Tuesday, August 3, 2021

The latitude of labour in a capitalist country, by Bala Ibrahim

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Thank God, calm returned to Kaduna State yesterday after the announcement made by the president of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Mr. Ayuba Wabba, who declared that the five-day warning strike in the state had been suspended.

The truce was reached, following the Federal Government’s intervention.

That announcement has come with a sigh of relief for all but with it also came a question, how often should Nigerians be expecting strikes from workers who are always banking on such strikes for creating bargaining leverage?

The legitimacy of strikes has always been a contentious issue between the employers and employees, particularly the state governments who see strikes as a challenge to their authority, power, and interests.

For the government, work stoppages are often the most damaging especially when it comes as a surprise.

I want to put aside the legality or otherwise the “when and how” workers should go on strike. I am more interested in the morality of using such strikes to achieve missions particularly in a weak capitalist economy like Nigeria.

The Economists says capitalism is an economic, political and social organisation that enables investors and traders to have a form of security guaranteed by the State based on individual initiative which favours market mechanisms over government intervention.

So capitalism is a major driver of innovation, wealth, and prosperity in the modern era because competition and capital accumulation combined give incentives to businesses to maximize productive efficiency or the capacity of a worker to do more or better work during a specified period of time.

On the other hand, socialism, which is where workers and our “comrades” tend to lean on more is based on government planning and limitations on private control of resources.

So, while the central characteristics of capitalism is capital accumulation through competitive marketing that permits the making of maximum profit, socialism with its limitations on private control of resources is more protective of workers’ wages.

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Under socialism wage labour becomes the socioeconomic relationship between a worker and an employer where the worker sells their labour under a formal or informal employment contract.

It is for the pursuit of the essentials of such contracts that labour unions are formed in order to represent the collective interests of workers by bargaining with employers over such concerns as wages and working conditions.

So while serious governments are coming with out of the box planning that would enforce efficiency, representatives of labour would always be a spanner in the wheels in order to ensure limitations on private control and use of resources.

And precisely that is where people like Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, who arrived at the government house with a reformist mind-set would continue to clash with the labour unions.

Mallam want’s productivity driven by efficiency while labour is fearful of forceful eviction because of the cruelty of capitalism.

But then, Nigeria is a capitalist country that has gotten everything coined and captured in the constitution of the American style.

The country’s drive, albeit poorly, is to imitate America.

Maybe that’s why it dropped “Nigeria We Hail Thee” from its national anthem which has been in use since independence in 1960, and adopted “Arise O Compatriots” in 1978, to sensitize the citizens to rise towards the propensity for capital accumulation.

In attacking Mallam Nasir El-Rufai for seeking efficiency and productivity in the public service some have missed the point by thinking that the twin terms are supposed to be resident only in the private sector.

 No, capital NO.

The government’s basic functions are providing leadership, maintaining order, providing public services, providing national or state security, providing economic security, and providing economic protection.

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You cannot provide any economic protection if your leadership style is tilted towards the truncation of the treasury. An inefficient work force cannot provide an efficient public service or maintain any order in the society.

Much as I subscribe to some of the submissions of the former Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice of Nasarawa State, Yusuf Shehu Usman, in his article captioned “El Rufai and the Planned Mass Sack of Civil Servants: An Appeal For caution”, my views differ.

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Where he said, “El Rufai is trying to test the efficacy of text book economic theory by proposing to lay off workers from the civil service on account of lack of productivity or funds to pay their salaries.

“One thing Mallam should know is that the civil service does not and can’t operate on the same principles of profiteering as the private sector.

“In classical economic theories you will be right to argue on concepts like value for money, productivity and results from investment.

“However, the civil service is not strictly and originally based on such principles. It is seen largely as the benefits those who suffered themselves to go to school should derive from the system to the resources of which they are co-owners.”

I particularly like his use of the word co-owner, which means there are other people with equal stake to the resources.

I am also in love with the phrase, “the benefits those who suffered themselves to go to school should derive”.

For someone to rise to the position of a commissioner from Nasarawa state which was created in 1996, I believe he must be above 20 years of age.

Anyone that came to this world around that time even if his parents were wealthy must have enjoyed one form of education assistance or the other by way of scholarship, subsidy, or some sundry school services.

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If he checks amongst his peers, some have not gotten those privileges. Were they destined to be denied? With a scholarship you were paid and pampered to school, not suffered, I think.

If you devote 90% of the state’s resources to serving the taste of only 10% of the people whose “suffering in school” was paid for by the resources of the other co-owners, are you being just to them?

If you say someone is a co-owner of a car but the car is mostly or almost always driven by the other person, are you being just to him?

The failure of the elites or those who benefitted from the system to visit their conscience and see what the less privileged would get if they make sacrifices is the major problem we are having. And most of it is driven by sentiment and hypocrisy; the two evils a reformer would be quick to confront.

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One Bayo Onanuga put forward a question, “How much of state resources should be spent on governance in paying salaries, pensions and other emoluments of civil servants and political appointees?  40%, 60%, 80%, 90% or even all?”

In summary he said, “Governor Nasir El-Rufai is fighting a new war that both the Federal and other 35 States and the FCT are shying away to confront, choosing instead to cower in fear of the blackmail of labour.”

While it is imperative for the government to think out a solution on how best to serve public interests especially after learning from the Covid pandemic when workers were ordered to stay at home, the state did not collapse.

Labour leaders should learn to play within the latitude of the law by staying away from politics and remaining responsibly responsive.

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