THE CURRENT STATE OF THE WORKERS’ MOVEMENT IN NIGERIA AND THE TASKS AHEAD
THE CURRENT STATE OF THE WORKERS’ MOVEMENT IN NIGERIA AND THE TASKS AHEAD
By Ayo Ademiluyi
Quite recently, the Ayuba-Wabba-led faction of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) held its inaugural National Executive Committee meeting on 6th August, 2015. In published advertorials in widely-read Nigerian newspapers, the Wabba-led NLC NEC communicated resolutions reached at the meeting (Guardian newspaper, Friday, 14th August, 2015).
On the failure of some state governments to pay the salaries of their workers, the NEC absolved the Federal Government of blame and ascribed the failure to “mismanagement and wrong prioritization” by the State Governors. It resolved to “mobilise industrial union Presidents and General Secretaries to all the states owing three or more months in salaries, to ensure that indebted states are compelled to pay workers their legitimate earnings”. Fine words, but in the absence of any concrete call to action this call is left in mid-air. In reality this call on “industrial union Presidents and General Secretaries” is hot air and runs away from mobilizing a properly-organised national mass action of workers both in affected states and nationally against these culpable Governors. It is equally a grand attempt to embark on token piecemeal actions at the face of an iceberg!
On minimum wage, the Wabba-led NEC observed that the Minimum Wage Act 2011 has reached its statutory five-year mark for review and it mandated its national leadership to propose a new minimum wage to the Federal Government for negotiation by the tripartite constituents of government, employers and organized labour. It would be recalled that the Joe-Ajaero-led NLC has already proposed a N90,000 new minimum wage, but it has not advanced a clear strategy on how it intend to fight for it.
The Wabba-led NLC NEC also resolved for a “National Day of Action against Corruption and for Good Governance” and mandated its national leadership to mobilise for it as a “one-day national protest march” which will be “simultaneously across the country”. It also stated that the aim of the national protest march is to “draw attention ofâ€¦(the) political leadership at all levels that â€¦.we as a countryâ€¦.cannot put up with the recklessness of our political elite”.
While it is appreciated that the workers’ movement return to the tradition of mass struggle, the perspective and strategy behind the upcoming national protest march is also bereft of a comprehensive understanding of the fact that corruption is embedded in the overall capitalist system. Many may welcome the Buhari government’s drive against corruption, but in this society it will inevitably be one-sided and partial, that it is only when workers struggle collectively to overthrow capitalism that corruption can permanently be ended. Socialists would participate in such a “national protest march” and challenge the labour leaders to call a 24-hour nationwide warning strike on unpaid salaries, massive looting and for a new national minimum wage.
On the political side, the Wabba-led NEC resolved to revitalize the Labour Party. However, the fact that the planned “holistic revitalization and revival of the party” is based on the recent acquisition of the ‘original certificate’ of the party from the former National Chairman of the Labour Party, Dan Iwuanyanwu, also begs the question of how a “revitalization” can be achieved. It would be recalled that the Wabba-led NEC has given the said ‘original certificate’ to the Salisu Muhammed-led Caretaker Committee, which was set up by the out-gone Abdulwaheed Omar NLC leadership, but this will have no effect on the current, INEC supported, Labour Party leadership.
An overview of these resolutions raises important issues on the current state of the workers’ movement vis-a-vis the character of the current crop of labour leaders, especially under the current Buhari regime. Genuine socialists and working class activists need to engage these issues in the overall interests of the working class movement.
UNPAID SALARIESAND WORSENING IMPACT OF DISUNITY OF THE TRADE UNION MOVEMENT
Nothing exposes the nonchalant attitude of the current crop of labour leaders to the welfare of their rank-and-file than the spate of unpaid salaries that is ravaging workers in different states. While the Wabba-led faction, which commands a large chunk of the public-sector trade unions, at first ordered the state congresses in the respective states where the Governors were defaulting to undertake strikes on their own, it failed to provide a lead for a nationwide strike action that could have brought the full weight of the labour movement to bear on the issue.
The failure of a coherent nationwide mass mobilization against the defaulting Governors was also as a result of the negative impact of the disunity within the trade union movement based on the ego-tripping factionalisation of the workers’ movement by the labour leaders. The factionalisation, in itself is another sad tale of the state of the workers’ movement in Nigeria, with shambolic labour leaders who are not prepared to genuinely defend the interests of their rank-and-file members.
Recently, it was reported in the mass media that the issue of the unpaid salaries led to fresh attempts to find a united voice between the Joe-Ajaero and Wabba-led factions. It was even reported that as a result of the unification moves initiated by the labour veterans, there are plans to hold Joint National Executive Committees and Central Working Committees to plan joint actions. It remains another issue how far these efforts have yielded fruits, given the numerous attempts to unify the two factions after the crisis-ridden 11th National Delegates’ Conference, held earlier in February, 2015.
However, it is clear that genuine socialists and working class activists must redouble the efforts to build cells of working class cadres within the rank-and-file of the workers’ movement with rounded-out revolutionary perspectives that can fight to reclaim the trade union movement as a united mass working class organization with a democratically-controlled and genuine leadership that can fight for the genuine interests of the working class people.
