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Socialist Democracy March 2004

 

ENIGEERING WORKERS’ LEADER:

"TIME FOR SYSTEM CHANGE"

Rufus Olusesan, a DSM member, has just been elected as secretary, Ikeja Area Council I of the Steel and Engineering Workers' Union of Nigeria (SEWUN) and is a member of SEWUN’S National Executive Committee (NEC). He is also the chairman of Nexan Kabelmetal branch of the union. In this interview, conducted by Demola Yaya, he spoke to Socialist Democracy (SD) on the plan of his union and the situation in the labour movement.

Socialist Democracy (SD): Congrats on your electoral victory as the Secretary, Ikeja Area Council I of Steel and Engineering Workers Union of Nigeria (SEWUN). What programmes do you have for the workers within your council area? Simply put, what do you stand for?

Rufus: Any serious unionist must have programmes for the workers. If you go through my manifesto when I was campaigning, there was special attention to workers welfare. Secondly, I said I would pay special attention to complaints by members, which was lacking in the past. I have been going round to all the 37 companies within our jurisdiction to make sure we understand their working condition. By doing this, we will be able to know how to fundamentally tackle the problems in these branches.

SD: How do you think your leadership can make a difference in the lives and working condition of the workers within your jurisdiction, considering the effect of government anti-poor policies?

Rufus: As a member of SEWUN NEC and CWC, we can influence policies and their implementation. From that plane, we can influence policies of NLC. Although, we are very few, within our sector, SEWUN, we can effect some changes and increase our influence to effect change at NLC level. In my working place, Kablemetal, we have made sizable changes. We have achieved within a month what we could not get for the past one year on casualisation.

SD: How do your access the NLC leadership position vis-ŕ-vis neo-liberal policies of Obasanjo's government?

Rufus: First and foremost, let me state that the Adams Oshiomhole's NLC leadership has proved more responsive to workers interests when compared with the open right wing regime of the Pascal Bafyau era. In its almost 5 years in office the Oshiomhole led NLC has waged many decisive battles including 3 general strikes against the anti-poor, new-liberal policies of the Obasanjo regime, particularly its incessant hike of fuel prices. Unfortunately however, the leadership of NLC has not been consistent. If you look at the neo-liberal policies of this Obasanjo's government with its attendant anti-poor programmes of deregulation, privatisation, commercialisation against the working class, the leadership has not fundamentally kicked against them. Take for instance, the National Privatisation Council, Oshiomhole is a member. How could he be part of them and at the same time be against them?

The NLC leadership has to sit down to realign NLC to its original aim to defend and protect the interests of the working class. Some people may not understand the implication of deregulation and privatisation. But some of us understand their implications. For instance, out of the 37 companies within our jurisdiction, about 6 companies have shown intention to retrench. If you question the management about this, you'll be told that the hike in price of fuel, especially diesel, has hiked the cost of production, which makes the prices of their product prohibitive and consequently unviable, as the purchasing power of the consumer is weak. Simply put, they produce goods that cannot be bought because the prices of the products are very high.

Most companies generate their electricity independently as NEPA remains unreliable and with the incessant increase in the prices of fuel, to be in business, so many workers will have to go. But this retrenchment will only further worsen purchasing power and the economic situation. The retrenched workers who hitherto were breadwinners of their families are put in worst position with their families and the situation becomes a vicious cycle. So, unless NLC and the working people take concrete action, we are in trouble. Galvanising Industry Nig. Ltd, (GIL) Ikeja; Eruca; etc, have been retrenching to mention just a few, while many companies are indicating intention to retrench.

SD: What does 2004 portend for the working class? Any hope?

Rufus: I foresee crisis ahead as a result of government anti-peoples' policies. Take, for instance, government has come out that it will downsize its workforce by 40%. If government, the largest employer of labour retrenches, then you know how many hundred of thousands that will be rendered unemployed. In private sector, things are getting worse. Many textile companies have virtually collapsed because of importation of used textile materials. In cable manufacturing where I work, we have imported and adulterated cables. With this trend, it is getting more difficult for companies to survive. Most companies get their raw materials abroad and with the further depreciation of the Naira, it becomes very expensive to produce. Manufacturers' Association of Nigeria (MAN) has just come out to say that companies are producing at 25% utilisation capacity. It implies serious problems.

Many workers and pensioners have not been paid for months while those who have been paid get peanuts when you compare it with high cost of living. While the pay remains constant, transport fare, house rents, food prices, etc have increased.

The NLC leadership must sit down to appraise the system and how to resolve this crisis on a lasting basis. The present ruling class has shown that it has nothing positive to offer the poor working masses other than misery, pains and poverty. NLC therefore, needs to initiate an alternative government that will implement pro-working people's policies. It needs an independent working people political platform.

The NLC leadership and labour leaders in general need to come out now with a concrete programme of action to fight for the immediate implementation of the 12.5% minimum wage increment agreed to by the government since 2003 across board, in both public and private sector, on the basis of no retrenchment, within the framework of general living wage for all working class people including the unemployed. This struggle should be continued with the struggle to guarantee qualitative and functional education, health care, transportation, telecommunications, etc, for all. This, it can do in collaboration with civil society groups and pro-labour organisations. What is needed now is a system change, socialist transformation of society.

 

 

Socialist Democracy March 2004