Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM)

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May 10, 2006

MAY DAY 2006 in Nigeria

INTRODUCTION

Like their counterparts internationally, Nigerian workers, organised in three different federations of trade unions, NLC, TUC and CFTU, marked this year International Workers' Day, otherwise known as May Day. Rallies were held in all the state capitals and Abuja. NLC and CFTU held a joint central rally in Abuja while TUC did its own in Lagos.

The NLC (Nigeria Labour Congress), the main central labour organisation, is the federation of low paid workers. TUC (Trade Union Congress) and CFTU (Congress of free trade Unions) are the labour centres for senior staff unions in public and private sectors. CFTU actually broke away from the TUC over alleged lack of commitment of the leadership of the latter to the popular struggles of workers and poor masses.

DSM members were able to participate in 12 of the rallies held nation-wide. At least 789 copies of Socialist Democracy and 520 copies of anti-casualisation pamphlet of the Campaign for Democratic and Workers' Rights (CDWR) were sold in 11 of these rallies. We are yet to get the report of intervention in Akwa, Anambra State.

Besides the sales of materials, we actually intervened in Lagos, Abuja and Osogbo, Osun State with banners and placards that raised slogans against anti-poor policies of the government and put on the front burner the working peoples' and socialist alternatives. In other places we did not display banners and placards, the bold headlines in the Socialist Democracy that denounced President Obasanjo's attempt to be able to serve a third term and called for working peoples' political alternatives were themselves attractive.

Where the police or government thugs could not brook the virulence of our slogans against the parasitic ruling elites, particularly the one against third term: "Obasanjo Again? No Way!", our comrades were either arrested or harassed. In all, we had encounters with police in Abuja; Uyo, Akwa Ibom State; Benin, Edo State and Oshogbo, Osun State. In Ibadan, Oyo State, comrades were harassed by PDP thugs clad in the May Day t-shirt of road transport workers (NURTW).

This year May Day reflects the profound right wing inclination of most labour leaders and their collaborationist tendency with the state at the expense of the rights and interests of workers and poor masses. The rallies were meant to be avenues for workers to take stock of their working and living conditions and thus put forward demands for improvements, with commitment to struggle for their actualization. But in most cases, the labour leaders turned the rallies into 'thanks giving' events to commend and praise to the sky the "almighty" state governors for their bogus achievements. Having apparently lost hope in the pro-government labour leaders, naturally in most cases on this May Day, workers either stayed at home to enjoy the work-free day or only came to the rallies for social interaction and merriment. Many actually turned up because of the monetary allowances, t-shirts and similar inducements offered by their union leaders.

However, in addition to the seven massive protests and strikes in the last seven years, the enthusiastic embrace of our slogans and ideas by workers in Abuja, who physically prevented the arrest of two DSM comrades by the police, shows that the Nigerian workers can go the whole hog to chase out the thieving ruling elites from power and install working people alternative, if provided with correct leadership and ideas. (see May 3 report already on this website).

Below are excerpts from the reports from comrades who participated at some of the other rallies:


Onikan Stadium, Lagos (NLC)

By Emmanuel Adikwu

At about 8:30a.m on Monday May 1, 2006, DSM comrades left Ajegunle for the Onikan Stadium, Lagos one of the venues reserved to mark the International Workers Day in Nigeria by the Nigeria Labour Congress. While in the bus, our comrades used the opportunity to sing solidarity songs and also spread solidarity messages to fellow passengers. The opportunity was also used by some comrades to have a one-on–one discussion with co–passengers. This action was well received by some of the passengers as they voiced out their support in favour of our political messages. 3 copies of Socialist Democracy were sold in the bus.

We got to the Onikan Stadium some minutes past 9 a.m and immediately set up a paper–stand, with two female comrades as the coordinators. The Socialist Democracy, banners and placards were displayed, while copies of Socialist Democracy were being sold around the Stadium by comrades. In less than 30 minutes the 85 copies brought from Ajegunle were sold out. 8 comrades from the Agege area arrived almost immediately with additional copies of past and current editions of Socialist Democracy and other materials including copies of the CDWR pamphlet on Casualisation.

