2021 May Day: Labour leaders fail to put forward fighting demands
In Nigeria, workers held the first May Day rallies this year since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Last year at the thick of lockdown the international workers’ day was celebrated with virtual meetings where virtually nothing was done. It is fitting that the theme of this year’s celebration was on Covid-19 and its effects on workers.
By Peluola Adewale
Working class people have been made to bear the burden of the economic crisis triggered by the pandemic with many workers having lost jobs or suffered pay cuts while inflation, especially of food prices, is accelerating. The pandemic has been added to the list of contrived excuses why many state governors have not implemented the new minimum wage, something already eroded by high inflation caused not only by the pandemic but also anti-poor policies of the government like hikes in fuel price and electricity tariffs and devaluation of naira in the midst of the pandemic. Also both federal and state governments have not implemented agreements they have made with many workers’ unions including doctors, something that provoked different strike actions.
At the same time the country is descending into deeper crisis with increasing unemployment, growing insecurity and visible signs of failure at all levels of government.
Given this, the May Day should have been used to make a bold statement of the intention of trade union leaders to mobilise workers against all anti-poor policies and actions of the governments at all levels. Unfortunately, it was the usual merrymaking and backslapping between governors and labour leaders. As reports from comrades indicate, in many states labour leaders only fervently made demands that enhance their status and privileges. Where demands on welfare and conditions of workers were made, it was not with a force of conviction or seriousness. At the rallies, there were more merchandises on display than placards highlighting demands and conditions of the working people. All was done to preserve the cozy relationship between labour leadership and government or bosses.
This year’s NLC-TUC pre-May Day meetings showed increasing numbers of workers are critical of the Labour leaders’ failure to serious lead a fightback, particularly after the last minute suspension of the general strike called last September. In an attempt to respond to this growing anger Wabba, the NLC President, tried to show he was doing something and issued a statement on May 5 with the dramatic headline “WE HAVE NO MORE BLOOD TO BLEED!” opposing any attempt to cut salaries.
But this was the usual NLC statement with bold headlines and not much else. There was no talk of serious action, no concrete mobilisation plan, no date for a 24 hour general strike to start determined opposition. Instead Wabba appealed to the “Government as a social partner to quickly respond to the demands by Labour for an upward review of salaries of all Nigerian workers”. Since when have APC or PDP governments been real “social partners” for workers? Wabba ended his statement by writing “Enough Is enough!”, that is true, but workers MUST also START to say “Enough is enough!” to the Labour leaders who do nothing.
As Osun comrades stated in their report, the disturbing spectacle of May Day rallies underlines the necessity for a campaign by trade union activists, socialists and pro-labour activists for the rebuilding of trade union movement as a fighting and democratic platform of workers.
DSM comrades and supporters participated at May Day rallies in Abuja and 4 states viz Lagos, Ogun, Oyo and Osun. We also organized independent activity in Ajegunle, Lagos. We intervened with Socialist Democracy (SD), our bimonthly paper, and separate leaflets of Campaign for Democratic and Workers Rights (CDWR) and Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN). 172 copies of the SD were sold in all the centres of intervention. Two days earlier on April 29, we had sold 54 copies of the paper in Lagos and Ogun where pre-May Day symposium was held. So, altogether 256 copies of the SD were sold at this year May Day activities. We also made some contacts, among workers, who are willing to join us or learn more about the organization.
Below are the reports of May Day activities by DSM comrades:
This year’s rally in Osogbo was lackluster as the labour leadership did nothing more than praise ‘Comrade’ Governor Oyetola to the high heavens, read the national speeches and beg the governor for some demands such as withdrawal of cases again union leaders in UNIOSUN.
29 SDs were sold with 6 copies sold at solidarity price of N1800. In all N3800 was realised from the paper sale. 2 contacts, including a local branch chair of NUT in Osogbo were made.
