AFTERMATH JUNE 2007 GENERAL STRIKE
Socialist Democracy August 2007 Edition
AFTERMATH JUNE 2007 GENERAL STRIKE
Which Way Forward For The Working Masses?
(By Segun Sango, DSM General Secretary)
Between June 20 and June 23, 2007, Nigeria came to a complete halt as working people led the mass of the population in struggle against the latest attacks of the ruling robber elite.
Overall, the general strike/mass protest recorded a huge success in terms of the massive support it enjoyed amongst working masses, both in the formal and informal sectors of the economy, across the country. This movement, the eighth since 2000, showed once again, the huge potential power of working people, without them, the rulers could do nothing.
The demands were very clear: to protest and achieve the reversal of the latest hike in fuel prices and the 100% hike of Value Added Tax (VAT). Other principal demands include 15% pay rise as well as the review of the recent sales of the Port Harcourt and Kaduna refineries.
Against this background, the massive support, which the strike/protest garnered across the country, among the working masses, clearly represents a crushing refutation of the brazen lie being told that over 30 million voters, voted PDP, ANPP, AC and other capitalist parties in 2007 so-called general elections. But why did the highly successful general strike fail to fully achieve its set goals? Some have even called to question the justification of embarking on the strike/protest in the first instance when what were achieved at the end of a 4-day heroic struggle were not radically different from what the regime had conceded on the eve of the strike.
For us in the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), these and other relevant issues and posers can only be satisfactorily answered within the context of a perspective which regards general strike/mass protest, not as an end in itself, but as a means to achieve a society that can guarantee a permanent decent living standard and genuine democratic/political rights. This is not an abstract discussion. Labour has to learn and draw conclusions from its experiences. There have been eight general strikes or mass protests in seven years. But, unfortunately, while these actions were massively supported, they did not result in any improvement in the masses’ living standards, let alone any fundamental change.
Further struggles are inevitable, but if they are to go beyond being merely protests and achieve real change, then, conclusions have to be drawn from the past and applied in future struggles. Within this framework, the general strike/mass protest in issue, once again, clearly reveals the vast potential power, which the working class collectively possess should it decide to run society in accordance with its own terms. But very graphically too, the very successful character of the strike has equally revealed the fact that there exists an unbridgeable gulf between the working masses actions/aspirations and that of the outlook and methods of virtually most sections of labour and mass movement leaders. Nothing better offers an irrefutable illustration of the above conclusion much than the reasons offered by labour leaders themselves in calling off the strike in issue on June 23, 2007.
THE JUNE 2007 STRIKE: A SOCIALIST APPRAISAL
In calling off the strike, the NLC and TUC leaders together with representatives of the federal government had, amongst other things, stated: “In the spirit of the strategic partnership between Government and Labour enunciated by President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in his letter of June 23, 2007 to the NLC and TUC, both sides further agree on the need for a mechanism for structured, proactive and routine interaction between Government and Organised Labour towards a qualitative process”.
At a separate press conference in Abuja on the same day, the TUC and NLC leaders gave further amplification of why they had to call off the strike. The NLC and TUC presidents had attributed their decision to call off the strike on the following premises: “the series of appeals for compromise by many Nigerians, including important institutions like the National Assembly, mass organisations, religious and traditional leaders and the media. Additional impetus for our interest in dialogue and finding the middle ground was provided by the personal appeal made by President Umar Musa Yar’Adua. The appeal by the President has been backed by an additional concession made by the Federal Government”.
Here, we in the DSM wish to emphatically state that both the philosophical premises and the identified practical reasons stated above as informing the call off of the strike were, and still are, fundamentally flawed and would pose dangerous to future struggles unless these are immediately corrected. Just imagine a “strategic partnership between Government and Labour” through “a mechanism of structured, proactive and routine interaction between Government and organised Labour”. At best, this perspective is sheer illusion, a phantasgomaria. At worst, it is nothing short of absolute betrayal of the interests and aspirations of the working masses. All class societies, especially the prevailing capitalist system revel in inequality, between the haves and the have nots, between the exploiters and their victims.
