N18,000 is not a living wage!
House of Reps agreed N30,000 last year!!
The leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) have now accepted the poor sum of N18,000 as the new minimum wage offered by the Federal Government. This is a far cry from the N52,200 that had earlier been demanded. Indeed we should also remember that in January last year the House of Representatives voted to increase the minimum wage to at least N30,000. The question a lot of trade union activists are asking today is simple: WHY?
To understand the answer requires an understanding of the character of trade unions. A close reading of the approach of the NLC and TUC to the matter showed that an outcome like this was always a very unfortunate possibility.
Trade unions were formed as grassroots organizations of workers by workers and for workers in factories, mines and other workplaces during the industrial revolution. Workers faced the most inhuman deprivations and working conditions that “free” men and women had ever faced in humankind’s history. As trade unions grew and won first recognition, and then acceptance, by at least the major employers, a bureaucracy emerged. This layer of trade union leaders became disconnected from the real life situation of the working class. They were paid better than their members and they did not face the daily pressures that we face every day at work.
These trade union leaders see themselves as partners with the employers and become concerned with maintaining their companies as ‘going concerns’. Collective bargaining became the be all and end all of trade union activity to them. Compromise, concessions and sell-outs became the order of the day rather than organising for effective strikes and other collective actions to win our just demands. It is not that these leaders are not good men or women or that they do not have the genuine interest of the workers at heart. It is that the similarity of life they lead with that of the bosses’ conditions their approach especially when they can not see beyond the current way the economy is organised.
This explanation does not defend why our trade union leaders could ditch our demand for N52,000. On the contrary their action is quite questionable.
In March of this year, when the NLC/TUC embarked on an anti-Iwu rally, they quietly dropped the demand for N52,200 minimum wage. The excuse was that the matter was being looked into. What that that means is now clear. Even the N18,000 is only for Federal public servants. State civil servants will still be condemned to the current level of only N7,500! And while private sector employers who employ fifty or more workers will also have to pay N18,000, it is no secret that many of these companies have always found ways to bend the law.
Socialist Bulletin condemns in strong terms the new proposed minimum wage as being grossly inadequate for the needs of workers. We still call for N52,200 and also demand that the income gap between the highest paid public servant (both elected and appointed) and that of those on the minimum wage should be greatly reduced.
We also demand that negotiations on the minimum wage should be preceded by shop-floor level discussions in each workplace. Trade union officials should not take decisions over and above the heads of the rank and file workers whom they represent. The only way for the disconnection between trade union bureaucrats and the rank and file at the grassroots of the union to be minimized is by promoting participatory internal democracy in the unions. The struggle for living wages is tied to the struggle for economic, social and political democracy in the broader society and robust internal democracy in the trade unions.
No to N18,000 minimum wage!
For a new living minimum wage debate at the workplace!!
For internal democracy in the unions and social change through workers struggle!!!
Should labour shift ground on deregulation?
A well respected voice has been added to those calling for labour to shift ground on the issue of deregulation, particularly in the downstream sector of the petroleum industry. Speaking at a programme of the Labour Writers Association of Nigeria recently, Professor Dafe Otobo of the University of Lagos advanced the view that: “Deregulation and privatization may be carried out in different degrees”.
His argument was based on the position that: if the refineries were owned by “persons or investors, they would not have run them down”. His position however seems contradictory as he further argues that: “even companies in the private sector collapse daily”.
The missing link in the Professor’s argument might be that of workers’ power. As working class activists, while we stand against deregulation, we do not subscribe to the present system where state owned enterprises are run by some boss or the other, on the basis of the logic of the market. It is labour, as the NLC’s motto boldly states, that creates the wealth of any society. Why should the creator be the servant of his or her creation? Why can’t we democratically control the oil industry?
Our position is not just for a regulated economy. We call for the public ownership of the refineries and the commanding heights of the economy; and for these to be placed under the democratic management and control of the workers in each company. Labour should not shift grounds on deregulation. On the contrary it must go beyond being anti-deregulation to fighting for a new social order built on workers’ power and democratic management of society, the economy and individual companies, factories and offices.
May Day and the Nigerian working class; the struggle continues!
On July 14, 1889, socialists and working class activists from twenty countries gathered in Paris to form the Second International. This platform was to unite revolutionary socialist parties of workers in the fight to overthrow the capitalist system and establish workers’ power across the world. It survived for nearly thirty years, but collapsed during the First World War. One of the most significant resolutions of the 1889 Congress was to set aside 1st May, as a day for demonstrating International Working Class Solidarity, across the world.
May Day was chosen in honour of the martyrs of Haymarket Square and the mass strike for an 8-hour working day which led to their victimisation in 1886. That year, almost 400,000 workers in America had embarked on a nationwide strike, shutting down 526 workplaces, starting on May 1.
