THE 11TH NLC QUADRENNIAL DELEGATES’ CONFERENCE:
THE 11TH NLC QUADRENNIAL DELEGATES’ CONFERENCE:
WORKERS MUST ELECT A FIGHTING LEADERSHIP
Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) Statement
The 11th Quadrennial Delegates’ Conference of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) is coming up at perhaps the most critical period since the return to the civil rule. The stakes at the play in the contest for political power have never been this high, for the careerist politicians this is truly a “do or die” election. The presidential and general elections are to be held in the midst of the war against the Boko Haram terrorist insurgency in the North East and the austerity agenda now staring Nigerians scarily in the face as a result of sharp decline in oil revenue. For the first time an incumbent President faces the possibility of defeat in a presidential election. This election may leave Nigerians more divided than ever as ethno-religious sentiments have been the linchpin of the electioneering campaign.
Given the desperation of the ruling party to hold on to power and huge belief by the opposition that it would win the presidential election, this election could be the most violent since 1999. Already, there have been threats of war from the Niger Delta ex-militants if Jonathan loses the election. In some parts of the North, stone-throwing youths have trailed the convoy of President Goodluck Jonathan of PDP while his campaign rallies have been sometimes interjected with chanting of “Sai Buhari”. This is indicative of high possibility of outbreak of violent protests in the North if Muhammodu Buhari of APC loses the election.
As an article in Washington Post puts it, “The most immediate threats to the country’s stability are not bullets from Islamic militants but ballots” (Washington Post, January 6, 2015). It is only labour that could unify the working class people and the poor already divided by ethno-religious line and affiliation to either of the two major parties. Sadly it is the failure of the labour leadership to build a formidable mass working peoples’ party that has restricted most working people and youths to a Hobson’s choice between APC and PDP. If post-election violence breaks out Labour has the responsibility to act to help working people and the poor to unify in defense of their lives and communities though genuinely democratically run non-religious and non-ethnic defense bodies.
However, even if the post-election violence is avoided or curbed, there is no escape from the austerity assault on the working people and youths irrespective of whether the PDP or APC wins. What has seemingly held back the avalanche of attacks is the current electioneering period. We hold that whichever section of the ruling elite emerges victorious at the February general elections, it would strive to implement fundamentally the same neo-liberal economic attacks given the fact that it cannot find solution to the sharp decline in revenue within the precincts of the inherently anti-poor capitalist order. The austerity measures may include, but not be limited to, mass retrenchment, further privatization of essential public services and imposition of unwarranted taxes. Already, some state governments have found it difficult to pay salaries of workers.
No to Austerity, Yes To Fight Back
We believe that the NLC Conference affords the leadership, affiliates and rank-and-file members the opportunity to review the fate of the working class under the current period of savage neo-liberal economic attacks and chart the way forward. We contend that the new leadership of the Congress that would emerge from this Conference must be prepared to lead a comprehensive fight back against the looming economic attacks. Unfortunately this is something the outgoing leadership refused to do. This was despite the fact that after the last Conference Nigeria saw the largest ever mass mobilization of working people when in January 2012 mass protests and a general strike united tens of millions of Nigerians in common struggle. The sad truth of the matter is that many labour leaders were scared by this protest and have, with a few notable exceptions like the ASUU and medical workers, since then often limited their actions to press statements and token gestures. This Conference must break with this backsliding and come up with firm resolution and strong warning against austerity measures and concrete plans for a spirited fight back.
However, the new leadership must not wait until the austerity measures are formally announced by the capitalist ruling elite before it starts the mass mobilization of workers and other sections of the working people and goes on the offensive. The devaluation of naira has already increased the cost of living. From the exchange rate of about N160 to a dollar in June 2014 the naira crashed to over N200 to a dollar in the last week of January. This has already heightened the necessity to demand a new national minimum wage as the old figure had been rendered untenable even before the onset of the decline in oil revenue and naira devaluation. We therefore propose that this conference should come with concrete proposal for a new minimum wage and table same before the government.
