Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM

Salary Increment Should Not Be the Only Benchmark of Labour’s Struggle

  • Labour Must Fight all Anti-Poor Policies and For a Socialist Nigeria

Two years ago, precisely May 30, 2022, Comrade Rufus Olusesan, popularly known as Ero, was unanimously elected as the President of Precision, Electrical and Related Equipment Senior Staff Association, (PERESSA). The union had been badly managed for years and was in a state of near collapse. Comrade Gideon Adeyeni on behalf of the Socialist Democracy (SD), the DSM’s bi-monthly paper, sat down with comrade Rufus, a leading member of the DSM and longstanding activist within the labour movement, to discuss the progress the union has made since last year as well as other issues pertaining to the condition of the labour movement and the class struggle.

SD: So, comrade, good evening. Let us begin with the state of the labour movement in Nigeria at the moment. How would you describe the state of the labour movement today?

Cde. Rufus Olusesan: To talk about the present situation of the labour movement, one must look at the past. We cannot afford to forget about our past, because we have to use the past to understand the present. So, I think there is need for us to recap the past. If you look at labour movements in the past, the movement had a radical orientation. I joined the labour movement at a very tender age, around 1993. I’ve been in the labour movement when I worked in Nestle Food as the union chairman. And before then, I had been reading and following events of labour movement. The movement was a radical movement.

We read about Pa Imodu, Wahab Goodluck, and others. I actually met Wahab Goodluck. I was fortunate to work with the then chairman of anti-casualisation committee under Adams Oshiomhole, the late Comrade Bright Anakuwru. I was a member of that committee. The labour movement at that time really fought against casualization.

But look at what is going on today, in the banking and communication sectors for instance, where we have mass of workers who are casualized. Then, we visited so many companies, and made sure that we abolished casualization there. Unfortunately, after the exit of Adams Oshiomhole, the labour movement went to sleep, and we’ve never recovered since then. The movement’s leadership has now been almost completely taken over by the right-wing elements Though Oshiomhole has now become part of the ruling elite, supporting anti-poor policies, as the NLC President he largely provided a radical leadership, unlike what obtained since he left the office.

If you remember vividly in those days, labour did not even fight for the rights of workers alone. Labour fought for the working masses. I remember that at a time the government took the labour leadership to court. There is what they called conflict of interests and conflict of rights. And that day, our lawyer was Chief Gani Fawehinmi. Government was arguing that we should limit our struggle to issue of minimum wage. Gani then said, “If you give me flat minimum wage, and we have problem of fuel scarcity, high cost of living, I will be affected and likewise my family. So in that respect, it is also very necessary that we fight for the general interests of the masses. Because we go to the same market.” Ever since the labour movement unfortunately went to sleep, it has never recovered.

SD: Would you describe the level of casualization in Nigeria today as a yardstick to measure the performance of the labour movement?

Cde. Rufus Olusesan: Sometimes ago, we did a little research. We discovered that less than 25% of workers in Nigeria are in regularized employment. What I mean by that is that some people who work got the job through what they call outsourcing. They are essentially casual workers. Some work under a very precarious situation while many people are underpaid. In the security sector for example, we have workers who work for 24 hours daily, and at the end of the month they are paid N25,000. Survival is very difficult for this layer of workers, especially with the present economic situation. So I think that the labour movement has not done much.

The labour movement must come out frontally to do much for the members. Increment of salary should not merely be the benchmark of our struggle. Let’s take a look at the economic indices as at present. Inflation is over 33%. And whichever way one looks at it, whatever one is getting, even when there is increment of salary, one can be sure it will be eroded by the fact that the economy is totally down. If you don’t consolidate on the economy, what we will have is this galloping inflation, whereby in every passing day the cost of things will continue to rise, so that whatever the worker is getting cannot be sustained.

SD: Let’s go to your effort to rebuild PERESSA. What was your motivation? How did you start? Where are you now?

Cde. Rufus Olusesan: What really motivated me to lead PERESSA is that I discovered that the union was in a very deplorable situation. So, when we came on board, we went on to have general meetings with the workers from one company to the other, to get to know what their problems are really. Many of the branches don’t have structures, that is branch officers. They were not paying union dues. Some of them have left the union to join another union. Some of them have had issues and there was nobody to intervene. Based on annoyance, they opted out of the union, and it became very difficult for us to start to reconnect with them. So we went round to give those who are still in the union confidence that the union had come to stay. Secondly, we looked at the office space. They were using just a room. We decided we must make sacrifice so that we get a befitting place. That’s why we rented a new and better place.

