Friday, January 3, 2014

Workers and Strike Actions

 Let me go straight to the point and outline why strikes will never end in Nigeria

1. That's the only weapon workers have

2. That's the only language government understands

3. That's the only way the public gets to differentiate truth from propaganda

1. In other climes Strike is the weapon of last resort but in Nigeria Strike is the only weapon and the workers are often left with no option. Often times workers are asked to use other means to press home their demands. Such comments smack of hypocrisy because really, what other means are there?

* negotiation: have you ever attended those negotiation meetings? I haven't but those who have say that the officials from the other side come for the meetings with a military approach. It seems they actually come for those negotiations determined to intimidate the workers into submission. When that fails, they opt for their next tactic which is to take a cursory look at the workers demand and then grant what the government considers to be the stalemate breaker. This is often rushed to the media to create an impression that the negotiation was successful and government has made some concessions. This is done to douse whatever momentum has been gained in galvanizing public opinion. It is a means to an end which is to eventually black mail the workers of insensitivity. The public is often told that government has tried to meet the workers demands and they are only being insensitive. Truth is that these negotiators are skilled at these things. They've been negotiating for government for years. So if they can't intimidate the workers, they resort to black mail.

* street protests: very often we've seen groups use this option of carrying placards and going on a peaceful demonstration. I participated in the Save Nigeria Group street protest to the gates of the National Assembly, demanding that President Jonathan be made full president from acting president. That proved to be a tonic which spurred the doctrine of necessity. I have also participated in the street protest for swift passage of the National Health Bill on the day of public hearing for same. However, the possibility is always there for the other side to mobilize their own street activities. For instance, when Dino Melaye called out people to protest the continued stay of Stella Oduah as aviation minister, the police dispelled that movement. But at the same time, another group was protesting the persecution of Stella Oduah asking that she must not be removed!

*Protest Letters: we are all witnesses to what effect letter writing has in our nation. You can write up to four letters and none will be acknowledged. You can decide to 'leak' your letter to the media and then a reply will be 'leaked' to the media as well.

So, my challenge is that all those asking workers to look for other means to press home their demands, should suggest what other means there are. Talk is cheap. It is reasonable talk that matters.

2. When agreements and MOUs are flagrantly disregarded as though they never existed in the first instance it becomes obvious that all dialogues of workers with their employers is only a dialogue of the deaf and dumb. The workers struggle is an aluta that didn't start today. From the dawn of this age, employers and employees have always been in a sort of class struggle. The government most times has its set aims and objectives none of which is better life for its workers. Yes. The wage bill is already high, as 72 percent of our nations budget is already being spent on salaries, allowances and emoluments. So at those negotiations, government is bound to explain that there is paucity of funds for any significant increment in the welfare package. The only language government understands other than strike is the language of politicians. Most governments exist for the sake of those in government! Salaries can be fixed arbitrarily for those in government. Allowances can be stupendous for those in government. Then contracts can be awarded to friends of those in government. This is how it has been through the ages and my guess is that it will be so today and forever. The little development government forces us to see is often as a result of business, investments and opportunities created by those close to government. It is the exact philosophy of the Republican party of America. It is called 'trickle down economics'. Neo Socialists call it 'voodoo economics'. Or better suited to our nation, I will say we practice 'juju economics'. That is the only language government understands.

I have argued and will always argue for a 'diffuse up' economic model. If government will listen, then the only way the ghost of incessant strikes can be busted is for the worker to be king! When the worker gets commensurate pay for a days work... Then strike will become unattractive. When the worker can afford a decent health insurance without having to spend his entire meager life savings on health, then strike actions will be unattractive. When the worker sees the Governor in the same hospital with him, on the same waiting line, then strike actions will become unattractive. When the worker knows that his counterparts in developed countries are not having the sort of life that gives him a slave complex... Then and only then will strike actions become unattractive. But for as long as government refuses to pay workers per hour in this country, so long will there be strikes. How can a worker work for 24 hours and get 8 hours pay? Then another worker work for 8 hours and get 24 hours pay? Our reward system in this nation reeks of 'juju economics'. That is pure 'voodoo economics' for it can never be explained.

Since government so blatantly refuses to understand the simple English language outlined above. Then we shall all continue to go on strike.

3. The truth remains that the workers work is for the public good and so is his agitation too. Governments will come and go. One party will rule today and another will rule tomorrow but the public will remain. The public is the great constant in all labor disputes. The public is the pretty bride that employers and employees alike try to woo. Unfortunately, the public tends to see workers agitation as selfish and wicked. The public sees it this way because employers make them see workers as ingrates and self serving. Please let me ask, who is actually self serving? The government or the workers? Who is the selfish one? The government officials whose children attend the best schools in the world or the worker whose take home pay can't take his child to a decent high school or college? Who is the selfish one? The government official who uses the best hospitals in the world or the workers child who has to manage the public hospital next door. Have you checked a public hospital lately? They look like a cottage clinic. Yet the doctor works day and night even without power to rake in results. Maternal mortality rates are a doctors concern and they keep dropping even under horrendous working conditions. Infant mortality are a doctors nightmare and they keep reducing those figures even when no one cares about their welfare. I won't even talk about the other health professionals here because the truth, the hard truth is that we must all learn to live and work together. Having said that I must say that these other health professionals are most unfair to doctors. When they blame the poor health indices of the nation on doctors they are being unfair. When they say doctors are selfish for asking that the health sector receive better funding they're being unfair. When they oppose a salary structure in which health workers will be paid per hour they're being most unfair. They of all people see the awesome hours doctors spend at work. They of all people should applaud doctors for their sacrifices and martyrdom. But No. They are at the fore front of galvanizing public opinion against the doctor. On the other hand, the industrial disharmony in the health sector is perpetrated by government in a kill and divide colonial style of leadership! I appeal to the government to set out clear job descriptions in the health sector. Let me put this out in the public domain that whatever lives that are lost in a nation should be blamed on the government of the day. The government is responsible for the welfare, security, life and health of its citizens! and these truths apply to all governments of the world.

Thanks for your time.

Iroko Obasi ND

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