Comrade Timothy Abdul, a Nigerian member of Xekinhma, our Greek sister organisation in the CWI, also participated with us at the rally. He brought some pamphlets, newspapers and flags from the Greek CWI section which he presented to the Nigerian section. He was impressed by the DSM's ability to intervene continually at May Day rallies in Nigeria despite the lack of appreciation and understanding of what May Day means to workers by the various labour leaders. He observed that these labour leaders, instead of using the opportunity of May Day to raise the demands for improved social infrastructures, welfare and working conditions, and to condemn government anti–workers policies, were busy singing praises to the government. He stated further that in Europe, such tendencies are capable of frustrating and grounding the genuine efforts of activists committed to working class struggles. He promised to give a report of our intervention to comrades at Athens.

Reflecting our growing influences in the labour movement in Nigeria, the General Secretary of DSM, Segun Sango, was the first to be called to speak at the rally in solidarity with workers. He used the opportunity to emphasize our campaign for a working peoples' party as a viable alternative to chase out the current anti–poor governments, at all tiers, and end their capitalist neoliberal policies. He called on workers to reject third term (tenure elongation) for Obasanjo on the basis of the disaster his last seven years in power have meant for the poor working people in the midst of inexhaustible abundance. He however called on them not to support the other section of the thieving ruling elite who are only against "third term" because of their self serving interests. These so-called "oppositionists" support and will implement the same anti-poor neoliberal policies (privatisation of public utilities, education commercialisation, cuts in social spending, fuel price hike, retrenchment, etc) as the Obasanjo government. He, therefore, tasked the leadership of labour and mass organisations to facilitate the formation of the working peoples# political alternative to wrest power from the anti-poor ruling vampires. The speech, though short, was well received by the workers.

Reminiscent of the last year May Day event in Lagos, Femi Pedro, the Deputy Governor of Lagos State, used the occasion to attempt enlisting workers support for the Alliance for Democracy (AD) led Lagos State government in its various intra-ruling class face-off with the People Democratic Party (PDP) led Federal government including the issue of "third term". Pedro rounded off his speech by reeling out bogus achievements of the state government and empty promises to workers.

Earlier in his speech, the Lagos Chairman of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Mr. Alogba praised the government to the high heaven and pitched tent with the disgruntled section of the ruling elite against Obasanjo on "third term". He appeared not see anything wrong with the neoliberal, anti – poor policies of privatisation, low government spending on social amenities and infrastructures etc., and wilful victimization of labour activists by the Lagos State government.

We participated in the traditional march past with placards and banners denouncing anti-poor policies of both Obasanjo and Tinubu (Lagos State governor) governments, "third term" and all anti-poor pro-neoliberal politicians and parties irrespective of their stand on "third term" and calling for a mass working people party and socialist revolution.

The victimized workers of PARCO Enterprises Lagos with whom we are involved in the struggle for unionisation and unconditional reinstatement by the PARCO management without loss of entitlement; also put up a presentation at the May Day rally with their banner and placards stating their plight and demands. Last year we came to the May day rally with the victimised workers of Flour Mills who recently won their struggle.

A large number of workers at the rally saw the event as a funfair; as they displayed with pride various t- shirts, face caps, stickers, etc. that merely depict union inscriptions or advertise company products and services without any placard or poster raising demands for improvements in rank and file workers living conditions.

Available opportunities were explored by most DSM comrades to clarify relevant political and economic issues to workers during paper sales and through one - on - one interaction. About 235 copies of Socialist Democracy and 174 copies of CDWR pamphlets were sold.


National Stadium, Lagos (TUC)

By Tony Lupta

The Trade Union Congress (TUC), a federation of trade unions made up of senior staff workers held its central May Day rally at one of the pitches at the National Stadium, Lagos.

