Nigeria: N 18 000 National Minimum Wage – Fight for Full Implementation Now!

For Active Strike with a Series of Mass Activities

Democratic Socialist Movement (CWI in Nigeria) leaflet issued the day after the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC, Nigeria’s biggest trade union federation) called a three day general strike to demand the full national implementation of the new N18,000 (US$ 118) legal monthly minimum wage. The Trades Union Congress, the mainly white collar and administrative workers’ trade union federation, is likely to support this action.

Ahead of the expiration of its two week ultimatum Labour has declared a 3-day warning general strike to commence on Wednesday July 20, 2010. Already some state governors and the federal government have been making efforts to prevent the strike with promises to meet the demand for the implementation of the national minimum wage of N18,000. It is a welcome development that Labour leadership has not fallen for the deception of the ruling elite in political power who have proved over time that it is extremely difficult for them to be honourable with their words.

We of Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) call on workers, youths, students and artisans, traders and the working people in general to support the planned strike declared by Labour.

We however call on Labour to ensure that the strike is not a stay-at-home action but rather an active strike that will involve mass protests, rallies and other forms of mass activities. This is important because, as the Labour leaders explained at their July 12 press conference, this is a warning strike that would, if necessary, be followed by “an indefinite strike” to win the very modest demand of the implementation of the new, legal, minimum wage. We hold that in order to prosecute this action successfully there should be strike/action committees comprising trade union and pro-labour activists at national and state levels as well as in communities and workplaces. Such committees should be tasked to enforce the strike, mobilize mass support of workers, youths, communities and the public for the action, and organize mass activities before and during general strike. At the same time while taking initiatives to create such action committees, union activists need to work to maximize the participation of union members and others in building the campaign and to mobilise an active base that can strive to avoid any rotten compromises.

While the incoming strike will also involve private sector workers, judging from the propaganda and pronouncements of the labour leaders, so far it appears to have been primarily targeted at public sector employers. This is more so when the planned action is triggered by the refusal of governments to implement the new wage. We welcome the decision to widen this struggle into fight for a N18,000 for all workers and urge Labour to set up national minimum wage committee whose task is to ensure that not only the government but also the private employers pay the new wage. The trade unions in the private sectors have important roles to play in this respect by consciously identifying the companies whose management has refused to implement the new minimum wage. The minimum wage committee should work with relevant industrial unions to come up with series of action including strike and picketing to enforce the implementation at the private sector.

It should be noted that one way the private sector usually circumvents minimum wage law and other labour laws is through casualisation of the workforce. Therefore, we call on the Labour leadership and industrial unions to link the current agitation for implementation of minimum wage to the struggle against casualisation in workplaces. This requires labour to resuscitate its anti-casualisation committees which appear to have been abandoned. It is also apposite to call on labour to begin to challenge the rising casualisation in public sector with the so-called youth employment scheme now rampant in the states across the country, for instance in Osun and Ekiti, where young men and women, some of whom are university graduates, are paid the ridiculous amount of N10,000 per month and with no formal appointment, benefits and condition of service. All this is important in order to guarantee that the current struggle pave way for the implementation of a living minimum wage across the economy.

Also importantly, while negotiating wage structure there must be a demand for a regular review of the minimum wage and overall salaries in line with the rate of inflation. Labour must also ensure that no worker loses his or her on the account of the new minimum wage implementation and prepared for fight-backs, including industrial action, should any worker is retrenched.

Labour must ensure that new salary matrix table on the basis of new minimum wage is not imposed on them by governments and private employers and that while working out the structure some special allowances like leave and teachers’ salary allowances (TSA) are not sacrificed. This is what obtains in Lagos state which claims to have paid the minimum wage but has removed in the package the TSA, which took teachers years of struggle to win, and other similar allowances. Labour must ensure that TSA and other relevant allowances are paid back to the affected categories of workers in Lagos and subject to a thorough scrutiny the so-called minimum wage implementation in the state.

