Labour\’s Political Role comes to the fore at LASCO Protest Planning Meeting
Labour’s Political Role comes to the fore at LASCO Protest Planning Meeting
By Kola Ibrahim
On Wednesday, 5th August, 2009, a planning meeting of the Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO) was held in Ibadan, Oyo State, in preparation for the national protest rally of the Labour movement and pro-labour civil society organisations on 13th August in Ibadan, the designated centre for the protest march in the South-West.
It will be recalled that the NLC, TUC and pro-masses organisations, all organised under LASCO, had started in May a series of mass protests across all the zones and centres of the country to demand among others: the reversal of the planned deregulation of the oil sector, increase in minimum wage from the paltry N5, 500 to N52, 200 and implementation of the Uwais-led Electoral Reform recommendations (which as DSM has severally argued is itself seriously faulty). The mass protests have been held in five regional centres in the country starting in Lagos on May 13, 2009 and Asaba two days later. After the NLC and TUC unfortunately paused the programme for a month, the rallies then restarted in Kano (June 16), Maiduguri (June 23), Enugu (July 17) and Makurdi (July 22). The remaining two centres now are Ibadan and Abuja. The mass protests drew large turnouts of workers and poor people, who are disenchanted with the results of over ten years of failed civilian ruler ship, although more would have attended with better mobilisation.
The planning meeting in Ibadan was thus meant to strategise on how to build a strong support base for the protest march, and start discussion on how to move the struggle forward. The meeting was hosted by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Oyo State. The national leadership of the Labour Civil Society Coalition (LASCO) was represented by Abiodun Aremu, the co-secretary of LASCO; Segun Sango, General Secretary of DSM, and Wale Balogun, the General Secretary of United Action for Democracy (UAD).
Civil society groups in Oyo State including Voters’ Assembly, Campaign for Democracy, Socialist League and Oodua Peoples’ Congress (OPC), a Yoruba “self-determination” group, among others were also present. The meeting also had in attendance the chairman of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), University of Ibadan (UI) chapter, and two representatives from the national headquarters of Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU). Marketers’ associations were also represented. Significantly, a sizable proportion of attendees were women while individual activists such as Laoye Sanda, a long time socialist from the Polytechnic, Ibadan, also actively participated. In total more than 40 persons attended.
However, aside from comrades of DSM who came from Osun State, Labour unions and pro-labour civil society groups in the six south-western states were not present due to lack of adequate mobilization. In fact, most affiliate unions of the NLC in Oyo state were not represented while the Trade Union Congress (TUC) leadership in the state was also absent.
The meeting discussed the strategies and methods of organizing the protest including mobilization of people in and outside Oyo State, the route of the march, security arrangement and funding. Becuase the attendance excluded most states in the zone, it was agreed that another meeting be fixed for Monday, August 10, 2009, with adequate mobilization amongst the various unions and pro-labour civil societies in the south west. The next meeting would also be used to formally announce the protest march to the press while the meeting would also serve the purpose of a symposium.
The factual contributions of UI ASUU chairman on the failure of governance in the country and the need for people to struggle, citing the victory UI workers won against the state government on tax deduction, coupled with a solidarity speech of the NASU representative, who called for class solidarity, were splendid. The ASUU Chairman further called for the formation of LASCO in the state. However, the meeting took a qualitative turn when issue of what next to be done arouse. While the coordinator of Voters’ Assembly, Moshood Erubami, raised the need for workers to seek political power without explaining in clear terms how to do this, it was left for comrades of DSM to call for a working class party.
We called for building of the Labour Party as a fighting party of the workers and the oppressed by identifying with the daily struggles and immediate demands and providing a formidable platform to wrest political power from the thieving ruling elite at all levels. The party should campaign for, and be prepared to implement in power, the programme of public ownership of the economy which will divert billions being looted by multinational corporations and big business and corrupt politicians to social services and infrastructural development.
Specifically, we called on Labour Party leadership to actively support LASCO and all striking unions in the country and particularly in the state in their various agitations and struggles. Incidentally, the Labour Party in Oyo State is headed by the State Chairman of NLC, Moshood Apampa, who was also the governorship candidate of the party in the 2007 election and the moderator of the programme. We urged the Labour Party in the state â€“ which is presently comatose and lack workers’ mass membership despite its leadership being led by a central labour leader â€“ to start organising meetings and participating in all major struggles and agitations of workers and community people in the states as a way of building a mass base in the state.
Most of the speakers aptly reasoned that the planned rallies, like the previous ones, could be successful but that would not be enough to compel government to succumb to the demands of the struggle. This therefore raised question of what next. We categorically called on labour leadership to declare a 48-hour warning strike and mass protest. We argued that the fact that various unions are currently at loggerheads with the government clearly manifests the urgency for central labour unions â€“ NLC and TUC â€“ to call general strike to aggregate all the demands of the unions and raise a common platform for workers and the poor people to combat government anti-poor policies. Without this, the poor people, in a bid to express their bottled-up anger may find succour in sectarian actions such as religious fundamentalism and ethnic jingoism. We also called for the inclusion of the demands of education workers’ unions, ASUU, SSANU and NASU, who are currently on strike, in the list of demands of LASCO and Labour, which should reflect in all materials of LASCO including leaflets and banners.
However, there were scepticism of the sincerity of the Labour leadership to lead the struggle to a logical conclusion and not ‘settle’ halfway. There were also questions about the ability of the Labour leadership to lead a political movement and the question of follower-ship. Abiodun Aremu argued that the reason for many of the half-way agreements of Labour lies in the heterogeneity in orientation amongst the leadership of the central labour unions, especially the leadership of affiliate unions comprising the NECs of the NLC and TUC central unions. Wale Balogun called for a strong will of the masses as a way of pressuring the Labour leadership. Segun Sango, while clearly reiterating the necessity of a workers’ party, especially the building of Labour Party as a fighting mass party, said that even if Labour leaders do not sell out consciously, without well thought-out programmes of action that will link the immediate struggle of workers with that of seizing power by the working class, they can be worse than the treacherous ones.
By and large, the contributions of most of the speakers at this meeting further revealed how deep and widespread the disenchantment against anti-poor, neo-liberal policies and entrenched corruption is. Such debate in the build up to the protest march further shows the potential inherent in working class and mass organisations. It was also instructive that most contributions posed the question of what happens next after the rallies and expressed the desire for a political and economic alternative. We called for a 2-day general strike and mass protest as the next step to press home demands of the current struggle while at the same time calling on the leadership of labour and pro-masses organizations to strengthen and build the Labour Party as a fighting platform of the working people and winning the more advanced layer to our ideas. The debate on political role of Labour excited contribution from many participants, including women, who openly showed support and enthusiasm for the workers’ party. The meeting was mostly conducted in Yoruba language. Ten copies of Socialist Democracy were sold while ERC leaflets and fliers were well received.