President of TUC, Mrs. Peace Obiajulu sounded contradictory in her speech as regards the Obasanjo government. While praised to the high heaven the neoliberal economic reforms of Obasanjo government, she at the same time stated that economy is bedevilled with inflation, unemployment, insecurity, lack of adequate infrastructure like water, electricity and good roads. She however made no categorical demands for improvement in living and working conditions of working masses. She was conspicuously silent on then burning issue of a presidential "third term".

Among the 17 affiliated unions present, it was only telecommunication (NITEL) union that came up with demands and slogans. NITEL workers are experiencing mass retrenchment, poor welfare conditions and a deadly corrupt management. Some of the messages in their placards are: "few cheaper jobs is no solution to massive retrenchment", "OBJ sack NITEL management" and "workers must not be condemned to starvation because of privatisation".

It appears that NITEL workers are ready to struggle. But they have not yet arrived at the necessary conclusions. They feel privatisation, if made humane, would make a change. To them, Obasanjo is holier than NITEL management. Of course, they have not seen the rottenness of capitalism.

By and large, most of the workers at the rally were apathetic to political issues and materials apparently as a result of loss of faith in government and irresponsive labour leadership. They perhaps came to the rally for social interaction and merry-making.

DSM comrades who participated at rally sold 53 copies of Socialist Democracy and 49 copies of CDWR anti-casualisation pamphlet.


Osun State

By Kola Ibrahim

The intervention of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, comrades in this year's May Day was to a great deal, a success despite the passive and seemingly hostile posture of some of the workers who turned out for the rally in Osogbo, Osun State.

As it obtained last year, the labour leadership showered praise on the governor, Olagunsoye Oyinlola and openly identified with the ruling party. However, this was put to "best" use as the labour leader, Mr. Sulaiman Oseni begged for increment in wage for Osun workers. This was followed by a workers' march past in front of the governor.

The sales of our materials started on a good note until the eulogy on the governor and his party began. Then, our paper which was a protest document received disapproval from a section of the workers (possibly PDP members), while majority of the workers were apathetic to the message of the paper. However, our material on casualisation was well received by some workers (electricity and education workers especially) while many were ignorant about casualisation, no thanks to the labour leaders. In fact, to express the damage done by labour leadership silence on the political situation, many workers argued on ethnic line on the issue of third term.

After the programme we approached the workers at the gate of the venue and sold some copies, even to the policemen. We staged a mini-protest/fringe rally with our placards which drew the attention of some workers, and led to reaction from the police. However, with the intervention of the Osun State Chairman of National Conscience Party (NCP), Alhaji Waheed Lawal, our seized placards were released by the police. The NCP chairman addressed the gathering. In his speech he condemned all anti-poor politicians and called for a masses oriented government. One journalist with New Age Newspapers covered the protest.

We were able to sell 74 copies of the anti-casualisation pamphlet and about 88 copies of the Socialist Democracy running to N8100 sale. We also interacted with the NCP chairman who stayed with us through out and promised to contact him soonest. The May Day also gave us opportunity to involve our new DSM members in political activities while also drawing lessons from the present political consciousness of workers and the needed intervention.


Ondo State

By Ojo Olajire

In Akure, the Ondo State capital, workers started arriving Akure Township stadium, the venue of this year May Day as early as 8:30am. For the first time in the state workers of Trade Union Congress (TUC) joined the Nigeria Labour Congress to have joint celebration. The over 1500 workers in attendance kept on waiting till about 12noon before the Governor of the State, Olusegun Agagu came and the programme started.

On "third term" there was mixed reaction among the workers. To some workers, though in minority, they saw nothing wrong in the third term agenda. As far as they were concerned, Obasanjo is a Yoruba man, they could not support the likes of IBB, Atiku, Marwa, Buhari etc because these elements are from the northern part of the country. To them, Obasanjo had performed well because of the repayment of the foreign debt and they were optimistic that in the next few years the nation's economy would be back to normal or improve.

