Civil servants, teachers, judiciary workers and healthcare providers in Ogun state commenced an indefinites strike at the end of the first week of March. This strike wave was mainly to protest against the non-remittance of deductions made from workers’ wages by the state government. All attempts of the state government to break the strike, fell flat.
The demand at the heart of the strike is a long drawn one. For a year and a half now, deductions at source from workers’ salaries for cooperatives (from which they could have drawn some mutual aid) have not been remitted to the workers’ cooperative account by the state. Similarly, 7.5% of salaries have been deducted for more than five years amounting to over N27bn, without these being paid into their Retirement Savings Accounts.
The Joint Negotiating Council of public sector unions protested at the beginning of 2014 and an agreement was signed in February last year that the deductions for cooperative, which at the time had amounted to N2.8bn would be properly remitted, while the whooping pensions amount would also be addressed. When the government reneged on the agreement, the JNC organised a 3-day warning strike a year ago. There were subsequently several threats of strike action, but thus far the government has held on to these deductions, at the detriment of the workers.
In January, the Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity stepped in to apprehend an impending strike action. Its mediation led to the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the unions and the state government. But it appears that the government signed, simply to diffuse the mass anger in January.
The fighting spirit of the workers could however not be held back for long. The mass strike in March has been a huge success a week on, as Socialist Worker goes to press. On the second day, the Joint Negotiating Council (Trade Union Side), NLC and TUC called on workers to rebuff the threats of the state government.
Workers were teargassed at the state secretariat in Oke-Mosan. But they remained resolute in their fightback. Not even the arrests of three leaders of the JNC could dampen the fighting mood. This rather gingered the mood of resistance.
Health sector unions are not letting down the heat either, as they brought the demands for: an apt implementation of the Consolidated Health Salary Structure (CONHESS; recruitment of more health workers and; enhanced welfare packages) to the table of struggle. This is a practical demonstration of unified resistance, enriching the struggle of the different sections of the working class involved and increasing the possibilities of victory.
The Joint Negotiating Council has been quite clear that the workers united will not succumb to government’s blackmail. According to Comrade Abiodun Olakanmi, the JNC Chair “all machinations of the state government to intimidate workers and coerce them to submission and servitude would be disregarded. Under no condition would the organized labour in the state submit to cheap propaganda being peddled by the government.”
SWL fully supports the workers in Ogun state as they wage this battle. We call on the trade unions to stand by the words of the JNC Chair that “until the government remits all deductions from workers’ salaries, there is no going back.” There has been more than enough time for the government to make remittances if it wanted to. The only way to ensure that these monies of workers don’t end in “voicemail” is to fight until victory. No retreat, no surrender!
The strike was called off after 10 days, by which time the Socialist Worker had been issued. The government was forced to come off its high horse of the “no work, no pay” threat. But, a concrete resolution of the cause of the strike was not secured, before it was called off. Mere promises from the state government and the intervention of “eminent persons” were adduced as reasons for this backing down on March 16.
Socialist Workers League calls on Ogun state workers not to be decieved and lulled into a defeat. It is only through ceaselessn struggle that our demands can be met. Rank and file workers have to insist that the struggle continues, until victory is won. The trade union leadership has to mobilise for further actions, if it is sincere about defeating the bosses. A luta continua! Victoria ascerta!!
- Mudashiru Ogidan