Local Government Council workers in Delta state organised a series of protest rallies against Governor Ifeanyi Okowa in May, demanding the payment of a year arrears of salaries. They first shut down Effurun mid-month with hundreds of workers blockading the streets. A more massive action was taken at the end of the month in the city of Warri. The workers have not been paid salaries for upwards of a year.
The demonstrations were organised by the Delta State Council of the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE). The union had issued a warning to the government, as reported earlier on Socialist Worker online, that the governor would be “welcomed” across the local government areas in the state during the town hall meetings he was scheduled to hold, if the backlogs of its members’ salaries were not paid.
It appears that this warning was taken lightly. This is not very surprising. One of the reasons why it took so long for there to be a protest movement by the angered workers was because the union officials allowed themselves to be charmed with a so-called “gentlemen’s agreement” reached with the government.
Based on the collective bargaining mentality of “social dialogue” which trade union bureaucrats are inclined to have, the NULGE officials had come to see themselves and the bosses in government as “co-stakeholders”. But, the bosses are always very clear about their own interests. When they make concessions to workers, it is often because they are frightened that workers’ with their collective power could demand and win more than what they give, or because they want to lull workers into a false belief in their capitalist system as being just, and for everybody.
Rank and file workers come to the realisation of this falsity faster than their leaders. The leaders have more to benefit by keeping the system going. As labour aristocrats, they can readily strike deals with employers for perks and privileges that the ordinary worker would never get. So, they tend to draw back from taking action as much as they can do so, without incurring the wrath of membership.
This is why, despite the fact that it had become clear that the government was not being sincere, and does not have the interest of the local government workers at heart, it was the union that kept making concession, even at the moment of struggle.
For example, the demonstration organised at Effurun was initially scheduled to take place at Oghara town stadium in the neighbouring Ethiope West Local Government Area. But, NULGE officials allowed themselves to be prevailed upon to move it to Effurun because Governor Okowa was addressing the town hall meeting in Oghara.
Meanwhile, the same NULGE had promised to disrupt the town hall meetings of the governor everywhere it would take place! At the demonstration, Peter Ene, the NULGE State Chairman still complained that the governor had betrayed an agreement with the union made three months earlier to pay the backlog of salaries.
There is no doubt that Delta state government will not release monies to pay LGA workers without a full-scale struggle. According to Mr Amaechi Udemba, media aide to governor: “federal government workers cannot be owed salaries and begin to blame state government for not paying them.” This means that responsibility for payment lies strictly with the LGAs and not the state.
In the absence of local government autonomy, this is sheer nonsense. It is a ploy to avoid taking responsibility and ensuring the workers are paid. Meanwhile, there are reported deaths of some LGA workers due to starvation and inability to pay medical fees when the fell ill.
A few well-orchestrated demonstrations that shy away from direct confrontation with the government cannot lead to a resolution of this situation in the interest of workers. This is the time to mobilise for a sustained wave of mass protests, with the involvement of the communities which the LGAs staff serve. And this should be backed by a massive strike action of the NLC and TUC in the state.
An injury to one is an injury to all. Our strength as working-class people is located in our solidarity and struggle, and not on our knees begging the bosses.
by Lionel Akpoyivo