2014: Labour Movement Must Chart Out a Comprehensive Fighting Programme
2014: Labour Movement Must Chart Out a Comprehensive Fighting Programme
By Ayo Ademiluyi
The New Year message to Nigerian workers by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) presents a basis of reflection and review on the struggles of the workers’ movement for the out-gone year, 2013, and the challenges that present New Year, 2014. The year 2013 saw a litany of strikes by the education workers’ unions, the most important of which was that of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), which ended in victory for the union. 2014 has equally opened with the strike of the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics and the threat of strike by the oil workers’ unions, NUPENG and PENGASSAN as well as the Nigerian Medical Association (the doctors’ union). A critical examination of the current economic situation is needed with the task of drawing up a comprehensive fighting programme for the labour movement.
THE ECONOMIC SITUATION: NEO-LIBERAL ATTACKS ON THE AGENDA
The NLC New Year Statement correctly pinpointed the challenge of unemployment and job losses which is taking an astronomical height. The statement puts the official statistics on unemployment rate at 23.9 percent while it claims that a recent independent survey showed that “56 percent of youths were unemployed, 9 percent were underemployed and only 35 percent was fully employed independent survey”.
While it is correct for the NLC to call “on governments at all levels to put job creation at the centre of all their activities”, the labour movement must embrace the practical truth that given the neo-liberal policies within which all the sections of the ruling elite are operating, mass unemployment will be the order of the day. Therefore the labour movement must be prepared to proffer a working people’s political alternative of the democratic control of the commanding heights of the economy within which a genuine public works can be operated to generate and guarantee decent jobs on a living wage.
However, it is unfortunate that the labour movement lacks a coherent alternative to the neo-liberal policies of privatisation, commercialisation and liberalisation. This is reflected sharply in the position taken on the upcoming privatisation of the refineries. In the statement, the NLC claimed that it canvasses for the “promotion of competition in refining”. Without clearly and vehemently opposing privatisation, it called for the sale of refineries to be subjected to debate at the “National Dialogue”, which is to be convened by the Jonathan regime.
This is a trivialisation of the struggle against the privatisation of the refineries, which urgently requires a mass resistance. This cannot be separated from the acceptance of the basis for privatisation in itself by the NLC and TUC by virtue of their membership of the National Council on Privatisation. This has only led to a situation in which the labour leaders merely negotiate for “severance allowance” for workers laid off through privatisation. The need for labour to oppose privatisation is not just to keep profiteers’ hands off national assets, to defend the workers’ in these industries or to say that the existing nationalised concerns are perfect. Far from it, workers know only too well how nationalised industries, like the oil refineries, have been looted, or, like electricity, have failed the masses. A fundamental reason why labour should oppose privatisation is that this will not meet the needs of Nigerian people and that a real plan to develop Nigeria and raise living standards can only be based upon the country’s assets being owned and controlled by the people themselves. Labour needs to explain this to counter the pro-privatisation propaganda.
LOOMING WORKERS’ STRUGGLES AHEAD
Yet, workers have not taken these neo-liberal attacks inflicted on them lying low. The privatisation of the power sector led to mass retrenchment of workers with many having their severance allowances unpaid. The sharp fall in power supply has exposed the contradictions in privatisation and electricity workers are rooting for action to challenge the non-payment of their allowances. However, working people and youth in the communities resisting high electricity tariffs must link up with fighting electricity workers to build a mass campaign against power privatisation and for the renationalisation of the power sector.
However, one of the most pressing struggles in 2014 is the fight for a living wage. 2013 witnessed an obnoxious attempt by the National Assembly to undertake a constitutional review to “distort the National Minimum Wage”, as the NLC puts it. The grand plan was to exclude the minimum wage from the Exclusive List, which warranted the NLC in 2013 to protest to the National Assembly.
