No retrenchment, built in adjustment to match inflation.
In mid-December the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Nigeria’s main trade union centre, launched a demand for an increase in the minimum wage from 11,130 to 52,200 naira a month (370 US dollars at the then exchange rate). The current 11,130 figure was fixed in 2000. The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), the CWI in Nigeria, issued the following statement in Lagos on December 23, 2008.
The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) enthusiastically and wholeheartedly welcomes and supports the demand of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) for a new minimum wage of N52, 200 across the country. However, we wish to urge the NLC leaders, right from the beginning, to emphasise that the new minimum wage being demanded must be implemented without retrenchment and with an in-built agreement to always adjust this new minimum wage to match the rate of any prevailing inflation. Without this strong caveat, any gains made from a new struggle for a new minimum wage will turn out very hollow and too expensive for the working class as a whole.
Expectedly, capitalist exploiters and all sorts of anti-peoples’ economists and pseudo intellectuals will soon roll out drums to denounce the N52, 200 demand as too high, outrageous and impossible to implement. However, the DSM wishes to emphatically assert that this opposition, in an economy run solely for profit and the benefit of the few rich, reflects only the interests of the ruling class. In reality the new proposed minimum wage, when analysed side by side with the real cost of feeding, housing, transportation, healthcare and education needs of the working class people, can hardly meet all the basic needs of working people.
For us therefore, the NLC demand for a minimum wage of N52, 200 is not only just, but is in fact long overdue.
What is the way forward
On the one hand, the National Executive Council (NEC) of the NLC has demanded “as a matter of urgency, a tripartite committee to negotiate and agree on this so that the National Minimum Wage Act 2000 can be amended to reflect the new amount”. We in the DSM believe that such a committee should only be a forum for negotiation and not an attempt to tie Labour’s hands in a so-called partnership with the bosses and their government. Happily however, the NEC of the NLC itself does not appear to believe that government and employers of labour would automatically take positive steps to implement its demand for a new national minimum wage, hence the “call on workers all over the country to be prepared for a sustained struggle to obtain these wage increases”. It is equally a step forward that the NLC NEC itself already appreciates the fact that “parts of the elite would want to use the global economic downturn as an excuse to deny workers their rights”.
Therefore, the DSM totally agrees that, “workers cannot be held responsible for the profligate nature of our elite who in the last nine years have squandered the country’s unimaginable income from oil which they fritter away in the name of excess crude”. Consequently, we demand that:
The NLC leaders should immediately give a specific ultimatum to the government and employers of labour within which to set up the tripartite committee being demanded and also, most importantly, to achieve the implementation of the demand. Labour’s demand must not be lost in endless meetings of a tripartite committee, living standards need to be defended now. Unless this approach is done, the capitalist government, by its nature, will not treat Labour’s just demand with the necessary sense of importance and speed required. The DSM wants the NLC leadership to learn from the deceptive manner with which the Yar’Adua government has so far addressed the NUT demands for a new Teachers Salary Scale structure (TSS). Faced with a determined industrial struggle and mass actions by teachers and supported by working class people and the communities, the Yar’Adua government promised to include the teachers’ demand in the 2009 budget proposal. Sadly to note, government financing proposals for the education sector is actually lower in the 2009 budget proposal than what it was in 2008. So, if a promise extracted in consequence of a determined struggle could be treated with levity as being apparently done with the teachers, then there is little hope that mere verbal demands will make the Yar’Adua government to acquiesce voluntarily to workers’ demand in this respect.
The “call on workers all over the country to be prepared for a sustained struggle to obtain these wage increases” should therefore be given urgent and prominent emphasis. Specifically, Labour and LASCO need to produce basic economic arguments and justification for the new minimum wage demand, in several million copies for circulation among rank and file working class people and youths in cities and communities across the country. Urgent, red alert signals should be raised throughout the trade unions structures across the states and within industrial unions, to organize in January mass meetings, education seminars and rallies of their members and members of the public with a view to prepare support for the demand against the certain opposition of the ruling capitalist elite and their lackeys. Labour must be prepared to come up with cogent facts and figures that vividly show the absurdity of the prevailing unjust capitalist system. This can be easily done by pointing out the fabulous national wealth being annually stolen by individual capitalists, contractors and elites across the country. For instance, the former administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo allegedly spent $16.4billion to improve the electricity sector. At the end of the day, the conditions of the sector grew from bad to worse because nothing visible was done to effect any improvement. Therefore, instead of allowing capitalist strategists and propagandists to use the failure and crimes of their own unjust system to deny workers demand for decent pay, the working masses and youths should double their mobilization and efforts to get rid of this unjust system before it totally destroys lives of the working masses.
Overall, Labour and NLC leaders in their entirety need to appreciate the fact that no matter what amount is paid as minimum wage, most workers would remain to live in misery for as long as this unjust capitalist system remains. From experience, whatever they are forced to concede in battle line, invariably will be taken back through increase in prices of goods and services, a phenomenon which would ultimately always lead back to square one. This of course cannot be used to justify the rightwing argument that fighting for increment in wages is a meaningless exercise. On the contrary, it does provide irrefutable premises for the need to struggle to overthrow capitalism with its inherent characteristic of preserving the privileges of a few insatiable mega billionaires at the expense of the necessary infrastructure development and basic needs of the ordinary working masses. Consequently, the DSM wishes to reiterates its age-long demand for the convocation of a special conference of trade union and Labour activists with a view to agree on pro-masses, working class political alternative to the perennial treasury looting and electoral fraud which are the major features of capitalist misrule.
Finally, the DSM appeals to all genuine socialists, pro-labour activists and trade unionists to begin to take concrete steps to popularize the demand for the new minimum wage as well as working out political and organizational measures needed to achieve victory in this respect as soon as possible.