May Day has become synonymous with the history of struggles of the labouring wage earners in the world economy controlled by big property owners, who, owning the means of production and finance, milk the wealth our labour creates.
Since the early 1980s, the day has been marked in Nigeria by the trade unions, with public forums like symposiums in the days preceding May 1, and parades where government officials are invited to come and watch workers parade before them.
This year’s parade showed that workers realise that the government officials we are made to march before are actually not there in our interest. They are representative of the class of exploiters who perpetuate our continued poverty, while they, the rich, get richer at our expense. The timid march pasts do not reflect the fighting spirit at the roots of May Day as a day for demonstrating our solidarity as working-class people, instead of demonstrations and other forms of independent mass action.
As an opportunity for raising class consciousness by debating issues of concern to us, pre-May Day symposiums remain an important feature that should continue to be promoted in commemorating May Day, as against the charade of parades, where in some states, labour bureaucrats garland governors that have failed to pay workers’ salaries for several months as “comrades,” etc.
SWL members thus participated enthusiastically in the pre-May Day symposium held at the Olaitan Oyerinde Hall, Labour House, on April 29.
The lead presentation at the symposium was delivered by Professor Toye Olorode, botanist at OOU, Ago-Iwoye and veteran Marxist scholar, while Barr. Femi Aborisade and Professor Member Genye served as discussants.
Professor Olorode’s paper titled “ Labour Relations in Economic Recession : An Appraisal “ was a scathing castigation of the country’s ruling class and its regroupement around another retired General on another political platform to continue its vice-grip on poor working-class people of Nigeria.
He reminded the Nigeria Labour Congress that “fighting corruption” had always been a code by some faction of the ruling class in power or the other to undermine the power of other factions within or outside the same party, as we saw with Obasanjo’s use of Ribadu and the EFCC in the period leading to the 2007 “do-or-die” elections.
While acknowledging that the ongoing anti-corruption war might have gone further than that, due to the pileup of atrocities perpetuated by PDP which had not envisaged a rival party coming to supplant it for the next forty four years, he stressed the fact that so much hue and cry can be no replacement for a definitive Agenda for Economic Revival, that can be driven only as a project of the working masses.
He also reminded the union centers NLC/TUC to revisit the formal position of the NLC on the dynamics of the neo-liberal crisis. He affirmed that the trade union movement is best placed to provide leadership in building a just society and sustainable democracy in Nigeria.
He expressed the conviction that, working towards a planned economy is the ultimate alternative. He urged that we want to see an end to industrial backwardness, mass poverty, illiteracy, the collapse of health and social services and institutions, foreign economic dependency, gross exploitation of labour and political dictatorship and instability.
He further stressed that we envision an economy founded on twin-pillars of state-led industrialization and agricultural development within the context of holistic national development plans. In conclusion, he gave variegated definitions of recession, exposing the dynamics of how the APC Change Agenda and the Unchanging Agenda of the Nigeria’s ruling class are part and parcel of the global logic of capitalist development.
He therefore stripped off illusions that Nigeria’s ruling class formations, intellectuals and their media have erected to deceive poor Nigerian people. He confirmed that the labour movement in Nigeria has insisted from the late 1970s that the agenda of the ruling class and international capital had consistently remained antagonistic to that of working-class people.
He lamented the plight of local productive capacity in the country as shown by deliberate mismanagement and destabilization of Ajeokuta Steel Complex and others established as what could have served as a foundation of industrialization of Nigeria. He noted that with the steel complex, a new industrial city could have been built in the country.
Reflecting on successive speeches during regime changes in Nigeria as the ruling class grappled with military and civilian garbs of governance he noted that liberal democracy is only but a purgative mechanism that expels a clique of public treasury looters in khaki, replacing it with some other ones through party politics.
The two discussants lent their voices to the theme of the May Day lecture. While Professor Member admonished deepening of internal democracy within political parties and labour union bureaucracy, Comrade Aborisade took the government to the cleaners.
He pointed out that there had been impressive economic growth rates before the recession struck. But it was just a handful of millionaires and billionaires who benefited from this, because they wield economic and political control. With facts and figure, he showed how much earnings had been made from sales of crude oil before the fall in global price.
He ended by calling on working-class people to renew their commitments to the struggle for better working conditions, living minimum wage and political control of the machinery society, as a workers’ government.
by Ogbu A. Ameh