But a majority of workers passed a vote of no confidence on Obasanjo government. They were openly opposed to third term agenda and other anti-poor policies of Obasanjo but with no alternative. When posed with the question of mass workers' party as the alternative, some agreed but with the fear that the ruling elite would not allow workers to get power. To put it in their words – "se awon ika yi ma je ka de be" meaning: "will these wicked ruling elites allow workers to get there".

The State chairman of NLC raised no demands on the plight of the workers in the state. Even the position of NLC national leadership (the speech of Adams Oshiomhole was read to the stadium) only identified the salient issues/problems without giving alternative way out. Worse still, the TUC leadership on their part endorsed the economic reforms of Obasanjo government.

On sales of materials, all copies of CDWR pamphlet on casualisation were sold (50 copies) just in a short while. A few copies of SD had been sold before the state government came up with a flier on "Olusegun Obasanjo Housing Estate in Ondo State" with price of each building ranging from N3m to N4.5m. One then used the opportunity to tell workers that on the basis of their so-called minimum wage no worker could afford such huge amount except those that are part of ruling elites that loot treasury. In all 32 copies of SD were sold.


Oyo State

By Stephen Alayande

Relatively, when compared with last year, there more workers turn-outed. No leaflet with any political statement was distributed except for leaflet proclaiming "Become a millionaire business idea". It was only Socialist Democracy, the CDWR pamphlet and one booklet on significance of May Day that were sold at the rally.

The DSM comrades who intervened and sold 78 copies of Socialist Democracy and 46 CDWR pamphlets, and meet individuals interested in joining the DSM. However, we were almost beaten up by some National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) while selling the Socialist Democracy. Our offence was the Socialist Democracy's caption "Obasanjo Again? No Way!". NURTW provides a large chunk of political thugs for the ruling PDP in Oyo state.

The Oyo state NLC chairman in its speech eulogized Governor Otunba Alao Akala like he did to Senator Rashidi Ladoja (the unconstitutionally impeached governor of the state) last year. The difference was that awards were not given to government officials this May Day unlike that of last year.

The highlight of the event was the Governor's approval of NLC loan schemes for Okadas, motorcycles used as taxis. The scheme will make a worker to pay the sum of N98, 000 on Okadas within the space of eight months. About 100 Okadas were openly displayed while the Governor promised to facilitate the release of 5,000 Okadas in different batches. The Governor equally thanked the workers for their cooperation and support which stabilized his government; he promised them that they would not regret it.

The match past was very colourless with no particular slogan of protest from the workers.


Ogun State

By Chinedu Bosah

The May Day celebration that took place at MKO stadium started at 11:00am. It recorded a low turn out as only seven unions were present out of the 29 industrial unions affiliated to NLC. The only union that was heavily represented was the road transport workers union (NURTW).

Politically, it appeared there was serious apathy on the part of workers. This was perhaps why they opted to buy the pamphlet on casualisation more than the Socialist Democracy.

On the third term debate, it was a mixed reaction among workers in Ogun State. Some workers support Obasanjo's continuation just on the basis of ethnic sentiment. (Obasanjo is a Yoruba from Ogun State). There was another group of workers who support Obasanjo not because he has performed creditably but because there is no formidable alternative to him except for the same right wing ruling elite such as Atiku, Babangida, etc. However there were some workers who do not support third term because Obasanjo policies have further deepened the level of poverty in the country. A section of these workers could support a genuine political alternative, if there is one.

The NLC chairman in Ogun State never stated anything on the third term or on workers plight. It was just praises on the state government that according to him has performed creditably and which workers should always support unflinchingly.

The DSM present sold 21 copies of Socialist Democracy and 43 copies of CDWR pamphlet.


Edo State

By Lateef Adams

As early as 7.45 am we had got to Benin from Ambrose Ali University, Ekpoma much before the commencement of the May Day rally of workers in Edo state. The Socialist Democracy and CDWR anti-casualisation pamphlet were displayed at the entrance of the stadium, where people came to read headlines and some got copies. In fact, the bold caption on the SD: "Obasanjo Again? No Way!" became a popular slogan at the venue.

