Building Labour Party as a Fighting Working Class Political Alternative
Building Labour Party as a Fighting Working Class Political Alternative
Report of the Labour Party Third National Convention
By Kola Ibrahim
The Labour Party’s National Convention was held on Saturday, December 12, 2009 at the National Secretariat of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in Abuja. This Convention took place at a time when the capitalist leadership of the country is in disarray while all neo-liberal arsenals are being directed at working and poor people. Unfortunately, the leadership of the Party ensured there was no debate on the action plans for combat necessary for the looming battle between the bankrupt ruling class and the working masses. Currently, the proposed 2010 budget currently before the National Assembly is a monumental attack on the economic survival of the working masses. Aside the fact that it does not reflect any salary increase as against the demand of the Labour movement for a N52, 200 minimum wage, there is a continued attack on education (that affect over 60 percent of Nigerian youth), health care, etc., while more money (over N500 billion â€“ about 12.5 percent of the total budget and more than combined budget for education and infrastructure) is to be handed over to local and international financial institutions.
Preceding the Convention proper was a symposium on electoral reform with Jonathan Zwingina, a former PDP senator, as the lead speaker. Just like every other bankrupt capitalist politician, his lecture was riddled with anti-working class positions, pedestrian arguments and anti-democratic proposition. For instance, he was against the number of political parties in the country and called for an anti-democratic yardstick of ten percent vote share as a condition for party registration. According to him any of the existing parties that do not meet that threshold should be deregistered. There are 55 registered political parties in Nigeria today. In a shameful manner, he also tried to obliterate the history of all the struggles of the working people for democratic and economic change by calling Nigerians docile. Ironically, this same person, who may be found in the Labour Party in the coming period, was in the Nigerian Senate for eight years, as a prominent member of the PDP, supporting all anti-democratic, anti-working people, pro-imperialist policies of the then Obasanjo government.
However, the high point of this session was the solidarity speech of the General Secretary of the NLC, the main trade union federation in the country, John Odah. He was quick in responding to the anti-worker, anti-democratic assertions of Zwingina. He rejected Zwingina’s proposal for registration of political parties by reminding the audience that removal of obstacle to party registration was a product of struggle led by Gani Fawehinmi, the late radical activist and former national chairman of National Conscience Party (NCP); a struggle in which the DSM also played a prominent role as members of NCP, before the party was politically ship-wrecked by the post-Gani right-wing leadership of the party. He correctly stated that it was the same bankrupt political class that set-up many of these ‘suitcase parties’ are the ones clamouring for party deregistration in the name of fighting for democracy. He forgot however to add that the Labour Party on which platform Zwingina was making his anti-democratic position has not won ten percent of votes.
He also faulted the backward position of Zwingina that the masses are docile. He maintained that the struggle that yielded the current civilian dispensation was fought by the masses, and the bankrupt political class only reaped where they did not sow and thereby appropriated political power for their self-serving, pecuniary interests. Moreover, in the last one decade of civil rule workers and poor masses have actively waged various struggles against different aspects of neo-liberal policies in different sectors of the economy. The most prominent of the struggle were the seven general strikes and mass protests against incessant fuel price hike.
The highpoint of John Odah’s speech was his call for Labour Party to become the real mega-party of the masses. Reflecting the pressure on Labour leaders to build the party, Odah revealed that the NLC would call for a special convention of the Labour Party to review the state of the party and chart out the role the trade unions will play. Noticeably, the NLC secretary did not comment on the character and the activities of the national leadership of the Labour Party. For instance, just a few days before the Convention, the party leadership, some of whom are working towards shutting socialists out of the Party, had unilaterally endorsed Andy Uba, a former personal assistant to the former president Obasanjo, as the party’s candidate in the governorship election holding in Anambra State in 2010. Previously Uba, a member of Obasanjo’s kitchen cabinet, fraudulently and illegally occupied governorship position of the state on the platform of the PDP for a few months before he was removed by Supreme Court in 2007.
It is a welcome development that the NLC has shown renewed interest in building the party it helped register. However, beyond the “good talk” from John Odah, the NLC should come up with practical steps and programmatic actions to reposition the Labour Party as the working class political alternative that could struggle for power in the defence of interests of the poor working masses. The proposed Special National Congress should come up on and before next March so that, in addition to other important political and organizational issues, there would be ample time to implement any resolution around 2011 elections.
The character of the Labour Party today, which has become safe haven for anti-poor politicians, is a result of the very low profile participation and commitment of trade union and Labour leaders in the party’s activities. It is also clear that one of the reasons some of the elements in Lagos and National leadership have vowed never to allow socialists, particularly members of the DSM, into the party is in order to have seamless embrace of anti-poor, moneybag politicians. It is incongruous that the leadership of the party which is supposed to be the political alternative for working class people has not consciously recruited workers but rather hunt around for anti-worker, moneybag elements to come and contest on the platform of the Labour Party. This trend must be seriously combated by trade union leaders and working class elements; otherwise the party will be a total failure vis-Å•-vis meeting the aspirations and yearnings of workers and ordinary Nigerians. A Labour Party dominated by anti-poor politicians who left their original parties to realize their self-serving agenda on the platform of party can never represent and defend the interests of working people on whose behalf it was supposedly formed. It will never be different from the PDP, AC and other pro-establishment, anti-poor, pro-neo-liberal political parties.
