Time for a 24-hour General Strike and Mass Protest
Time for a 24-hour General Strike and Mass Protest
In solidarity with workers and pensioners in over 27 states who are being owed backlog of salaries and pensions
For an increase in the national minimum wage in line with inflation rate
By DSM NEC
The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) calls on the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) to declare and begin immediate mobilization for a 24-hour general strike and mass protest over non-payment of salaries and pensions, mass sackings in the private sector and the urgent need for a new national minimum wage. We make this call because at the moment, the working class in Nigeria is in a perilous situation and only a united and coordinated mass struggle can prevent total ruin.
In over 27 states of the country, hundreds of thousands of public sector workers and retirees as well as their families are undergoing enormous hardship as a result of the refusal of state governments to pay salaries and pensions. In some states, workers are owed as much as 7-months’ salaries and allowances while pensioners are owed as much as 24 months. Workers in the private sector are equally being hit. Officially half a million workers lost their jobs in the first four months of this year while the tens of millions trying to find work in the informal sector have been hit by the economic slowdown and the spreading impact of the naira devaluation.
The combination of job losses, unpaid salary arrears and inflation has led to anguish as many workers now find it increasingly hard to feed their families, pay school fees and medical bills. Many have had to sell off their cars, phones and home electronics to raise money either to pay rent, children’s school fees or buy some food items for the family. Those who have nothing left worth selling now live on the edge surviving daily by scrounging from neighbors and friends. In many states, workers are withdrawing their children from private schools and enrolling them in public ones where, although fees are lower, facilities are inadequate because of poor funding.
Meanwhile, even as workers are suffering this much, the state government officials, party leaders, politicians, government contractors and cronies are smiling to the bank, junketing around the world and driving around in glittering Porsche cars. Yes, falling oil prices have massively cut government income, but the ruling class only uses this as an excuse to attempt to cover up their looting and profligacy which are some of the major reasons the states are cash-strapped.
Certainly, trade unions cannot be unaware of this calamitous situation workers face. Neither can the labour leaders be unaware of the fact that in response to these attacks on their living conditions, workers and pensioners have risen in mass revolt in many states. Over the last few months, workers in several states have gone on strike while pensioners, old and frail, have marched in many states to their government houses demanding their pay. These are clear indications that the working class is prepared to fight back if provided with a bold lead and a fighting programme.
Unfortunately each of these strikes, like the on-going magnificent strike and mass protest in Oyo state, are in danger of being defeated or ending in rotten compromises. While determined struggle can win concessions in single cases, there is the danger that isolated struggles maybe unable to win on their own. A recent case is Ekiti state where the leadership of the NLC in the State suspended the strike after the state government agreed to pay just one month salary out of five months being owed. Quite rightly, rank and file workers in the state have since kicked describing the suspension as a betrayal. The DSM totally agrees with the view of the Ekiti state workers. This is because many workers have since incurred enormous debts from the landlord, school proprietor, neighbors, food stuff, tomato and pepper sellers etc., over the months they are being owed so that payment of a mere one month will only invite onto them the ire of their creditors as everyone will want their debt immediately settled from the miniscule amount.
In Oyo state where workers have been holding on bravely over the past few weeks, similar fate could befall this splendid and magnificent struggle. That this danger exist is made very clear by the tactics which the Ajimobi government has adopted which consist of refusal to shift any ground during negotiations while at the same time working to isolate the strike by mobilizing other sections of the oppressed masses like bus drivers, conductors, market women, artisans and the unemployed against the strike. This is why it is important that the entire labour movement rises up in solidarity with Oyo workers and workers in all the affected states through a one-day nationwide general strike and mass protest as a starting point of a campaign to defend the interests of the working masses against the unrelenting onslaught of the crisis-ridden capitalist system. Any other course of action followed by the labour leadership will only amount to abandoning the working class to fight in isolation when what is needed is to unify the forces into one big mass movement to break the intransigence of the state governments.
On the basis of the present rate of inflation, the N18, 000 minimum wage has become unacceptable. Therefore it is important that as workers struggle for payment of salary arrears they also begin to demand for an increase in the minimum wage. We therefore propose the following key demands for the general strike:
- Immediate payment of all back-log of salaries and pensions.
