Nigeria Labour Congress brought workers’ power to bear on Imo state in the second week of February, winning the reinstatement of 3,000 sacked workers and stopping the privatization drive of Governor Rochas Okorocha in its tracks. This was done with a mammoth-sized rally of trade union activists from across the country and a 1-day strike action in the state on February 10.
Imo state workers and the government have been on a warpath since last year. There were two major reasons for this. Workers have been owed backlogs of salaries running into four months. To make matters worse, the Imo state government has been committed to privatisation, in different guises.
In the name of “public-private partnership” (PPP), several parastatals have been concessioned, for upwards of twenty years. These include the state’s transport company as well as public utilities corporations and healthcare delivery facilities. The national body of the NLC had protested against this state of affairs, giving its full support to the cause of Imo state workers. A rally was organised earlier January, to beef up the struggle, as reported in the last edition of Socialist Worker.
The response of the state government however was to flex its muscles by sacking 3,000 workers across 19 different parastatals, slated for the anti-working people PPP agreements it had entered into. It believed it could break the resolve of workers with its strong arm tactics. This however only brought out the fighting spirit of the working class in resistance.
The February 10 rally and procession was a massive one. It started at the NLC Imo state secretariat at Edede Street, off Douglas Road, Owerri. By the time it terminated at Rock View by the government house round-about, there were tens of thousands of protesters in the demonstration.
All government offices were shut down for the duration of the rally, as well as the Owerri airport. The flustered chairman of the All Progressives Congress, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun had dashed off to Owerri on the eve of the protest march. It took the coming of mass action for the APC to show concern about the anti-poor people policies of governor Okorocha. The APC essentially stands for the bosses, just like the PDP which it replaced at the federal level and in several states, last year.
It is however not yet uhuru in Imo state. The government was forced to sign an agreement to reinstate the over 3,000 workers and stop the concessioning, under the pressure of mass action. But, one thing the bosses are also known for is their reneging on agreements when mass pressures are relaxed and they believe they can get away with such dishonourable tactics.
“Eternal vigilance is the price for liberty”. The trade unions and activists within and outside Imo state must continue to stand firm against attacks on the working class and the menace of privatisation. We must carry the battle back to the bosses and not merely be on the defensive. The unfolding period holds great challenges. But these come with great promise if we are undaunted on the battlefield of struggle for a better society, with the unconquerable power of working class-people, united and determined.
- Nnamdi Ikeagu