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Socialist Democracy June-July 2018


8 June 2018

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DAGGA TOLAR DISCUSSES MINIMUM WAGE, MAY DAY

Between May 1 and May 8, 2018, Dagga Tolar, the Branch Chairman, Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) and Acting General Secretary of Democratic Socialist Movement, was the Personality of the Week on the social media platform of the Lagos State Wing of NUT. He fielded questions from tens of teachers on many issues including minimum wage, relevance of May Day and socialist alternative. The constraint of space means that we cannot publish the entire chat. Below is an excerpt from the interaction.

Oliyide Ololade Atupa: Chairman, we are very much hopeful of our expectations on the new minimum wage as clearly raised by the governor of Lagos state, Akinwunmi Ambode. But there had been times like this that our hope was raised but wasn't fulfilled despite some moves made by the union. What exactly can the union do to get the government convinced about our entitlement and ensure our benefits are duly paid?

Aj Dagga Tolar: The minimum wage is one issue that can be employed to strengthen the unions and improve workers' commitment to the unions if a struggle is waged and successfully won. We must therefore begin by stating that it is long overdue. At the same time we must point out that the necessary commitment by the leadership of the unions, and unity of purpose and action is needed, if victory is to be won. The NLC and TUC have reviewed their initial proposal to a new figure of N66, 500 and ULC demands a N96, 000.

What is a living wage if you ask me, I will say it refers to the figure, having taken into consideration all of the factors of cost, and other living conditions including the impacts of the devaluation factor and inflation.

Take the current value of the Naira at $1 to N360. And return back to the early 1980s, a new minimum wage of N125, which was there at Buhari's first coming in 1984. What was the exchange rate then?

0.56 Kobo to $1 dollar, which meant that the minimum wage of N125 was equal to $223 dollars. Can you imagine the injustice to our existence and all of the robbery that has taken place over a period of 35 years of underpayment by employers of labour in Nigeria paying a minimum wage of N18, 000 which translate to merely $50 dollars at the current exchange rate of a dollar to N360. A figure 450% below the $223 dollar rate of the 1980s which if translated to today's Naira value will give us a figure of N80, 357. So our N125 of 1980s is the same today of N80, 357. What is N66, 500 put forward by the NLC and TUC?

And this is just one aspect, we can next examine the growth of inflation over a certain period using some consumable products, like fuel, rice or rents and employ the inflation percentage over a certain period to determine what a living wage should be.

The point I am making is that workers deserve more than they can ever hope to get under this system and that labour leaders must be ready to provide all of the necessary education both to arm themselves and the rank and file of the unions, mobilize them and be prepared to call rallies and street activities even up to calling a 24 hours warning strike to demand the implementation of a new minimum wage without any loss of job. This country has enough resources to pay a living wage to workers. Dare to struggle, dare to win.

Fasasi Oyebola Giwa: Chairman, is it really salary increase that workers need to confront the biting economy or provision of essential goods and services by the government at little or no cost to the masses? Cheap food, housing, transportation, education etc. Economists believe that it will be back to square one if the economy is unduly inflated with too much money pursuing too few goods.

Aj Dagga Tolar: It is correct to state that workers need more than a new minimum wage, especially given the experience that a neo-liberal capitalist economy like ours will find one way to take everything back even if not more, through inflation, devaluation, deregulation, increase in the price of fuel, Land Use Charge, with multiplier effect increase on rent, school fees etc. Lateef Jakande seem now like a revolutionary long forgotten, not with the current situation of Lagos now with more private schools than public schools in the state.

So yes there is the tendency to say that labour leaders seem to have the wrong focus but we must not get ourselves confused on this issue. If ruling elites are foot dragging on a new minimum wage, can you then turn to the same ruling elites to implement a programme that will employ public funds to ensure that electricity, houses, schools, roads, jobs, quality health facilities are made available.

The answer is clear without my saying a word. Workers must combine a programme of agitation for a new minimum wage as well as a programme of organizing politically for a party that will put forward such a programme. Currently, if you ask me only a workers and poor farmers' government basing itself on socialist programs that can successfully pay living wage and sustainably improve living standard.

Ayetoba Gbenga: Comrade Chairman, I salute and welcome you on board as our personality for the week. On the issue of workers day, I observed that May Day celebration is becoming a jamboree this day. Government at all levels is seen taking over the celebrations as their own events. In my own view, I think the day should be a day set aside for workers to reflect on the critical conditions of workers particularly in a society like ours where nothing works. A situation where workers are seen gathering in a place, happy and throwing salutes to the government that puts them in that worse conditions should not arise and I think should be discouraged. To me workers should be marking the day through protest rally on the streets to create awareness and to be able to gain public sympathy. Now, as a veteran in Labour activism, what do you think is the best way to celebrate May 1st Workers Day.

Aj Dagga Tolar: Comrade you have clearly outlined a programme of action that I completely endorse.

Can we in the NUT take a step further? Of course, an initiative like this open platform online discourse needs to be applauded. The NUT Lagos wing is going into the annals as the first in this part of the world with an initiative like this, offering members of the union the opportunity to openly and freely take up issues with its leaders, articulate, criticize and see how new ideas can be birthed to improve the lot of the members of the unions.

While we have employed this May Day to articulate the need for a new minimum wage, we must make ourselves available at teachers' day celebration to again raise the issue, if it has not yet been resolved by October 5.

May Day celebration and the nature of its organization directly raises the question of how the funds of the unions are managed and what priority the leadership of the unions set on their agenda in terms of democratically using the funds of the union for the interest of its members.

For if this obtains, then there will be no need to take begging bowl to the state for funds to organise the May Day. An independently funded May Day by workers and their unions will indeed put forward demand and needs of workers more clearly without having to bend backwards not to displease the master funder.

Ademola Afolabi: Going by fairness, I'm seeing a leader here. I have heard and I read about this pro- socialist communist politician and his socialist periodicals. Humanity is his political base. May God Almighty continue to guide our leaders aright for better governance for humanity sake. Hi teachers! Hi N.U.T!

Aj Dagga Tolar: I am honoured to have these positive comments on my activities with the Democratic Socialist Movement and its paper, the Socialist Democracy.

This commitment is a consequence of a conscious understanding that the fundamental basis for the crisis with humanity is a fall out of the capitalist drive of the economy for the greed and profit of a few. It only an end to capitalism that in reality make free the needed resources to develop infrastructure, create massively millions of jobs and guarantee decent quality of life for all.

Workers must organise politically, embracing a socialist ideology to put in place a workers and poor farmers' government that will seek to employ the resources of society to meet the needs of all.

I want to urge all workers and change seekers that the task to make society, indeed to rescue the country from its continuous drift into the abyss is a task for all. Please read up on how to support the struggle of workers worldwide, and even join us. Follow this link for more details: w.w.w.socialistnigeria.org.