AFTER NATIONWIDE RALLIES
Socialist Democracy Special Edition August 2009
AFTER NATIONWIDE RALLIES
Labour Must Mobilise for a 48 Hour General Strike and Mass Protest
The nationwide rallies by LASCO that had been held in Lagos, Asaba, Kano, Maiduguri, Makurdi and Enugu are now on the last lap. The next port of call is Ibadan on August 13, while the grand finale is Abuja. By now, despite unfortunately only limited mobilisations, the rallies should have taken at least 30,000 to the streets in protest with hundreds of thousands expressed support to the action in the course of the march against deregulation and for a new minimum wage. Yet the government has not appeared to lose any sleep. Rather, it has waxed stronger in rhetoric and resolved to effect deregulation of petrol.
To force the hand of the government on deregulation of oil industry would require sustained mass actions of workers and poor masses. It should be recalled that the government was forced to reverse the sale of refineries in 2007 by a general strike and mass protest. While the rallies should have helped raise mass consciousness, it is clear that they have not made the government to grow goose pimples. This has raised the question of what next after the rallies. As we of the Democratic Socialist Movement have been canvassing, the NLC and TUC leaderships should be prepared to declare a 48-hour warning general strike and mass protest as the next step to further press home the demands.
In the last one month a number of trade unions have had cause to embark one form of industrial action or the other. The strike actions by the university workers are still ongoing. All this has already raised the imperative for a general strike to aggregate all the demands of industrial unions. NLC and TUC should use the Abuja rally to announce the date of the general strike and mass protest throughout the country. Labour and youth activists should form striking committees in workplaces and communities to mobilise workers and poor masses and organise a series of mass activities before and during the strike.
PAY WORKERS A LIVING WAGE
The soaring cost of living and need for families to provide for their own power, water, education, health care, etc have on daily basis made a new minimum wage for all categories of workers imperative. Labour leaders must not be deceived by the supposed plan to cut the pay of the top government functionaries. What is to be taken out of their jumbo pay, which is even being contested by some sections of political office holders, is not more than a cup of water out of the ocean. More so, the daily access to looting of the public resources by these political office holders and “entitlement” to outrageous allowances are still very much preserved. Besides, while on the one hand the global economic crisis that has dragged down the oil revenue provides one of the reasons to cut the excessive, outrageous pay of the political holders, on the other hand it raises the need for a new minimum wage of N52,200 because of unbearably high cost of living that is attendant to it.
A report by United Nations’ Habitat Organisation in February 2009 shockingly reveals that while in 1996, the poverty rate in Nigeria was 46%, it has now soared to 76%. The long years of unbridled implementation of anti-poor neo-liberal policies have led to the free fall in the standard of living of ordinary Nigerians and collapse of basic infrastructure in spite of huge oil revenue realized by the country particularly between 1999 and 2008. According to a World Bank report only 1 percent Nigerians, i.e. the thieving ruling elite, appropriate the 80 percent of the country’s oil and gas wealth.
In addition to its necessity, the DSM holds strongly that given all relevant economic factors and country’s resources (both real and potential), N52, 200 new minimum wage is not only realistic but also achievable. Labour must add to the demand that the new minimum wage should be subject to review on regular basis in line with the rate of inflation and that not a single worker should be retrenched on account of the minimum wage. However, as we have argued in the May Day 2009 edition of this paper, within the framework of the prevailing profit first capitalist ideology, it would not be possible to permanently win the demand for decent pay that would not result in mass retrenchment of workers. Therefore, Labour leaders have to brace up for the reality of fighting to replace the current unjust system with a democratic socialist order wherein the main economic resources of society including lands and finance would be collectively used to cater for the needs of everybody and not just that of a few millionaires.
DEREGULATION: WORSENING A BAD SITUATION
On deregulation, the government has already perfected plan to commence the anti-poor policy soonest. According to Lukman Rilwan, the Minster of Petroleum, “We have virtually reached that point and the ministry has now finalised the approach, which will be in the next few months, when we will get ready to effect this for the benefit of our economy and, more importantly, for the benefit of our teeming population.” (Daily Independent, July 27).
What is fallacious and insulting in this statement is the assertion that deregulation is “for the benefit of our economy and, more importantly, for the benefit of our teeming population.” Deregulation can never be in the interest of the economy and ordinary people. The experience with diesel, black oil and kerosene, which have been deregulated, has shown that this obscene policy will only further worsen the already bad situation which the economy and ordinary people have been condemned to. Their prices have only been soaring since the deregulation took effect. Diesel, which is used in industries for power generation in absence of public electricity, has been increased in the last two years from N60 to over N100.
The President of the Manufacturing Association of Nigeria (MAN), Bashir Borodo, had attributed the high cost of diesel and black oil as one of the factors that have led to the collapse of 820 companies in Nigeria between years 2000 and 2008 (Vanguard, July 24). According to him, from the period of deregulation to date, industrial consumers have witnessed three price hikes, especially in Automotive Gas Oil (diesel) and Low Pour Fuel Oil (black oil). (Daily Trust, July 24). He said, “This was foreseen by us and about eighteen months ago we made passionate pleas for the reduction in the price of AGO, and permission to partner with NNPC to import LPFO directly”. He added “MAN protested these shocking price increases and drew the attention of the government to the imminent dangers of the collapse of industries which depend on AGO and LPFO to power their generators or boilers”. The crisis has only shown tendency to get worse. MAN has also added that another 37 companies have closed shop in the last two weeks (Guardian, August 10). According the same issue of the Guardian, as at Friday August 7, industry sources confirmed that over 600,000 jobs have been lost in the troubled industrial sector, with over 1,000 other manufacturing outfits now declared ailing or on the verge of collapse.