As the new year opens up, a strong mass opposition against the exclusion of Minimum wage from the Exclusive List must be built linked with a serious and determined mass mobilisation for the implementation of the N18,000 minimum wage. It is only with this approach that the fresh agitation by the leadership of the NLC for a new minimum wage in the New Year, as reported by The Guardian, Monday, December 30, 2012, can be taken seriously by their rank-and-file .
According to the aforesaid report, the General Secretary of the Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions (NASU), Peters Adeyemi stated: “Of course, the Nigerian workers have every reason to seek an increment because the purchasing power of salaries has been eroded by the continued devaluation of the national currencyâ€“Naira-and increasing inflation. The labour movement may just be looking at these issues more closely in 2014”.While this may sound cheering; it is equally bereft of an enthralling commitment by the leadership of the labour movement to fight for the implementation of the Minimum Wage Act 2011, which in itself was won through the struggles of workers.
What is urgently needed is for the labour leaders to send clear and serious signals across to their rank-and-file to fight doggedly for the implementation of the N18,000 minimum wage, as a step towards a living wage, by issuing an ultimatum on defaulting states and the federal government at the expiration of which a full blown two-day general strike will be called. But Labour needs to clearly say that N18, 000 is not enough. Originally in December 2008 Labour demanded a N52, 200 minimum wage, then in the run-up to the 2011 election the PDP set it at the very much lower N18, 000. But even this has not been fully implemented to this day. The NLC should update its N52, 200 call, making clear it should apply to all workers and begin a serious mobilisation campaign etc.
Another major theatre of working class struggles has been the education sector, where ASUU through a protracted strike action last year forced government into signing a Memorandum of Association with the union. The Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics and the Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union are both presently on strike. The education workers’ unions must chart a united and comprehensive fighting strategy to win the struggle to save public education. The resolve of the ASUU as contained in the union’s New Year Message, to call a National Summit on Education will be a good step in this direction, if pursued to implementation. However an important lesson of ASUU’s 2013 struggle is that it would have been victorious much earlier if the often promised solidarity actions by other unions had actually taken place. Only a united mass movement of the education workers, genuine students’ movement forces and the entire working people can defeat government’s neo-liberal attacks on education.
Yet, the most urgent working class battle that the government is preparing to face is the resistance by the oil workers’ unions, NUPENG and PENGASSAN to the privatisation of the refineries. The notice of strike issued by oil workers has forced the government to deny having any plan to sell the refineries. Unfortunately, the opposition of the oil workers’ unions against the privatisation lacks a coherent basis as they are only agitating for “transparency in the privatisation process”. This would eventually lead to the collapse of the struggle if a scientific and clear demand for the democratic control of the refineries by the elected representatives of the oil workers’ unions is not made.
The leadership of the labour movement must also be prepared to resist all anti-union and anti-worker practices including casaulisation, outsourcing and attacks on workers’ rights in the New Year. The NLC statement itself identified the banking, telecommunications and oil sectors as culprits but this takes place in virtually all the sectors of the economy.
TIME TO BUILD A GENUINE WORKING CLASS POLITICAL ALTERNATIVE
The NLC statement equally expressed worries over the poor conduct of elections in 2013 with the ominous signs for the elections due for 2014 and the 2015 general elections. This has raised the question of the appropriate strategy the labour movement should take as the 2015 elections draw nearer.
Genuine Socialists have maintained an age-long agitation for the building of a genuine working class political alternative by the labour movement with a clear programme of placing the commanding heights of the economy under democratic working class control. However, the leadership of the labour movement has shown its lackadaisical disposition to this challenge with the abysmal state into which they have left the Labour Party, which was originally registered by the trade union centres. This party has become the trashcan for rejects from other bourgeois parties and run on “cash-and-carry politics”.
The clear challenge before rank-and-file workers, working class activists and socialists is to reclaim the trade unions from the bureaucratic stranglehold of the labour aristocrats and mobilise the resources of the labour movement for the building of a genuine working class political alternative on a clear and express democratic socialist programme. As a step in this direction, the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) has initiated the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) to represent the interests of the working people and youths while we continue to campaign and work for the formation of a mass working people’s party.