URGENT STEPS NEEDED TO MAKE THE STRIKE SUCCEED
The Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) throws its weight behind the decision of the three labour federations – the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the United Labour Congress (ULC) – to commence a nationwide warning strike by the midnight of Wednesday 26 September 2018 following the expiration of the 14 days ultimatum the labour centres issued to the federal government to demand the reconvening of the tripartite committee on the new national minimum wage to conclude its work on setting the new national minimum wage.
The Tripartite Committee, which comprises representatives of labour, federal and state governments and private employers of labour, is a body the government has created to work out the figures of a new national minimum wage. This committee has been asked by the Minister of Labour to adjourn indefinitely in a move which is suspected to be an attempt by the Buhari/Osinbajo fundamentally anti-worker government to frustrate the possibility of a new national minimum wage coming into being this year. In fact this committee has been used as a ploy to divert labour from actually struggling to win a higher minimum. At the same time the government has been lying to working people, back in February Labour Minister Ngige told the NLC’s 40th anniversary celebration that the new minimum wage would start sometime between July and September, but nothing happened.
Support the Strike!
To be clear, this is a strike that must be supported by the entirety of workers, youth and oppressed. Not only is a new national minimum wage legally due since two years ago, the increase in pump price of petroleum products, inflation, naira devaluation, increase in electricity tariff amongst others have increased the cost of living for Nigerian workers and their dependants. Today the N18, 000 minimum wage is not worth more than $50 – a poverty wage that is not adequate for any category of worker.
But true to type, the Buhari/Osinbajo government like all previous capitalist governments has shown clear insincerity about the minimum wage. Rather it is only using the promise to pay minimum wage as a ploy to ingratiate itself with workers with a view to getting their votes in the coming 2019 general elections. The snail-pace of negotiations at the tripartite committee whose work has now been suspended by the Minister of Labour as well as the lack of any provision for a new national minimum wage in the 2018 budget strongly confirms this.
We therefore commend the three labour centres for uniting to jointly prosecute this struggle. This form of unity in struggle has been a demand of the SPN for some time now in order to overcome the divisions that currently exist. It would be important for the labour movement to build on this and extend this spirit of solidarity into the rank and file of each of the federations.
On the Question of Tactics
The obvious question now is: how to make this strike successful and win a living minimum wage? We don’t want to see a repeat of the failure of the poor prepared strike called in May 2016.
Labour needs to be clear on what is the character of the nationwide warning strike. How many number of days would it last? Sadly nothing in labour’s statements to the media indicate concretely the character of the strike apart from the fact that it is a warning strike to be implemented nationwide. But a press statement signed by NLC General Secretary, Peter Ozo-Eson, the NLC declared that “The nationwide warning strike will remain in force until further directives are conveyed,” (Premium Times 25/9/2018). By this it seems apparent that, even though the words are not used, what has been declared in effect is an indefinite general strike.
That labour’s declaration is shorn of all concreteness about the character, nature and tenure of the strike is itself alarming because in reality a warning strike and an indefinite general strike are not the same in terms of preparation, prosecution and aims. This is why even as the labour prepare to commence strike nationwide stating from tomorrow, discussion about tactics are also very crucial.
On our part in the SPN, we fully support this strike. But, unfortunately, we have to also say that we consider the decision to launch a warning “indefinite” general strike as soon as the ultimatum expired as tactically-wrong and a possible preparation for another fiasco on the scale of the 2016 general strike. A better approach would have been to declare, as a first step, a 24-hr, 48-hr or 72-hr general strike for next week in order to allow for preparations and wider mobilization while using the October 1st independence day celebration as a launch-pad to hold mass rallies across the federation in order to build momentum for a total shutdown from the day after.
Tragically, it seems the leadership of the labour movement has not learnt much lessons from the extremely limited success of the 2016 general strike whose failure was not simply a function of divisions amongst unions but, in our view, also due to inadequate preparations and failure of critical affiliates of the NLC and TUC to mobilize their members to implement the strike. In order words, it is impossible to successfully prosecute an indefinite general strike without adequate mobilization of the working masses and preparations and without a leadership prepared to seriously fight for a political alternative.
