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5 October 2018
On Sunday September 30, 2018, the three labour centres in Nigeria: NLC, TUC and ULC ended the indefinite warning strike that they had jointly called after two days of action. The strike, which was over a new national minimum wage, was not adequately mobilized for but was largely successful, especially with public sector workers. Compared to a largely failed May 2016 general strike over fuel price hike, this strike recorded a greater compliance from formal sectors or lesser resistance when strike committee visited to enforce the strike at workplaces. This is because despite the poor mobilization the strike met up with the current mood, unlike in 2016, which is growing rapidly and much deeply against Buhari government over its monumental failure to make real the huge illusion reposed in it. Indeed the labour leaders are sheepishly trailing the mood. With a fighting leadership, a call for a mass protest over poor living conditions could likely at this period attract a massive response like that of the January 2012 mass protests and strike.
A further evidence of the half-heartedness with which the labour leadership pursued the strike is the confusion over the character of the general strike. At the initial stage, it was called both an indefinite and a "nationwide warning strike" in the official declarations of the main trade centres (NLC, TUC and ULC). According to 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). This makes the strike "an indefinite warning nationwide strike". Then towards the weekend, a number of mainstream media started calling it a "seven day warning strike". Apparently someone within the bureaucracy had belatedly realized the absolute nonsense of "an indefinite warning nationwide strike"! Needless to say, that the labour movement could see an indefinite general strike as an action only meant to threaten or warn the regime is clear evidence of how low the labour movement in Nigeria has sunk politically and ideologically. As seen in previous general strikes, the current labour leaders are not prepared to serious struggle for concrete demands and all too often ready to call off actions for some dubious government promise which is usually not implemented.
Nevertheless, it was a positive development that all the labour centres went into the strike as a united front, something they are doing for the first time since the factionalisation of NLC and subsequent formation of ULC following the crisis that rocked the last delegate conference of the NLC. The united action also contributed to the relative success of the strike despite the poor mobilization. For instance, the railway union which is an affiliate of the ULC stopped the operation of trains which carry a sizeable number of passengers between Ogun State and Lagos daily. The participation of the union of senior bank workers which is an affiliate of the TUC meant that many banks were closed or operated on a skeletal basis. These were in addition to public offices and schools that were closed. This has further underscored the correctness of the position of the DSM that a united action of the labour centres is required to guarantee a success in the struggle for the minimum wage.
It turned out to be good that the labour went ahead with the strike despite the government having met their demand which was effectively limited to reconvening of the tripartite committee on the new minimum wage, a body which has moved with a snail speed without any sense of urgency. It is significant that the NLC's official September 24 statement calling the strike did not once mention Labour's N65,000 demand, this gave the appearance was that all the labour leaders wanted was the committee to restart meeting, not to win Labour's demand. In response to the labour's strike threat demand, the government had fixed the meeting for Thursday October 4 before the strike started on Thursday September 27. However the government is using this committee as a manoeuvre to get the labour leaders to agree a rotten compromise, something many seem willing to do. In reality serious action is needed to win a meaningful minimum wage which is actually paid on time and is not linked to retrenchment.
This strike has helped demonstrate the resolve and readiness of Nigerian workers to fight for a higher minimum wage, something that could be used by a serious labour leadership to win a decent deal. We of the DSM have been consistently calling for such warning strike however with definite number of days – 24 hours or 48 hours - and mass activities like protest rallies, mass leafleting, symposia, etc. as first steps in order to mobilise mass support for the demand and demonstrate the capacity to fight for it.
Therefore, it is not yet hurrah for the leadership as they still have much to do to win the support of the poor masses and other sections of the working people against possible falsehood from the government, especially at the state level, that public workers, who are few, alone want to take a huge share of the resources at the expense of others. Labour also has to puncture the fallacious arguments from the government and pro-capitalist commentators that an increase in minimum wage leads to inflation, these arguments actually show that capitalism cannot give Nigerian working people a living wage. There is also the problem of huge salary arrears, against which sadly labour leadership has failed to seriously fight, which could be used as an argument why the state government cannot pay a higher wage. This also means that minimum wage demand must link with the continuing struggle for payment of salary arrears.
We therefore reiterate our call on the labour leadership to, side by side with ongoing negotiation with the government and private employers, organize a series of mass activities nationwide aimed at mobilizing mass support for the minimum wage demand and linking with general demands of the working people on living condition, public education, health care, jobs, power, etc. The minimum wage struggle must also be linked with poor condition of many workers especially in private sector faced with scourge of casualization and attacks on democratic rights.
It is instructive that the labour leaders must learn from the cynical response that trailed the announcement of the suspension of the strike. Many people believe that the labour leaders as usual were not ready for a serious fight or had sold out workers by calling off an indefinite strike after just two days of action. This is partly due to lack of trust in the labour leadership, following their conducts in the previous strike, by workers and the masses. But more importantly, this reaction was a product of the wrong tactics of selling the dummy of an indefinite strike to workers and the public when the struggle was not ripe for such a long strike and the labour leadership themselves were not prepared for it. They should have called a definite strike such as a two-day strike with nationwide mass protests as a warning to the government and also as a mobilizing step to win mass support for the demand and argument for a clearly stated minimum wage figure. This was especially as the government had already met the demand of the strike which was for the reconvening of the tripartite committee by naming a date for it. Unfortunately, the adoption of this wrong tactics has further deepened the distrust with which the ordinary workers and the masses held the labour leaders.
Now those leaders prepared to struggle and rank and file activists need to draw the lessons of the last few days by advancing concrete proposals and initiatives to win the N65,000N.