We are living in dangerous times, but the frustrating thing is that we know the way out. Every day we ourselves experience, or hear about on the news, the terrible impact of increased insecurity. We are all living in fear for our lives and are desperate to find safety.
Too many people are struggling from day to day to survive with their families, to find money for food or to pay their rent. The temptation for an easy way out is too much for some. It only takes a few to turn to crime for life to become even more unbearable for the rest of us.
But the way out it is clear, through collective action and unity – the two themes of workers’ May Day over the years
The benefits of effective collective action were clearly shown less than a year ago in Kaduna. The determined and resolute action of the working peoples, led and co-ordinated by our trade union leaders, provided hope for millions. It is the loss of that hope that leads some to turn to crime and worse.
In only three days the lives tens of thousands of people were changed for the better and hope returned. The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) took on one of the most powerful governors and won!
El-Rufai had boasted for years about how he was building a model, efficient, public service in Kaduna State. He was using mass retrenchment to weed out the poorly qualified workers who did not deserve their severance payments and so he had no need of paying them.
But then the workers of Kaduna, led by the NLC finally took a stand. The courage and sacrifices of the workers of Kaduna State withstood the vicious attacks by armed thugs of the Governor of Kaduna State. The strike showed the power of labour in sustaining society with all necessities of life. For the three days that the warning strike lasted, water, electricity, schools, offices, trains, airlines, banks and more all came to a standstill. It shows that when the workers move in unity, everything grinds to a halt.
The three day strike in Kaduna last May was successful in that El-Rufai was frightened. He stopped further retrenchments and paid the entitlements for 20,000 teachers whose jobs he had taken from them four years previously. The active strike with daily mass protests made a difference.
The Kaduna strike was important as it showed a way forward. United action of all trade unionists with direct and public support from the national NLC was successful. Ayuba Wabba, the NLC President, himself led the daily protests through the streets of Kaduna despite threats that he would be arrested. The size of the protests meant that when the hired thugs tried to attack they were quickly chased away.
Unfortunately, the NLC was not prepared to learn the lessons from Kaduna. These should have led to similar victories in so many other states. As a result, we are still suffering un-necessary levels of poverty and insecurity.
The NLC and TUC did lead a four week strike in Cross River State in October and November 2021. But it went down to defeat. Pensioners and workers had their pensions and full implementation of the minimum wage signed away until “the economy improves”. Similarly, another NLC and TUC led strike in Niger State, in March of this year, did not bring any major gains for the working people of that state, despite the strike lasting a good three weeks.
May Day celebrates the collective spirit of the working class and its unity. This collective spirit was most clearly shown in the victories achieved in Kaduna State. We need this level of action to win the major gains we need for the working peoples across the land. Specifically we need such action to win the current strikes in the 67 research institutes and the universities where the four main unions struck together.
We also need the workers’ unity symbolised by May Day to be able to make the maximum possible gains in the elections next year. We need a united progressive/socialist presence to make a real impact. The APC took years to achieve victory with a united coalition. In France, a disunited left allowed the fascist party, the National Rally, through to the second round this April.
The left in Nigeria is split into so many parties; Peoples Redemption Party, Labour Party, African Action Congress, Socialist Party of Nigeria… Each of these parties also suffers from internal divisions and infiltration by money-bag politicians. The Peoples Alternative Political Movement (TPAP-M) is working hard to over-come at least some these divisions. The aim is to create a wider coalition that can provide a real and effective alternative and so catch the imagination of the votes next year.
We need effective strikes and other collective action now so that voters have the confidence to vote for change next year. If strikes are victorious now we can hope for more permanent change with the elections next year. We know how to get out of our current dangers – we need to ensure that our trade union and political leaders also understand these lessons.