The celebration of the first day of May started as a commemoration for the 1886 Haymarket Massacre in Chicago when the police fired on workers during a general strike to obtain the eight-hour workday. Today it remains a day to reflect on the daily struggles of working people.
According to CORE: “In Africa, the wealth of the three richest men is more than what the poorest 650 million people on the continent combined own. And by January 2023, the wealth of the three richest men in Nigeria is more than that of 83 million poor working people in the country.”
Ahead of May Day celebrations in Abuja, Comrade Joe Ajero, the General Secretary of the Nigerian Labour Congress stated in an interview with Arise news: “Labour represents the voiceless, when we talk we do so on behalf of the majority. I would be shocked to hear if the current administration would claim that it has impacted employment favourably. The minimum wage is below the real value of 50 USD – this is not enough to put food on the table, especially in a situation where there are huge gaps in the provision of public health care, education and transport. As to the incoming administration we are yet to discover what their position is on addressing power issues in the country. With regard to the petrol subsidy removal, there are alternatives beyond upgrading refineries. If Nigeria would convert to CNG (gas), the subsidy would not continue to be an issue. Nigeria has sufficient gas deposits for the next 500 years. We are not lacking in ideas in the labour movement as we need alternatives that work for people.”
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has called on governments to proritise social justice, as workers across the globe celebrate 2023 Workers Day. The ILO Director-General, Mr Gilbert Houngbo, made the call in a statement to mark the International Workers Day.
He said: “This is a moment for pride, celebration and hope. After three years of the COVID-19 crisis, followed by inflation, conflict, and food and fuel supply shocks, we badly need this. However, the promises of renewal made during the pandemic, of ‘building back better’, have so far not been delivered for the great majority of workers worldwide. Globally, real wages have fallen, poverty is rising, inequality seems more entrenched than ever.
Enterprises have been hard hit. Many could not cope with the cumulative effects of recent unexpected events. Small and micro-enterprises were particularly affected, and many have ceased operations. People feel that the sacrifices they made to get through COVID-19 have not been recognized, let alone rewarded. Their voices are not being heard clearly enough. This, combined with a perceived lack of opportunities, has created a disturbing level of mistrust.
It doesn’t have to be like this. We are still the masters of our fate. But if we are to shape a new, more stable, and equitable world, we must choose a different path. One that prioritizes social justice. I believe this is not only do-able but essential for a sustainable and stable future. So, how do we get there?
First and foremost, our policies and actions must be human-centred, to allow people to pursue both their material well-being and their spiritual development in conditions of freedom and dignity, economic security and equal opportunity. This approach is not new, it was set out and agreed in the aftermath of World War Two, when the ILO’s international membership signed the 1944 Declaration of Philadelphia.
This visionary document set out guiding principles for our economic and social systems, that they should not be turned exclusively to hitting specific growth rates or other statistical targets, but to address human needs and aspirations. This means focusing on inequality, poverty alleviation and core social protection. The most effective way to do this is by providing quality jobs so that people can support themselves and build their own futures – ‘Decent Work for All’, as Sustainable Development Goal 8 terms it.
It means realistically addressing the long-term structural transformations of our time; ensuring that new technology creates and supports employment; pro-actively facing the challenges of climate change and ensuring we offer the jobs, skills training and transition support necessary for workers and businesses to benefit from the new low-carbon era; treating demographic changes as a ‘dividend’ rather than a problem, with supporting action on skills, migration and social protection, to create more cohesive and resilient societies.
We also need to reassess and refashion the architecture of our social and economic systems, so that they support this change of course towards social justice, rather than continuing to channel us into a policy ‘doom loop’ of inequality and instability. There is a need to reinvigorate labour institutions and organizations so that social dialogue is effective and vigorous. We must review laws and regulations affecting the world of work, so that they are relevant and up-to-date and able to protect workers and support sustainable businesses.
To make all this happen, we need to recommit to international cooperation and solidarity. We must enhance our efforts and create greater policy coherence, particularly within the multilateral system, as the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres calls it.
This is why we need a Global Coalition for Social Justice. This Coalition will create a platform to bring together a broad range of international bodies and stakeholders. It will position social justice as the keystone of the global recovery, so that it is prioritized in national, regional and global policies and actions. In sum, it will ensure that our future is human-centred. We have the chance to reshape the world we live in – economically, socially and environmentally. Let us take this opportunity and move forward to build the equitable and resilient societies that can underpin lasting peace and social justice.”
At Eyes of a Lagos Boy we can only echo these thoughts… The struggle is real and it is on.