2022 May Day: Rallies not Used to Mobilise for Mass Actions Despite Economic Hardship
Nigerian workers joined their counterpart globally to celebrate this year International Workers Day with rallies across the country. Members of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) intervened in five of the rallies with our paper Socialist Democracy and a special May Day leaflet by the Campaign for Democratic and Workers’ Rights (CDWR).
As has become unfortunately usual these days May Day rallies have become largely jamborees, especially at the state level, with top government functionaries taking the centre stage with adulation from labour leaders.
Workers with CDWR leaflets and copies of ‘Socialist Democracy” in Lagos
By Peluola Adewale
At the main rally in Abuja, the Presidents of both the NLC and TUC in their joint speech lamented about the anti-worker policies of Buhari government and the resulting generally excruciating economic hardship. Nonetheless, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and APC National Chairman Abdullahi Adamu who were present did not feel discomforted as they were also assured that the labour was open to discuss with the APC: “If your political party is truly progressive and worker-friendly, you should be talking to us”. This is despite the fact that the evidence of the last seven years has already clearly shown that there is nothing truly progressive about the Buhari/APC government
The NLC and TUC have developed a Workers’ Charter of Demands with which they plan to engage political parties and bourgeois candidates ahead of 2023 general elections. The concept of charter itself should be welcome but the drawback is the way it is being used to create an illusion that there is a bourgeois party or candidate that can genuinely or willingly implement them despite their pro-capitalist character. For instance, they said: “We must be ready to engage political parties especially working-class-friendly parties and progressive political interests across the country to ensure that a significant number of candidates who would vie for elective positions in 2023 subscribe to the provisions of our Charter.” This is nothing but asking for the moon.
What is correct is for the charter to be principally used as a fighting document for mass mobilisation for struggle in order to force the government to implement its demands.
It is the same illusion in capitalist politicians that also explains why the NLC and TUC, in addition to making efforts to reclaim the Labour Party, boastfully revealed that they “have also engaged in serious discussions with progressive political parties and groups in Nigeria for the possibility of a grand coalition that will rescue Nigerian masses”.
One of the so-called progressive political parties and groups is the National Consultative Front led by Pat Utomi, a neo-liberal capitalist economist and politician. The group which also styles itself “third force” has as members individuals who were members or collaborators of APC and PDP.
However, while in Abuja the speech still raised critical issues, in most states it was largely about singing the praises of the governors. For instance, in Lagos, it was like a re-election campaign rally for Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu. The labour leaders were effusive of praises for the governor and assured him of support for his second term bid. Though a few demands were made, the main thrust of the speech was to preserve or enhance the privilege and prestige of labour bureaucrats and to protect their so-called strategic partnership with the government. The governor in return revealed that he had given Labour lands he had promised in Badagry and Lekki. Of course, it is only labour leaders that would benefit from this largesse. He also mentioned the vehicles already donated to unions and the plan to build Secretariats for both NLC and TUC in the state.
However, there was a fleeting exception in Lagos where workers, especially from the Non Academic Staff Union (NASU) jeered the representative of Minister of Labour when he was delivering his speech. This was not unconnected to the failure of the Buhari government, as represented by the Minister of Labour, to meet the demands of the striking university workers, something which has led to the closure of Universities for about three months.
While the NLC through its NEC has given an ultimatum to the government to meet the demands of the academic and non-academic staff unions failing which Labour will organize a national protest, the May Day rallies were not used to prepare and mobilise workers for the planned action. It will not be surprising if as usual the protest is called off by the labour leaders. So, trade union activists and socialists have to mount pressure on Labour leadership to ensure the protest is held. However, in addition to the issue of the university workers, the action should also be used to protest the mass suffering and anti-poor policies of Buhari government.
Also in Oyo, the judiciary workers declined to join the march past in protest against the delay in their salaries.
The character of the May Day rallies notwithstanding, it as usual gave us the opportunity of engaging workers with our paper, leaflet and discussion. For instance, in Osun despite the pro-government character of the labour leaders, virtually all the copies of the current SD, which contains an article that is critical of the state government, were taken up by workers. Altogether at the five rallies, about 380 copies of the SD were sold and thousands of CDWR leaflet were circulated and well received. Both materials called for a 48-hour general strike and a mass working people’s political alternative. At least ten contacts, who could be recruited and integrated into the DSM, were made.
Below are reports of the intervention in three of the May Day rallies:
By Abbey Falodun and Raheem
The DSM Osun State had a robust intervention at this year’s May Day.
The May Day rally, which started around 10.00 am at Osogbo Stadium, had between 4,000 to 5,000 workers in attendance. The gathering was mostly dominated by members of National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) who were specially mobilised by their leaders, who had committed themselves to campaign for the second term of the current governor, Gboyega Oyetola. The NURTW members were seen donning attires branded with campaign slogans for the governor’s second term. They constituted up to half of the population in the stadium.
The DSM set up its stall as early as possible, with many workers coming around to interact with us. We exhausted our leaflet very early into the programme, while most of the papers were sold out before the rally’s programme got to its middle before the parade.
We were able to sell 113 copies of the new SD paper and 1 old SD paper totalling 114 copies, worth more than N20, 000. More than 20 copies were sold at solidarity prices through our influence within some trade unions and their leadership, including COEASU, NUEE, PASAN and NLC. Also, NUP bought 25 copies in bulk. Also, the paper’s article on Osun State drew many workers to it. If not for economic attacks on workers (the workers said they have not been paid for two months), we could have sold more than 200 copies.
