Senate Action is a Wake-up Call on the NLC and TUC to fight more Resolutely to Defend Workers Living Standards
* NLC and TUC Must Call an Immediate 48-hour General Strike/Mass Protest Now!
The Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) condemns in absolute terms the anti-poor decision by the Nigerian Senate to remove minimum wage from the Exclusive List of the Constitution. This action of the Senate portends the danger of undermining workers collective bargaining for minimum wage raise in future.
Particularly coming on the heels of the blatant refusal of several state governments to fully implement the N18,000 minimum wage law over two years after it was enacted, the decision of the Senate to remove minimum wage from the Exclusive list is vexatious and must be vehemently resisted by the entire labour movement. In this wise, the SPN calls on the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) to start immediate mobilization for a 48 hour general strike and mass protests to oppose this anti-worker decision of the Senate and also to begin to fight for the full implementation of the N18, 000 minimum wage at all levels.
This action of the Senate is a wake-up call on the labour leadership to be combative and fight resolutely to defend workers living standards. In our view as a working class political party, this vexatious assault on workers wage is only possible because of labour's rather weak response when the state governments bunched together two years ago to resist the implementation of the N18,000 minimum wage law. For instance, in some states where some semblance or pretense of implementation including states controlled by the Action Congress of Nigeria (now All Progressive Congress), workers were heavily shortchanged while the labour leaders looked the other way. Even where workers fought hard, they were left to fight alone without complementary solidarity actions from the national leadership of the NLC and TUC. At the same time, the labour leadership made no serious effort whatsoever to ensure that private sector workers benefitted from the N18,000 minimum wage in effect allowing the terrible labour conditions in the private sector like poverty wage and casualisation to continue unchallenged.
This is why we stressed the point in our last statement on the subject that while the leaderships of NLC and TUC have commendably opposed the plan to remove minimum wage from the Exclusive List, they have failed to sufficiently demonstrate to workers the benefit of having the minimum wage under the Exclusive List. This is because despite securing a national minimum wage, which is backed with an enabling law, the labour leadership has not done anything serious, except lamentation or empty threats, to force the state governors who have not implemented the new wage to do so. Indeed in some cases they gave the state governments go ahead to water down the minimum wage. For instance, the President of NLC Abdul Wahed Omar was reported to have revealed during a visit to Ekiti State in March that the labour leadership had had agreement with states with proven evidence of inability to pay N18,000 as minimum wage to negotiate with labour leaders in their domains on what to pay (This Day April 1, 2013).
Therefore, the general strike and mass protest we are proposing should not just be used to oppose the removal of the minimum wage law from the exclusive list, it should also be used to renew the fight for the full implementation of the N18,000 minimum wage by the Federal and State governments as well as private employers of labour. This also means that all previous agreements between labour and some state governments over the implementation of the minimum wage law which has led to the shortchanging of workers have to be subjected to immediate review and strike notices issued to such state governments. The leadership of labour have to also especially and immediately move into all private companies refusing and/or reneging on implementing the N18,000 minimum wage law with strike notices and with programs and activities to mobilise the workers for mass protests. At the same time the lesson must be drawn that without a mobilization of labour in action there is no guarantee that legal reforms or improvements will be implemented.
Besides, with rising cost of living and collapse of infrastructures this attack on minimum wage will greatly worsen the already poor living condition of many workers. Inflation is currently standing at over 13 percent with consumer goods especially food inflating by as much as 50 percent. Just two weeks ago, the federal government increased electricity tariff by another 100 percent, while fees have been increased by as much as 500 percent in various tertiary institutions in the past three years. These are aside other anti-poor capitalist policies that have made and are making lives miserable for the people.
Therefore, the proposed general strike must also draw along all others demands of the working people such as reversal of the obnoxious hike in electricity tariff and privatization; hike in school fees and underfunding of education; among others. With this, the whole of the working and poor masses can be carried along, and mobilized to the struggle. We advocate for formation of struggle committees of workers, youths, students, community people to coordinate this strike and protests.
By this latest action, the Senate has further confirmed the anti-poor and pro-rich character of the elements in government both at legislative and executive arms. The Senate, with connivance of state government and private sector employers, is making workers vulnerable to various state governments without social cover for the least paid workers, or regular increase of workers' wages based on general national economic indices. What this will mean is that minimum wage or wage increase is now voluntary for state governments and private employers of labour. This is worrisome development given the rabid quest of most state governments and private employers to drive down workers' wages as a way of having more money, not to develop the economy or infrastructures. Already, many state governments have not implemented minimum wage, especially for local government workers and teachers, while those that claimed to have implemented it have actually bastardized the minimum wage legislation. In fact, it took heroic struggles of workers or threat of it for many state governments to even agree to any minimal increase. Most private employers too have not implemented the minimum wage law. Therefore this latest onslaught is the institutionalization of this attack on minimum wage.
The fraudulent argument of federalism being touted as an excuse for this latest attack on workers is not only backward but treacherous. The same argument of federalism has not applied to salaries and allowances of public officers. According to official data, just 17, 474 politicians collect over N1.1 trillion as salaries, allowances and other perks of office out of total national budgets of around N9 trillion (including state and local governments), while the least paid worker is officially expected to live on a meager N18, 000 a month. It is ridiculous and more condemnable that the same day the Senate removed the minimum wage from the exclusive list, it voted for a life pension for its own members. Already, Nigerian senators individually collect pay that is more than annual salary of a US President. This is high level of insensitivity. However, we have to quickly warn the state governors to hold their shout of hurrah as this brutal attack on workers can never prevent or intimidate the workers from fighting for improvement in their working and living conditions including a living wage.
Above all, the central aim of this action of the Senate is to guarantee the interests of the anti-poor State governments and private employers of labour. The former can only have more money to loot and the latter more profit to make by paying less than the real value of workers labour. This singular action of the Senate confirms the brutal and exploitative logic of capitalist economy and makes a strong case for a socialist alternative which is the goal the SPN is committed to. We firmly believe that Nigeria has enormous wealth to pay not only a living wage to every worker but also make every Nigerian happy. It is the greedy interests of capitalist class in Nigeria that is making this unachievable. This is why labour must direct its opposition and anger against the capitalist system that breeds inequality and want by building a genuine mass working people's political party through which the long-suffering workers and masses of Nigeria can fight for political power and socialist alternative to capitalism.
Protem National Chairperson
Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN)