Nigeria: 2010 May Day rallies held amid workers’ mood for action

This year there was a massive display of working class militancy at the May Day rallies in Nigeria. What was evident, however, was the glaring contradiction between the main speeches calling for “dialogue” and the desire to take the road of militant strike action by the rank and file. The Marxists of the Workers’ Alternative intervened successfully with a huge sale of their paper and with many workers showing a keen interest in their ideas.

This year’s (2010) May Day was celebrated all over Nigeria with rallies held in the state capital cities and at the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. Supporters of the “Workers’ Alternative”, the Marxist journal active in the Nigerian workers’ and youth movement, intervened actively at the May Day rally held at the Teslim Balogun Stadium, Lagos, the commercial capital of Nigeria. A total of 328 copies of the latest edition of the Paper were sold at the rally.

The Teslim Balogun Stadium, the Lagos rally arena, was almost filled to its capacity (25,000) with workers dressed in the various unions’ regalia, and many armed with placards with inscriptions outlining the pending demands of the workers’ movement, recurrently, demands such as “New Minimum Wage A Must”, “No to Casualisation of Labour”, “Mega Pay for Workers in the Mega City”.

There are some distinct features that made this year’s May Day different from the previous ones. At the entrance of the stadium was a big banner of the Labour Party, welcoming workers and also identifying with various workers’ demands. “Labour Leaders Must Build the Labour Party Now”, “No To Deregulation and Increment in Fuel Prices” etc., featured prominently among the displayed placards during the traditional May Day Procession.

Unfortunately, the leadership of the trade unions has again revealed the extent they have gone off the track from these more cogent and pressing demands of the Nigerian workers by making the demand for electoral reforms the core of the theme for this year’s May Day. For them, the pending demands for a new national minimum wage of N52,000, the anti-deregulation and increase in the prices of petroleum products, now consciously relegated to the background in the core demands of the trade unions centres (NLC and TUC), are not as important as tail-heading the demand of an electoral reform.

While in agreement with the obvious fact that all the past elections in Nigeria have been largely unfair and have never been free, what these revealed, however, is that members of the Nigerian capitalist ruling class can never be trusted, collectively or individually, with the task of a genuine electoral process that will bring into being a regime that will defend the interests of the working class and the poor masses. It is open knowledge that all the main political parties, both the ruling PDP that is in power nationally and in most states of the federation, as well as the main opposition parties of ANPP, AC, APGA etc., are all partners in crime in their various states as manipulators of the electoral processes they had conducted during the state and local government elections. The placards’ message from the workers to their leaders during the May Day rallies is “what use is the struggle to reform an electoral process when the working class and the poor masses in Nigeria do not have their own independent political platform to struggle for power?”

To this extent, the leadership of the labour movement should henceforth show active participation in the Labour Party, a Party which was originally formed but left un-nurtured by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and has now been largely taken over by sell-outs and enemies of the working class. The party must be reclaimed by the working class and its natural allies and used as a vehicle to wrestle political power from the present crop of thieving politicians in order to defend the interests of the workers and ordinary people in society.

Another high point of the Lagos May Day rally was the largely uninspiring speech delivered by the Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Raji Fashola. The speech was anything but progressive; he went on at length “teaching” workers why we must change course and method by discarding the idea of struggle and strike action in the pursuance of our demands for a better life. He said, among other things, that it is not correct to continue to use the same old method of strike action used in the past against the former colonial masters by the labour movement, under the then leadership of the likes of the late Pa Imoudu and Wahab Goodluck, in the then struggle for independence from Britain. To him, the labour movement should not use the old weapon of strikes in the present dispensation against the indigenous politicians at the helm of the country’s political affairs.

In truth, he revealed his bankruptcy when he said that his suggested alternative to strike action is an unending dialogue and engagement with the state. What made this speech interesting, however, is the fact that it ran contrary to the official version of the history of the struggle for independence where no role was attributable to the Nigerian workers in the struggle for Nigerian Independence from her former colonial masters.

Fashola’s speech at the 2010 May Day rally put a lie (although unintended) to the official version of the history that is routinely taught in our schools to this day. The likes of Imodu, Goodluck and indeed the working class movement were never acknowledged as among our “heroes past”; instead it was the bourgeois leaders like Azikwe, Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello, Tafawa Balewa etc., that are usually drummed up as the fighters for Nigerian Independence, even where history has shown to the contrary that they were more of colonial collaborators, under whose leadership the foundation of the present neo-colonial economic policies were originally enacted.

Incidentally, in spite of Mr. Fashola’s sermon on the unfruitful nature of strikes, most workers engaged in discussion at the May Day ground were firmly inclined to the fact that strike action remain the all important weapon of the working class through which the so-called impossible but feasible demands of workers can be achieved. This is best explained by the mood at the rally that received the message from the Public Sector Workers’ Negotiating Committee on the National Minimum Wage, where workers were informed that the negotiation with the federal government for a new minimum living wage has collapsed, upon which strike action was to commence immediately to effect the demand. The mood was all for the strike to commence as scheduled, although the strike has now been suspended under the guise that the government has constituted a new team with a broader mandate.

Meanwhile, going by this mood for an effective strike action to back up the demand for the new minimum wage as exhibited at the May Day rally, it is important that the leadership of the TUC and the NLC should start mobilising workers across the country for nationwide strike action to press home the demand for a decent living wage anchored on the original N52,000 minimum wage demand. It is only in this method that victory is certain; following Fashola’s sermon, by endlessly dialoguing without a course of action and mobilization of the workers, is obviously not the way to follow. The time for action is now.

One other development that is worthy of mentioning is the reception accorded the Labour Party at the stand of the Lagos State Branch of the Labour Party at the May Day rally by the workers on the ground. The stand attracted a number of activists; with many expressing interest to join the party. About 51 worker activists were noted to have registered to join the Labour Party at the ground. This development showed the potential for the party and the inherent organic link between the party and the organized labour movement; this scenario would certainly be replicated a thousand fold if the leadership of the trade unions openly embraced the Labour Party and injected it with a socialist programme that would bring home the desires of the masses. Workers Alternative calls on workers to join hands together in building the Labour Party. And that is the only safeguard we have to chase out the thieves that are using the party for their selfish interest. Let us reclaim our party

35 workers showed a keen interest in the Workers’ Alternative and the comrades were in a very high spirit.