UNPAID SALARIES AND NEW MINIMUM WAGE: For a 24-Hour Warning General Strike and Nationwide Protest N
UNPAID SALARIES AND NEW MINIMUM WAGE: For a 24-Hour Warning General Strike and Nationwide Protest Now
By Emmanuel Adikwu
Over the years, workers in all states of the federation have suffered from, and endured all sort of neo-liberal attacks, regardless of whether the state government is led by APC, PDP, APGA etc. Some of the exceedingly greedy governors have held on to all sorts of excuses in defense of their inability to pay workers the worthless N18, 000 minimum wage.
But as constantly as the sun shines, salaries and allowances of political office holders despite being bloated, is paid as when due. That is aside the fact that they enjoy mind boggling privileges to the extent that they allot to themselves all sort of perks and allocations. And when they feel they aren’t getting enough, they pad the budget (as in the example of the national assembly), or use other crooked means to get as much as they could to feed their greed and vanities. President and state governors, despite sitting on a vast chest of resources, still have a pool of fund dubiously called ‘security vote’ to feed their greedy, insatiable appetite. And to further fritter our collective resources they award to themselves and their collaborators, phantom and inflated contracts that are ill executed.
These self-serving politicians indulge in endless wastage of public funds that should have benefitted the larger society if invested in building public infrastructure in critical sectors of the economy such as agriculture, health, public works and housing, education etc. But the reverse is the case as infrastructures are left to rot and decay while salaries and pensions are unpaid. The most recent of such wastage of public fund is the proud declaration by a presidential aid that the cost of the president’s medical aide expenses for treatment of his ear is a “meager” 20 million naira.
Now the present economic recession has made the conditions created by corruption even worse. The woes of workers and pensioners have been further compounded as GDP continues to decline; inflation continues to rise; naira continues to crumble; factories continue to fold up and workers lose their job; unemployment continue to rise etc.
As a result of the crisis of capitalism, workers are getting poorer by the day, to the extent that most workers live from hand to mouth. The welfare of pensioners is worse off as they are mostly aged, and most times sick and in need of urgent medical care which their monthly stipend is incapable of funding. Despite that, they are made to pass through horrible, dehumanizing episodes month-in month-out, as they struggle un-end to get paid.
An upward review of the present N18,000 minimum wage is long overdue. Since long before the present economic recession, the minimum wage had been rendered useless by the brutal forces of capitalist economy.
Even at that, most of the state governments have refused to pay the existing minimum wage; some have gone as far as implementing half payment; while others have refused to pay workers salary for a period of seven to nine months and counting.
It’s disheartening to note that instead of coming to the aid of workers and pensioners as and when due, by mapping out a coherent course of action (civil, industrial, political etc.) and match them with action, the Labour bureaucracy only pay lip service. But labour bureaucrats busy enjoying the comfort of their privileges, seem bereft of ideas whenever the need for collective workers’ struggle arises. Apart from sometimes fierce sounding statements there often seems to be no will to act by the trade union tops. Yes, sometimes rallies, matches and strikes are called, although often at short notice and with minimal mobilization, but in recent years they have not been part of a serious struggle.
It is noteworthy that these enslaved, dehumanized and impoverished workers make monthly deductions from their salaries to create a pool of funds for the smooth running of their affiliate unions both at the local and national level. Part of the mandate of the union is to fight for and defend the welfare and working condition of workers; but unfortunately, lip service is often being paid to this mandate.
An important reason for this ugly trend is the fact that employers of labour have devised a scheme by which deduction of union levies are made upfront from workers salary on behalf of union leaders. This trend, combined with a lack of democratic control and accountability within the trade unions, has created a great gulf within the relationship of workers and union leaders to the extent that they’ve become largely insulated from the travails of workers.
In an ideal situation, union leaders are supposed to earn their check-off dues by showing proactiveness in the fight for, and defense of workers’ rights. And when they are found wanting, aggrieved workers may even decide not to pay dues to the union as a means of calling them to order. However, while understandable, this is not the way to ensure unions fight for workers. To achieve this the unions need to democratically run by their members, have a fighting programme and have leaders who are prepared to lead serious struggles.
OYO STATE WORKERS’ STRUGGLE
The Oyo state workers gave a shining example of what is to be done by embarking on strike to pressure the Ajimobi-led government to pay the backlog of salary arrears being owed. They braved the odds and held on heroically to the struggle for seven weeks before a rotten compromise was reached between the union leadership and the state government for the payment of two months’ salary without first discussing with the congress of workers to whom it owes allegiance.
This is a setback for the struggles of workers all over the federation that would have been spurred by the gains of the Oyo state workers’ struggle if it had reached a logical conclusion. However, the struggle was largely isolated because the national leadership of NLC did not give the desired backing to the striking workers by centrally coordinated actions including calling for a properly preplaced 24 hours national strike and mass protest, in the first instance, given the fact that workers in at least 27 states are affected by the criminal non-payment of salaries.
Despite the multiple setbacks encountered in the struggles of workers for better welfare and working conditions, the Labour Union remains the hope of workers. Hence, the leadership of NLC and TUC must rise to the occasion by mobilizing for a series of national actions that could force the government to pay all salaries and pensions arrears as well as commence negotiation with labour on a new minimum wage. This struggle should start with a declaration and mobilization of a 24 hour warning general strike and nationwide rallies as the first steps. We call on rank and file workers, trade union activists and socialists with agitation at factories and workplaces, petition and picketing of labour offices to mount serious pressure on the labour leaders to lead national struggle on unpaid salaries, pension arrears and increase in national minimum wage without retrenchment of a single worker. The struggle must also demand jobs and unemployment benefits for the youth.
Workers must not accept the excuse that there are no resources to pay salaries and minimum wage increase. We should demand that political office holders should cut their bloated salary and receive average wages of civil servant, scrap security votes, stop leakage and wastages and use public work departments under a democratic control instead of profit-first contract system for planning and execution of projects.
The NLC, TUC and pro-masses organizations should work collectively to ensure that the working masses are not made to suffer for the mismanagement of the economy by the thieving ruling elite.