Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM

May Day 2024: Fighting Mood Suppressed by Expectation of a New Minimum Wage

Kola Ibrahim, the organiser of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) in Osun State, aptly captures the current situation of the workers’ movement in Nigeria in his account of May Day rally in Osogbo Osun state. He wrote, “In the absence of a fighting labour leadership, many seemed to have resorted to fate or faith. This is clearly reflected in the pessimism towards a fight with the government. Yet, many are dissatisfied with the state of things”. But this is not peculiar in Osun. It sums up the experience virtually everywhere on May Day in Nigeria.

By Peluola Adewale

The leadership of both the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) have accepted the neo-liberal capitalist policies  such as hike in petrol price, introduction of high school fees and devaluation of the naira that largely account for the current economic hardship and cost of living crisis as something irreversible. So, they could complain or lament about the devastating effects of these policies, as reflected in May Day speeches of labour leaders. But they are not prepared for a serious fight against the policies themselves. This is largely because they don’t have an alternative economic programme.

DSM comrades at the 20024 May Day rally in Lagos

It also apparently explains why the NLC leadership have scandalously remained silent since March 13 when a two-week ultimatum they issued to the government over the cost-of-living crisis expired. So, they have tailored the minds of workers towards accepting that what is needed is to demand a new minimum wage that matches the rising cost of living, not a reversal of the policies that cause or trigger the fall in living standards. Thus, since the negotiation for a new national minimum wage is still ongoing between organized labour, government and private sector employers, the prevailing mood at May Day was a high expectation that a solution to the high cost of living in the offing. Though, there is a question of whether a reasonable wage would be agreed and actually implemented.

However, the interaction with individual workers at May Day rallies suggests that many are prepared to support struggle, in addition to new minimum wage demand, against the anti-poor policies that have had devastating effects on their living conditions. While the Labour leaders have recently issued a new ultimatum that unless the latest electricity price hike is reversed by May 12 they will take action, the danger is that it will be another threat of action that doesn’t materialise and thereby weakens the standing of the Labour movement. It is a serious step to issue an ultimatum and when one is made there must a determined campaign of mobilization to prepare for action, instead of inaction.

Engaging workers at the May Day rally in Lagos with the CDWR leaflet calling for fighting trade unions

It is necessary to demand a minimum wage that is increased in line with inflation. Indeed, the NLC and TUC have demanded that the new minimum wage Act should have “a two-year life with an agreement for automatic adjustment in wages any time inflation exceeds 7.5 per cent”. However, demanding an appropriate wage does not mean to exclude fighting against anti-poor capitalist policies. So, instead of confronting both the cause and effects of the economic crisis, labour leaders are only interested in the latter. This also means that they have abandoned the vast majority of the working-class people who earn their living in the informal sector without a structured salary system despite facing the same economic crisis. Therefore, it may be difficult for Labour to attract serious support and solidarity from these categories of working people for their demand for a minimum wage. It’s also possible for the government to exploit the lack of solidarity and unity amongst the working class to attempt to mobilise the rest of the public against the minimum wage demand of the formal sector workers.

In their joint May Day speech, the NLC and TUC leadership disclosed that labour had tabled a demand for N615,000 as the new national minimum wage. However, the Edo state governor has announced N70,000 as the new minimum wage in the state. This may be an indication of what many state governors would be willing to pay. It is likely for Labour to shift ground in the course of negotiation. In any case, Labour leaders must be prepared to mobilise for mass struggle to force the government to agree to whatever figure they consider as the minimum. Even if a reasonable figure is formally agreed it will take struggle to get it fully implemented and updated to take account of inflation.

Already, the Labour leaders have issued a threat: “If however, the negotiation of the National Minimum wage is not concluded by the end of May, the Trade Union Movement in Nigeria will no longer guarantee industrial peace in the country.” Given the recent experience, this could end up as another hot air gesture. But if Labour leaders are serious, the struggle for minimum wage would enjoy mass support among workers. A sign of this was shown by Delta state workers who disrupted the speech of the state governor at May Day because he did not say anything about the minimum wage. However, what is not certain is automatic mass support from the wider working people given how the Labour leaders have frequently appeared not to care a hoot about their plights following the repeated betrayal and abandonment of struggle against anti-poor policies and high cost of living. Therefore, workers and trade union activists must agitate in workplaces, the organs of trade unions and in communities to build support for a serious struggle to defend and improve living standards.

DSM comrades at the Ibadan May day rally

Taking initiatives can help force the NLC and TUC leadership to combine the demand for a new minimum wage with the struggle for the reversal of hike in fuel prices and all anti-poor capitalist policies. But the rank and file must be on guard against any repeat of sell-out deals being used as justification for the abandonment of struggle. It is also important to prevail on the NLC leadership to take seriously its pledge to fight to end the system of casualisation which puts workers in a slave-like condition without rights to minimum wage and belonging to a trade union.

While the Labour leaders have recently issued a new ultimatum that the latest electricity price hike is reversed by May 12 they will take action, the danger is that it could be another threat of action that doesn’t materialise and thereby weakens the standing of the Labour movement. It is a serious step to issue an ultimatum and when it is made there must a determined campaign of mobilization to prepare for action, instead of inaction.

ASUU members demanding recall of ‘ASUU-LASU Five’ at Lagos May Day rally

Also, the current mood of resigning to fate explains why there were hardly any banners and placards raising demands on economic crises or attacks on democratic rights on May Day. Yes, May Day events in Nigeria have become largely jamboree or merry-making. But in a period of economic crisis or social injustice, it is also occasionally turned into an arena of struggle or an opportunity to express directly to government workers’ anger. In Lagos for instance, only the Textile Labour union and Lagos Zone of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) came with demands on their banners and placards. ASUU demanded the immediate reinstatement of the five union leaders who have been unjustly sacked at different times at the Lagos State University (LASU) in the last seven years.

As part of our work to overcome this mood of resignation members of DSM participated at May Day rallies in five centres: Abuja, Lagos, Oyo, Osun and Ogun states. The turnout at each of these venues, though in thousands, was lower than the figure recorded last year due to the ongoing fuel scarcity. All together, we sold 374 copies of our paper ‘Socialist Democracy’ (SD) and circulated about five thousand copies of special May Day leaflet calling for fighting and democratically run trade union movement. The leaflet was used to invite workers activists to a public meeting scheduled for May 18 to discuss the state of trade unions and how to build a campaign for fighting trade unions.

DSM comrades at the 2024 May Day rally in Osogbo, Osun state

Again, this year, in Ogun state our comrades were not allowed by the operatives of DSS to sell paper and circulate leaflets within the stadium where the May Day Rally was held. It could be recalled that last year at May Day, Eko Nicholas, our leading comrade in Ogun State, was arrested, and both paper and leaflets were impounded by the DSS. This year on sighting him at the entrance of the stadium, the DSS operatives asked him to leave the paper and leaflet with them for safe keep until after the rally, threating that if he was seen circulating them, he would be arrested. So, he had to comply. However, outside the stadium after the official end of the rally, hundreds of copies of the leaflet were circulated and copies of the SD were sold.

Some of the DSM comrades at the 2024 Lagos May Day rally