May Day 2023 in Nigeria- workers need a fightback!

By Salako Kayode

A brief report of the 2023 International May-Day celebration

Since last year’s May Day rally, working people in Nigeria have suffered from high rates of inflation and insecurity. During the last year, we saw general elections held between February 25 and March 17. Workers from different sectors carried out major strikes to improve their working conditions. Although the elections are over, challenges lie ahead for the suffering masses. The Revolutionary Socialist Movement has launched the Workers and Youth Solidarity Network (WYSN) to support youth, workers, and students in their movements.

The May Day rally offered us an opportunity to spread our message by intervening in two major cities in Nigeria, Lagos and Abuja. We produced a special May Day leaflet analyzing the need for a united struggle to fight for a new minimum wage and to oppose casualization. We also sold the latest edition of our paper Socialist Voice and distributed  WYSN leaflets.

2023 international may day celebration

May 29 will see the inauguration of the new president, but the reality is that just another bourgeois politician is coming to power. Their program is not different from the neoliberal economic policies of the outgoing regime. Nigerian working people need to prepare to fight back, and the policies followed will not be different from the past. Both the sitting and the next presidents are from the same party and are both capitalist politicians who want to continue to exploit our collective wealth for their own interests. Elections were also marked by election fraud accusations, and the Labour Party and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) have taken the matter to the courts.

The Revolutionary Socialist Movement joined the workers’ rally at this year’s International Workers Day event at Eagles Square in Abuja. The venue was approved by the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, but to our surprise, the approval was revoked a few days before the event as they claimed they wanted to renovate the place ahead of May 29, 2023. The labour leaders then agreed to hold a protest instead. The government quickly approved the venue again to avoid a march on the streets with thousands of workers on May Day. The slogan of this year’s event was “Workers’ Rights and Socioeconomic Justice.”

The program started around 11 am with solidarity songs. At the entrance, there was a lot of security, including State Security Service officers who were screening workers and conducting security checks. It was not easy for the workers to pass through the rigorous security checks before they were allowed access to the main venue.

Many workers are angry with the rate of inflation, the level of insecurity, and the continuous attacks on democratic rights in workplaces. There is also anger about the level of the minimum wage, as even the inadequate 40% rise has not been fully implemented.

At the Eagle Square in Abuja, the Nigerian labour leaders addressed the workers, acknowledging their importance in nation-building and also raising the question of whether the ruling elite realizes the importance of workers in building the economy, and if they do, whether their actions and policies are shaped by this understanding.

The leadership of the Nigeria  Labour Congress has commenced a campaign for  40 years of service and 65 years of age for retirement age.

Many labour leaders further stated that any nation that is serious about development would not joke with its workforce. Unfortunately, our leaders treat us with near disdain and sometimes with outright contempt. If not, why would the welfare of workers be seen as charity or privilege? Why would governments at different levels owe workers arrears of salaries? Why the lethargy in paying workers their hard-earned income? The labour leaders said the government must be prepared to treat workers first as humans, then as major contributors to wealth creation. That is why they have chosen to celebrate themselves this year under the theme “Workers’ Rights and Socioeconomic Justice.” Through this, they intend to remind workers and society of the critical nexus between the welfare of workers and socioeconomic rights and privileges, because as we say, workers’ rights are human rights.

Amidst the celebration, the president-elect Bola Tinubu of APC promised that his administration would provide a living wage as he described the existing national minimum wage as “not enough.”

However, it should not be forgotten that he has also vowed to remove oil subsidies regardless of protests from workers. The Labour Party candidate Obi was also present, felicitated with the workers and promised to take back Nigeria from the forces of darkness.

The rally ended with a match pass of all union affiliates with different inscriptions such as “Government Ratify ILO C-18 to Ensure Decent Work for Domestic Workers,” “Fight Workers’ Oppressors,” “Kill Casualization in Our Industries,” and “Decent Employment with Fair Wages in Decent Work for Domestic Workers.” We were also joined by activists in the Nigerian Movement for the Liberation of Western Sahara, who are fighting for self-determination from the Morocco monarchy dictatorship regime.

During the rallies in both Abuja and Lagos, we sold about 42 copies of the Socialist Voice paper, distributed 1,000 copies of the Workers and Youth Solidarity Network (WYSN) leaflets, and had discussions with workers. The rally ended with a solidarity song.

The Revolutionary Socialist Movement believes that workers are the only ones creating wealth in an economy. So, they should be the ones that bear the fruit of their labour. Workers need to organise and fight back in order to achieve better living standards. Union leaders have the duty to coordinate struggles in order to strike victories.

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