In fact, modern day capitalism has carried inequality to an unprecedented level wherein the major commanding heights of the economy and societal wealth are being converted to an exclusive property of a few capitalist individuals and corporations in the name of privatization! Recently, President Yar’Adua expressed his objection over the huge domestic debts. We quote: “I am concerned about the rising domestic debt and we must come up with a strategy to stem it and reduce its volume”. And then, the clincher “The CBN must take appropriate steps to check the tendency of commercial banks to finance the social sector to the detriment of the real sector”. (“The Guardian” June 14, 2007). Decoded, this simply means that President Yar’Adua prefers a situation where less resources would be spent on social services which would benefit a far greater majority of the working masses. Like Obasanjo before him, the major priority remains the private sector alias “real sector”.
Meanwhile, it is important to note that most of the resources and debts purportedly invested on social services in the past were actually stolen by top government officials and their capitalist contractors, according to governments’ own Debt Management Office (DMO)! But never worry, the working masses must always pay for the recklessness of the ruling class. So, how can “strategic partnership” and “middle ground” formula, mutually beneficial to both the poor working masses and the Adenugas, Dangotes, etc of this world be forged? How can a “proactive and routine interaction between Government and organized Labour” alter the fact that the least paid legislator will, this year, officially earn above N20 million while the lowest paid federal worker will earn just one hundred and twenty thousand (N120,000) per annum?
According to the communiquÃ© signed by labour and the federal government, “Expert Committee will examine the recent privatization/concessioning exercises, especially the sale of the 51% government equity in the refineries and the proposal for the power sector”. In addition to this, “Govt will set up an expert committee to examine the pricing mechanism of petroleum products and make recommendations”.
We in the DSM are bold to state that nothing much positive will be achieved with this so-called concession. First and foremost, what greatly needed but sorely lacking is a principled opposition to the entire privatization agenda and a democratic socialist alternative of controlling and running economy and society in the interest of all and not just for a capitalist few. Apart from the fact that the mandate of the so-called “expert committee” is limited only to “the recent privatization exercises”, the best that can be achieved under this “expert committee” would be a situation where the recent controversial privatization exercises are revoked and later likely sold to new buyers or same buyers on similar or even worse terms!
The acceptance of “pricing mechanism committee” for petroleum products within the framework of the market system can only ultimately mean one thing – the surrender of the right to the capitalist state to periodically hike fuel prices while doing nothing to ensure working masses adequate access to basic needs like foods, housing, health care, education, jobs, functional and affordable social infrastructures and other necessities like transportation, telecommunications, etc.
It is very commendable that the strike has forced the government to agree to implement 15% pay rise to federal government workers and also the total withdrawal of the 100% increment in VAT rate recently imposed. However, on their own, these are grossly inadequate concessions. Put differently, these so-called concessions can hardly fundamentally alter the current, deplorable living conditions of the vast majority of the working masses. To start with, the agreed pay rise only covers federal workers, whereas, the struggle was actually prosecuted by the working masses across board. Secondly, when compared with actual cost of living and placed side by side with what top government officials are awarding to themselves in the name of “monetization”, the 15% pay rise was too little and too late. Thirdly, the 15% pay rise did not carry a proviso for periodic increment to keep up with the rate of inflation. Fourthly, and very, very important, the 15% pay rise was conceded by the government on the basis “that there would be right-sizing (euphemism for retrenchment) in federal civil service”. (Source, Segun Adeniyi, the Special Assistant (communication) to the President in “The Guardian” of Sunday June 24, 2007 on page 10).
Yes, the VAT reversal is 100%. Nonetheless, this would only mean that the vast majority of the working masses remain in their current intolerable and deplorable living conditions! If President Yar’Adua keeps his promise, there would be no “official” price increase of petroleum products in the next one year. Leaving aside the fact that these products are currently sold in many parts of the country far above the officially agreed prices, what happens after the one-year moratorium on fuel prices? Honestly, the more a critical appraisal of the reasons given by labour in calling off the strike in issue is made, the more apparent becomes the necessity to develop a trade union and mass movement leadership with a requisite revolutionary outlook and methodology best suited for contemporary working masses struggle against the unjust capitalist system.
PDP AND ITS BOURGEOIS OPPONENTS
Labour, like many sections of the Nigerian society, totally condemned the farce dubbed the 2007 general elections. In fact, the NLC, in a press statement dated April 24, 2007 and signed by its General Secretary, John Odah, had amongst other things stated, with respect to the said elections: “The Nigeria Labour Congress finds it difficult to accept the outcome of the’ presidential elections and the emergence of Alhaji Yar’ Adua. This is not because we have any personal disagreement with him, but the fact that he is a beneficiary of a fundamentally flawed electoral process, which was programmed to fail … The plan to subvert the will of the people, rig the elections and impose a politically disabled leadership on the country was so clear that the NLC convened an urgent meeting of its Central Working Committee on April 19, 2007 in what has turned out to be a vain attempt to steer the country away from an avoidable disaster … It is clear that Nigerians have been robbed of a unique and historical opportunity to freely choose their leaders. The NLC thinks that the Presidency is being half smart and myopic by dangling appeal tribunals before the victims of this blatant robbery carried out in the presence of domestic and international election observers … The NLC is convinced that the long-term interests of our nation will be better served by rejecting these elections.”
