MAY DAY 2015 AND THE CHALLENGES AHEAD
MAY DAY 2015 AND THE CHALLENGES AHEAD
- For a Fighting Trade Union Movement and a Mass Working People Party
By Kola Ibrahim
The Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) felicitates with Nigerian workers as they celebrate this year’s May Day. We identify with the struggles of Nigerian workers for better living and working conditions. We enjoin workers, their unions and labour leadership to use this occasion of May Day to reflect on the parlous state of the nation, and redouble their effort in the struggle for total emancipation of the working and oppressed people of Nigeria. May Day itself is born out of struggle of working people internationally against the horrible living and working conditions occasioned by capitalist exploitation, which condemns workers to lives of penury and want.
May Day’s character as an international workers’ day stems from the action of the American workers who gathered at Haymarket Square in Chicago, US in 1886, asking for better working conditions paid the supreme price of being massacred and brutalized in the line of struggle by capitalist ruling class, who could not accommodate a challenge to their system of exploitation. Since then, exploitation of workers and brutality against them, including attacks on their democratic rights of organization and expression, have not ceased; rather, they have been intensified and systematized into the system. Globally today, working people have become the sacrificial lamb for the greed of the capitalist class. Whenever the capitalist class burns their fingers in the maddening rush for more profits, workers and their welfare are made the soothing balm to relieve the pain.
WORSENING WORKERS’ CONDITIONS
In Nigeria, the situation is the same, and in many instances, gloomier. Today, workers are being owed salaries for months because the crude oil revenue has dwindled. Meanwhile, the same fall in the oil revenue has not stopped ruling politicians from looting the country’s coffer drys for election and other private uses. In fact, when the revenue was booming, working people got little or nothing from it; however, when there is a shortfall as a result of massive looting and mismanagement of the mono-cultural economy, working people are made to pay the price. From Osun State to Benue and Taraba, workers are suffering over unpaid wages. Aside this is the inflation the fall in naira has caused, which has eaten deep into the meagre income of the working people. The N18, 000 minimum wage won by workers since 2011 has not been fully implemented in most states and even the little increase this has engendered has been eaten up by many other attacks.
For instance, social and public services are being priced out of the reach of the working and poor people. For the third time in past two years, electricity tariffs have been hiked. School fees in most tertiary institutions have been increased. In spite of the political reduction in petrol price, the product is still selling for as high as N100 per litre in most parts of the country, while kerosene, a staple fuel for most working class families, is still extremely costly and unaffordable. As a result of collapse of public education system due to chronic underfunding of education, and mismanagement of the meagre fund for the sector by undemocratically appointed managers, many working class parents have had to send their wards to private primary and secondary schools, mostly mushrooms, which collect huge fees. This is added to the inflation caused by mismanagement of the economy and kleptomaniac nature of Nigeria’s capitalist class.
EXPLOITATION AND CASUALIZATION
In the private sector, the conditions of workers are not different. Insecurity of jobs has become the norm, as private employers are banking on the army of unemployed to exploit those working and drive down wages. From manufacturing to banking, insurance and financial sector, casual and part-time employments have become the order of the day. The recent story of an airport cleaning worker, paid N8, 000 monthly, but could only be compensated with meagre N4, 000 for returning millions of naira lost by a passenger, highlights the horrible conditions many workers now work. In the banking sector, there is unprecedented job insecurity as unreasonable targets are set for workers, more than 50 percent of whom are casual or contract staff. Retrenchments are now rampant in banks and financial institutions. In various factories from Lagos to Aba, Kano, etc., tens of thousands of workers are working under terrible conditions that take better parts of their health and agility. In many of these factories, aside the poor pays and insecurity of jobs, there are health hazards that are hardly addressed by employers, and worse still labour leaders.
To add insult to injury, governments that are supposed to stop these horrible situations better associated with the 19th century Victorian era, are now taking cue from private employers, to carry out massive casualization of jobs. In several states including Osun, Oyo, Lagos, etc. tens of thousands of young people are employed as casual workers under terrible working conditions, under the guise of empowerment schemes. Aside the poor pay, mostly around N10, 000, the casual workers do not have basic workers’ rights. The federal government has also institutionalized this into its labour policy, in spite of government’s own labour law that prohibits casual labour. Today, in several federal government agencies and establishments, thousands of workers are employed on casual basis, either by government or private job contractors. Example of this includes the SURE-P and now defunct Federal Teachers’ Scheme employments, where thousands are employed on poor wages of around N15, 000. Added to this is the privatization gale that has led to massive retrenchment of workers and casualization of several others as seen in the privatization of PHCN, seaports and airports.
SYMPTOMS OF CAPITALISM
These are some of the major issues that should form major point of discourse for workers, beyond marching in front of their exploiters, as they commemorate this year’s Workers’ Day. It is however necessary to state that behind these horrible living and working conditions of workers is the capitalist system, albeit the neo-colonial one being practiced in Nigeria, which sole aim is the privatization of wealth and maximization of profits. These can only be achieved by lowering the living standards of working people and reducing their share of profit they create. The governments at all levels in Nigeria represents this system as the capitalists, both local and foreign, who control the economy are the ones who are organized in the main capitalist ruling parties across the country. They fund these parties and have representatives in them. This is why it will take workers, serious and gargantuan struggle to win concessions and reforms from these governments or stop the governments from further worsening their living conditions.
