The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) fully welcomes the decision of three trade unions – the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT), the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) – to embark on solidarity strike actions to compel the Federal Government to honour agreements signed with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
The ERC urges the three unions to take this beyond the realm of threats and immediately name a day on which the solidarity strike would take place and begin active mobilisation of their rank and file members as well as students who are frustrated at home and concerned Nigerians to come out en-masse for mass protests and demonstrations on this day. We commend the three unions for taking this decision which we believe is in the best interest of the education sector and the Nation at large.
We agree that the ASUU strike has gone on for far too long and the plethora of strikes in the education sector are just too many.
On Tuesday 8 October, the ASUU strike became 100 days old. Slowly the entire public education sector is grinding to a halt. For instance, the public polytechnics are equally closed and it will not be too long before the Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union (COEASU) follow suit.
The Colleges of Education lecturers had recently held a 7-day warning strike. Indeed, the Academic Staff of Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) had to resume the strike, they had suspended in July after three months, due to the insensitivity and insincerity of government to their demands and terms of the suspension of the last strike.
A wave of one-day solidarity strikes by the labour movement accompanied by mass protests and demonstrations can alter this situation and compel the Federal Government to meet the demands of ASUU, ASUP, COEASU and other unions on industrial actions so that the schools can resume. This is why we commend the three unions for taking this decision which we believe is in the best interest of the education sector and the Nation at large.
The three unions come from key sectors of the Nation’s economy. As such their decision to embark on solidarity strike if given full and practical effect could help pile pressure on the recalcitrant anti-poor Federal Government to meet demands of striking education unions so that public Universities and Polytechnics can be reopened for academic activities to resume. This would also serve as an example for other unions and the entire labour movement to follow.
We want to stress that the solidarity actions which the NUT, NUPENG and NUEE have envisioned should also cover and back the strikes of ASUP, COEASU and all other unions in the education sector that have any on-going dispute with the government over pay, conditions and education funding. This is the best way to ensure that all the outstanding disputes in the education sector are resolved and all public Universities, Polytechnics and Colleges of Educations are opened for full and undisrupted academic activities.
In welcoming and advocating for solidarity strikes, the ERC is quite aware of the concern of some members of the public who are worried that solidarity strikes especially from a union like the NUT would only shut down the entire education sector to the detriment of ordinary Nigerians especially since children of the rich few are not enrolled in public schools.
This kind of concern cannot be simply overlooked.
However the point that must be made is that with or without strikes, the entire education sector including secondary and primary education has already been destroyed and shutdown in terms of standard and quality that it is simply a pipe dream to imagine any serious learning is going on at any point in time in any of our public schools. Teachers in the secondary and primary schools are not enough and are overworked, classrooms are overcrowded while in most schools the roofs are leaking such that as a rule classes are not held during the rainy season.
While the products of public Universities are said to be unemployable, products of public secondary schools are mostly half-educated. In this kind of situation, public secondary and primary schools as well as teachers stand to benefit immensely if the on-going struggle to ensure government funds education adequately is won. This is why a solidarity strike from the NUT is not only a step in the right direction but something that needs to be built upon such that primary and secondary schools teachers and pupils can be actively involved in the struggle to save public education from collapse.
Indeed at this time, what is required is the unity of all unions in the education sector including students in order to jointly build a strong mass movement that can challenge the government anti-poor and neo-liberal policies of education underfunding and commercialisation.
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