Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM

Workers Must Reject Austerity Measures

Workers Must Reject Austerity Measures

  • Labour must lead action against attacks on Workers’ Living Conditions
  • For a New Minimum Wage not less than N52, 200
  • Economy can afford it if wealth is taken out of the hands of top few

The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) calls on workers and working people to reject any attempt by governments at all levels in the country and employers at imposing austerity measures on their already worsening conditions.

This call becomes necessary as the Nigerian economy has been put in dire strait by various sections of the ruling capitalist classes simply and mainly because the resources that should have gone into uplifting the living and social conditions of the people have been pocketed by the minority millionaires/billionaires in their drive for private profit in both the public and private sectors.

Now, on the basis of Nigeria’s backward economy, with 90 percent of Nigerian government’s revenue coming from oil, clearly the capitalist ruling class that hardly gave anything in terms of better living conditions to the working people, will want to offload the problem of dwindling revenue on the shoulders of the working people.

Currently the price of crude oil in the international market has nosedived to less than $50 as against well over $100 about a year and half ago. This has led to more crises for the economy vis-Å•-vis devaluation of the currency and consequent inflation this brings to an import-based economy. This means that the working conditions of the working people are being attacked and decimated by the current economic crisis. It has meant workers spending more of their meagre income on fewer commodities. This is made worse by the fact that all the strata of the social services like education and healthcare are being commercialized and priced out of the reach of the common people, which public infrastructures like electricity cannot still meet the needs of the vast majority despite the recent alleged marginal improvement. This has meant that the working people and the middle class are compelled to spend more of their already meager income to pay for these services therefore essentially subsidizing the failure of government to provide basic needs like electricity and good road network.

Therefore, the current economic crisis, caused by the ruling capitalist class in the first place, threaten the already fragile living conditions of the working people. Consequently, workers must defend their living conditions. This is because not satisfied with the decimation of the living conditions of the working people, governments at various levels and private employers have begun the process of further attacking the living conditions of the working people and their dependents. Many state governments owe workers’ salaries and retirees’ pensions. In spite of using workers’ name to collect ‘bailouts’ from the federal government, these state governments have refused to offset the salary and pension arrears, ostensibly to pay contractors and political patrons.

Worse still, these ‘bailouts’ which will be paid for by working people and their offspring, are being used as excuse to launch attack on workers. Some state governments in such states like Osun and Oyo are already planning to reduce workers’ salaries by removing some allowances already won by workers; while Imo State government has already concessioned government parastatals and agencies to private sector, thus putting jobs under threat of retrenchment, cut in pay and casualization. In the private sector, the story is the same, if not worse. While casualization is already rampant in the private sector, the current economic crisis is already leading to attacks of working people. For instance, in the banking sector alone, there are reports that thousands of jobs could be lost. Casualization has also worsened, while working conditions are bound to worsen in the coming period. And all this is against the background of tens of millions of Nigerians being unemployed or simply struggling to exist on a day to day basis.

Labour movement and allies must not surrender

Consequently, the labour movement through its organs, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) and their affiliate unions has a responsibility to begin the process of building a mass movement to defend the living conditions of workers in public and private sector. We in the DSM call on NLC, TUC and affiliate unions to reject any attempt to further drive down the income of the working people under any form of austerity. Already, workers are living in austerity; to add new attacks to this will be putting too much on workers. It is not for labour leaders to show understanding to the capitalist class, which hardly improved the living conditions of the working people during the boom period, but are quick to call for belt tightening for the working people, after the economy has been battered by the same capitalist class.

Unfortunately, apart from a few press statements and token actions, the leaders of the Labour have not so far taken any real initiative to begin a serious mobilization. In this situation initiatives now need to be taken at grass roots level in the work places and communities to begin building resistance, this is has happened before both nationally in January 2012 upsurge against a threatened oil price hike and now against the privatized electricity companies’ “crazy billing”. Building such pressure from below can force national action, as it did in January 2012.

DSM calls on working people to reject any attempt to make them the sacrificial lamb of the economic crisis created by the capitalists. This is because if the commanding heights of the economy are nationalized and put under the democratic control and management of the working peoples, professionals and representatives of the trade and professional groups and other categories of staff unions and associations, instead of the current capitalist system that puts public resources in private pockets and produces only for profit and not need, there will be enough resources to ensure decent living for all Nigerians and infrastructural development.

Thus this is the time for the labour movement to:

  • 1. Demand and fight for immediate payment of all outstanding salary and pension arrears, and prompt payment of salaries and pensions.
  • 2. Oppose any attempt to reduce salaries of workers under any guise
  • 3. Fight attempted retrenchment in both public and private sector
  • 4. Oppose and fight casualization of jobs in the private and public sector
  • For a Need Minimum Wage that is more than N52, 200

However, while all this is necessary to defend the already falling living conditions of the working people, it is equally necessary that labour leaders begin the process of fighting for a new minimum wage that is not less than the N52, 200 first demanded by the labour leaders five years ago. It is already five years since the last minimum wage was reviewed, which means that current minimum wage is due for review.

On the basis of rise in cost of living already outlined above, and the fact that the working people are already using their meagre income to pay for social services and infrastructures that should normally be provided by the government, working people and the workers’ movement will be doing themselves a disservice by refusing to fight for a new minimum wage to reflect the new reality of living conditions. since the last minimum wage demand by the labour movement in 2010 was N52, 200, we of the DSM believe that a new minimum wage demand should be higher than N52, 200 since the cost of living has gone up for the working people since the last five years.

Can the Government Afford a new minimum wage?

