Workers’ Day: Is It Worth Celebrating?

BY BENSON OKOBI-ALLANAH
THE answers to the above question, as expected, are two- pronged, getting reactions from those for, and those against its being celebrated.
Every May 1 is set aside every year by the United Nations to celebrate Workers’ Day all over the world during which time workers go to show solidarity to the unions they belong to; the various governments unfold what plans they have for workers in terms of their welfare, which could be very heart-warming or mind-devastating as the case may be; coming with the promise of pay raise or possible down-sizing of the work-force.
Labour leaders too, on behalf of the workers they represent, express their views, agitate for better welfare packages such as up-ward review of their salaries; stoppage to casualisation; promotion of workers and payment of their salaries as at when due, and eradication of stagnation amongst others.
Many promises had been known to have been made in the past on the part of governments without being implemented; with allegations on various labour union leaders falling easily to compromise in this regard, accepting bribes from governments, even if such union leaders have always denied having their fingers soiled and tried to save their face from that shortcoming.
In many quarters like they, (those interviewed) try to argue, it is no longer a hidden fact that most workers now wear the hard toga of suffering, frustration and denials as their needs are either hardly met or not met at all. While few of them feed fat, mostly those who represent other workers through the various unions, those they represent are thrown into untold, unsolicited hardship as a result of their leaders’ unholy and betrayed leadership style.
In trying to know how workers have been faring all these while, most workers who spoke on ground of anonymity reacted in various ways as expected, when Midweek Teaser took them on whether May Day, also known as Workers Day, is worth celebrating. While some wired their reactions through telephone, others were met at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, Benin City, the Edo State capital; and others at the St. Patrick’s College ground in Asaba, the Delta State capital.
Speaking on that issue, a Benin City- based worker has this to say: “I can tell you my view on this Workers’ Day; but you don’t have to put my name in print. I work here in Benin; I have been in the civil service for the past 24 years. You can see I am no longer a small fry in the Edo State Civil Service. Some governments in the past tried, while some performed abysmally low. Those past administrations which worked against workers’ welfare did so because our union leaders were weak. They all ate their words because they comprised by accepting bribes from governments which tend to shy away from their responsibilities to workers, thus, leaving the interest of those they are supposed to be representing to suffer. These are workers who work all day, keep longer periods in the office and have their nose kept to the grinding stone with little or nothing to show that they are working. May Day is supposed to few states that such could be dreamt of because even when governments have some good news for the workers and try to see if the workers’ representatives (the union leaders) could be made to show some compromise in order to have such lofty offer likely to gulp a large sum of money averted, and they succeed because most of our labour leaders are greedy for money, then the good news meant for workers no longer see the light of day. Governments in that circumstance, then become the ones to be blamed instead of our union leaders, who allowed such compromise. At first, they will be the ones to start an agitation, negotiating with the governments. They do this with all seriousness, pretending to have the interest of workers at heart. But the moment the issue of bribe comes in, they easily forget their oath of allegiance. It goes therefore to show that what they are out there to do is to fight for their stomach only. Governments all over the country should know that many workers are suffering rather than enjoying. The recession in the country has made the situation very hard. What N20 used to buy before cannot be bought with N100 now. Governments all over the country should think of increasing workers’ salaries to enable them cope with the hard times to an extent. I’m not limiting this plea to the Edo State government only, but the entire country. And I tell you what; the May Day celebration is not worth it for now because our leaders, both in government and at union levels have failed all of us, especially the workers.
Mr. Joseph Igbenovia, a retired civil servant in Edo State, said Edo State under the able leadership of Comrade Adams Oshoimole witnessed good governance because he was a trusted unionist, who actually had the workers’ interest at heart, as he became a governor, noting that under his administration, workers felt better unlike what some of his predecessors did. He said if the new governor of the state, Mr. Godwin Obaseki could emulate his footsteps and follow the legacy he left behind, that it would be so nice, saying that it was good for a leader to be commended than being cursed always by the people he leads. For now, I don’t think there is any need celebrating May Day because the country is sick economically. What do you think the various governments will have any special offer to workers?”
An anonymous civil servant in Asaba, said except for few, that majority of the union leaders had failed workers in the country by subjecting workers to untold hardship through their compromising attitude to government short-changing and maneuvering of their (workers) welfare. He accused most of the union leaders of pretending to be good and ready to serve and live by the oath of office, only to mount the saddle of leadership and start misbehaving. The anonymous civil servant, was of the view that if the compromising attitude of most labour leaders is reduced or done away with completely; and they learn to stand firm on their demands from governments, many workers will fare better. He said the area many workers are suffering, Delta State workers not excluded, is mostly in the area of housing. He noted that half of the salaries earned by workers end up in rents because of the sky-rocking effects of the money paid as rents particularly in Asaba, the state capital, saying that if the state government could provide more housing estates in Asaba and its environs, many landlords in the area would have their excesses clipped. He commended Governor Okowa for regular payment of salaries and the good job he is doing in the state, and appealed to him to revisit the issue of building the Asaba Commercial City at the Niger Bridge Head, which he observed that if accomplished, would not only increase the revenue base of the state, but also open up the bridge side, instead of the vast land wasting away and not being put into use. “I am commending the governor because he has been doing what Nebuchadnezzar cannot do. With the little resources, the biting recession, he is performing wonders, trying to make everywhere look fine.” He also made mention of the Asaba Sports Stadium which he called on the governor to see to its completion, saying, “Whatever that is holding its completion, I appeal to Governor Okowa to use his good offices to complete it. Let it be that it is in his time that the stadium abandoned for over 16 years, is completed. This is the state capital; it is not good that the state capital has no stadium where sporting activities are carried out. Delta Force Football Club of Asaba, and Delta Queens Football also of Asaba, need where they will be practicing. It is very necessary as Asaba residents are sports-loving people. And not practicing on their own pitch could be affecting them,” he said.
On whether Delta workers have any need celebrating the May Day? Mr. Anonymous said Delta State workers have every cause to celebrate because Governor Okowa has been paying them salaries as at when due and would do more for them assuming the economic situation in the country had improved. But he re-iterated his earlier call for the building of more estates and completing those under construction for workers.
Mr. Thomas Ighele, a taxi driver whose wife works in one of the ministries in the Delta State civil service, said that though not all workers in the state will be happy celebrating the May Day, “but for those who get their salaries as at when due, there is need for them to celebrate, but it will be somewhat difficult for the primary school teacher or local government staff to join other workers in the field, celebrating with them. “Though I’m not a civil servant, my wife is; and I know she has been feeling for her younger sister who, with her husband, is a staff of the local government here in Asaba. They have for many months now not been paid their salaries; you know what that means, my dear brother?’ he said with interest.