The Type Of Labour Leadership Needed In Post 2007 Elections
SOCIALIST DEMOCRACY MAY DAY SPECIAL EDITION
The Type Of Labour Leadership Needed In Post 2007 Elections
The two trade union federations in the country, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), have recently elected new leaderships. However, a more significant development is the resolve of the new leaderships of the two labour centers to establish a working relationship in pursuit of labour unity. To demonstrate commitment to this, the two federations have organised joint 2007 May Day rallies across the country. We of the Democratic socialist Movement (DSM) heartily welcome this development. We expect that this working relationship will be fully deployed to consistently defend the interests and rights of workers and poor masses in Nigeria. For the theme of this May Day, “Towards a new Agenda for Political and Socio-economic Transformation”, to acquire true meaning and character, labour must take struggle to the arena of contest for political power to end the rein of anti-poor neo-liberal economic reforms of the outgoing and incoming governments.
Mass Misery in the Midst of Abundance
Perhaps, more than any other time in its annals, Nigeria is in the dire need of genuine political and socio-economic transformation. For the vast majority of the working masses, the past eight years of the so-called civil rule has brought little or no any tangible improvement to their living standards. In fact for many, life has taken a drastic plunge negatively. Very sadly, this has been happening against the background of the unprecedented wealth that has accrued to the contrary within the same period. For instance, an estimate says that about two-thirds of the total sum of money realised by Nigeria since 1955, when the country commenced large scale commercial exportation of crude oil, has been earned in the past 8 years. But most tragically these stupendous resources have only mostly been looted by top government officials and their favoured contractors, both local and foreign. Side by side with the massive looting of treasury, the Obasanjo led civilian capitalist politicians have equally implemented neo-liberal policies which had only always add to reduce the living standard of the entire working class elements including vast layers of even middle class people.
Commendably, the labour movement, under the central leadership of the outgoing NLC President, Adams Oshiomhole, waged seven heroic general strikes and mass protests against the policy of incessant hike of fuel prices, a key component part of the neo-liberal reform programme of the government. Most unfortunately however, these general strikes and mass protest were conducted by most labour leaders from the premise of staging protests rather than starting struggles and within the framework of vainly trying to reform the system. To start with, the issue of incessant fuel price hike was never seen as part and parcel of other anti-poor policies such as health care and education, commercialisation and privatisation, massive retrenchment of workers side by side with total absence of any form of social security benefit, etc. Even the issue of incessant hike of fuel prices was treated in an unscientific and illogical manner.
The country’s tremendous crisis in the 1980s led the NLC to abandon its previous support of “welfarism” and support socialism. But this has not been reflected in day-to-day campaigning. There was no principled, socialist demand for the public ownership, under working class democratic control and management, of all the major sectors of the economy including finance. Instead most labour leaders, led by Oshiomhole himself, were on the one hand giving support for the privatisation of other sectors of the economy while at the same time making a utopian demand that the oil sector be maintained as a public venture albeit controlled by capitalist governments!
In line with this bourgeois-reformist approach, all the general strikes and protest under reference were equally conducted in a pseudo-reformist fashion. Instead of a revolutionary approach which sees and organises these struggles as part of the working masses necessary struggles to overthrow the current unjust system, most prominent labour and civil society leaders of these struggles regarded them as a means of persuading the ruling capitalist class to give their system a “a human face”. Suffice to stress, the failure of this approach has been underlined by the fact that the capitalist class has continued to hike fuel prices from time to time. As we write, there are plans to once again hike fuel prices if not before, but most certainly in the aftermath of April’s elections. Meanwhile, government, through manipulated judicial proceedings and pronouncements, are carrying out an unrelenting plan to deprive the vast majority of the working masses their basic democratic and constitutional right of association and peaceful mass assembly/protest. As the NLC has correctly stated these restrictions are worse than those suffered during colonial times.
Tasks Before the New Labour Leaders
Perhaps, with only possible exception of Adams Oshiomhole, even if the 2007 elections had not been rigged and manipulated, its outcome could only have brought to power, at all levels, capitalist elements that will attack the economic and political interests of the masses with greater vigour and in the most bestial fashion. As pointed out earlier, the past eight years have been especially fortunately for Nigeria in terms of huge money generated from sales of crude oil internationally. However the steady rise in oil prices in the past eight years cannot be expected to continue indefinitely. In fact from a peak of around $73 per barrel a few months ago the price has presently declined to about $60 per barrel.
This scenario raises a fundamental problem for the masses. If the especially greedy capitalist class totally failed to use this oil boom to effect an improvement in the masses’ living conditions, then it will be as certain as night follows day that this self-serving ruling elite will only use the period of sharp fall in oil income to impose harsher anti-poor policies on the working masses and the poor in general. Suffice to stress this scenario will only compound an already complicated situation.
Presently the ruling PDP government at the central level has converted governance mainly into an instrument to sell to themselves choice public properties at rock bottom prices. Equally the main opposition parties like the ANPP and AC fully subscribe to the privatisation agenda. Their own grudge is simply borne out of the desire to be the ones in the central control so that they can easily buy these choice public properties themselves.
In pursuance of these self-serving, anti-poor agenda both the PDP and its main bourgeois rivals spent billions of naira so as to win political power through April’s elections. Just like as in the past, it is the working people and poor that will be made to pay for this financial brigandage by the ruling class. Therefore, from whichever angle one may choose to critically examine the current socio political situation, the post election period will need a well-focused and determined labour leadership drawing appropriate conclusions from its recent history. The new leadership of the two labour centers must of necessity be equipped with a comprehensive economic and political programme which dialectically combines the working masses’ needs of today with tomorrow’s aspirations.
The DSM expect that the issues of a decent living wage, the minimum wage level, alongside more social issues like free quality health care and education for all will be put in the front burner by the new leadership. If this strategy were pursued with all the needed commitment and determination, then it would soon be made obvious that the working masses need their own independent, democratic political party to actualize those lofty pro- working masses’ programme on a lasting basis. Since our own foundation we in the DSM have been advocating such a party through which the workers and poor can wrestle political power from the present corrupt capitalist politicians. As the DSM often stated only a genuine workers’ and poor peasants’ government, built on a socialist economy wherein the commanding heights of the economy are publicly owned directly and democratically run by the working masses themselves, can begin to ensure that the human and material resources of society can be used for the benefit of all.
We strongly wish to warn that the continuation of the prevailing capitalist, neo-liberal economic and political agenda, under any shape or guise, will only unleash an unimaginable disaster, socially and politically, on society as a whole and on the working masses in particular. In this situation the NLC and TUC will have a responsibility to again take a lead alongside other trade unions and pro-masses’ organizations. Most recently the September 2005 rallies showed again the potential support that can be mobilized but future mobilizations must be used as a preparation for real struggle not just symbolic protest.