The government has also argued that the removal of subsidy is inevitable because costs are so much that little resources are left for projects like health, education, and roads (Daily Independent July 27). This is a well-worn argument of the government whenever it wants to force poisonous policies down the throat of the poor working masses. Labour and pro-masses organisation must ask the Yar’Adua government to tell that to the deaf.
Already, the president of NLC, Abdul Wahid Omar, has aptly dismissed the argument. In his words, “Each time government wanted to hike the price of petroleum products, they told us that roads would be constructed or rehabilitated, that health facilities would be improved, that educational institutions would be better funded, that the prices of essential commodities would come down. But you and I know that none of that has ever happened. Rather than things getting better, it is getting worse and the masses are suffering. They have been deceiving the masses for a long time now. The idea that deregulation would bring down the price of petrol does not hold water because diesel and kerosene that were deregulated over two years ago, their prices have not come down.” (The Sun, July 27)
Labour has also torn to pieces the claim that deregulation is inevitable as a measure to curb corruption. Omar argued that government using corruption as the basis for deregulation does not make sense since it is a well known fact that government officials are the ones perpetrating corruption in the country. He further asserted that, “Federal Government has always argued that it pays out more than N1 trillion annually as subsides for petroleum products and that the amount of subsidy has increased.
But Labour has faulted the claim since government recently admitted that it does not have its own data on subsidies but got the figures from oil marketers.” (The Sun, July 27).
NO HOPE IN YAR’ADUA GOVERNMENT
Indeed, Labour has not only done more than enough to rupture every bubble of lies the government has invented to justify deregulation, they have also provided alternative measures, albeit limited. According to Omar the Labour has canvassed for “the cancellation of demurrage on products in transit, independent verification of the transaction costs claimed by marketers, rehabilitation and expansion of Nigeria’s refineries, resumption and intensification of efforts to curb corruption, reduction of the dependence on oil and gas revenues and diversification of the economy.” (Vanguard, July 30)
The major shortcoming of the Labour leadership is absolute illusion in the government to carry out the alternatives it has proffered and a reluctance to struggle. This explains why, in May, the Labour suspended the nationwide rallies and mass protests after Lagos and Asaba because of illusion in government.
Owei Lakemfa, Head of Information NLC, while announcing the resumption of the nationwide rallies at a press conference in Kano June 14 confessed: “We had postponed these protests in other parts of the country partly with the hope that things will improve in the country, that Government would become more receptive to the cries of the people and that concrete steps would be taken to address our demands.”(NLC website) And, he lamented, “Unfortunately, this has not been so”.
Yar’Adua government is quintessentially neo-liberal and anti-poor; it would be easier to turn stone to bread than mere nationwide rallies, more so in just 8 cities, to make the government succumb to the demands of Labour. This however reveals a serious ideological defect in Labour’s conceptualization of the socio-economic crises that have necessitated the struggle. The labour leadership does not appear to appreciate how determined is Yar’Adua government in the implementation of the anti-poor, pro-rich neo-liberal agenda. This probably explains why they had hoped that “Government would become more receptive to the cries of the people”.
Besides, they have placed before the government a set of demands that run contrary to the tenet of neo-liberal capitalist policies with the hope that government will come to its sense and see reason with them. Omar expressed confidence that a neo-colonial, capitalist government like Yar’Adua’s could be made to implement policies in the interest of the poor working masses. For instance on the refineries he exudes confidence that, “All that is needed is for government to employ whatever possible means to ensure that these refineries are functioning and providing services to Nigerians and even beyond. Without government losing completely the ownership because we believe if government is in control, then there will be a lot of checks controlling the excesses of those who would want to profiteer so much because we believe if all these refineries are left to private people and private companies, there would still be the tendency of trying to subject Nigerians to difficulties by creating artificial scarcity but with the presence of government, I think this could be easily checked.” (Vanguard July 30).
FOR A WORKING CLASS POLITICAL ALTERNATIVE
What the Labour leadership has refused to come to terms with is that the only government that could implement all the measures they have brilliantly articulated is a working peoples’ government which Yar’Adua’s is not and cannot be. For instance, as we argued in the May issue of this Paper, to guarantee sufficient and functional local refineries, which can produce fuel at affordable prices for industrial and private use, the working class, first and foremost, needs to fight for a working peoples’ government that is prepared to put the commanding heights of the Nigeria’s economy, including oil, under public ownership and working class control and management. It is only this kind of government that can take fundamental decisions that would benefit the majority unlike the present order that only favours a rich few. Therefore, building and formation of a genuinely independent working class political party to achieve this end constitutes the primary responsibility of labour at this historic juncture. Only democratic planning and control by the working peoples committees can ensure that publicly owned companies run efficiently without corruption.
Currently, there is Labour Party formed by NLC but which it has refused to build as a fighting working class political alternative. So far, it has only generally served as a platform for rejects from the pro-capitalist political parties to realize their personal political ends. It is however possible for the party to be repositioned for the historic task of wresting power from the thieving ruling elites at all levels and enthroning a working peoples’ government that will commit public resources to provide for workers and poor masses socially beneficial programme like quality education, functional health care, potable water, electricity, etc, and for meaningful economic development. To achieve this on the lasting basis, the Labour Party should have orientation of changing society by replacing the prevailing, iniquitous capitalist system with a democratic socialist order.
We call on workers, artisans, youths, traders and socialists and pro-labour activists to join Labour Party en masse and, alongside the DSM, strive to transform the party as a viable political platform for the poor working masses. The current struggle provides opportunity for leadership of labour and Labour Party to popularize the party among workers and poor masses as a genuine, fighting force striving for a real political alternative, namely socialist policies to end capitalist oppression and chaos.