Labour must also ensure that the N18,000 is the minimum wage after tax and indeed begin to include in their demands the introduction of a wage tax threshold, i.e. the wage below which there should be tax exemption, which must well above the minimum wage. This is more imperative now that the new current minimum wage of N18,000 is well below the cost of living. It should be recalled the original demand of labour, agreed in December 2008, was for a minimum wage of N52,200, a figure that took account of how inflation had eaten away at the previous N5,500 minimum set in 2000.

Labour must also realise that the lack of centrally initiated and coordinated activities on the implementation of the new wage by the national leadership immediately after the signing of the minimum wage into law contributed to the worrisome situation in Oyo and Ondo states where the state labour leaderships have entered into rotten comprises with their governments. The lesson must be learnt in respect of the current and future struggles. We suggest that the state labour leadership must not to be left alone to sort out the negotiation of the minimum wage and the concomitant overall upward salary adjustment with their state governments. It is a bitter truth that most state leaderships of labour find it difficult to stand up to their state governments as often they do not want to forfeit some privileges enjoyed at the expense of the state. At the very least, all state level agreements should be ratified by a democratically elected state delegate congress. The experience in Oyo state where workers were provoked into stoning the compromising leadership and set up congressional committee to prosecute the minimum wage shows the fighting spirit and unwavering commitment of ordinary workers to the struggle if provided with correct leadership. Labour should therefore prepare for a protracted struggle that will last until every government and employer of labour pays the minimum wage without retrenchment of workers.

Labour should expect the governments and private employers of labour to attempt a fight back with retrenchment and other anti-poor policies like deregulation, privatization and cuts in social spending, if they are successfully forced to pay the new wage. Already, the state governors have started agitating for the removal oil subsidy and for the fund to be shared among them. It should be noted that the payment of minimum wage has no doubt affected the fund usually kept aside for looting and, to the governors, this must be replenished.

This is why the Labour leadership must not rest on their oars if the current struggle is won but ensure that the concessions won are not lost through the other means. The Labour leadership should therefore work with relevant industrial unions and pro-labour organisations to develop a programme of actions for adequate funding of education, health care and infrastructure provision at all levels of government and against retrenchment, deregulation, privatization and other anti-poor policies. However, as experiences have shown, it is not enough to agitate for adequate public spending on social service and infrastructure, there must also be a demand for the allocation to be subjected to open democratic control of elected representatives of workers, communities and relevant professionals.

Most importantly, a fighting Labour leadership must realize that on the basis of inherently iniquitous and exploitative capitalist system, particularly its prevailing neo-liberal variant, while the attacks on living and working conditions by the ruling elite are guaranteed, all concessions won by the struggle of the working people can only be short-lived. This is one of the reasons, while seeking to defend every concession won from the ruling elite, Labour must always link every agitation for better deals from capitalist governments to the wider struggle for the defeat of their system and enthronement of genuine socialist order.

This is why we of the DSM have consistently called on the Labour leadership to also begin the process of building a fighting working peoples’ political alternative armed with socialist programme to wrest power from the thieving ruling elite and use the resources of society for the benefit of all. This will entail a workers’ and poor peoples’ government putting the commanding of the economy under democratic control of the working people while the public officials from the party earn the average wage of skilled workers with relevant allowances. It also means that the party outside power will identify with democratic demands and daily struggle of the working people for improvement. Unfortunately the Labour Party, formed by NLC and endorsed by TUC, has not only been taken over by anti-poor politicians but openly support anti-poor neo-liberal capitalist attacks on the working people. It is becoming increasingly impossible to reclaim it from the political merchants in its leadership who use it only to feather their nests and build as a fighting working peoples’ political party that we urgently need.

We call on workers, youths, artisans, students to join DSM and play some roles in the agitation for the mass working peoples’ political alternative as well as in the struggle for improved living conditions, adequate funding of social programmes, the defence of the gains of the previous struggles, and the enthronement of socialist order in Nigeria.

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July 2011