The strike action shook Chicago as it was a stronghold of revolutionary working class ideas and organizations. More than 40,000 workers downed their tools and the city was paralyzed with almost three quarters of the factories shut. On May 3, working class activists picketed McCormick Harvesting Machine Company. The workers had been locked out since February, but a few strike-breakers, protected by hundreds of police, were still working. The police fired into the picketing workers killing at least two of them.
Revolutionary activists organized around the newspaper, Alarm, summoned a mass rally the next day. The rally was held peacefully at Haymarket Square, but when it was about to end, a bomb was mysteriously exploded. Agents of the police may have done this to create an excuse for them to disperse the workers. And this they did, about fifteen people were killed in the ensuing violence.
The state then arrested and tried eight leading working class activists supposedly for the violence even though some of them were not even at the rally! They were: August Spies, Albert Parsons, Adolph Fischer, George Engel, Louis Lingg, Michael Schwab, Samuel Fielden and Oscar Neebe. They were basically prosecuted for being socialists who stood for the workers and against capitalism. They were all found guilty; the first seven of them were sentenced to death with four hung publicly. The eighth, Oscar Neebe, was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
As the martyrs of the Haymarket massacre were being taken to their unjust judicial murders, August Spies boldly shouted; “The time will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today!” History has absolved them. The 8-hour workday they fought for, leading to their deaths is now standard practice. The callousness of the bosses, which they understood and which informed their struggle, is now ever clearer to the perceptive worker. Their martyrdom has inspired billions of workers over the past 114 years, across all lands in the world.
In Nigeria, May Day was officially commemorated as a public holiday for the first time in 1980. This was in Kano State where the pro-talakawa People’s Redemption Party was in power. The following year, the NPN government at the Federal level had to make it a national public holiday so that it would not be outshone by the PRP.
This year’s May Day occurs with the background of Nigeria’s golden jubilee as an independent country, at a time when the world economy is reeling from economic meltdown invoked by the greed of the few capitalist bosses while billions of working people, particularly in underdeveloped countries like Nigeria, continue to live in penury. For fifty years the country has been led by elites who have demonstrated quite clearly the hopelessness of any possibility of development and a better life for the millions of workers, peasant farmers, poor artisans, petty traders and others who live by their toil, on the basis of capitalism.
The elite class of bosses in Nigeria have as their trademarks: daylight robberies of the state treasury, electoral fraud, police brutality, sponsoring of ethno-religious conflicts to keep working people divided, and shame-faced subservience to their “big brothers” – the multinational corporations of advanced capitalist countries, their states and global economic institutions like the World Bank, IMF and WTO.
To draw attention to this condemnable situation, the joint NLC/TUC May Day commemoration’s theme is “50 years of nationhood and the Nigerian working class; challenges of good governance, unity and credible elections”. Since Independence the Nigerian worker has suffered immensely. The past twenty-five years of neoliberalism, with its creed of privatization, deregulation and cuts in the funding of social services have even made us worse off still.
Workers are the only social force that can forge the unity of all exploited and oppressed citizens. We are definitely desirous of governance that is good. But such governance can never come from the visionless elite class of capitalists, even with the most credible of elections. The challenge before the working class today is to mobilize its strength, organize itself politically on the basis of a socialist programme for social transformation and to fight to overthrow the capitalist system. The emancipation of the working class cannot come from governance exercised by even the best of capitalists; it can only be won with workers’ power wielded by the workers themselves in solidarity with struggles of other workers across the world.
The greatest May Day lesson for us at this critical point in our history is that; it is only through our struggle and our solidarity, that we can emancipate ourselves and build a new world where social wealth can be used for our benefit and not just reserved for the corrupt elite.
Lagos NLC awards employers!
Wonders they say will never end! A deplorable wonder is that in Lagos State where the NLC State Council decided to use International Workers’ Day as the theatre for awarding employers…who have also been asked to contribute huge sums of money for the awards they are to be presented with!
This is a shameless act which should be condemned by all workers. It is bad enough to have government officials attending May Day processions and talking as long as the workers’ leaders do. To now line up the employers who exploit the workers’ labour power as well, for awards, raises deep moral, political and ideological questions.
Socialist Bulletin categorically condemns the awards programme and demands that the Lagos State NLC Council apologises to the workers for dragging our name in the mud.
Three journalists killed in April
April 24 was a very bad Saturday for journalists. Three further members of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) were killed on that day. These were Edo Ugbuagwu, a judicial correspondent of The Nation, who was shot dead in Lagos; Sunday G. Bwede and Nathan Dabak, both of The Light Bearer, who were stabbed repeatedly during the recent violence in Jos.
