POLYTECHNICS AND COLLEGES OF EDUCATION STRIKES: Working Masses and Students Must Rally Round ASUP a
POLYTECHNICS AND COLLEGES OF EDUCATION STRIKES: Working Masses and Students Must Rally Round ASUP and COEASU to Win Demands
By H.T. Soweto, ERC National Coordinator
For over ten (10) months now, public Polytechnics have been shut down as a result of an indefinite strike of the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP). Also public Colleges of Education have been closed for over four (4) months due to an indefinite strike of the Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union (COEASU). Both unions are demanding implementation of agreements, funding of education and improvement in the welfare of members.
The strikes of both unions are important for many reasons. One, the public polytechnics and Colleges of Education sub-sectors are some of the least funded within the tertiary institution category. Despite their strategic importance for economic, industrial and social development, government often treats students and staff of Polytechnics and Colleges of education with contempt. Graduates of Polytechnics are further humiliated when upon entering the labour market, their HND certificate is deemed inferior to a Bsc certificate. This is why ASUP is demanding an end to the discrimination between HND and BSC and the establishment of a National Polytechnic Commission (NPC).
Secondly, the demands of both unions contain key ingredients that if seriously implemented by the government can begin to ensure that public Polytechnics and Colleges of Education are repositioned. For instance, majority of the Colleges of Education around the country are in decrepit conditions. Despite the huge gap in the teacher: student ratio (over 200,000 teachers are required to close this gap), graduate teachers rarely get employed. Since the strikes commenced, the Federal Government has continued to show indifference towards the demands of ASUP and COEASU and the plight of students who have been forced to stay at home.
The working masses, students and youth must rally round the unions to ensure their demands are won. A series of one-day general strike and mass protest called by the labour movement in solidarity with the striking unions can prove vital in forcing the Federal Government to meet their demands. This is important because a defeat of these strikes will have repercussions far beyond the education sector.
So far, both ASUP and COEASU must be commended for sticking out this far. For instance, this is the first prolonged strike in the entire history of ASUP. Unlike the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), ASUP has far less cohesion and lacks a vibrant activist layer that could propel struggle and organize from below. This partly explains the weakness of the strike. For instance, most state-owned polytechnics have either not joined the strike or opted out at a later stage. However despite all these limitations, the strike can still win especially if the labour movement and the working masses rally round ASUP and COEASU to confront the government.
In essence, more needs to be done to ensure victory. On April 29, 2014, ASUP and COEASU organised a joint protest march in Abuja. Even though the protest was heavily repressed by the police, it created a great splash in the news next day. Unfortunately, ASUP and COEASU did not immediately build on the success of this action by organising more protest marches around the country. This is a tactical error that must be corrected immediately. Both unions need to come up with a clear strategy of joint protest marches around the country in order to mobilise public opinion against the government.
The chances are there that if ASUP and COEASU fight harder the Federal Government will grant some concessions. However it must also be clear to the leadership and members of ASUP and COEASU that whatever is won in this strike cannot be permanent so far the exploitative system of capitalism remains. This is because the root cause of the crisis of public education in Nigeria is the profit-first capitalist system which places priority on profit instead of funding education and other vital social services. For instance, if a little slice of the huge amount being daily looted by the capitalist ruling elite is ploughed into the funding of public Polytechnics and Colleges of education, the result will be significant.
Therefore, alongside the struggle to save public polytechnics and Colleges of Education, ASUP and COEASU must be prepared to play a leading role in the efforts to build a working class political alternative to end capitalism and establish a democratic socialist Nigeria only under which public education can be accorded its due attention.