Additionally, the leadership of the labour movement needs to understand that a general strike is not a scare-tactic or a weapon to threaten or intimidate government. Yes, a capitalist government can, in order to avoid a general strike, grant some concessions but always with the intention to take back all it has granted as soon as it feels safe enough. But consciously, a general strike is historically a weapon of the working class to galvanize all the oppressed and impoverished sections of the population to begin to fight against anti-poor policies and ultimately aim for political power. By virtue of how it sweeps the entirety of the working class and oppressed together in a torrent of mass activities and by virtue of how every nerve centre of the operation of the capitalist system ceases to function, a general strike always implicitly raises the question of political power i.e. who really is the master of society – the capitalist vampires or the workers.
Therefore intrinsically linked with the question of a general strike is also the question of a mass workers’ political alternative that can place itself at the head of the mass struggle to end capitalism and enthrone a government of workers and oppressed people armed with socialist programmes. Without ending capitalism, there is no way workers can permanently receive a living wage. Only the reorganization of labour and production in a socialist direction can ensure that workers receive a fair share of their contribution to production as well as an economy that meets the needs of the mass majority instead of the greed of a few.
What to do now
Notwithstanding the above, the SPN supports every effort to make the strike succeed. We suggest the immediate setting up of joint strike committees at national, state and community levels comprising labour leaders, rank and file activists in the trade unions and pro-labour organisations to begin immediate implementation of the strike once the ultimatum lapses. This means from 5am on Thursday and in every city across the country, this committee must deplore to all government secretariats, factories, banks, airports, sea ports and motor parks to begin implementation of the strike.
Immediate mobilizational materials like leaflets which really explain the issues and seeks to appeal for the support of other members of the oppressed class must be produced in hundreds of thousands. Labour must understand that the mass majority of Nigerians are fed up with the status quo but would not necessarily join a strike if they are not mobilized and their issues articulated. Today the anger is far deeper than at the time of the January 2012 general strike, the largest in the country’s history, which really began as a revolt from below. Therefore beyond minimum wage, such materials must equally demand payment of all owed arrears of salaries and pensions across the federation, decent jobs for the unemployed, reduction in the outrageous salaries and allowances of political office holders, an end to education commercialization, reversal of all anti-poor policies, end to crazy billing and for the renationalization of the electricity sector etc.
The SPN equally suggests that the general strike should not be a sit-at-home action. Rather public rallies and mass protests should be planned for Friday and particularly on Independence Day on Monday October 1st 2018. This would go a long way in drawing into the strike the army of the unorganized workers and the mass of the oppressed who are angry but lack leadership for their burning anger. For the success of the strike, it is important that real initiative is not left in the hands of the present labour leadership, many of whom have been involved in rotten compromises in the past. The strike committees which must be democratic and mass-based ought to be the real leaders of the strike in terms of deciding what to do on a day to day basis, how to implement the strike and ultimately when to suspend the action. Regular mass meetings to consider every tactical steps must be held from time to time during the course of the strike. We must avoid past errors wherein labour leaders abruptly suspend strike actions from the comfort of boardrooms without adequate discussions with the rank and file at the barricade. Such errors have severely damaged labour’s reputation in the past. Repeating such now would only further convince many that labour cannot be trusted.
In the final analysis, only a socialist revolution can guarantee a living wage for workers. That despite Nigeria’s immense wealth, workers and retirees in many states across the federation are being owed backlog of salaries and pensions is a clear indication that the capitalist system cannot guarantee a better life for workers and the oppressed. Now the economy is once again faltering which means more job losses and non-payment of salaries and pensions are in the offing. While fighting for the day to day interest of workers, the labour movement must also chart a way out for the working class out of the contradictions and crisis of capitalism.
This is why we once again call on the NLC, TUC and ULC to form a new mass workers political party or support building of the SPN as a mass party which can be utilized to take political power and run Nigeria in the interest of the mass majority. Unfortunately the Labour Party (LP) is not playing this role, rather the party is in alliance with the very capitalist parties that are responsible for workers’ misery. No doubt, a new mass workers party is urgently needed. Already the opportunity to begin to build one in time for the coming general elections has been lost. But such a force is still needed, not just for elections but for the struggles which will develop after the elections. As a step towards this, we suggest a national conference of trade unions, Socialists, SPN and other change-seeking political parties and civil society organizations to begin discussion about how such a political alternative can come into being.
Abiodun Bamigboye Chinedu Bosah
Acting National Chairperson National Secretary