2023 May Day: New Labour Leadership Must Fulfill Pledge to Defend Workers and the Masses
DSS Arrests a Comrade at May Day Rally in Ogun
This year’s May Day is significant being the last one under the outgoing Muhammadu Buhari’s government which was characterized by monumental and worsening socio-economic crises. But for workers and the masses it is not hurrah as the country is set to have another government with the continuation of the capitalist policies which underlie the failure of Buhari administration. So this May Day offered the new leaderships of both the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) the opportunity to prepare workers for struggle and challenges expected from the incoming administration that will be inaugurated on May 29. The theme of the May Day was “Workers’ Rights and Socio-Economic Justice”. This is very apt in the face of a deepening crisis of capitalism which usually lead to an intensification of attacks on workers’ rights as the capitalist state want to make them to pay for the crisis.
By Peluola Adewale
In their joint speech, Joe Ajaero and Festus Osifo, NLC President and TUC President respectively, highlighted the plights of workers and sounded militant. They rightly asserted that workers’ welfare is central to the achievement of socioeconomic justice. But they could have done better in terms of outlining steps to be taken to confront the prevailing degradation of workers’ welfare linked to building a mass workers political alternative armed with Socialist policies. This is necessary because no matter how seriously labour fights, workers’ welfare cannot be fully guaranteed under capitalism. Therefore, side by side with fighting to defend the interests of the working class, it is necessary to simultaneously develop a programme to chart a way out of the permanent misery capitalism stands for.
For instance, it is correct to be critical of the state governments that have not implemented 2019 national minimum wage with a promise of taking actions soonest against them. But it is not correct that the NLC and TUC did not use May Day to demand a new national minimum wage given the fact that the current one has been eroded by inflation.
Besides, while the planned action against the non-implementation of the current minimum wage is welcome and should be supported by workers and activists, the fact that it is just being thought of at the twilight of the tenure of the rogue governors and four years after the wage had become a law suggests a gross irresponsibility on the part of the last leadership of the labour centres. Ajaero and Osifo, though part of the immediate past labour leadership, must act differently and consistently defend the rights and interest of workers.
On May Day Tinubu demagogically promised that “workers will have more than a minimum wage, you will have a living wage to have a decent life and provide for your families”, but that will not come to pass without a struggle. The Labour leaders who also spoke of a “living wage” should have gone on to say that they will immediately start a serious fight to get one for all workers.
The planned “actions against private companies nation-wide that have turned their workplaces as platforms for lawlessness [and] the dehumanization of workers” are also commendable. However, this threat must not be a mere hot air. Casualization and outsourcing through which workers are subject to slave-like condition and other anti-labour practices must be seriously fought and defeated through a coordinated campaign involving picketing, strikes and protests. A key part of this is expanding and strengthening trade union membership and ensuring fully democratic union structures.
One of the cardinal policies of Bola Tinubu government that will be inaugurated on May 29 is the removal of fuel subsidy, something which is also the position of Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP) who was endorsed in the election by the NLC and incidentally shared the May Day podium with labour leaders. Nonetheless, the resolve of the NLC and TUC as expressed in the May Day speech to “no longer allow any increase in Petroleum product prices in whatever guise” is welcome. But suggesting that they will allow the increase in prices once “all of our Local refineries are reactivated and are fully operational” shows an ideological weakness or compromise. A lesson must be learned from the prices of cement which have kept soaring despite the commodity being fully manufactured locally. We call on trade unions and workers to demand the repair of existing public refineries and building of new ones and place them under democratic control of the working people so as to guarantee adequate supply and affordable price for all. Any attempt to place ordinary people and the economy at the mercy of Dangote refinery must be resisted.
The NLC and TUC are correct that “the only way to make progress in the power sector which is crucial for national development is to review the privatisation exercise for the purpose of a reversal”. But a reversal which means renationalisation of the power sector alone is not enough. To avoid the debacle of the old NEPA and PHCN, the renationalised power sector has to be put under democratic control of workers and consumers. This is to guarantee a judicious use of resources, stamp out looting and a regular supply. Meanwhile, labour should consistently resist outrageous electricity tariff and support the community people who daily resist exploitation and poor supply by distribution companies.
By and large, it is good the NLC and TUC used May Day to reiterate their “preparedness to resist every action of the government to inflict suffering on Nigerian workers and masses”. They also pledged to “stand together as workers and as a people to protect our rights to decent work and social justice!” However, without a democratically run trade unionism and fighting leadership with an alternative program to capitalism, it may difficult to fulfill those pledges. Nonetheless, workers and trade union activists must be prepared to consistently mount pressure labour leaders at all levels to fight for rights and interests of workers and the masses.
Members of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) participated at five May Day rallies – Abuja, Lagos, Ogun, Oyo and Osun States – with our paper, Socialist Democracy, and the leaflet of Campaign for Democratic and Workers Rights (CDWR) which calls on labour and workers to demand a new national minimum wage.
However, during the May Day event in Abeokuta, Ogun state, a comrade, Eko John Nicholas, was arrested by the operatives of Department of State Service (DSS) and whisked away from the venue allegedly at the instance of Ogun State NLC chair. He was detained at a DSS facility for seven hours. This was done in order to prevent the circulation of the DSM paper which has two articles critical of the Ogun state governor and some state-owned higher institutions over workers issues including non-implementation of agreement and victimization of workers. One of the articles also boldly calls on the NLC state leadership to mobilise for struggle to fight for workers’ interest and not relying only on cozy relationship with the governor and other government functionaries.
Altogether at the five centres we intervened, 333 copies of Socialist Democracy were sold and thousands of copies of the CDWR May Day leaflet were distributed. Plus people were met whom we hope will be won to our ideas and organization.