The NUJ raised alarm about this terrible matter. The Federation of African Journalists (FAJ) has also added its voice to the outcry.
The NUJ has demanded that media owners must make comprehensive insurance available for journalists. It has also decided to set up an independent investigative panel to look into the murders of its three members.
The FAJ President, Comrade Omar Farouk Usman, expressed the shock and concern of “the entire African journalists’ movement” at “these senseless murders”. He further called on “the Nigerian government and law enforcement bodies to smash the string of impunity surrounding the murders of journalists in Nigeria.”
Socialist Bulletin expresses its condolence to the families of Ugbuagwu, Bwede and Dabak, and the Nigeria Union of Journalists at this traumatic time for them. We equally lend our voice to the demands of the NUJ and the FAJ. It must however be stressed that the murders of these journalists reflect deeper problems in society. The ‘get-rich at any cost’ ideology which is being widely encouraged results in armed robbers and hired assassins. Also, ethnic and religious violence are often encouraged by the rich elite in the struggle between themselves for control of resources.
The way forward to put an end to such “senseless murders” and senseless poverty and hopelessness of the mass of the people is to throw off the yoke of capitalism and its ideology. This way is the way of socialist struggle and revolutionary change.
Ekiti judiciary workers strike
Workers in the Ekiti State judiciary commenced an indefinite strike in April, demanding the implementation of the Consolidated Judiciary Salary Structure (CONJUSS).
Earlier, in December 2009, the workers under the platform of the Judicial Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN), held a warning strike. The State Government then agreed to implement CONJUSS. But the State Government failed to keep to this agreement.
In a press statement announcing the commencement of the strike, Comrade M. S. Ibiyemi, the JUSUN Ekiti state chair, condemned “the hard stand of the state over the non-implementation of the proposed salary structure”.
Socialist Bulletin also condemns this “hard stand”, and gives full support to Ekiti JUSUN in its strike. It must however be noted by workers that while at times employers and the capitalist state might seem temporarily to have even “soft stands”, their interest which primarily is our continued exploitation as the creators of social wealth makes it such that deep down, they will always be “hard “ against us.
As Ekiti state judicial workers fight for better wages and wage a strike to get the government to change its hard stand and implement the agreement it entered with the union, they should have at the back of their minds that the issues ultimately go beyond such improvements in wages and working conditions. It is the capitalist system as a whole that we need to give the boot to, for us to win our self-emancipation as the working class.
Meanwhile in Ibadan in mid-April, members of the Oyo State chapter of JUSUN barricaded all the entrances to the state High Courts and Magistrates for several hours, as they resumed their suspended strike.
Two-Day Workshop For ASSBIFI Workers
A two-Day workshop with the theme: “Strategic Planning for Leadership” was organized by the Michael Imoudu National Institute for Labour Studies for workers for the Association of Senior Staff of Bankers, Insurance and Financial Institutions at Chesbury Hotel, Abuja in late April.
At the forum, it was agreed that labour has a key role to play in politics. This is needed to realise the full potential of trade union organizations in improving the lot of their members.
In the banking and other financial institutions there is much corruption by the banks’ managements and not well thought reforms embarked on by successive governments. The workshop believed this has been made possible because workers unions, key stakeholders in the sector, have not been properly involved in policy formulation and implementation.
The workshop canvassed for unity of purpose of the working class under a political platform that will be able to achieve solidarity in struggle among the trade unions, the youths, poor farmers, artisans and other working people. They also agreed that efforts should be made to work towards gaining political power which will go a long way to reinforce the role of labour at the economic level.
Ex-Staff of Union Bank picket bank’s headquarters
Former workers of Union Bank picketed the bank’s headquarters at Victoria Island, Lagos recently. They were demonstrating because they had not been paid their severance retirement entitlements. Some have been waiting for the past three years since they retired.
Over 250 members affected in the Lagos metropolis participated in the show down. Other members affected in other areas like Ibadan and Abuja are strategising to embark on similar action. The action stalled the activities of the bank for a whole day.
One of the managers of the bank stated that they have not been able to settle the matter because some of the affected members were in court and that they did not want to take any action that will be prejudicial to court proceedings.
There is actually no court case. This is just a lame excuse, according to one of the affected workers.
The effort of the ex-staff to fight for their rights is a step in the right direction! It is through struggle that they can win their entitlements. Socialist Bulletin calls for the solidarity of other workers within the sector to bring the bank’s bosses to their knees.
There have been strong protests as the contractors who have improved and widened the Lekki road have now started charging users. This makes the cost of travelling between Lekki and Lagos Island very expensive.
The State Government put the bosses greed over the needs of citizens with its Public Private Partnerships which has resulted in poor Lagosians paying to use the roas. Governments should provide such services for free so all citizens can benefit. Charging for roads means that only the rich can use them.