Sunday, 1 September 2013

NLC on Minimum Wage and ASUU: Labour Must Go Beyond Scratching the Surface

NLC, TUC Should Mobilise for 48-hour Strike on Minimum Wage
and in Support of ASUU Struggle


The Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) welcomes the recent decision of the National Executive Council of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) to take up some issues affecting the working people. According to the NEC Communiqué issued at the end of the meeting held on 29th of August, 2013, the NLC NEC resolved to, among other issues, mobilise against the Senate resolution to move Minimum Wage from Exclusive List to Concurrent List; participate/mediate in the current negotiation between the federal government and striking lecturers under ASUU; and take up labour issues in Anambra State. While we welcome decisions of the NLC NEC to address these issues, we however feel that the Congress should go beyond scratching these issues on the surface with the manner in which it wants to address these issues.

Minimum Wage

The decision of the Congress to mobilise workers against the anti-worker decision of the Nigerian Senate to scrap the national minimum wage by moving the minimum wage from Exclusive List to Concurrent List of the constitution is good. But the statement is not clear on what type of mobilization the labour leadership wants to do. This is necessary when viewed against the background that in most of the states, and even in the private sector, the N18, 000 national minimum wage passed into law in 2011 has not been really implemented. Therefore, for labour leadership to effectively mobilise workers against the anti-worker Senate, it must link this with the struggle to ensure full implementation of the national minimum wage. Currently, teachers and local government workers have been shortchanged by many states under the guise of implementing minimum wage, while some states have resorted to retrenching workers under different guises. Also rampant is the mass employment of casuals by not only private sector, but also federal and state governments, to avoid the payment of minimum wage to this category of workers.

Therefore, the issue of minimum wage goes beyond issuing threats to the Senate. Without labour leadership mobilizing workers against the attempt of employers, both private and government, to water down or decline the implementation of minimum wage many workers may not warm up to such mobilization having not really benefited from the national minimum wage. Therefore, we call on labour leadership to start conscious mobilization of workers against not just the Senate attempt to make minimum wage voluntary for governments and private sector, but also against attempt of various governments to rubbish the existing minimum wage law. We call on NLC to call, as a starting point, a 48-hour warning strike, backed up with mass actions like rallies, protest marches, etc. Resistance against attacks on workers’ working conditions, not just in Anambra State, but across the country should be part of this mass action.

Given the unsatisfactory way the labour leadership had handled some struggles in the past, especially the cancelation, at the midnight of July 20, 2011, of the strike on minimum wage that had been adequately mobilized for and planned to begin on that day and the January 2012 struggle on fuel price hike, it is most likely that any call by Labour for a general strike and mass action will be trailed by mass skepticism, even among workers and pro-labour activists. We therefore urge the labour leadership to immediately begin holding mass meetings with workers and pro-labour activists to assure them of their commitment to struggle as part of the preparation for the suggested strike which should also include mass rallies and circulation of leaflets. This must also include immediate resuscitation of Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO) that must come to stay as a fighting platform against all neo-liberal capitalist attacks on the working people and youth.  

On ASUU Strike

While we welcome the decision of the NLC NEC to intervene in ASUU Strike, we feel that the ‘negotiating’ approach of the Congress, rather than helping the striking lecturers achieve their demands, will lead to unwarranted compromise. While according to the NEC communiqué, the “Congress condemns in strong terms the inability/refusal of the government to reach an amicable resolution of its dispute with the Academic Staff Union of Universities”, NLC does not seem to be much interested in compelling government, through direct support to ASUU and mobilizing its members for solidarity action, to accede to the demands. On the contrary, while it “nonetheless calls for resumption of negotiation between the government and ASUU in the interests of students”, the best the labour leadership could offer is “to be directly involved in the negotiation”. From these statements of NLC leadership, it is can be inferred that the NLC believes that only negotiation, which by interpretation means compromise on both side, can resolve the demands of ASUU, especially as relating to education funding. This is reflected in the choice words– “amicable resolution”; that is a resolution that is both favourable to ASUU and federal government!

For the avoidance of doubt, it is only a small part of ASUU demands that is on allowance. While the Earned Allowances, accumulated over four years, for all categories of university workers, academic and non-academic, is N92 billion, the agreement on funding requirement of public universities is N500 billion by now and N1.3trillion by 2015. With the terrible conditions of education vis-à-vis collapse of infrastructures and falling standards, it is only appropriate for NLC to mobilise its massive support for ASUU and its demands. To limit the issue of ASUU strike to the “interests of students” is like helping the government to pile up pressure on ASUU and force it to rotten compromises that will neither end the agitations of ASUU nor resolve by any means, the monumental problems facing education sector. It should be noted that, as ASUU has stated severally, the current demands are by not new demands but existing agreement since 2009, which government has cynically refused to honour. If NLC limits its position to participating in negotiations or playing a mediating role, it will be laying wrong precedent for workers. Moreover, the current position of NLC contradicts an earlier position credited to the NLC president, where he promised to mobilise Nigerian workers in solidarity action with ASUU (Vanguard, July, 23, 2013).

Consequently, SPN calls on NLC to begin the mass mobilization of workers and the poor for a 48-hour solidarity strike with mass protests and rallies to compel federal government to immediately implement its agreements with ASUU, and adequately fund education with democratic control of elected representatives of workers and students.  Indeed, the struggle to put education on track, being spearheaded by ASUU, is a struggle of labour, which it must take up. Therefore, the 48-hour general strike, we have called for, must be urgent and combine the full implementation of minimum wage and opposition to the attempt to scrap the national minimum wage with solidarity action in support of the struggle of ASUU.  

By and large, we enjoin labour movement to start the process of providing working people’s political alternative to all the anti-poor governments at all levels. On the basis of attacks on working and oppressed people by various sections of the neo-colonial capitalist class, it is glaring that no appeal or romanticizing of any section of the ruling elite can yield any fundamental improvement in the lives of working people and the oppressed. This is because it is against the class interests of the capitalist class to provide for the need of the majority. This therefore necessitates that labour movement must begin the process of building a mass political party, which will mobilise the mass of workers, youths, and the oppressed, who are in the majority,  for the aim of taking over political power and using the enormous natural, material and human resources, to put smile on the faces of the majority. .

The work to launch the Socialist Party of Nigeria is a step towards the building of a mass working peoples’ political platform. SPN members and supporters will strive to help in building the necessary mobilisations and actions to help secure the minimum wage, victory in ASUU’s strike to save education and the creation of a force that can seriously challenge and finish off this rotten system. This is the only way to end the irony of suffering in the midst of abundance.


Segun Sango
Protem National Chairperson, SPN