This underscores the need for workers to, as a first start, build their unions as fighting platforms against attacks by the capitalist class organized as governments and private employers which can attract new members. This means workers ensuring their unions are truly independent from employers and are run on democratic basis, such that workers’ views are sought on issues that affect them through regular congresses and mass meetings. It will also mean elections of union leaders being done on democratic rather than bureaucratic basis. More than this, it will also means workers ensuring that their unions oppose all anti-poor, anti-worker, pro-rich few policies of privatization, casualization and labour flexibility, commercialization, deregulation, retrenchment, wage stagnation, etc. Workers must stand for social programmes that will improve their living and working conditions.
However, as said earlier, the capitalist class is also organized on the political front, and is in control of political power, where policies and decisions are made. For workers to guarantee improved working conditions on a long term, they need their own political voice that will bring to being a government that truly represents their interests, rather than helping to elect any of the capitalist political parties that will come to power to launch attacks on them. This is why we in the SPN have always called on workers to build a political alternative to the main bourgeois parties of the bosses.
The two elections in the last two months have further underscored this position that we in the SPN have always canvassed. The 2015 NLC Convention that held in March as shown the need for workers to reclaim their unions and labour movement on a democratic and revolutionary basis. The division arising from the election of new leadership of the Congress stems from the lack of full democratic input of workers into how their unions are run. For instance, elections were based on number of delegates from unions, which itself is determined by the amount of money a union paid into NLC account. This means the size of union delegations are only based on the affiliates’ finances and does not take into account their activity. Meanwhile, the delegates from the unions are mostly handpicked by union leadership, and where they are not handpicked, they are already part of the existing structures of the leadership, for example state branch leaders. There are no provisions for direct elections of delegates by union members, neither are there debates on manifestoes of candidates.
All of these have ensured that many labour leaders are disconnected from ordinary worker or shop floor and workplace unionist, which thus encourages horrible politics among the leaders for the control of labour centres. If contestants are compelled to visit branches, chapters and affiliates of unions to seek for votes, and if workers are allowed to elect their delegates from grassroots, the horrible scenario, where sectional politics is played can be avoided. More than this, the failure of labour leadership and labour movement to stand on clearly anti-capitalist, socialist and revolutionary programmes that will necessitate labour leaders relying on and mobilizing rank and file members is a major factor for the horrible division and crisis in the NLC. The failure of labour leadership to defend workers from factory to national levels means that labour leaders are disconnected from workers, and therefore rely on rotten politics, to hold on to power. We hope that workers will see the new development in the labour movement, vis-Å•-vis the crisis in NLC as a challenge to reclaim their unions and the movement as a fighting platform. This means workers compelling their labour leaders to defend their interests, and ensure that the union decision-making processes are made open through congresses and mass meetings.
The other election is the 2015 general elections that have seen the incumbent Goodluck Jonathan/PDP government defeated in a keenly contested election. That power has moved into the hands of Muhammadu Buhari/APC, while representing a new phase in the political structure of the country, does not fundamentally indicate a better future for the long suffering working and poor people of Nigeria. More than ever before, it only underscores the need for workers to not only rebuild their unions as fighting platform, but to also begin the process of building a new political platform of their own. The APC rode to power on the basis of mass anger of the working and oppressed people against the Jonathan/PDP government which has failed in all ramifications to improve the lots of the people.
However, it is worthy to note that the people who put APC together are not basically interested in improving the conditions of the people but to access power. It is vital to state that many of those in the APC, who used the slogan of “change” to seek for power, are either former members of PDP or supporters of Jonathan for president in 2011. In states where APC are in government, conditions of working and poor people are not better off, if not worse, as series of anti-poor, neo-liberal policies are hauled against them. In Osun State, one of the star states of APC, workers and pensioners are owned salaries and pensions for over five months. In many of these state education and healthcare systems are in terrible state.
Therefore, it will be grand delusion for working people to expect any fundamental change or lasting improvement in living conditions from the APC. Possibly, some initial grandstanding can be made by the APC, but this can only be short-lived, as the interests of the owners of the party, which is massive accumulation of wealth and profits, will clash with the expectations and needs of the working and poor people. The newly elected president, Buhari has indeed, as against the hope he was selling during the elections, claimed that he is not coming to perform miracles. More than this, major strategists for the party, both within (like the vice president, Osinbajo) and outside are already advocating privatisation and pro-bosses policies. The rise in stock market value, while indicating allaying of fear of post-election crisis by the big business, also shows the trust of the capitalist and big business class in the ability of Buhari/APC to protect their interests.
Rather than sowing illusion in the Buhari presidency, working people and their leaders should start rebuilding their unions for struggles ahead. Moreover, labour movement should go beyond mere industrial struggle, and see the necessity of building an independent political voice for workers through the formation of a working people’s political party that stand for workers, the poor, youth and the oppressed. Such a party in order to be different need to stand on clear socialist programmes that will seek to liberate the enormous wealth and resources of the society, currently monopolized by the capitalist class, for the betterment of the working people and youth of Nigeria. Such a party should be run on democratic basis.
These are issues that workers, their leaders and unions should be discussing as we commemorate this year’s Workers’ Day. Happy Workers, Day 2015.