Workers’ day commemoration has always been an event that is known to attract active participation of both the reactionary bureaucracy of the labor movement, pro-labor organizations and the workers’ rank and file. This year’s celebration was however not any different but for some very conspicuous abnormalities that trailed the 2018 May Day event. Needless to say, the Nigerian Labor movement currently operates under three Labor centres; the Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the United Labor Congress (ULC). The three Labor centres are nevertheless mass organizations over the working class, but neither of the Labor centres has been gifted with even what is close to an ideologically clear leadership. As usual, the 2018 Workers’ Day celebration under the Ayuba Wabba led NLC and Boboi Kagama led TUC took place under the heavy participation of the state and all its instrument of coercion. The event took place in almost all the 36 states of the federation. May Day in Lagos and Abuja have always been special point of reference on a yearly basis. It has almost become tradition in the past years for the state to play lead roles in the celebration of workers’ day; the development at the Lagos celebration was somewhat ugly and highly disgraceful. The Lagos branch Leadership of the NLC and TUC seized the May Day event to make a bold declaration for the second term ambition of the Lagos State Governor; Akinwunmi Ambode. This is the same governor, who spent his three years in office harassing the pool of underpaid workers with mindboggling taxation, demolished several houses of the poor people thus rendering thousands of poor masses homeless, deprived several scores of others what is left of their means of livelihood through arbitrary demolition of numerous markets and several other anti-poor policies the downtrodden of Lagos have had to cope with. Despite all of this barrage of attacks of the living condition of the poor, the compromised Labor bureaucrats mobilized thousands of their members not obviously to commemorate the workers’ day with any radical demand but to cheer the State Governor on his second term bid. But for the leaflets distributed by the Pacesetters Movement and a handful of other pro-Labor organizations, the Labor leaders did not have materials that raised a single demand of the workers. Even the speech given by the duo of the NLC and TUC Chairman dwelt more on massaging the ego of the state.
This however was not the case in few other states like Kogi and Ondo where workers were being owed backlog of arrears in salaries and allowances. The majority of Kogi State workers failed to turn out for May Day in protest against the nonpayment of close to 24 months arrears owed to them. The state government continued to keep the workers in perpetual hunger despite receiving several tranches of bailout from the Federal Government. This is aside many other attacks the Yaya Bello led government had meted on workers, students, their Union and poor masses of the state despite amassing stupendous wealth just for himself. Governor Yaya bello in about three years of his administration brutalized protesting students with armed military men, banned their Union for taking a position in defense of University Workers’ strike and later on went ahead to ban the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Kogi State University branch; this move was although vehemently fought and rejected by students, the ASUU National body and the Nigeria Labor Congress. The apathy of the workers was not only a protest against the Governor Yaya Bello led government but a general displeasure towards reactionary and compromised Labor leadership in the state. In Ondo state, the workers practically walked out on Governor Akeredolu when he shamelessly told the workers he wasn’t going to pay them a leave allowance despite owing the workers four months salary arrears.
The situation however was quite different for the United Labor Congress. The ULC led a very massive rally down to the National Stadium Surulere, Lagos State where it canvassed numerous demands that borders on the need of the workers and the Nigerian masses. The National President of the ULC , Joe Ajaero, did not only do a good job in viciously condemning all anti-poor policies of Buhari led APC regime but also reiterated the Union’s demand for a new National minimum wage of N108, 000 ($291) as against the embarrassing paltry of N18, 000 ($48). Workers in Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria and the seat of power, however had the presence of the President of the NLC and TUC who made critical positions on the President Mohammed Buhari led administration and further laid demands for increased minimum wage and payment of outstanding salaries owed to workers across different state of the federation. The Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo and the Minister of Labor, Chris Ngige who “felicitated” with workers in Abuja made several promises including stating their commitment to increase the National minimum wage. The open commitment of the federal government to however concede to a new national minimum wage did not come without deliberate workers’ resistance which is mostly incited not by the reactionary leadership but by the rank and file. It should be recalled that 2017 May Day was like a nightmare for the organs of government who were there to cajole the workers as they have always done in the past. But situation later became dramatic when the revolutionary workers in there large numbers, stormed the stage when the minister of Labor was giving his speech and displaced not just the minister himself but all government officials on seat including the Senate President; Bukola Saraki. The only chants you could listen to were majorly the demand for a new national minimum wage. Even the Presidents of the NLC and TUC ended up reading their respective speeches to empty chairs as most of the workers had angrily left the venue after the successful humiliation of the government.
As for the members of the Pacesetters Movement and Alliance of Nigerian Students against Neoliberal Attacks, we were able to make some minimal interventions. The Pacesetters Movement was able to successfully intervene in places like Osogbo; the Capital city of Osun State, Lagos, Abuja and Ondo through its leaflet. The Alliance of Nigerian Students against Neoliberal Attacks (ANSA) however held a rally on the streets of Lagos to protest the wave of fee hike and education underfunding. We were able to engage some members of the organized labor and other pro-Labor organizations on the need for collaboration in the task of engaging the government on the question of fee and education underfunding viz the demand for the implementation of a new National minimum wage.
Generally, the revelation of this year’s May day celebration reveals a sharp disconnect between the compromised labor leaders and the angry and hungry workers who are prepared to struggle for better working condition. It clearly shows that with deeper works among the workers rank and file, we will be able to steer the Labor Movement once again along revolutionary lines of not just actively taking up pro-masses struggles but also begin conscious work of organizing the workers into a vibrant political party armed with correct Marxist perspective with the view of taking up the mantle of political leadership from its bourgeois opposition.
Dauda Abdulahi Sanyaolu Juwon
General Secretary Organizing Secretary