Another thing we did was to bring in experienced people. The current general secretary was formally the Deputy General Secretary of the Textile Union. He has a lot of experience and exposure, so we had to bring him aboard. The assistant also has been a union veteran. He has worked very well as branch chairman of his former union.

After settling that, we came to issue of negotiation. We discovered that there was no procedural agreement in the union. If you have a procedural agreement, you can have what’s supposed to be the minimum wage of that sector. Initially we had to go to each company to go and negotiate for them. We have done that in many of these companies. Now we have what we call procedural agreement. To the Precision Electrical Related and Equipment Employers Association of Nigeria, (PEREEAN), which is the employers’ body, we have also made proposal to them on the issue of negotiation. That was in December last year. We have started negotiations so that we can have a blueprint of what we can start with as a minimum wage of that sector. However, a wage award of N25,000 has been won to help cushion the current economic hardship while negotiation is ongoing to have a better wage structure and working conditions for the sector.

SD: On the struggle for the minimum wage which appears to have started, where are we and what does the labour centres need to do now?

Cde. Rufus Olusesan: On the issue of minimum wage which is due by provisions of the law by March, let me say this, the struggle for minimum wage this year is going to be a titanic war. As we speak now, even the N30,000 minimum wage fixed in 2019 has not been paid in many states. If labour wants to win the struggle, we have to put our house in order and to do mass sensitization. So, I think that’s the question for us, to make sure that everybody come together. This period last year, inflation was still around 15%, today it is over 30%. Many companies produce at 35% utilization capacity. And these companies have problem of electricity supply, high cost of diesel or multiple taxation. This government is not showing good interest in industrializing the country. So, in that respect, all workers must come together. Workers must be sensitized, and beyond that also they must agitate. We must carry everybody along. It should not be just the leaders who go and decide the fate of millions of workers. The leadership must not sign what workers are not even aware of. The leadership of the two labour centres, the TUC and NLC, must not sign anything below the expectation of the workforce. Otherwise, there could be mass revolt which can lead to anything.

SD: Since February 27 when the NLC organized a nationwide protest on the hunger and hardship in Nigeria, nothing has been heard from the labour movement. What should be done to win the struggle against the anti-poor policies of the Tinubu/APC led government?

Cde. Rufus Olusesan: We must resist the anti-people policies of the Tinubu/APC government. Working people must also understand it is the system we are contending with, not just people as many may think about it. Any government that is run on the basis of capitalist programme, especially a neoliberal agenda, in a neo-colonial economy is going to end up like this. But we must come up with policy guide and a charter of demands as far as education is concerned, on the health sector and infrastructural sector. We must come out clearly and be prepared to fight for the demands. Secondly, Labour must come out critically on the issue of workers welfare and how Nigeria’s economy must be run. That is to say that leaving the economy for the capitalist ruling elite to run is an illusion, which is based on the thinking that they will come out to make things work out for the betterment of the generality of the working masses. We should not be only agitating in the coming period. We must also plan to contest political power.

Where is the Labour Party? What happened to Labour Party? If we cannot get the Labour Party back, we must form and build genuine mass working people’s party so that that we can use that party also to contest election and win political power. In the present Labour Party, the governorship form is 30 million naira. Is there any worker who can afford that? Any worker who can pay that cannot be considered as part of the working masses. So you discovered that the party was formed by Labour, but serves the ruling elite, those who for one reason or another cannot match the power blocs in the two other capitalist parties – I mean the APC and PDP.

If we have a party that rests on a socialist programme and true democracy, workers can contest by obtaining nomination forms free of charge. And whoever emerges there, we know that person is for the workers. We can then use it to implement pro-masses’ policies, viz-a-viz free and quality education and healthcare, provision of mass employment through industrialization and others. Government will be for the people, by the people themselves, and of course, for the betterment of everybody, where the control of the economy will be in the hands of workers themselves, the peasant, the farmers, artisans, and the professionals. In a nutshell, side by side with struggles against bad policies and for improvements, we need to fight for a working people’s government based on socialist planning in order make use of both the human and material resources to genuinely develop the society and guarantee the needs of the vast majority, not the greed of a few.