The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) wholeheartedly welcomes the decision of the Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress to embark on a 3-day warning strike between November 10 and 12 to compel the government to implement the minimum wage of N18,000 (120 US-$).
Labour Must Build Strike/Action Committees at National, State, Industrial and Community Levels
Mass Demonstration and Rallies Must be Organised Across the Country
We hold that this action is long overdue for a demand that has been placed on the table of the government since 2008. After all it is 10 years since the present minimum wage was set and prices have rocketed since then! This decision of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) has borne out the position we have long maintained, that mere industrial relations tactics of dialogue, without mass actions and struggle of workers, can hardly win a new minimum wage. We have consistently called on the Labour movement’s leadership to declare a warning strike as the first step towards compelling the government to meet the demands of workers for better pay.
Despite the capitulation of the Labour leaders in reducing the original demand of N52,200 (350 US-$) in 2008 to the N18,000 (120 US-$) agreed at Justice Alfa Belgore’s tripartite committee in April, the government has never proved itself sincere about the agreement. The Belgore Committee, set up by Yar’Adua’s government in August 2009 after Labour had flagged off nationwide rallies and march protests on new minimum wage, submitted its report on May 22 with a draft bill on the new national minimum wage to make its passage into law seamless. Yet, the Jonathan government has not only failed to send the bill to the National Assembly, but has also hitherto treated the report with disdain by doing nothing practically to initiate the process of implementing the recommendation of the report despite all the ultimatums the Labour had issued on the subject matter. It took the notice of the warning strike before President Jonathan considered it necessary to call the so-called Council of State’s meeting on November 4 to ostensibly act on the report he had received six months ago earlier.
Besides, from the decision of the Council of State, comprising President, Vice President, state governors, former (mostly unelected) heads of state etc, it is clear that the government is not prepared to implement the new minimum wage unless mass action of workers forces it to act. The reality is that Vice-President Namadi Sambo chaired the Council, which has as members governors like Raji Fashola who is notorious for having contempt for welfare and better pay of workers as seen in the ongoing strike in education and health sector in Lagos state, is out to repudiate the agreement of Belgore’s committee. According to Governor Adams Oshiomhole who read the resolution of the meeting, “the council received the report (on the minimum wage) and was sympathetic to the idea, but it observed that there were a couple of technical and practical issues to be sorted out. It resolved to set up a sub-committee to be chaired by the vice-president with some governors as members. The committee will fine-tune those areas so that at the end of the day, we will have a package that can be implemented in a way that will not cause any crisis around the country” (Punch November 5, 2010). The committee is expected to submit the report in three weeks time.
President Jonathan himself, while speaking to journalists in Lagos on November 6, further betrayed the mindset to bring the minimum wage below the recommended N18, 000. Talking about the meeting of the council of state “we said that we needed to look at it again and also reason with Labour, especially as it affects the private sector and other smaller employees (sic)” (Guardian November 6, 2010). It is clear that the President, who ordinarily should have little problem with a N18,000 national minimum wage since Federal workers already collect N17, 000 as minimum wage, is conniving with the state governments and private employers of labour, some of whom donated heavily to his presidential campaign fund, to continue to pay slave wage in the face of increasing rise in the cost of living as a result of anti-poor neo-liberal programme of the government, at all levels, which accounts for heavy cuts in public spending on education, health care and infrastructure.
Moreover, the comments by relevant top government functionaries before the notice of strike had 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 would 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. For instance, a senator collects in salary and allowances about N240 million a year.
It is good that the both NLC and TUC have resolved to go ahead with the warning strike to compel the government to implement the agreement, however everything necessary and legitimate must be done to ensure the action is a huge success. Good enough, Labour has set up National Minimum Wage Strike Committee to drive the process for intensive mobilisation for a very successful strike". We urge the Labour movement to set up similar committees at the state councils, individual industrial unions and workplaces. We also welcome the decision to use the Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO) to centrally plan and coordinate the action.
We call on LASCO to ensure that the strike is not reduced to a sit-at-home action. There should be various mass activities like symposia, rallies, march protests and circulation of leaflets before and during the strike in order to draw the support of the public to the struggle. It is also imperative that LASCO build on the steps already taken by Labour by constituting workers and pro-labour activists into action committees in all work places, neighbourhoods and communities across the country to mobilize mass support among the working people in general for the strike. This can help build the active rank and file movement that is needed to ensure that pressure is maintained on the labour leaders and that initiatives can, if necessary, be taken from below. Nigerian workers should emulate their counterparts in South Africa, Spain, France, Greece, etc who had to go to the street in hundreds of thousands to fight against neo-liberal attacks and agitate for better deal in an iniquitous capitalist system.
It is also instructive to recall that the Alfa Belgore tripartite committee, whose recommendation of N18,000 minimum wage is being agitated for now by Labour, was not set up out of the magnanimity of Yar’Adua government in August 2009 but as a result of nationwide rallies and protests for a new minimum wage the Labour had already then flagged off. Therefore, considering the character of this government, it will require renewed mass action of workers to compel the government to implement the recommendation. This three day strike must be both a warning strike to the government and the ruling class and a mobilisation for further action should that be required.
LASCO, particularly the leadership of NLC and TUC, should also use the opportunity of the planning of this national action to arrive at practical actions of intervention in various struggles that have broken out in different sectors like education, health (particularly in Lagos) and power. It is instructive to note that the struggle of education workers and medical doctors in some states was a result of the refusal of the governors of affected states to implement the agreement on better pays and improved working conditions which was reached between the unions and government nationally. Besides the moral responsibility of Labour to actively solidarise with any category of workers agitating for improvement, intervention in this matter is an opportunity to warn the state governments that Labour will not abandon the workers at the state levels if they refuse to implement the new minimum wage on the basis of fallacious but hackneyed excuse of true federalism.
However, most importantly, the Labour leadership should realise that the reluctance of the government to pay living wages to workers is the stock in trade of all anti-poor governments whether of PDP, ACN, ANPP, APGA, etc. 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 the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) has 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.
From a special edition of "Socialist Democracy", paper of the Democratic Socialist Movement (CWI Nigeria), published in Lagos on November 9, 2010.