Thursday, 8 September 2016

Unpaid Salaries and New Minimum Wage: Labour Must Declare a 24 Hour Warning General Strike Now!


The Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) welcomes the expression of interest by the national leadership of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) to begin agitation immediately over the demand for N56,000 new minimum wage as contained in the speech of the NLC President Ayuba Wabba at this year's Rain School organized by the Congress. We however call on them to match their words with action by coming out with concrete program of actions that would help win the demand. 

As reported in the media, the NLC President rightly noted that a new national minimum wage is not only long overdue but also that the purchasing power of workers has been seriously eroded by rising inflation and anti-poor policies of the government. He also lamented the lack of seriousness on the part of government towards beginning a process of negotiation of a new national minimum wage with formation of tripartite committee of government, private employers and labour. 

He was however reported to have warned the workers never to expect their demands to be achieved easily, adding that their interest could only be protected through collective struggle and agitations.
For this not to pass as another example of hot air by labour leaders, what NLC should do immediately is to declare a 24-hour general strike and begin a serious mass mobilization for action before and after such a strike. However, the demands of such warning strike must not be limited to increase in the minimum wage alone but also include unpaid salaries, pension arrears and job losses. 

As much as desirable and badly needed an increase in salaries for workers, it may be difficult for the NLC to mobilise mass support for a new minimum wage if workers are owed a backlog of current salaries running to several months, placed on half salaries or face retrenchment without serious fightbacks. 

On unpaid salaries, the NLC President was quoted to have said: "We have decided after meeting with state councils and unions that where we have liability of three months of either salaries, pension or gratuity, you must be seen to start an action, we will be there to support you."

Unfortunately, this decision is a continuation of a weak commitment towards the struggle over unpaid salaries and pension arrears by the national labour leadership. The problem is not so much about lack of actions including strikes at state levels, but the isolation of those struggles which make them win little or nothing. For instance, Oyo state workers went on strike and massive street protests for seven weeks but could only win payment of two months' salaries out of seven month' arrears.

About 27 states are said to owe salaries and pensions, instead of leaving each state leadership of workers to their own devices, the struggle must be centrally coordinated by the NLC with a series of mass activities including national strike and rallies. 

There can be no doubt that the country is facing a grave economic and social crisis. But this is not the result of anything that the working people and poor have done, the perilous situation stems from a crisis in the capitalist system combined with the determination of the ruling class to defend its own power and wealth. The media is dominated by talk of the "recession", but working people must not be intimidated into thinking nothing can be done. Buhari has asked for "emergency powers" to deal with the crisis, but working people cannot trust pro-capitalist governments to act in their interests. 

It is working people and the poor who need to take "emergency" action themselves to defend and improve our already meagre living standards. As a start we strongly hold that despite decline in oil revenues state governments can still pay workers' salaries and implement viable projects if they cut the salaries and allowances of political office holders, stop wastages of resources and end all anti-workers/poor policies. But this will only be achieved by determined struggle. The NLC, TUC and trade union leaders have a responsibility to initiate such a battle. The ranks of labour have to demand that the challenge of seriously fighting to defend our living standards is taken up by this leadership or, if they are not prepared to do so, by one that will strive to build a mass fightback.

Chinedu Bosah
National Secretary, SPN