Indeed, based on the agreement reached with the labour in 2011 before the announcement of N18, 000 minimum wage, the national minimum wage is already due for a review. This Conference must mandate the new NLC leadership to immediately activate this clause and demand the negotiation for a new national minimum wage. Nigerian workers must not allow the decline in oil revenue to discourage or intimidate them from demanding a better wage. We hold that despite slump in the revenue the government could afford to pay if the unjustifiable outrageous jumbo pays and allowances of the political office holders are drastically reduced, the bloated number of political officer holders, many of whom are parasite on public resources are cut and monumental wastages are stopped.
However, it is not enough to demand a new minimum wage, the new leadership must be prepared to lead fight for its actualization and full implementation by government at all level as well as the private sector. It is galling that the current minimum wage of N18, 000 has not been fully implemented by some state governments and private sector. This is despite the compromise by the labour leadership in 2011 to accept N18, 000 as against its original demand of N52, 200 agreed in December 2008. This situation has been worsened by the refusal of the current leadership of the NLC to provide the leadership for the struggles that broke in some states for the full implementation of the minimum wage. In some cases, the NLC leadership undermined the objective of the national minimum wage by conceding to the request of state governments to pay any amount they could purportedly afford. The new leadership must not go this way; they must ensure that every worker benefits from a new national minimum wage and that no job is lost as a result of the struggle for minimum wage.
The new leadership must also resurrect the anti-casualisation campaign which sadly has been long buried. The majority of workers in the private sector are employed as casuals or on contract basis. These are jobs with poor pays and no condition of service as well as without rights to trade unions. The scourge of casualisation has also crept into the public sector. Many of the so-called employment schemes by both federal and state governments are havens for casual jobs. Unfortunately, the labour leadership has turned a blind eye to this development.
Build Combative Unions
Associated with casualisation is the struggle for unionization of workers especially at the private sector. While some industrial unions have embarked upon unionization of workplaces; they have not demonstrated serious interest to tackle casualisation of workers at the workplaces. In other words, unionization has not led to the improved pay and conditions for workers. Once the management agrees to deduct and remit check-off dues, usually with other pecks in addition, or pay a certain monthly allocation in lieu of check-off dues to an industrial union, some leaderships turn a blind eye to appalling working conditions at the workplace. Where the workers themselves embark on actions for improvement, they are usually abandoned by the industrial unions. Sadly, in some cases, the struggles of workers are turned to opportunity by some trade union officers to make some money off the management. Examples of this ugly situation abound. This is why there means to be continual vigilance by union members to defend and improve the democracy inside the movement and to prevent careerism and privilege developing at any level of our movement.
The new leadership must initiate and lead struggles against casualisation and irresponsible trade unionism, and for rights of workers to trade unions. The current economic crisis will witness a spate of casualisation of workers, who are fortunate not to lose their jobs. Already, this is happening in the banking sector where the junior staffs are now being casualised.
Also important is the issue of pension, both the old and new schemes. Many retirees from old pension scheme have not been paid their pension for years. For the new schemes, while the contributions of the workers are religiously deducted, there are cases where the management, both in public and private sectors, do not only fail to pay their part but also refuse to remit the workers contribution to pension administrators. This situation endangers the future of workers currently in service. The pensioners of both state and federal governments have embarked on pockets of protest actions. Unfortunately, the central labour leadership has not done enough to articulate the demands of the pensioners and provide leadership as well as solidarity to their struggles. We recall that a one-day solidarity strike and mass protest in support of pensioners that had been called for April 10, 2013, and adequately mobilized for, was sadly cancelled by the labour leadership. Since then the condition of pensioners has not improved and yet there have not been mass activities initiated by the NLC.
It is also imperative for the labour leadership to stop the utopian idea that they could help the capitalist ruling elite resolve the crisis that has been caused by their iniquitous system. This is a major lesson that must be learnt from the current housing scheme scandal that has seriously dented the image of the NLC. We hold the NLC leadership should lead struggle for mass housing by the government rather than turning labour into a private housing estate agency. Judging from the mass housing estates built by both state and federal government in the past it is possible for government to fund mass housing estates if confronted with mass struggles.
