Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM

TSS: Teachers Need Mass Action to Win the Struggle

TSS: Teachers Need Mass Action to Win the Struggle

Students in primary and secondary schools in most states in Nigeria have been at home for over three weeks. This is as a result of the industrial action embarked upon by the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) over the non-implementation of agreement on 27.5% pay rise also known as Teachers Salary Scale (TSS). This has further underscored the anti-poor policy thrust of the governments at all levels towards public education. The thieving ruling elite do not care a hoot whether children of the poor have access to education or not.

The state governments, organized as the Governors’ Forum, had promised last August after 5 weeks strike action by teachers to start the implementation of the TSS agreement as from January 2009. The teachers have been forced to go back on strike after most of the state governments failed to fulfill that promise. Like it has recently become their swansong the governments have hidden under the global economic meltdown to deny teachers improved pay and working conditions.

This is an attempt to put a veil on their characteristic anti-worker, anti-poor leaning. The demand for the TSS had been on the table long before the global economic crisis came to a head. But the governments refused to respond to the demands until teachers went on strike last July. Indeed, when the teachers were on strike the crude oil was being sold at $147 per barrel and governments were sharing excess crude revenue illegally without appropriation. On the strength of the huge revenue, the political office holders had paid themselves jumbo salaries and allowances during the same period.

Besides, the cry over declined revenue has not spurred the politicians to cut down their privileges and profligacy at the expense of public resources. For instance, the Oyo State which has not implemented teachers pay rise agreement because of the “global economic meltdown” has just sponsored the entire 32 members of the House of Assembly and two top civil servants on a wasteful trip to Germany. The lawmakers had embarked on a similar jamboree to Britain last October.

Indeed, at a period when the government had assured Nigerians that the country was immune from the global financial crisis, we had predicted in September/October 2008 issue of Socialist Democracy, the bi-monthly paper of DSM, that the state governments would invent various excuses to renege on the agreement. The article published after the teachers had suspended strike on the basis of agreement with Governors Forum reads in part, “While the agreement has really scaled down the TSS demands, the state governments can still renege on it inventing various excuses. Therefore, teachers and organized labour must be prepared to resume another round of struggle for improved pay and living conditions.”

However, unfortunately at the moment, some of the state wings of the NUT like Lagos State have called off the strikes echoing the well-worn government’s argument of global economic crisis as the basis. Worse still, they called off the action without securing any concrete assurance from the governments that they will implement the agreement.

The government will continue to use the global capitalist crisis to unleash attacks on the living standards of the working people. Whereas, this global crisis with its attendant rise in cost of living has drastically reduced the income of teachers as well as other workers in real terms. Therefore, this global crisis has further justified the need for workers to demand pay rises. The solution is not to understand with governments, whose top functionaries earn jumbo pay in addition to their daily loots, but to demand improved pay and better living conditions. More so, teachers as well as other workers and ordinary people did not benefit from the boom, they must resist attempt to make them pay for slump.

The union has been led to this rotten compromise by the tactics and antics of its leadership. Unlike last year when the union mobilized teachers for mass protests in support of the demand, this time it asked the members to remain in the comfort of their home, except in Ajeromi-Ifelodun where the local NUT chapter organized a public meeting.

It is characteristic of the labour leaders to genuflect to the state governments having compromised themselves for either pecuniary benefit or other self-serving interests. To them, calling teachers out on protests would have amounted to open confrontation with government. Perhaps, the consequence of such action would have been loss of the union leaders’ personal benefits derived from a harmonious relationship with the state governments. Last year the struggle was originally aimed at the federal government with a demand on it to issue a circular to the state government in respect of the TSS agreement. Then it was convenient for the teachers’ leaders to roar like lions from a distance.

One would have expected the leadership of teachers’ union to build on the gains of the last year strike. It was the struggle on the streets with support of pro-labour organisations that forced the state governors to agreeing to the pay rise in the first instance. By deciding to remain at home, it was a forgone conclusion that the result would be either watered-down agreement or capitulation.

The fact is that besides the rich and middle class people, a good number of artisans, poor families, workers and most teachers themselves do not have children in public schools again as a result of long years of neglect by governments. In such situation the NUT needs to come out with mass rallies and demonstrations to raise public support and forcefully drive home their demands. By sitting at home, the governments were not affected both physically and politically.

We call on all other state wings of the NUT who are still in the struggle to commence the active mobilization of teachers for a day of action which will include mass protest and circulation of leaflet to create awareness on the demands and seek the support of parents, students and the public. They should also solicit the solidarity of other industrial unions and pro-labour organizations. The day of action could be held weekly or fortnight until there is a satisfactory gain from the struggle. The national leadership of the NUT as well as NLC should actively support the teachers in their struggle for improved pay and better working condition. The NLC should organize a one-day general strike in solidarity with teachers and of course, include their demand for a new N52,200 minimum wage. The victory of these wings of NUT will put pressure on those that have chickened out to reconsider going back on the strike.

We, however, call on those that have called off the strike to issue another ultimatum to their respective state governments and prepare their members for a series of mass actions should the governments fail to implement the agreement.

The teachers should match their struggle for TSS with demand of all workers for a new minimum wage and the call for proper funding of public education.

The lack of wiliness of the governments to improve living and working conditions of all workers, provide quality education and health care for vast majority, as well as their failure to use the huge revenue at their disposal to provide social infrastructure has further underlined the imperative of the political alternative of the poor working people. We of the DSM have long been calling on the leadership of labour and pro-masses’ organizations to facilitate the formation of a fighting mass working peoples’ party that could wrest power from the thieving ruling elite at all levels. We have further argued for the resultant government to be able to mobilize adequate resources to provide infrastructure and basic needs of all, it will have to nationalize the commanding heights of economy like oil and banking industries and put them under democratic management and control of the working people themselves.

Peluola Adewale
Democratic Socialist Movement