- Open the books and financial record of the states for scrutiny so that workers representatives and the public can see the true state of the government finances including records of revenues, expenditures, debt servicing, contracts, business agreements etc.
- Scrap security vote for the executives and constituency allowances for the legislature.
- Reduce the salaries and allowances of political office holders to a level not more than the average wage of a skilled worker. It is unacceptable that about 18, 000 political office holders continue to cost the country as much as N1.3 trillion annually. In a condition of economic crisis, the rightful place for belt-tightening to start is the political office holders and their accomplices in the private sector who raked in enormous profit from the past period of oil boom.
- Increases in the national minimum wage to an amount not less than N56, 000 and to be increased in line with the rate of inflation.
- No to retrenchment. Nationalize all businesses making redundancies and closing down under workers democratic control and management.
CAN ANOTHER GENERAL STRIKE SUCCEED?
In reacting to our call for a general strike, many labour bureaucrats may scoff at the thought of calling another general strike following the May 2016 general strike against the 65 percent increase in fuel price which not only failed to achieve the objective of reversal of the fuel price from N145 back to N97 but also failed to enjoy enthusiastic support of the working masses in many key cities like Lagos.
Our response is that the May 2016 general strike failed not because the working masses were not prepared to fight. At the period of the May strike, workers in some states were already on strike, back from strike or preparing to declare strike action against non-payment of salaries. This was a clear indication of the mood of struggle that was already developing among key sections of the working class as the anti-poor character of the APC/Buhari governments was slowly unfolding. It is not for nothing that the May strike was more enthusiastically supported in those states where workers were already confronting their state governments over issues of non-payment of salaries.
Rather the May 2016 strike against fuel price hike failed due to the failure of the leadership of the NLC and some of its affiliate unions to seriously implement the strike because of their pro-Buhari/APC disposition as well as anger of the oppressed masses which had built up against the past compromises of the labour leadership including their failure to effectively intervene to fight previous attacks on living standards.
Due to past compromises and the inability to struggle for alternative pro-people programs, labour’s reputation had been so battered that many working class people felt that as usual the call for strike was merely a call to make workers express their anger for a few days after which the labour leadership will sign a predetermined price with the government.
This feeling was further helped by the lackluster attitude shown by the NLC leadership and its affiliates to mobilization. Press releases and a few text/sms messages while they are good for sensitization are not serious mobilization. In fact for the entire three days the strike lasted, the leadership of key industrial affiliate unions failed to transmit notice of strike to their union members. In Lagos, members of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) failed to obey the strike even though the national president of this union doubles as the Deputy President of the NLC and were part of the decision to call a strike. This same situation developed at the Lagos state secretariat where workers had to turn in for work because their union leaders failed to even make the slightest effort to implement the strike. Also the withdrawal of the leaders of both the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the Joe Ajaero-led NLC faction from the strike helped together with all the factors mentioned above to present the labour movement as a disunited and confused lot in whose hands the working and oppressed masses were not ready to place their fate.
Therefore for a new general strike to succeed, the leadership of the NLC and TUC must first and foremost purge themselves of their illusion in the Buhari/APC capitalist administration. A result of their support for Buhari and the APC as the “lesser evil” is that they are not prepared to seriously struggle for the demands they sometimes list in their press statements.
Determined action can win demands. However, as the DSM has variously pointed out, no fundamental improvement can come to the working masses under a government whether of PDP or APC that supports capitalism. Especially in a period of world crisis of capitalism with global economic slowdown and collapse of commodity prices, Nigeria’s neo-colonial economy which is dominated by imperialism will continue to be tossed around by one crisis after another like a boat in a bad storm and consequently the living conditions of the working masses will continue to go from bad to worse. Because of the legendary corruption of the capitalist ruling class in Nigeria which is a product of the weak position the class occupies in the world market, even a possible rise in crude oil price will not guarantee any respite. Just as we predicted, Buhari’s alleged incorruptibility has not prevented politicians from the ruling party and members of his cabinet from helping themselves to public money as revelations about the Dubai properties of Army Chief Buratai is beginning to show.
