MINIMUM WAGE: General Strike is Overripe!
MINIMUM WAGE: General Strike is Overripe!
For 48-Hour General Strike and Mass Protest
* For a Fighting Trade Union Leadership
By Peluola Adewale
Two years after it has become a law the national minimum wage has been brazenly disobeyed by most state governors. Specifically, the new minimum wage was signed into law on March 25, 2011, a few days to 2011 general election, by President Goodluck Jonathan. No doubt, this was in attempt to deceive workers to vote for the ruling PDP in the presidential election. The state governors, cutting across all political parties, kept mute knowing that voicing their opposition to minimum wage publicly could mean a political suicide at the period of election. Expectedly, immediately after their inauguration on May 29 2011 the governors exhumed their objection to the minimum wage.
Unfortunately, however it is clear that these state governors derive their major strength and confidence to ride roughshod over workers from the political and ideological weakness of the national labour leadership who have apparently considered it a taboo to call a general strike to force the implementation of the new minimum wage. So far the strongest reaction of the national labour leadership has been mere lamentation of the flagrant violation of minimum wage law by the state governors. The only strike they have ever declared over the matter was called off at the midnight of July 20, 2011 after mass mobilization and determination of workers had reached fever pitch.
But the attitude and disposition of the labour leadership swims against the tide of fighting mood of ordinary workers to struggle until the full implementation of minimum wage is realized. Indeed, before the stillborn general strike of July 20 was even conceived, struggles had broken out in a number of states across the country, including Oyo, Ondo, Osun, Enugu, Anambra and Edo, to compel the new and returned governors to implement the minimum wage. Indeed, the reprehensive action of national labour leadership gave the impression that the general strike was called in the first instance to stem the tide of agitation among the mass of workers. Otherwise, they should have led workers back to trenches after the violation of the agreement, upon which the strike was called off, by the state governors.
The labour leaders had indeed climbed down from the agitation of N52,200 minimum wage the NLC first demanded in December 2008 to N18,000 offered by the government in April 2011 as what they could pay even when it was ridiculous given the high cost of living and rising inflation in the country. The failure of the government to honour its own part of the deal should have ordinarily infuriated a fighting labour leadership to draw out one of its strongest weapons: general strike and mass protest. Even to prove a point that the government cannot choose which of its laws is willing to obey, a serious labour leadership would have unleashed the power of workers on the lawless state governors.
As we have argued in one of the past issues of this paper, any governor who says he could not pay should be told to scrap his security votes, cut the outrageous salaries and allowances of top government functionaries, reduce the bloated public offices and stop monumental wastages of public funds which are a permanent feature of government, and thereby free resources that would be used to implement the new minimum wage.
But the labour leadership are not bereft of sharp and correct arguments to puncture any claim of state governors on why they would not or cannot pay the new wage. What is lacking is the will, borne out of the pro-capitalist bias and disposition of most labour leaders, to fight. Unfortunately for labour leadership however there is no short cut to victory. Their method of quite engagement of state governors, as revealed by Promise Adewusi, NLC Deputy President (The Nation, October 15, 2012) has proved to be a fiasco. The fact is that without struggle the anti-poor politicians in government will not pay the minimum wage. The implementation of minimum wage eats deep into the public funds they set aside for looting. Even, when they are forced to pay or put under constant pressure to pay they fight back by attacking workers. For instance in Oyo state which in 2011 witnessed a heroic struggle of workers who elbowed aside the official leadership to fight for minimum wage, about 3,000 workers have been sacked. Though, the ACN led government in the state has not implemented the minimum wage, this sack is to cut its loss, should it be successfully forced to pay by workers action.
The national leadership has not only abandoned the struggle for minimum wage, they have refused to lift a finger to protest the mass sack or victimization of workers activists as a result of the agitation for the new wage.
This nonchalant attitude of the labour leadership, not only to minimum wage but also agitations and interest of workers at workplaces, is no doubt also borne out of their social being which is fundamentally different from that of ordinary workers they are paid to represent. Their wages and living conditions are much higher than that of average workers they lead. They do not feel the suffering of ordinary workers. This one of the reasons the DSM has been campaigning for trade unions without bureaucracy but whose all officers are democratically elected, subject to control by rank and file, and receive a union wage not higher than that of the workers they lead. Trade unions are meant to defend the interest and rights of workers, any official or leadership which is not up to the task should been shown the door by the workers.
Ordinary workers are willing to fight, what is lacking is the fighting leadership. For instance, the workers in Osun State have resumed the struggle for minimum wage. In January 2013, three congresses of workers were held. They are spoiled for actions including strike. Elsewhere across the country, the mass anger of workers is brewing. The time is overripe for a national general strike.
We call on workers and activists within and outside trade unions to begin agitation within and outside of workplaces and organs of trade unions in order to mount pressure on the national leadership of labour to call, as the next step, a 48-hour general strike and mass protest for the full implementation of minimum wage without retrenchment of workers.