Fight Against Privatization
It appears that the labour leadership has accepted the neo-liberal agenda of privatization. Indeed some labour leaders, including the NLC and TUC Presidents, are involved in the National Council on Privatization. The resulting failure to oppose this neo-liberal looting was clearly demonstrated in the struggle against electricity privatization. The best intervention of the central labour leadership in the struggle was to mediate between the government and the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE). We hold that if the NLC had consistently supported the struggle of the electricity workers with a series of solidarity actions anchored on alternative working class program and plan to revive the ailing sector, as it was expected of them, the privatization of power sector would have been defeated. Of course, as it has turned out the power sector privatization is making public resources available for private profit. The power situation has not improved as the so-called investors or new private owners do not have requisite resources and technical capacity to guarantee improved electricity supply. As a result the government has continued to fund the private electricity firms while the consumers are forced to pay for service not rendered.
We therefore call on the new NLC leadership to return to traditional opposition of Labour to the anti-poor neo-liberal policies of privatization and others like incessant hike of fuel prices. Certainly on labour leader should be involved in the NCP. We however hold that inability of the NLC leadership to sustain he opposition to privatization and deregulation is because its opposition is still largely devoid of a coherent comprehensive working class alternative to these anti-poor policies. For instance, it is not enough for the NLC leadership to oppose the deregulation of the oil sector and the outright sales of the public refineries without bluntly accepting the truth that the current kind of publicly owned companies being run by capitalist elements solely for profits and/or as a political patronages for a few elements can never meet the needs and aspirations of people in society.
This therefore means that the struggle against privatization and deregulation must be linked with the need for a socio-economic revolution. There is a huge crisis facing the country. The government’s boasts when the statistics were changed to show that Nigeria has Africa’s biggest economy have been shown to be hollow. Much of that growth was based on high oil prices and the size of Nigeria’s population. Now the oil prices have fallen and tens of millions of Nigerians face destitution. Despite the country’s huge resources decades of capitalism have failed. What is needed is an altogether different system wherein the commanding heights of the economy, including natural resources, banks and finance, etc., are collectively owned by the society and specifically run on the basis of democratic management and control of the elected representatives of the working masses and youths. This is the only practical way that Nigeria’s stupendous natural and human resources can be collectively organized to take care of the basic needs of everybody and not just a few thieving capitalist rich as is the present case of endless mass poverty in the midst of abundance.
Working People Need Their Own Party
This however cannot be achieved without a genuine working people’s political alternative. This also raised the question on the current state of the Labour Party formed by the NLC but surrendered to the anti-poor, pro-capitalist elements. We hold that this Delegates’ Conference must take a firm and correct position on the Labour Party. It is our contention that it has degenerated into an outright pro-capitalist party of drop-outs from the main bourgeoisie parties. We hold that it is a self-amusement or waste of efforts to attempt to reclaim the party through a Caretaker Committee, which has no capacity to uproot the leadership that has installed themselves into the leadership of the party with the backing of law and INEC.
It is our contention that a serious effort at building a genuine working people’s political alternative will start with the realization that the Labour Party is no longer reclaimable and a new working people’s party is needed to be built. However, in order for such a new working people’s party not to go the same way of the Labour Party, an all-encompassing efforts must be made to reach out to all serious forces within the labour movement including genuine socialist activists in the task of building such a genuine mass alternative. It was the deliberate effort to shut out genuine socialists out of the Labour Party, as well as the failure of the leadership of the labour movement to mobilise workers into the party to build it, that led to the collapse of the party. We reiterate our call on the labour leadership to organize a Political Conference of the trade unions, left parties and socialist organizations and activists to chart the way forward for the formation of a genuine working people’s political alternative. The new leadership must work towards achieving this.
In the absence of a mass working people party we in the DSM in collaboration with some trade union activists, socialist activists and workers have formed the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) as a striking example of working people political alternative. The DSM, with other forces within the party, currently campaigns for the registration of the SPN and works in building it as a campaigning party which intervenes in the day-to-day struggles of the working people and offers socialist alternative. This task is combined with our consistent agitation within the broader labour movement for the formation and building of a genuine mass working people’s political alternative.