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23 September 2017
Labour leaders, trade unionists and pro-labour activists representing different organisations gathered on Lagos on Wednesday September 20, 2017 to discuss how the labour movement could actualize living wage for Nigerian workers and settlement of unpaid salaries. The symposium held at International Press Centre (IPC), Ogba, was organised by the Campaign for Democratic and Worker's Rights (CDWR) – a platform formed by the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) to campaign for workplace rights.
Amongst the speakers at the symposium, chaired by Comrade Rufus Olusesan, Chairman of the CDWR, were Barrister Musa Lawal, General Secretary of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), representing the TUC President, Bobboi Bala Kaigama; Abiodun Aremu, Secretary of Joint Action Front (JAF) and Comrade Dagga Tolar, the Acting General Secretary of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) participated. Other speakers included Gbenga Komolafe, General Secretary of the Federation of Informal Workers of Nigeria (FIWON) and Dr. Isaac Oyewunmi, ASUU LASU Chairman. The General Secretary of NUCLAMPE, Joseph Dada, and NLC Lagos State Chairman, Idowu Adelakun, sent apologies.
The program was introduced by Chinedu Bosah, Publicity Secretary of the CDWR, who made the point that the widening disparity between the rich and the poor together increasingly high cost of living underscores the imperative of labour movement organizing a spirited fight for living wage for workers. He added that the symposium was meant to be the beginning of a campaign for a new national minimum wage and full payment of outstanding salaries. Comrade Rufus Olusesan who presided over the program challenged the labour movement for a fight back against casualization and other anti-labour policies as well as winning a living wage for workers.
Barrister Musa who spoke first delved into the history of the struggle for improved wage starting from 1945 strike for cost of living allowance (COLA). He stated that living wage obviously differs from the minimum wage in that the latter is set by law and usually fails to meet the requirements of a living wage. According to him, "the present minimum wage of N18, 000 can barely provide a worker's meal for a whole week". He therefore concluded that labour should not only fight for a new minimum wage but also lead a struggle for good governance by marching to the National Assembly.
However this position betrays the limitation of the current labour leaders who do not see neo-liberal capitalist program as the main problem but focus simply on the operators of the system. This explains why they have not appreciated the need for a general fight against neo-liberal capitalist policies and for a working people alternative.
In his own speech Gbenga Komolafe emphasized the evils of neo-liberalism which was introduced in Nigeria as the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) just over 30 years ago. He argued that neo-liberal capitalist policies such as privatization are responsible for the continued collapse of the formal sector of economy with attendant throwing of more and more workers into the informal sector which itself is weak as a result of the crisis of capitalism especially in a neo-colonial country. He added that neo-liberal policies of privatization, liberalization, and commercialization largely account for poor living standard and wage. He concluded by challenging trade union leaders to mobilise for action against all forms of neo-liberal capitalist attacks by the government.
Abiodun Aremu was of the view that on the basis of capitalism the government can never implement policies in the interest of working people. It is only struggles that can force them to guarantee some concessions. According to him, we should have achieved a minimum wage of N100,000, if trade union movement was fighting hard enough stressing that the N56,000 currently being demanded is still a poverty wage. This is especially against the background of the inflation since the original demand of N52,200 minimum wage set by labour nearly nine years ago in December 2008, over two years before labour agreed, in 2011, N18,000 with the government. Aremu argued that we have to challenge and change the system to be able to win living wage and decent living standards for the working people.
When he spoke Dagga Tolar argued view that if labour does not fight the ruling class and defeat it politically, there is no way that workers are going to permanently win a living wage. However the leadership of the trade union movement did not want to carry out such a fight, indeed although they formed a labour party and they then gave it away to a section of the ruling class to run. He submitted that a socialist revolution is the only way the working people will ultimately resolve the capitalist contradiction. He however highlighted what the labour leadership, activists and rank and file workers must do as the first steps to win the current demand for N56, 000 minimum wage and payment of all salaries arrears. These first steps should include campaign at workplaces, communities, public mass meetings and a 24-hour general strike with nationwide mass protest.
The Lagos State Secretary of All Nigerians Autobike Commercial Owners Association (ANACOWA), Yusuf Oladimeji claimed that given the series of corruption cases, Nigeria is not poor but that labour leaders are the ones failing workers and the poor who are always ready to fight for better conditions if well mobilized.
Hassan Taiwo Soweto, the Coordinator of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC), called for the unity in struggle of the labour movement as precondition for a living wage to be won. He submitted that the failure of the labour leaders is one of the factors responsible for the sectarian agitations and violence in various parts of the country and there is the need for the labour leaders to offer leadership to the socio-economic and political struggle of the working masses. Besides, the labour leaders should go back to the tradition of joint actions/platform of Labour and pro-labour organisations to struggle jointly against various anti-labour policies.
Virtually all speakers including from the audience challenged the trade union leaders to take up the responsibility of defending workers seriously.
Comrade Rufus summarized the positions of the various speakers into the following:
The General Secretary of TUC gave a commitment to convoke a meeting of pro-labour organisations, activists and unions to kick start the discussion on how to achieve an improved wage for workers.
In a similar vein, when he spoke again to comment on the contributions from some of the participants, JAF Secretary Aremu stressed that this symposium should be taken as the beginning of campaign for a new national minimum wage.
The symposium came to an end with solidarity songs. In attendance were about 60 people including journalists from 10 media organisations as well as trade union leaders and activists from Trade Union Congress (TUC), Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), Academic Staff Union Universities (ASUU) and National Union of Postal and Telecommunication Employees (NUPTE). Also present were representatives of organizations such as Federation of Informal Workers of Nigeria (FIWON), Joint Action Front (JAF), Community Women Initiatives (CWI), Civil Society Club of Nigeria (CISOCAN), All Nigerians Autobike Commercial Owners Association (ANACOWA), Education Rights Campaign (ERC) and Human Rights Defence Group (HRDG).
We hope that this symposium, which is the first in a series of activities in our campaign on minimum wage and unpaid salaries, will set the tone for a struggle for a decent minimum wage to be increased in line with the rate of inflation without retrenchment.