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28 December 2017

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DSM Support Workers' Strike in Osun State

Labour Leadership should call Congress of Workers now

  • Aregbesola Government should pay full salaries and pensions to all workers and retirees
  • All arrears of half-salaries and pensions plus gratuities must be paid.
  • Promotion is a right, not a privilege.

The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), Osun State Chapter, hereby expresses its support for the strike action declared by the state chapters of both the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC). We support the demands of the labour unions for immediate commencement of payment of full salaries and pensions to all categories of workers and retirees, commencement of payment of arrears of salaries and pensions, payment of arrears of gratuities and contributory pensions, promotion of workers, among other demands. We make bold to say that the strike is long overdue, as workers and retirees have had to endure several months of denied salaries and pensions.

It is unfortunate that labour leadership in the state refused to take action for several months. If serious actions had been taken including strike and mass actions before now, possibly workers would not be in the current mess. For instance, rather than lead the workers and retirees on mass actions, labour leaders got themselves entangled in a fraudulent anti-workers committee set up by the Osun State government to administer fractional salaries and pensions to workers. No doubt, this compromising attitude of labour leaders provided the Aregbesola government the opportunity to get away with denying workers legitimate entitlements so far.

No Compromise; Call Congress, Rallies and Pickets Now

Now that the labour leaders have decided to take practical action through the declared strike, it is important that the strike is not made to be a piecemeal effort. The strike should be pursued to a logical conclusion; that is, the strike should not be called off on the basis of any rotten compromises or promise. On the other hand, the labour leaders and leadership should call mass meetings and congresses of workers where workers will take democratic decisions on how to prosecute the strike. This should go hand-in-hand with mass activities like pickets of government offices and workplaces, rallies and protest demos. These actions are necessary steps to forestall the breaking of the strike by the government and its fifth columnists. Sit-at-home strike is not enough in this situation. Labour leaders should not take decisions over the heads of workers. But it is not at all guaranteed the labour leaders will take any of these steps without pressure from below. Therefore, workers activists and unionists should take steps of creating democratic "strike and mobilization committees" in the workplaces and communities to build the strike and also ensure that initiatives are not left exclusively in the hands of the labour leadership who have a history of compromises and betrayals.

Moreover, these actions are necessary to mobilize as much popular support as possible for the strike. Furthermore, labour leadership should reach out to other sections of the labour movement outside the NLC and TUC such as lecturers unions (ASUP and COEASU) in state-owned tertiary institutions, pensioners' groups and doctors' unions (ARD, NMA and OSAMDO). This is necessary in building united front of workers for the struggle. Aside this is the need to also reach out to other oppressed groups such as students' movement, artisans' and market-women groups, and pro-labour civil society groups, among others.

Government's lame excuses

We find as fraudulent and ridiculous the excuse of the Aregbesola government for not ending the fractional salaries and pensions being paid. The government's claim that it has no money to pay is a lie. Since 2015 the state has reportedly gotten about N60 billion as bailout funds and Paris Club refunds. According to records, the state government got N34.9 billion as bailout fund in 2015. The state also got N11.7 billion, N6.3 billion and N6.3 billion as first, second and third tranches of Paris Club refunds respectively between November 2016 and December 2017. The N60 billion is aside the monthly allocations and Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) the state got since 2015. If the N60 billion alone has been spent for the purpose they were meant for, i.e. payment of salaries and pensions, it would have paid full salaries and pensions for close to sixteen (16) months (or about one and half years), if the claim of the Aregbesola government that it would spend N3.6 billion to pay salaries and pensions monthly, is anything to go by. Unfortunately, the money was misappropriated and Aregbesola is still paying fractional salaries and pensions, while it still owes fourteen (14) months' arrears of salaries and pensions to various sections of workers and retirees.

The claim that the government is paying fractional salaries to less than 30 percent of the workforce is uncharitable as there is no basis for the government to owe workers and retirees in the first place. As we are writing this, some categories of retirees have not been paid their October pensions, while retirees on contributory pensions since 2015 have not received either their own contributions or their pensions. In fact, no retiree on government's pension scheme has received gratuity in the last five year. Worse still, the divisive method of the Aregbesola government in paying some workers and retirees and denying others is aimed at weakening the labour movement. This is why workers must reject any attempt to divide their rank. The directive of the Aregbesola government that workers on level 1 to 7 should resume should be rejected and resisted.

While Aregbesola 'consoles' the long suffering workers with endless promise of better days, the same consolation has not had to have been applied to contractors. The main reason why Osun State found itself in the current financial mess is as a result of the profligate character of the Aregbesola government. Currently, the government has incurred over N200 billion debts, mostly on big road projects, botched airport project and school buildings. Despite incurring debts for these projects, most of the projects remained uncompleted or abandoned. The question then is where have the borrowed monies gone to? Aside this is the fact that most of the projects have their contracts inflated. For instance, the government claimed to have spent an average of N500 million on a kilometer of road, while over N1.3 billion was purportedly used to build a secondary school in Osogbo. This is aside several billions of naira spent on government appointees who have become leeches on the state resources, even in this period of economic crisis.

Therefore, workers and the people of Osun State must not be hoodwinked with the lame excuses of the government. Instead labour should demand that the financial books of the state since the inception of Aregbesola government be publicly opened so that the general public can see the true situation with the state's finances. The truth is that the economic crisis and financial mess the state find itself currently is caused both by the government's chronic kleptomaniac character as well as the contradictions of Nigeria's capitalist economy. Therefore only by combining the struggle to defend wages and conditions with the building of a mass workers political alternative armed with socialist programmes to fight to take political power that labour can victoriously put a permanent end to the suffering of the working people under capitalism.

Again DSM calls on workers not to settle for any rotten compromises with the regime.

Alfred Adegoke
State Coordinator
Kola Ibrahim
State Secretary