Just like many, labour had at one time or the other, called for an outright cancellation of this gargantuan fraud and a re-run of the entire exercise. As is well known, the ruling PDP government of ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, the authors and beneficiaries of the farce in issue, totally ignored the popular call for a cancellation and re-run. The main bourgeois parties, i.e. the ANPP, AC, PPA, etc, even though the direct victims of the PDP’s electoral robbery, could not come up with any persuasive or formidable programme and platform to fight the PDP on policies and methodology. In reality, both of these sides of the capitalist class are equally anti-poor and utterly corrupt. Both the PDP and main bourgeois opposition parties operate a ruthlessly, intolerable and undemocratic regimes in their own parties. Both of these sides manipulated and rigged the elections in accordance with the money and control of state apparatus of coercion at their disposals before and during the farcical exercise called general elections. Thus, faced with an unacceptable situation where both the ruling party and the opposition parties do not, in any major sense, represent the interest and aspirations of the masses, how precisely should labour react to the colossal electoral robbery which characterized the so-called 2007 general elections?
INDEPENDENT WORKING CLASS POLICY AND RESISTANCE NEEDED
Expectedly, the PDP and most class-conscious layers of the thieving capitalist class, constantly, throughout the period in issue, urged labour not to intervene in the political situation because, according to these self-serving layers, labour must never be “partisan” in politics. Most unfortunately however, this anti-working class perspective found some echo among some sectarian elements within Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO). To these elements, the colossal electoral robbery perpetrated in the name of 2007 general elections is nothing more than an intra-class squabble between the different sectors of the capitalist ruling class. While we in the DSM agreed, and still agree, that this characterization is generally true, we nonetheless advocated that organized labour should take practical steps to fight this electoral robbery, of course, not to side with any of the bourgeois contenders but precisely use the failure of the entire process to advance a distinct, independent working masses alternative political agenda, including the defence of democratic rights and free elections.
Unfortunately, while the organized labour correctly decided to intervene in the political situation in the aftermath of the controversial elections, however, it has now been revealed that this intervention was primarily based on a futile perspective of guaranteeing the “stability” of the prevailing indefensible social economic system.
In a special interview granted to “Saturday Tribune” of 14, July, 2007, Abdulwaheed Omar, the NLC President, had, amongst other things, argued: “what we tried was to do things that would certainly stabilize Nigeria, not create chaos. Even when attempts were made to use the platform of the NLC or labour to do certain things, we said no, we had to separate these things. For example during the May Day celebration, which everybody knows is a day that is very special to workers, some of the political parties certainly wanted us to use that platform, but we said no. We considered this to be holiday for workers and it is only for the celebration of the workers. So if we were politically motivated, that would have been the first port of call â€¦ During the inauguration, the congress decided that there was not going to be a street protest but a sit at home protest and of course with some neighbourhood protest. The congress did that in the belief that the inauguration was part of the process of democracy, which needed not to be stalled. Otherwise, the congress could have come out to protest because earlier on we condemned the elections as not transparently done. We could have come out that time and it would have been a bad situation for the country”.
This is a very stupendous revelation! Labour, quite rightly in our view, condemned highly manipulated elections but was only prepared to organize symbolic resistance which would not, in anyway, jeopardize Nigeria’s “stability”! Yes, it would have been totally wrong for labour to base its fight against electoral fraud on the demands of the equally anti-poor, corrupt politicians of the bourgeois opposition. However, the idea of stalling a just fight to defend democratic rights so as not to rock the stones of the prevailing capitalist “stability” which is nothing but a system of permanent misery and oppression for the vast majority is nothing short of betrayal of the interests of the working masses. Here, the point should be stressed that the question of whether this act of treachery is a conscious or an unconscious process will not, at the end of the day, alter the fact of treachery in itself. This refusal to seriously defend democratic rights and free elections sets a dangerous precedent and labour’s ranks must call their leaders to account.
WHERE DO THE WORKING MASSES GO FROM HERE?
