowance if implemented, he therefore maintained that the earned allowance itself is a reflection of poor funding of public education which will become unnecessary should Nigeria public education is adequately funded.
On NEMECO, Aremu revealed that is an independent Pension Fund Administrator (PFA) floated by the ASUU to be in charge of managing the 7.5% contributory pension the federal government has been deducting from the salaries of all ASUU members for the past four years. He revealed that the need for an ASUU independent PFA was conceived especially when it was obvious that virtually all the existing PFA’s in the country the FGN wanted to impose on ASUU are actually owned by individuals who were in charge of many failed banks in the country. Aremu therefore questions the rationale behind the continued refusal of government to register the NEMECO, the PFA through which ASUU hope to guarantee the security of the pension contributions of its members.
In his submission, Aremu charged students with the fact that the struggle for proper funding of public education which ASUU is leading is collective fight of students, education workers and members of civil society. Therefore call on students to have independent plans of mass actions to save the public education from total collapse.
Abbey Trotsky, while addressing the meeting maintained that the poor funding of public education as well as other social services is an expression of various neoliberal policies which remain the economic philosophy of various capitalist governments in charge of Nigeria economy. He therefore stressed that the aspiration of education workers, students and many change-seeking Nigerians can only come to reality only when a pro-working people government with socialist programme of nationalization of the commanding height of Nigeria economy under the control and management of workers and poor is in power.
He submitted by calling on ASUU members and students to join the effort of members of DSM who had launched the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) as a step of building a broad working people political party toward the formation of a government that will be sensitive to the need and aspiration of Nigeria working but suffering masses.
One of the highlights of this meeting was the fear expressed by many of the students who participated in the discussion against the certainty that pumping more money into the education sector will automatically guarantee any significant improvement in both the living and learning condition of students especially when various management of Nigerian universities had individually and collectively failed in making sure that various form of fee hikes which Nigeria students suffered in the recent time translates to any improvement in their condition of learning.
Dr Segun Ajiboye in responding to some of the contributions from the students, assure the students that one of the demands of ASUU is the constitution of budget committee which will comprises of elected representatives of students, workers unions and member of the management so as to ensure a democratic management and control over the spending of whatever resources at the disposal of the university system.
Dr Tajudeen Akanji charged students not to be on lookers but rather to unite with education workers in fighting for proper funding and revitalization of public education.
The public meeting attended about 60 persons was brought to end with solidarity songs