The rally was unusually poorly attended, as many unions aside NUEE, NCSU and PASAN did not mobilise their members. In fact, unions like NUT, which is the biggest union, was poorly represented with less than 40 members, while NULGE, the NLC Chairman’s union, did not attend (although the union seems to have internal crisis). Interestingly, the union with biggest representation was NURTW, which members, numbering over 700, were donning campaign t-shirts for Governor Oyetola’s second term bid.
Again, this year’s May Day brings to the fore the deep-rooted rottenness in the labour movement leadership. This has further underscored the need for a campaign towards building a left force/tendency within the labour movement.
The Ogun state NLC and TUC joined their counterparts across the country to celebrate this year’s May Day at the MKO Abiola stadium in Abeokuta.
The program which didn’t commence until 11:30am following the arrival of the governor, Prince Dapo Abiodun, started with the march past by various affiliate unions of both NLC and TUC under the scorching sun.
Essentially, this year’s May Day event was used to celebrate the governor and the government of Ogun state, by both the leaderships of the NLC and TUC. They both pledged their undivided loyalty to the governor, promising their continued collaborations with the government.
Though there were some “murmuring” about the need for the governor to remit the deductions from the contributory pensions, cooperatives, and the promotion exercise that has been stalled.
There were also some grumblings about the need to return to the negotiating table by the TUC on some unresolved issues, in the signed MOU, which the governor outright rejected saying he couldn’t guarantee that, while exhorting the workers to be patient!
He did promise to commence the payments of deductions quarterly until he completely offset them
The rally was well attended by workers, and most of them seem more interested in the march past, as majority of them left the stadium after the march without waiting for the governor’s speech.
About 1000 copies of leaflet of the CDWR, calling for the reinstatement of two sacked OOUTH nurses, and the CDWR May Day national leaflet were circulated.
Seven (7) copies of SD were sold totaling N 2200; we had sold 18 copies for over N6000 solidarity price at the pre-May Day symposium held on April 29. Three contacts were made (one from NURTW and 2 from construction workers)
Report by Eko.
Members of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) participated in the May Day celebration across the country. In Lagos, four DSM members joined workers at the Onikan stadium while more comrades organised a community tabling at Boundary, Ajegunle. We limited the participation because of the restrictive measures put in place at the venue. One needed an access card to enter the Onikan stadium, where NLC and TUC jointly organised the May Day celebration.
It was, as usual, largely a jamboree, something that has been the character of May Day for many years. The speeches by labour leaders were dominated by demands that essentially benefit labour leaders like Secretariat building for NLC and TUC and official cars for the chairs of both federations. These demands, the governor in his speech gladly and immediately granted. He promised that the secretariat will be ready before the next May Day while official cars would be available soonest.
The governor also granted the request of land for housing scheme by workers with the provision of 10 hectares of land. The NLC and TUC have to source private funding to build on it. As some workers, seated close to us, quipped when the governor made announcement, the fact is that only labour leaders and a few privileged rank and file workers would benefit from this land donation. This was apparently why the announcement was not greeted with ecstasy or applause by the workers.
Going cap in hand to governments for donation of office building and cars and other favours, something that can be procured with union dues following a democratic discussion at appropriate organs, is a clear indication that such labour leaders are not prepared to confront the government to effectively defend the interest and rights of workers. He who pays the piper calls the tune.
Thirty three (33) copies of the Socialist Democracy (SD) – bi monthly paper of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) – were sold while a thousand copies of CDWR leaflets were circulated at the stadium. We had sold 36 copies of the paper at the Pre-May Day symposium held on April 29. So all together 69 copies of SD were sold in May Day activities in Lagos
We also met and discussed with a group of casual workers who work as cleaners on waterways in Lagos about a possible campaign over their poor pays and slave conditions.
The Ajegunle DSM branch joined workers of Nigeria and the world to celebrate this year International Workers’ Day by organizing tabling at Boundary Ajejunle Lagos State.