It is equally important, despite the prevarications of the leaderships of both factions of the Nigeria Labour Congress to build pressure from below with the call for a 24-hour nationwide strike action as the urgent and immediate step to force the defaulting Governors to pay their workers in their respective states. Such a one-day warning strike would serve an initial notice on the defaulting Governors that the entire labour movement would not take the struggle lightly.
WHAT GENUINE STRATEGY TO FIGHT FOR A NEW NATIONAL MINIMUM WAGE?
Another crucial issue is the growing demand for a new national minimum wage. Given that the five-year period for the N18,000 minimum wage is due for renewal, it is also clear that the growing inflation rate has made the minimum wage a mincemeat. While the Joe Ajaero-led faction has demanded a new N90,000 minimum wage, the Wabba-led faction has been mandated by its NEC to draw a proposal for a negotiation of a new national minimum wage for submission on the Federal Government.
What is missing from the statements and declarations of both factions is a clear and coherent strategy to fight for a new national minimum wage. The current N18,000 minimum wage has not been implemented by most state governments without any serious resistance mobilised by the labour leaders.
The current approach to the demand a new national minimum wage also shrinks of the lethargic approach of the labour leaders to waging a serious struggle on minimum wage. A genuine struggle for a new national minimum wage would have to be devoid of illusions that the Federal and State Government would agree or implement it by law but by mass actions with the concurrent demand that no single worker should be retrenched by virtue of the new national minimum wage.
STRUGGLE FOR THE CONTROL OF LABOUR PARTY AND THE QUEST FOR A GENUINE WORKING PEOPLE’S POLITICAL ALTERNATIVE
One other interesting development is the ongoing struggle for the control of the Labour Party between the Wabba-led faction and the Labour Party leadership. The NEC of the Wabba-led faction resolved to position the party to “articulate and advance working class perspectives on the wider political and economic situation in the country”. This is pursuant to the receipt of the original certificate of registration of the party by the Wabba-led faction from Dan Iwuanyanwu, the former National Chairman of the party, which it has handed over to the Salisu Muhammed-led Caretaker Committee on Labour Party, instituted by the Omar leadership.
However, the Labour Party leadership, inaugurated at the last National Convention of the party has gone to town vowing to resist the takeover of the party by the Wabba-led NLC faction. It has stated, in a formally correct fashion, that it is the democratically-elected leadership by the membership of the party and equally the leadership that is properly recognised by the Independent National Electoral Commission. It also hinted that it will take out contempt proceedings against the Wabba-led NLC faction based on the fact that there is an ongoing court matter against the Salisu Muhammed faction and the Nigeria Labour Congress in particular.
Based on Nigerian electoral law that recognizes individual membership of political parties and does not accommodate affiliate membership, it remains a puzzle how far the Wabba-led faction can go in achieving its aim. Equally, the failure of the labour leaders to take up their allotted seats on the National Executive Committee of the party and mobilise their members into the Labour Party after registering the party deprive them of any serious base within the party that can constitute a numerical challenge in the National Convention of the party, which elected the present national leadership of the Labour Party. Added to this is the fact that the Independent National Electoral Commission recognizes the present Labour Party leadership as such having observed the National Convention which elected the current leadership in accordance with law.
Without holding any brief for the Labour Party leadership, the astounding reality is that the Wabba-led faction is on a wild goose chase with its professed control of the party with the possession of the original certificate of registration of the party. In the given circumstances, where the Labour Party leadership presses its arguments before the court of law, the Wabba-led faction may find itself in a situation to either engage in an out-of-court settlement with the Labour Party leadership or surrender the original certificate of registration.
The most important issue to be drawn from the entire scenario is the reality of the challenge of building a genuine working people’s political alternative within the broader trade union movement. It is completely another tale of the current state of the Labour Party and the character of the approach of the labour leaders towards it.
A genuine approach to build a genuine working people’s political alternative would entail a conscious mobilization of the rank-and-file of the workers’ movement on a clear programme to build a democratically-run political movement funded by the millions of workers and not the millionaire looters that will bid for power on a socialist programme. The combustive events of the coming period would place this boldly on the agenda. While the opportunities to reclaim the Labour Party as such a genuine working class political movement is quite narrow, genuine socialists would keep up the campaign for such a genuine working people’s political alternative. Concretely if the NLC leaders are serious about building an independent political force for Labour then it will need to start taking steps beginning with bringing together all the forces that support such a proposal to discuss and agree upon what needs to be done.
The Socialist Party of Nigeria, initiated by the Democratic Socialist Movement and other working class forces, when eventually registered by the Independent National Electoral Commission, would serve as a “striking example” within the broader trade union movement of the genuine approach in building a wider genuine working people’s political alternative. It will espouse a clear socialist programme and run working class candidates in elections without ties to big business and the bourgeois political elite. Those elected on the platform of SPN will earn working class wages, all elected and appointed members will live in the communities. Genuine socialists, while battling for the registration of the Labour Party would continue the campaign for a genuine working people’s political alternative.