The decision of the NLC, TUC and JAF to organize the strike in issue is highly commendable. We in the DSM equally applaud all the practical steps taken by labour leaders and the entire labour movement in making the strike a success. While we fully appreciate the disappointment experienced by the working masses in the sense that petrol price was not returned to N65 per litre as centrally demanded, we nonetheless hold the view that the importance of the June 2007 general strikes/mass protests go beyond the issue of petrol price alone. If for anything, the struggle has once again underlined the determination and preparedness of the working masses to wage serious battle against the prevailing unjust economic and political order. The strike has also demonstrated the fact that the past general strikes had not been organized against President Obasanjo personally, but against the entire economic and political interests represented by Obasanjo and Yar’Adua, his imposed successor. That was why the masses massively supported the strike, notwithstanding the last minute concessions made by Yar’Adua. Of course, ending the strike without achieving total reversal of the petrol price to N65 a litre after the titanic struggles of the masses was frustrating.
Scientifically x-rayed, the reversal of petrol price to N65 a litre would have been a great morale booster to the working masses in general, particularly those involved in the struggle. However, this situation would not have fundamentally altered the material and political living conditions of the working masses in the given situation. To hold otherwise would be to accept that the prevailing social economic conditions of the masses are palatable. It would mean admitting that mass and permanent poverty in the midst of abundance is an inevitability. It would mean admitting that Nigeria’s polity would always be solely run by the different sections of the capitalist looters and gangsters. It would mean accepting the fact that the current deplorable health care and education services cannot be run for the better. It would mean accepting the fact that mass unemployment, crimes, prostitution, frauds, drug peddling, etc, which presently dominate the lives of the working masses youths are unchangeable.
For us in the DSM, here precisely lies the strategic importance of the June 2007 general strike. For us, the tremendous sagacity and determination collectively shown by the working masses in the period before and during the strike clearly revealed that there exists an inexhaustible prospect for a successful transformation of the current unjust capitalist society.
All that are required for these potentials to be translated into reality are basically the following: Labour and all mass organizations leaders must totally jettison their pro-capitalist outlook and conducts or be replaced by those that are prepared to fight the system. In place of half-hearted and incoherent opposition to privatization, labour leaders need to mount a vigorous opposition to privatization in principle and in reality. Therefore, simply opposing the sales of state’s assets to capitalist corporations and individuals on its own cannot effectively roll back the tide of privatization. Every conscious person already knows that these assets do not presently thrive well under capitalist state control. Therefore, labour needs a comprehensive working class, socialist economic agenda within which the major resources and wealth of societies are commonly owned and democratically planned and controlled by the working masses themselves so as to guarantee all the basic economic needs of life for all and not just for a few capitalist elements and their hangers-on.
This is a key to winning future struggles. The NLC leaders’ aim of stabilising capitalist Nigeria is the political reason why they did not want to use the general strike as the starting point for a socialist transformation. Secondly and simultaneously, labour has to consciously begin an immediate effort to creating a distinctly working class party entirely devoted to working class needs; as time and time over has proved the unreliability of all layers of the capitalist politicians whenever and wherever they rule. And as often stated by the DSM, the express goal of this party must be the capturing of political power from the self-serving bourgeoisie and the formation of a genuine workers and poor peasant government, on a socialist foundation.
We consequently urge labour leaders and all pro-labour forces to commence practical action in this respect so that future elections and mass struggles would not meet the masses in a state of political unpreparedness as in the 2007 general elections period. The bourgeois of all shades merely want power for their own self-serving ends. For this reason, an electoral contest to these vampires would always be manipulated in a “do or die” fashion. However, if labour, energetically, today raises a political platform primarily dedicated to meet the genuine needs of the masses, we are bold to say that that platform can rapidly grow to become a formidable political instrument through which the rule of all shades of exploiters and oppressors can be quickly terminated once and for all. The alternative, we dread to say, would be the deepening of the prevailing socio-economic barbarism ravaging the working masses and the society as a whole.
There is huge money in the economy but the neo-liberal policies of privatization, commercialization and cuts in social spending have meant that it is only available for looting. Therefore, the very material condition for official corruption, the neo-liberal capitalist economy, has to be replaced in order guarantee the use the nation’s resources for the well-being of all. To achieve this there is need for formation of a mass working peoples’ party, which is capable of wresting political power from the thieving ruling elite and defeat capitalism. This is the task before the leaders of labour and mass organizations.