Labour movement should begin mass mobilisation immediately
The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) wholeheartedly welcomes the notice of a warning strike the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has given to the government, should it not initiate the process of implementation of the new minimum wage by 9 November. The 3-day strike is scheduled for 10 – 12 November.
We hold that this planned action is long overdue for a demand that has been placed on the table of the government since 2008. Indeed, this decision of the NLC has borne out the position we have long maintained, that mere industrial relations tactics of talking, without mass actions and struggle of workers, can hardly win a new minimum wage. We have consistently called on the Labour movement’s leadership to declare a warning strike as the first step towards compelling the government to meet the demands of workers for better pay.
Despite the capitulation of the Labour leaders in reducing in the original demand of N52, 200 (approx. $350) to the N18, 000 agreed at tripartite committee since the beginning of the year, the government has never proved itself sincere about the agreement. Comments by relevant top government functionaries have all along suggested the non-willingness of the Jonathan government to pay a new minimum wage to the workers. The Minister of Labour and Productivity, Chukwuemeka Wogu, for instance, once stated that a new minimum wage will be based on availability and affordability of resources. The arguments that suggest that the resources are not available to pay and, as such, we cannot afford any wage increase for workers have always been used by successive governments in an attempt to deflate agitation for a living wage. The truth is that instead of paying living wages and investing massively in social infrastructure for the benefit of working people, the thieving ruling elite loot resources and pay unwarranted, outrageous jumbo salaries and allowances to themselves.
It was therefore unfortunate that Labour has hitherto had illusions that it could talk the obstinate government into seeing reason for a new minimum wage without rocking the boat. John Odah, the General Secretary of TUC, for instance, lamented that "our patience as organised labour is not inexhaustible. We have been striving to get another new minimum wage 10 years after the current one came into effect in 2000". He then further stated that the three months between the end of September and the end of December should be enough to implement the increase because "We don’t want to be associated with creating undue tension in the land" (Guardian October 6, 2010). This mindset and approach apparently informed why several lame duck ultimatums had been issued in the past by the Labour leaders and why the minimum wage has been not increased for ten years.
DSM (CWI in Nigeria)
Now that the NLC has been forced into threatening to struggle to compel the government to implement the agreement, everything necessary and legitimate must be done to ensure that planned action is a huge success. Good enough, the NLC’s NEC has, "directed that a National Minimum Wage Strike Committee be set up to drive the process for intensive mobilisation for a very successful strike". We urge the Labour movement to set up the committee immediately and also ensure that similar committees are formed at the state councils, individual industrial unions and workplaces.
It is also important that the planned strike is not reduced to a sit-at-home action. There should be various mass activities like symposia, rallies and circulation of leaflets before and during the strike in order to draw the support of the public to the struggle. This will require the Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO) to be centrally involved in the planning and coordination of the action. We welcome the decision of the NLC to reach out to the Trade Union Congress (TUC) for a joint effort to prosecute the minimum wage struggle.
We therefore call for a meeting of LASCO to be called immediately to start planning actions around the warning strike and also to deliberate practical actions of intervention in various struggles that have broken in different sectors like education, health (particularly in Lagos) and power. The Joint Action Forum and other pro-labour organisations should also immediately initiate independent activities in solidarity with workers and to mobilise mass support for the struggle among the working people in general.
However, most importantly, the Labour leadership should realise that the reluctance of the government to pay living wages to workers is stock in trade for all anti-poor governments, irrespective of political parties, which are run on the basis of maintaining capitalism. This is why if this struggle compels the Jonathan government at the federal level to implement the agreement, as experience has shown, it will require another round of struggles before the state governments as well as the private employers would do the same. At the same time Labour must be on guard to defeat any attempt by the capitalists to avenge an increase in the minimum wage by carrying out retrenchments. It is because of these realities of capitalism that the Labour leaders need to completely abandon their futile, utopian idea of wishing to better the lots of the working masses without confronting and ultimately defeating capitalism politically. This is one of the reasons we have consistently called on the Labour to build a mass fighting working class political alternative that could wrest political power from the thieving ruling elite at all levels, defeat capitalism and use the resources of society for the benefit of all.