Nigeria: Government’s anti-union response to teachers’ strike

Time for collective strike action and mass protests by entire workforce and youth

The following text is from a leaflet issued by the Democratic Socialist Movement (CWI in Nigeria) on July 3, 2008, on the Nigerian regime’s response to an all-out teachers’ strike

Government’s anti-union response to teachers’ strike

The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) totally condemns the government’s latest reaction to the ongoing Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT) strike for improved wages for teachers in secondary and primary schools. For us, the government’s overall reactions so far are utterly insensitive, diversionary and dangerous. In particular, the DSM regards the government’s threat against proposed picketing of teachers in private primary and secondary schools as anti-union and totally irresponsible. This threat has revealed the real character of Yar’Adua’s administration, despite all its anti-corruption window-dressing; it is anti-working class government that is only in office because it stole last year’s elections.

We wish to emphatically state that peaceful picketing is an inherent feature of trade unionism, which is a worldwide recognised rights of working class people. Therefore, we regard the government’s threat in this regard as an undue interference with the rights of working class people to unionise and peacefully and collectively fight for their own interests as guarantee by section 40 of the 1999 constitution.

We accordingly demand an immediate halt of this irresponsible disposition. Instead of this meddlesome posturing, we call on governments across board to immediately accede to the NUT’s demands. The DSM also totally condemns the government’s position that it does not have sufficient funds and or that it could not take a decision to implement the teachers’ demands because of its financial implications on the federal states as insensitive and legally untrue.

Against the background of billions of dollars currently being realised from crude oil sales, but which unfortunately are largely being stolen by top government officials, it is very insensitive, to put it mildly, for government, at whatever level, to be talking of financial inability to meet the modest demands being made by the striking teachers. Under section 7 of the Education (National Minimum Standards and Establishment of Institutions) Act, Laws of the Federation, the Education Minister is empowered to set standard for “the motivation and welfare of teachers all over the federation”. It is therefore false and untrue to now begin to argue as if the federal government has any legal inhibitions from setting reasonable wage standard for workers across the country.

As we have always argued in the DSM, Nigeria is endowed with enormous material and human resources that can guarantee standardised education, decent healthcare, housing and wages for all sectors of the working masses including the teachers. However, under the prevailing unjust capitalist arrangement, where a few have billions of dollars while the vast majority live in perpetual want and misery, this desirable and necessary end can never be achieved.

None of ruling parties treat masses as human beings

But as we always argue, none of the sections of the ruling capitalist parties can share the vision of a world where the ordinary masses will be treated as the real human beings. This is why the ANPP and AC have not been able to attack the PDP ruling government at the centre over its response to the on-gong teachers strike. The truth is that they all equally fear a situation where more money will have to be spent to improve masses’ living standard, while the ruling capitalist elite would have little to loot from. That is why last year’s elections were rigged.

To guarantee these basic necessities, the entire labour movement, will, as of necessity, have to fight for the establishment of a new social order where the collective natural and human resources of the society will be collectively annexed and democratically run by workers and poor peoples’ government, so as to be in the position to cater for the need of all, without giving room for bureaucratic paralysis and corruption.

In the struggle to actualise this kind of society, the labouring masses need vibrant industrial and national trade unions, as well as their own independent fighting political party. Consequently, we urge the NLC, TUC and LASCO leaders to rightly see government refusal to meet the NUT demands simply because it does not wish to decide for state and private sectors for what it is: a conscious effort to undermine industrial trade unionism, as well as trade union federation system. An acceptance of this untenable logic by labour will inevitably render impotent the existence of industrial unions as different employers can begin to reject collective bargaining arrangement and instead insist on industry-by-industry or occupation-by-occupation agreements.

We, therefore, reiterate our demand that the NLC, TUC and LASCO immediately mobilise for a day of mass action in solidarity with the striking teachers, as well as preparation for a struggle to fight for a new minimum living wage for all categories of the workers (both public and private) across the country. This is the only practical way to positively respond to the government’s conscious effort to defeat the striking teachers, as well as undermining trade unionism fundamentally in the country. We wish to state emphatically that the ongoing teachers’ strike has passed the stage of mere verbal solidarity declarations. It has reached the time for a collective industrial strike and mass protest by the entire workforce and youths, similar to the series of general strike and protests against incessant hike of fuel prices. Government should be pointedly made to realise that the issue of standard education at primary and secondary school levels is a central issue that affects the living standard of the working class people and not just teachers alone.

We advocate that:

  • NLC, TUC and civil society groups must immediately organise a day of mass action in support of teachers demands.
  • Labour and youths must combat threats to render industrial unions useless.
  • Industrial unions and trade union federations should prioritise the unionisation of all teachers in private schools as well as workers in industries, banking and financial institutions, etc so as to make it impossible for government and employers to use them to undermine the struggles and living conditions of the organised sections of the workforce.
  • Activists should organise regular neighbourhood rallies and solidarity committees to popularise the objectives of the strike among working class people and youths.
  • Labour should fight for a new social order where people’s basic needs and not profit for a few will be the primary reason for governance.

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July 2008