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16 May 2018
Since 2012 members of Democratic Socialist Movement have participated at May Day rallies with the special May Day fliers of Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN), along with Socialist Democracy - the DSM paper, that articulates demands and issues of workers as well as how to fight for them. This is done side by side with the calls on workers to join the SPN in order to help us jointly build it as a mass working people party, especially given the loss of the Labour Party to corrupt, anti-poor capitalist politicians. This year's event was very significant for members of the Socialist Party of Nigeria being the first since the registration of the party following about four years of both political and legal struggles.
Remarkably, we participated actively at 19 May Day rallies in 18 states viz. Lagos, Oyo, Osun, Ogun, Ondo, Ekiti, Edo, Delta, Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Kwara, Kogi, Nasarawa, Kano, Niger, Kaduna, Benue and Abuja. In Lagos, there were two rallies as the United Labour Congress (ULC) held its national rally at National Stadium Surulere, while the Lagos Chapters of both the Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress held a joint rally at Agege Stadium. The national rally of the NLC and TUC was held in Abuja.
About 22,000 copies of the SPN May Day leaflet, arguing in support of the demand of workers for a higher minimum wage and the need for mass actions including a 24 hour warning strike; in addition to a call on workers to join the party, were circulated. Additionally in Lagos, Ogun and Osun separate SPN leaflets addressing local issues and demands of working people and calling for membership of the party were distributed. In Oyo where the party was then planning to participate in its first ever electoral contest at the May 12, 2018 local government election, the opportunity May Day provided to reach out to a wider layer of workers with our campaign programme, was seized. Significantly Ibadan South West, where we were contesting the position of the Council Chair with Abbey Trotsky, has the largest concentration of industries in the state. Also at the Lagos rally was a group of cheated dockworkers who came to draw public support for their struggle against exploitation by their former employers. The Campaign for Democratic and Workers' Rights (CDWR), pro-labour platform of DSM, has been supporting their struggle.
As expected, the minimum wage was the main issue in the May Day messages of labour leaders. While the NLC and TUC demanded N66, 500, the ULC put forward N96, 000. Both figures are payable if labour is ready to seriously struggle for either. But, as usual with most current labour leaders, the speeches at May Day were all hot air. Nothing was said on how to actually mobilise workers for actions to force government and dictate the speed and direction of the negotiation.
It is almost two years now that negotiations on a new minimum wage were promised. On May Day all what was issued by the NLC president was an empty threat of not voting for politicians not paying or supporting new minimum wage. Is there any politician from the big pro-establishment parties sincerely supporting a significantly higher minimum wage? A few may talk about it now, but that is only because elections are approaching. Formally, the existing minimum wage should have been reviewed in 2016, but nothing was done until the 2019 elections came into sight.
At the same time, currently there is no mass working people party that will benefit from the supposed threat of the labour leadership. What is the point in trying play APC politicians against PDP ones? Neither party delivers. Now ex-NLC president and former Edo state governor Adams Oshiomhole is being made APC Chairman in an attempt to make it look "progressive", but what will really change? Significantly, this ex-labour leader has said nothing about the APC led states which are not paying their workers and pensioners on time.
Workers have to struggle to win a higher minimum wage. Ordinary workers are ready, as events in Osogbo and Akure at this May Day and in Abuja last year showed, but are not mobilized to fight by the present leadership. Even if President Buhari approves a new minimum wage in consideration of 2019 elections, as President Jonathan did in 2011, it will require spirited mass struggles to force its full implementation and prevent mass retrenchment.
Already, no governor is in support of new minimum wage. In any case, many of them still owe a backlog of salaries. In Ondo it was a slang match between APC Governor Akeredolu and workers as the Governor brazenly declared that he would not pay a new minimum wage. In Osogbo, where a good number of workers walked out of the venue as Osun APC Governor Aregbesola mounted the podium, the Governor only thinly veiled his objection to minimum wage rise, suggesting that workers are not productive. Aregbesola is one of the representatives of governors on the minimum wage tripartite committee.
Virtually all state governors share his contemptuous view of workers. But who set the job description and course of duty for workers? Any worker that is not productive is because the government makes it so. For instance, government award projects to contractors, who are usually fronts of politicians, while there are workers in ministry of works or works department. Government hire consultants for tax collection while there are workers in Ministry of Finance. Yet, they are lamenting workers are not productive. Besides, these governors have many political aides who are leeches on the state resources.
So, as we argued in our May Day materials, in both SD and SPN leaflet, the labour leaders must immediately begin to organize a series of mass activities including rallies, mass protest and a 24 hour warning general strike in order to win not only a higher minimum wage without retrenchment of workers but also the settlement of all unpaid salaries and pensions. At the same time, rank and file workers and labour activists have to mount pressure on labour leaders and jolt them out of their lethargy by organizing independent activities at grass roots level to build support for action.
The question of Labour Party was also one of the themes of the speech of the NLC President, promising the resolve to build the party. A growing number of Nigerians, including workers, are becoming disenchanted with establishment parties especially the APC and PDP. This is the mood the labour leaders are apparently trying to catch on. Unfortunately the Labour Party, formed by NLC but abandoned to rightwing, rotten elements, is part of the rot, and seen rightly as such by most workers. Besides, it is very doubtful labour leaders are serious about building that party. Many of the labour leaders are reportedly sympathizers of President Buhari, and there is allegation that they are only interested in the Labour Party in order to prevent the PDP elements gaining influence or control over the party, and not to build it as a political alternative to the APC, PDP and the other exploiters' parties. This is why it was not surprising that the same NLC president Ayuba Wabba who spoke of reclaiming the Labour Party on May Day was sighted a few days after at an event where Oshiomhole formally declared his intention to contest for the national chairmanship position of the ruling APC. Asking workers to join Labour Party as presently constituted and oriented, is mobilizing them to an enemy camp. This is why our materials circulated at the rallies nationwide called on workers to join the SPN and build it as a fighting party of the working people. At the same time, we call on wider labour movement, if it is serious about building a political labour movement, to form and build a mass working peoples' party.
However, while there was seeming pretext of working for a political alternative at the main rally in Abuja, in some states the labour leaders were unashamed praise singers of the respective ruling parties and governors. For instance in Lagos, the NLC/TUC rally was turned into a second term campaign rally for Governor Ambode. Open support for Ambode did not reflect the totality of the mood of workers at the rally given the unabashed, callous attack on the poor by the state government. About 2,000 copies of the SPN leaflet were circulated and 110 copies of Socialist Democracy were sold at Agege, Lagos rally. These materials may help workers looking a pro-masses' political alternative to trace the way to us.
At the May Day rallies nationwide, dozens of workers indicated interest in joining the SPN. With them we may reach out to more workers while working to build a strong base within the working class people.