The day was kicked off by a brief meeting of five members of the branch at about 7:00am on what Workers’ Day means and why we were organizing independent action outside the yearly gathering of the workers. The labour bureaucrats’ restriction of workers’ participation in this year celebration is another level of decadence in the labour movement.
Six (6) copies of SD were sold while all 500 copies of Campaign for Democratic Workers Rights (CDWR) leaflet produced were distributed by comrades of the branch within 3 hours. We also engaged the workers, youth, artisans, commuters and traders in discussion on the state of the nation.
One interesting aspect of the outing is that about (3) Nigerian Police officers attentively listened to Comrade Moshood while addressing workers, traders and commuters at Boundary. The widespread insecurity, economic hardship, poverty/hunger, unemployment in the country are direct products of the anti-poor policies of Buhari APC and PDP.
The branch May Day activity ended with comrades returning to the branch to review the outing. Comrade Chidi Nwankwota, a new member of the branch, who joined us as a result of Comrade Abbey Trotsky’s activities he observed on social media, described his first participation on workers celebration as inspiring.
The 2021 Mayday event in Oyo State took place in Obafemi Awolowo Stadium situated along Liberty Road, Ibadan, the Oyo State Capital. Six (6) members of the Oyo State Chapter of Democratic Socialist Movement, DSM got to the venue of the event as early as 8am and set up a table at the entrance to the stadium to display copies of Socialist Democracy, SD and leaflets used in the intervention. Over 1000 copies of two different leaflets by Socialist Party of Nigeria, SPN, and Campaign for Democratic and Workers’ Rights, CDWR, were distributed during the event. The SPN leaflet used was the one issued on the hike in fuel price, electricity and VAT while that of the CDWR was on poor supply of electricity and exploitation.
The event officially kicked-off around 11am with a march past by different unions and organizations immediately after the arrival of the Governor, Engr Seyi Makinde. By 1pm we had sold over half of the 71 copies of the March/April edition of the SD used in the intervention with almost all of the leaflets shared.
The Governor’s address was delivered after the march past and followed by the reading of the joint speech from the National Secretariats of both the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and Trade Union Congress, TUC. The attendance of the event was quite large as over 15 different unions from both the private and public sector including 7 different artisan organisations participated.
By and large, the entire May Day event was a mere jamboree as none of the issues like casualization, non-payment of minimum wage was mentioned in all of the speeches delivered. However, despite the fact that the occasion was obviously used to praise Engr Seyi Makinde-led government, the SPN and CDWR leaflets were warmly received by mass of workers many of whom openly commended SPN and CDWR for the consistent defense of the interest of workers and poor in the state
At the end of the event at about 2pm, all the 71 copies of SD taken to the event were sold, three contacts were gotten with all the leaflets exhausted.
Report by Kola
Three members of Abuja branch joined the Nigerian workers to celebrate this year’s 2021 Workers’ Day by organizing tabling and Paper Sales of Socialist Democracy (SD) at Eagle Square, Abuja, FCT.
We started the day by setting stall in front of Eagle square at about 9:00am. We engaged the workers who were sitting outside of the venue (many jostling for food brought by the unions) on issues happening in the country and our socialist alternative to various crises confronting the nation.
Significantly those who disagreed with the heading of our paper- that ‘Buhari, APC and PDP have failed’ themselves received stern disagreement from their colleagues. Some also expressed skepticism about the success of a mass workers’ alternative, while some raised their doubts about the ability of the labour leadership to build such a party. Of course, many agreed that workers need a party of their own.
Twenty six (26) copies of SD were sold at N2700 while 500 copies of Campaign for Democratic Workers Rights (CDWR) leaflets produced were distributed by comrades of the branch.
We were able to get the contacts of some workers of the textile union with a promise to visit them for further discussion. The textile union, unlike many other unions, came with placards indicating demands on minimum wage, electricity, workers rights etc. We also made contact with a member of NUT, although he didn’t make clear agreement to join us, but he agreed that we can invite him to our activities.
Report by Comrade Wale