This was the situation until about 100 policemen literally invaded the venue at about 8:30pm apparently to intimidate workers against anti-government actions. In deed, two of policemen came to us asking about the publishers of the "subversive" materials we displayed. They left with a threat that due to the "inciting" headline of the paper, if any thing should happen we would be held responsible.

Twenty five copies of anti-casualisation pamphlets and 20 copies of Socialist Democracy were sold.

The workers came to the rally with expectation of the official announcement of wage increase, which the government had earlier promised would take effect by June, but left disappointed when told they had to wait until July. Workers thus learnt better that they should always take government word with a pinch of salts.


Akwa-Ibom State

By Abbey Trotsky

In Uyo, Akwa-Ibom State, about 21 affiliated unions of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) participated in this year May Day celebration. The rally, which kicked-off around 10.00 am, was characterised by routine events – arrival of Special Guests (the third National Vice President of PDP, the Secretary to the Federal Government and the Governor of Akwa Ibom State), match past by various affiliated unions and speeches from the guests and the state Congress Chairman – Mr. E. Akpan.

More than any other time in the last three years, 2006 May Day celebration was not only an overt popularization of People Democratic Party (PDP) but also literally a celebration of various pro-capitalist, neoliberal policies of the government. This was graphically reflected in the speech of various speakers. While the speech of Governor Obong Attah and other PDP elements in stout defence of pro-rich policies was not surprising, that of the state chairman of NLC was embarrassing. Mr. Akpan urged the workers to contribute more to the success of neoliberal reform's policies because such policies have great potentials to improve the lots of mass of working people.

Contrary to the traditional understanding of May Day celebration – as the day of marking the working class struggles at least with the view of calling for an improvement in both the living and working condition of the working masses – 2006 May Day celebration was just another avenue to plant seed of illusion in the minds of the poor working people.

Worse still, despite the victimization being suffered by some members of certain affiliated unions of NLC – NUT, AUPCTRE and NCSU – no single demand was raised, at least, to pass information in respect of their plight. Though, it was gathered in an informal discussion one had with some of the affected workers that actually some workers had planned to raise placards with demands but the attempt was suppressed by state NLC leadership on the basis that such action could 'provoke' unfriendly relationship between workers and the government.

Contact was made with at least five workers who are receptive to our ideas during the programme. Three of them attended the meeting organised a day after May Day to concretise the branch activities in the state.

Earlier in the day, comrade Abbey was arrested on his way to the rally by some overzealous police officers over the Socialist Democracy which they called subversive. He was later released at the behest of a senior police officer who had known the activities of DSM in Lagos. He told his colleagues to let him off the hook because from what he knew of the operation of DSM the papers would have been widely circulated across the country. Thus, holding just one person down was merely scrapping the surface and could only help to unduly popularize DSM positions!

Despite the delay caused by the arrest 72 copies of Socialist Democracy and 2 copies of CDWR pamphlet were sold. In lieu of this, one can inferred that workers receptiveness to SD was relatively encouraging this year.


River State

By Lexan Ali

The DSM intervened at one of the two May Day rallies in Port-Harcourt River State. The rally fell short of the essence of May Day. Before the rally could kick off the labour leaders had to wait for the arrival of the governor, Dr. Peter Odili, with his retinue of armed police security officers. What was supposed to be a day of solidarity among workers, when workers ought to express their grievances and dissatisfaction against anti-poor government policies and press forward their demand for improved living condition and wages turned out to a total jamboree.

This was dramatically evident in how some youths matching along with workers were throwing sachets of "indomie" noodles around at workers that were seated apparently to get them out of their pensive mood and created an atmosphere of merrymaking. In deed, the spirit of the majority of workers was low and they were psychologically drawn away from real essence of the May Day rally. They conducted themselves as though the May Day was just a formal ceremonial observation.

Before the rally was officially rounded off workers were seen leaving the venue in drove even when the governor was seated. The whole exercise just came to an abrupt end.

Twenty copies of Socialist Democracy and 12 copies of CDWR anti-casualisation pamphlet were sold.