The Character of the Convention
Ordinarily, there should have been state congresses to elect the delegates before the National Convention. But in this case, the delegates were not elected but handpicked by various state leaderships. Besides, the national leadership had allotted 20 delegates each to every state irrespective of the organizational and political strength of the Party in the state. This is not democratic as the number of delegates to the Convention should be proportional to the membership strength of the party in the states. It is fraudulent that the party was able to mobilize 20 delegates even from the states the party is not yet active. There were allegations that in order to justify the money collected from the national secretariat some state leaderships hired people in and around Abuja as delegates. Of course, there were genuine delegates in the sense that they truly came from the states being claimed. But the fact that there was no state congress made it possible for non-members to make the list. Indeed, some of the delegates were sycophants of money bag politicians who want to hijack the party. But, aside these groups there are working class elements and labour activists who look up to Labour Party as a real alternative party of the working and poor masses.
It is obvious that this Convention was called just to strengthen the hold of the current leadership on the Party. This explains prioritization of the Constitution Review, which strengthens status quo over the deliberation on party programme and action plans for the party particularly in relations to party building and preparation for 2011 elections.
Among undemocratic additions to the party constitution is the provision which allows unelected politicians and appointed public officers, like special advisers and assistants to state governors, to have automatic delegate rights at Conventions. The situation where these unelected elements who hold primary allegiance to their benefactors (governors and president) would dominate the Convention is not only undemocratic but also unwholesome. If truly any special assistant or adviser is a committed party member he/she should seek to be elected as delegates. The argument to kill this provision was well received at the Convention, though the leadership had his way.
In principle, there is nothing wrong with the provision that allows officers to remain in office for as many terms as possible provided they are elected at the Convention. But there should be entrenched, genuine democratic processes that would ensure that officers are truly elected. In other words, if the members wish they should be able to change leaders democratically at the Convention. This also entails that the delegates to the national and state conventions must be elected at the state and local government area respectively.
It was a welcome development that the party leadership say in its report that they were making overture to some trade unions. This however runs contrary to the directive to the state chapters whose secretariats are currently in trade union premises to move out. The party must not severe its historic link with working class organizations. Moreover, beyond one-off visitation to a few trade union secretariats, the party leadership, at both national and state levels, should identify with the daily struggle of workers and youths for improvement in living and working conditions. They should also initiate or support struggles against all anti-poor, capitalist policies of privatization, commercialization and deregulation. With this, the party will be able to attract workers and youths who will see it as the only viable alternative to the prevailing rots at all levels of the government.
It is instructive to also reiterate the call on Adams Oshiomhole to leave the Action Congress and help build the Labour Party both in Edo and nationally. It is unfortunately that Oshiomhole chose to attend the Convention of Action Congress which held the same day as the Labour Party’s. Oshiomhole’s victory as the governor was not as a result of alliance with the Action Congress but because of his credential as a Labour leader that led workers, youths and poor masses. It should be recalled that Oshiomhole formally declared his intention to vie for Edo state governor on the platform of the Labour Party at a mass rally only to later contest as the flagbearer of the AC on the basis of alliance the Labour Party entered with it.
However, the only Labour Party Governor, Olusegun Mimiko of Ondo State, was in attendance. In his speech, he highlighted some populist programmes he has initiated. For instance, according to him, in addition to a sizable portion of pension arrears of up to N1.4 billion was paid for retired teachers and local government workers, a 50 percent of workers’ basic salary was awarded as year-end bonus for workers (aside leave bonuses already paid). He also spoke of a planned pregnant woman medical programme. While these programme are commendable, there are still wide room for improvement in the areas of education, infrastructure, agriculture and even health care. But it is almost impossible to sustain such lofty programme on the basis of arrangement in which contractors and consultants usually account for almost half the cost. Such programme could be handled through public work with well equipped facilities and competent personnel and subject to democratic control of elected representatives of workers and communities in order to ensure judicious allocation of funds and quality jobs. Also in order to save resource for some social programme, all public officer holders must not earn more than salary of the average skilled worker and there should be open democratic workers control of resources to prevent looting and resources.
However, coming from the PDP to contest on the platform of the Labour Party, it is left to see whether Mimiko can run the Ondo government on the basis of such working class programme and methods. Besides, it will difficult to actualize a pro-working people programme on the lasting basis within the confines of a state. This is one of the reasons the Labour Party has to be built nationally as a formidable working class political alternative that could wrest political power from the thieving ruling elites at all levels and commit public resources to adequate provision of basic needs (education, health care, decent jobs, good housing, etc), infrastructure and economic development.
We call on Labour leaders, trade union activists, pro-masses organizations and socialists to be active in the party in order to ensure that it is open to working class elements and built as a working class political alternative. There have been efforts to this effect by the Campaign for Mass Based Labour Party formed by some trade union activists and socialists including members of Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM). The intervention of the Campaign at the Convention with banners, leaflets and discussions with individuals and groups reveals that there are numerous people, across the country, who want the party to be repositioned as the fighting organ of workers and poor masses in the country. This has re-affirmed the correctness of the resolve of the CMB-LP to build it as a national campaign. However, socialists and members of the CMB-LP must continue to fight for democratic demands within the party and argue for a socialist and working class programme for the party.
The DSM was present at the Convention with both delegates and visitors. 52 copies of special edition of our paper, Socialist Democracy, on one year of Oshiomhole as Edo State Governor and 29 copies of our latest perspective document, Nigeria on the Brink, were sold. This itself reflects the possibility of building support for our ideas within the party.