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1 May 2004

WORKERS’ DAY 2004

LABOUR MUST DECLARE A DAY OF ACTION TO KICK-START MASS PROTEST FOR REGIME AND SYSTEM CHANGE

May 29 this year marks exactly five years since civil rule and Obasanjo led government came to power.

Nobody needs to be told of the socio-economic hardship the regime has unleashed on the poor masses via its pro-rich policies of privatisation, deregulation, commercialisation, devaluation, etc.

For instance, the regime’s privatisation policy has made it to sell at give away prices hitherto publicly owned companies and parastatals like Nigerian Airways, Ajaokuta Steel Rolling Mills, African Petroleum, etc while others like NEPA, NITEL, etc are on the path of being sold. The resultant effect of this is mass job massacre, which the regime calls "right sizing". This syndrome is same in both federal and state civil service.

Workers are being unjustifiably sacked without their entitlements paid while there are no jobs for the increasingly young and able school leavers. The resultant effect of this is high crime rate: armed robbery, assassination, prostitution, child labour and trafficking, etc. This economic woe has also fanned to a larger extent, series of communal and ethnic clashes.

Commercialisation policy has also made social services, which used to be taken for granted, the exclusive preserve of the rich. For instance, only the rich could afford qualitative healthcare while the poor masses die in thousands daily for lack of money to procure medication for curable diseases and surgical operations. Ditto for education while our roads have become death traps!

While all these ugly conditions remain the portion of the poor masses, the ruling elite have continued to award to themselves over inflated contracts, embezzling public funds and rigging themselves to power in election periods and destroying every idea to move the country forward.

THE LABOUR CHALLENGE

Against the above background, the Adams Oshiomhole led NLC has waged some crucial struggles on some of the neo-liberal policies of the regime, especially the incessant increases in the 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. For instance, Adams Oshiomhole is a member the National Privatisation Council. 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, as deregulation and privatisation are antithetical to the yearnings and aspirations of the working masses. For instance, out of the 37 companies in Ikeja area council 1 in Steel and Engineering Workers Union (SEWUN), about 6 companies have shown intention to retrench. If the management is queried on this, the ready made answer is that the hike in price of fuel, especially diesel, has hiked the cost of production, which makes the prices of their products 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.

For instance, government has come out boldly that it will downsize its workforce by 40%. If government, the largest employer of labour retrenches, then, you know how many hundreds 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 there are 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. This implies serious problems.

Many workers and pensioners have not been paid for months while those who have been paid get peanut when it is compared with the 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 constantly 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 not in name alone but in policies and programmes that will give decent living in the areas of jobs, education, food, healthcare, social services like electricity, water, etc. defence of democratic rights to trade and students unionism, rights to self determination for every ethno-religious components that make up Nigeria.

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.

NLC therefore needs to take the bull by the horn by declaring a day of action for mass protest nationally to kick-start the process of changing both the regime and system that fosters corruption, anti-poor policies and programmes against the poor working masses.

As labour creates wealth, it should not only be interested but in fact be part of how this wealth is being distributed. To this extent, NLC must fight for political reforms that will accommodate and empower the working class in polity. Workers should have the right to belong to any political party of their choice. They should have right not only to vote but to be voted for without loss of their jobs and pay. NLC must insist on electoral reform where members of the electoral commission will be representatives of all political parties and civil society groups as against ruling party appointing electoral commission members.