However, the overall factor is our consistent work within the labour movement in the state, which has seen us working with various unions and defending workers’ interests. This has earned our organization the respect of unions, serious labour leaders and conscious rank-and-file workers. Even the labour leaders who are ordinarily pro-government recognise our influence. This explains why the NLC and TUC chairmen, who, ordinarily, would be wary of our presence at the May Day bought 5 copies and 1 copy of our paper for N5000 and N1000 respectively. We also saw many workers who bought our paper last year eagerly buying copies this year. A particular woman came around our stall to buy the paper, because she bought it last year. Obviously, our paper has become part of the tradition of the May Day in Osun State. All of these reflect the enduring influence of our organization in Osun State, in spite of our limited numerical strength and resources.
Character of the May Day
Obviously, the state government mobilised the unions financially with the hope of currying the support of the labour movement for the second term agenda of the governor, who in all intent and purpose is anti-worker. He would of course launch more anti-worker policies on workers if he wins the second term. The leadership of the labour movement, represented by NLC and TUC, did not disappoint anyone with their treacherous character. The same NLC State Chair, who read the national speech of NLC president, which mentioned the plan of NLC to build the Labour Party, declared the support of the NLC leadership to Oyetola’s second term. Of course the atmosphere clearly shows that it is a MAY DAY to garner support for the second term of Oyetola.
In order to grandstand as being proactive to workers’ interest, the labour leaders raised some demands including financial backing of nominal promotion, implementation of the 65 years retirement age for teachers, payment of outstanding allowance to teaching staff in tertiary institutions and payment of 30-month arrears of half-salaries and half-pension owed workers since 2016. These are demands that the labour leaders have refused to fight for since, but only waiting for May Day to score cheap point, possibly after having clandestine understanding with the government on which of the demands to accede to.
This explains why there was no declaration on what next line of action would be if the government refused to accede to these demands. In fact, the NLC chair raised these demands as an appeal of obedient children to their father, ‘who had done so much for them’. No ultimatum; no charging of workers for action. As a result, workers were not cheerful or inspired when the demands were made.
The governor, of course, in order to show fake commitment to workers’ welfare, especially in an election period, acceded to some of the demands, ostensibly with the understanding that the labour leaders will not lift a finger if they are not implemented. However, the central and main demand: payment of the 30-month arrears of half-salaries and half-pension, was deliberately avoided by the governor. This is because the government is looking for all means to make workers forgo this demand. Definitely, workers and retirees will have to put more pressure on labour leaders to fight for this and other demands. More importantly, workers need to take back their unions and ensure emergence radical leadership ready to defend their interests.
Four (4) contacts were made among the workers, whom we intend to invite to our next monthly meeting with a view of recruiting them into our organisation. The DSM in Osun State will have to sustain and deepen our interventions within the labour movement in the coming period. Despite the immense and inspiring work the few comrades are doing, recruiting more active members will greatly improve our work.
By Eko and Mayowa
Though the turnout of workers at the MKO Stadium, Abeokuta was very poor (understandingly so), the rally was eventful.
Workers complained bitterly of poor pay, and unpaid salaries and allowances. This reflected in their lukewarm attitude to the governor’s speech, and a sizeable number of them even stayed outside the main bowl during the speech.
The TUC state chair groaned over workers conditions, while his NLC counterpart fawned on the governor!
Despite the seeming depressing state of the workers, a total 42 copies of the new edition of SD, 5 copies of the old edition and 8 copies of the DSM Perspective pamphlet were sold while hundreds of CDWR leaflet were circulated.
Four contacts were also made including the state chairman of a trade union.
By Yusuf Abiodun
The event jointly organised by the leadership of Trade Union Congress, TUC and Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, to commemorate the 2022 edition of the International Workers’ Day took place at Lekan Salami Stadium Ibadan, Oyo State.
Members of the DSM intervened in the event getting to the venue of the event as early as 8.30 am after which we immediately set up a stand with the display of the organisational materials at the main entrance to the stadium. The materials displayed include copies of our new edition of the Socialist Democracy (SD), CDWR leaflet produced for the purpose of the May Day intervention and the perspective documents recently published by the organisation.
The rally had in attendance about 5,000 workers representing over 30 trade unions and artisan organisations. This was an impressive turn out especially when there was no certainty that the May Day event would be held on the same day. The event kicked off around 11.00 am, with a parade by different unions and organisations immediately after the arrival of the Secretary to the State Government who represented the Governor.
As usual, the May Day was largely a jamboree. The two different speeches presented by the State Chairmen of both the NLC and TUC were only limited to the prepared speech from their respective national secretariats without any effort to call the attention of the state government to the different travails workers in the state are going through at the present time. Since December 2021 for instance, a huge number of workers in the parastatals like BCOS, sectors like Judiciary, legislature, and state-owned tertiary institutions have been experiencing an unfortunate delay in the payment of salary far beyond the 25th of every month promised by the Engr Seyi Makinde-led government. It was also around the same period the subvention received by the tertiary institutions was also slashed to 80%.
There was a general atmosphere of wrong impression that all is well for the mass of the workers in the state. No single placard was displayed at the rally. Excepting the judiciary workers union that boycotted the march past in protest against the delay in the payment of their salaries, all other unions and artisans organisations had workers marching inside a scorching sun before their class enemy.
By the end of the rally at around 1:30 pm, 100 copies of the May/June edition of the SD and 5 copies of the new perspective document had been sold with almost all the leaflet distributed. Worthy to note that DSM was the only left organisation that intervened in the event with a leaflet.