Therefore the labour movement must be prepared to fight every anti-poor and neo-liberal policies of the government without succumbing to or betraying any illusion in the Buhari/APC government. The strategy of the labour movement must be at all times to mount tenacious defense of the economic and political interests of the working and oppressed masses everywhere this suffers attacks whether by an APC or PDP-led government. If this is combined with energetic mobilization across the country, then another general strike can succeed.
Unlike the May 2016 general strike which the NLC declared without adequate preparation, this time around labour must be prepared to organize mass mobilisation rallies across the country and circulate hundreds of thousands of leaflets and fliers to explain to the working and oppressed masses why another general strike is necessary. Most of the time, the bureaucracy in the labour movement views the working masses like a tap of running water that can be switched on and off at their whim. Meanwhile in reality, working class people often weigh every action labour leaders ask them to take against their own experience of labour’s antecedents as well as the overall political situation. This is why despite the groundswell of anger that may exist, strike actions sometimes fail to gain the enthusiastic support of the working masses.
Meanwhile in the condition of mass anger that presently exists in the states where salaries and pensions are being owed as well as among private sector employees like those in the banks who are being sacked at will, we in the DSM have no doubt that a general strike and mass protest that is well mobilized for can enjoy mass support of not just workers but also the oppressed masses. The mounting unemployment situation, inflation and the high cost of basic needs like food have further worsened the situation for many working class families. In Lagos and many cities, petty crimes like stealing, mugging and gang violence has sharply increased following May’s over 60 percent increase in the pump price of fuel, devaluation of the naira and the consequential decline in living standard. The developing crisis is also resulting in the increase in ethnic clashes and insurgencies across the country.
The situation is urgent. A lesson to be learnt from the Oyo strike’s ability to maintain itself for weeks is the importance of active involvement of workers in the movement. The Oyo strike is not a “stay at home” one. In Oyo, workers are encouraged to participate in events, discuss what is happening and take their own decisions. This is the way to build a real movement. A successful struggle needs determined leadership, a clear strategy and an active base. If the labour leaders are dragging their feet, then it is essential that a movement is built from below to demand action and, if necessary, provide a basis for a new leadership that is prepared to struggle.
Right now, a general strike called by the labour movement can quickly be seen by the working class but also the impoverished masses as an opportunity to express their anger at the unlimited suffering that has become the hallmark of the Buhari/APC anti-poor administration
FOR A POLITICAL ALTERNATIVE
In doing this however, the labour movement must be prepared to build a political alternative to the capitalist status quo. A successful strike, even if it wins substantial concessions, does not automatically mean all the socio-economic problems faced by the working masses will come to an end. Rather, a general strike, especially a longer one, poses the question of political power i.e. which class between the working class and the thieving capitalist ruling class truly commands the followership of the oppressed masses and can therefore take society out of the current logjam. Unfortunately other than demanding for improvements in pay and working conditions as well as general opposition to anti-poor economic policies, the NLC and TUC have no clearly articulated economic and political policy that is different from the neo-liberal and IMF/World Bank inspired anti-poor policies of the PDP and APC government. For instance during the strike against fuel price hike last May, none of the labour leaders could clearly articulate a pro-working people’s alternative policy to deregulation of the oil sector that can ensure that Nigeria’s crude oil benefits the mass majority including the people of the oil producing Niger Delta. Also in these unfolding struggles of workers against state governments, the labour leadership has not been able to clearly articulate how a pro-working masses government could ensure that workers and pensioners are paid adequately even in the midst of shortfall in government revenue.
Without embracing clear socialist ideas and building a mass working class political party through which the working masses can fight to take political power in order to end capitalism, labour’s struggle will continue to win partial victory at best of times and rotten compromises on the other while the suffering of the working masses continue to increase in many folds. More than ever before, the unfolding capitalist economic crisis demands that the labour movement link the struggle against anti-poor policies and for improvement in pay and conditions with a demand for the nationalization of the commanding heights of the economy under public democratic control as one of the immediate steps to overcome the economic crisis and redirect Nigeria’s economy towards serving people’s needs instead of the profit of a few.