One of the likely excuses by the government and its apologists will be that the country cannot afford a new and higher minimum wage for workers that will improve their living conditions. We reject this and enjoin working people and their unions to reject such false excuse. In the first instance and as said earlier, workers cannot be in denial of reality of their poor living conditions. Secondly, Nigerian workers are not supposed to carry the burden of the crisis created by the capitalist class and employers, while politicians and private sector employers continue to live opulently on the resources and wealth of the country.

Living fat at the top; poverty below

More than this, the DSM believes that Nigeria’s resources can guarantee a better living conditions for the working people, while ensuring genuine development of the country, if the greed of the ruling class and employers are curbed and stopped. While the ruling class is shouting economic crisis, this has not stopped the members of the defunct 7th National Assembly from beiN2.4 billion severance package while the new 8th National Assembly members have collected over N3 billion as allowances including wardrobe allowance. Across states, retinue of political appointees continues to draw emoluments, while public resources are being used to maintain their ostentatious lifestyles and costly government activities. For instance, 7 state governments led by both APC and PDP own eleven private jets and helicopters which cost N6 billion to maintain.

In the private sector the story is not different, while banks are quick to sack ten thousand workers as a result of the introduction of Treasury Single Account, huge profits, running into billions of dollars, have not reflected in improved working conditions for bank workers, as more than half of bank workers are still employed as casuals. Report has it for instance that a Chief Executive of the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC) earns N36 million as monthly salary while many of the company’s staff earn peanuts and inspite of the epileptic state of electricity supply two years after privatization! Also, why many factories will want to hide behind economic crisis to sack workers and cut the pay of those already working, the fact is that the profits, even at the best of time, has not reflected in the living and working conditions of workers, as casualization has become the byword for manufacturing sector in Nigeria. Many workers have lost their lives and limbs to poor working conditions, aside the horribly poor pay.

In summary, working people and the leadership of the labour movement must reject any attempt to make workers the sacrificial lamb. Indeed, one of the useful ways to improve the economy is by increasing working people’s income. A sliding scale of wages that increases in tandem with the rate of inflation should be the rallying cry of the labour movement to defend the living standards of the working class against the vagaries of outmoded and crisis-ridden capitalism. This, aside leading to redistribution of wealth in favour of the poor, will also improve the economy as there will be effective demands.

Capitalist policies should be rejected

However, on the basis of the logic of capitalism, any increment will have to be linked with opposition to all of the current capitalist neo-liberal agenda, for the increment to have any meaningful and long-term impact on the lives of the working people. For instance, continued commercialization of education and hike in electricity tariff will greatly undercut the economic real value of any increment in minimum wage. Also, the capitalist can resort to increased casualization as a way of sidelining the minimum wage implementation. Further privatization of the economy will also see more workers being thrown to the pit of unemployment and misery, while aggravating the already disastrous unemployment rate in the country.

On this basis, we call on leadership of labour movement in NLC, TUC and their affiliate union to kick-start mass campaign and struggle for a new minimum wage that is more than the N52, 200 first demanded in December 2010. This should be linked with opposition to other neo-liberal policies like rampant casualization, concessioning of government parastatals and agencies, commercialization of education, retrenchment, hike in electricity tariff and fuel price, among others.

We also call on labour movement to endure that the new minimum wage is structured in a way that will favour the least paid workers and not allow for wide gap between the lower cadre workers and top bureaucrats. While agreeing that all sections and layers of the working people need increment in wages, the implementation of the new minimum wage should not however lead to a huge wealth gap between the least paid workers and top bureaucrats. A situation where top bureaucrats earn several multiples of what the least paid workers receive can become a potent tool in the hand of the capitalist government and employers to oppose and whip up sentiments against a new minimum wage.

The labour leaders should start mobilizing the working people for mass action to drive home the demand for a new minimum wage, opposition to all attempts to cut the income of workers under so-called economic crisis, and resistance against all neo-liberal capitalist policies. Such activities should include mass rallies, congresses, symposia, etc. to mobilize working people to the arena of struggle.

Capitalism is the root cause; workers’ alternative political platform is an imperative

As said earlier, Nigeria is not poor; it is the ruling capitalist class at all levels that have diverted public resources to private ends in the service of their pecuniary and class interest. On the basis of the logic of capitalism, working people’s living conditions will have to be constantly attacked in order to guarantee profits for the capitalists and capitalist politicians. Therefore, workers, while fighting for better wages, will also have to combat capitalist policies aimed at undermining the new wage, and recouping profits for the capitalists.

Bitter experience has shown that to fundamentally and sustainably improve the conditions of the working people, the labour movement will have to combat all capitalist policies, and begin the process of building a new party of the working people aimed at ending the rule of capital and capitalists. We call for the building of a working people’s party as a counterweight to the rule of capitalists. Such party of the working people will have to be built on clear socialist programmes. While the Labour Party (LP) formed by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) could have served as such a political alternative, regrettably because of the reluctance of the labour movement leaders to build it as a genuine political party that stands for the interests of workers and poor, careerists and anti-poor politicians have now succeeded in taking it over.

While the DSM continues to campaign for a new mass workers’ party and would support every genuine effort to reclaim the Labour Party, the DSM has initiated the formation of the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) as a first step in building the political alternatives of the working people against the capitalist ruling parties in Nigeria that have severally and collectively ruined the country and its economy. In taking this first step, we hope to demonstrate the urgent necessity for the labour movement to wake-up to its responsibility of leading the process for the building of a mass workers political alternative. To accomplish this, we call on all genuine change-seeking working people to join us in building the SPN, which is in the process of registration, as a party of the working people.

Segun Sango
General Secretary, DSM