By Biodun Olamosu
Last month the NLC led the Kaduna strike that was the climax of the best traditions of working class struggle. Over the three days of strike action growing street protests were held. Electricity, water, schools, offices, trains, airlines, banks and more all came to a standstill.
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The background to the strike was the about 80,000 state workers who were retrenched within a period of six years (2016-2021). The el-Rufai led government in Kaduna State knows no other means of primitive accumulation than to sack workers. The lame excuses provided for this anti-labour posturing include insufficient state revenue and raising money for the welfare of other workers. This could hardly hold as no welfare programme was meted out to the people when retrenchment exercises were undertaken in the past.
Also, increasing resources, in terms of both Federal allocations and internally generated revenue, show that enough funds are available to meet the needs of the workers – salaries, new minimum wage, allowances etc. The fact remains that more funds have entered the purse of the government over the past one year. This includes revenue from oil, local taxes, fees & charges and billions of naira realised for Covid-19 from multilateral agencies.
Apart from these sources, other channels for raising funds are open to the government. This includes taxing property owners. The government has utilised this to raise huge funds over the past five years.
More worrisome and ridiculous are the targets of the government in the retrenchment exercise. This includes restricting staffing of each local governments to 50 persons. Also those staff that have put in 30 years in the service or are aged 50 years and above are to leave. At the same time, state pensioners are only to receive their pensions for a maximum of five to ten years.
No-one can contest the correlation between the existing levels of poverty and the state of insecurity that abounds in Kaduna State. If the government meant well for the poor, it would have acted to reduce poverty by providing jobs to reduce unemployment and providing unemployment allowances to those that remain.
It could also have reduced fees and charges for education and health and reversed its privatisation policy. In contrast the fees for Kaduna State University have been massively increased beyond the means of most students and their families.
The NLC leadership should have learnt the necessary lessons from its earlier suspension of the strike in Kaduna State. The Governor recovered his confidence and within two days stated that the retrenchments would continue and he then went on to sack 18 lecturers at Kaduna State University for supporting the strike.
The strike was commendable for exhibiting the true working class tradition of protest in exercising the power of the working class for itself. If not for this it would have been difficult to demystify the notorious dictatorial governor who had to resort to the use of paid thugs to try (but fail) to intimidate the street protests of the striking workers.
A general strike as an holistic approach to struggle would be advisable to tackle dictators like el-Rufai. This is more so as workers across the country are facing similar challenges and grievances – the NLC and TUC are currently leading another strike on similar issues in Nasarawa State. At least ten other states have so far refused to pay the minimum wage signed into law over two years ago. This could best be addressed by having a united front to challenge the ruling class, the corrupt elite and their governments at state and Federal levels.