Labour must maintain its age-long opposition
By Peluola Adewale, Socialist Democracy, April/May 2010
Tragically for Nigeria’s workers and poor, it appears that the Labour leaders have opted for subterfuge as a strategy in the struggle against deregulation. While they have continued to put a faÃ§ade feigning commitment to the struggle, their conduct has only pointed at inclination to dump the struggle. Unfortunately, this they believe they are doing in the interest of the masses. The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), for instance, mandated the 7-man team it set up at the emergency National Executive Council (NEC) meeting on March 4 to work with the federal government on deregulation to be guided by December 15 2009 NEC resolution which posed some conditions to the government. These included: complete repairs of the four existing refineries; building of additional refineries either solely-owned by the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) or through joint partnership with oil companies, or better still through private sector initiative; a proper strengthening of the regulatory agencies so they can sanction defaulters; a level of power supply must be attained to encourage manufacturing and boost industrial growth; roads must be fixed and the railway system reactivated. The NLC also demanded that a viable system of mass transit be put in place to ease free movement of people and goods across the nation.
As we have argued in our last publication, “Nigeria on a Cliff Edge” (February 2010), on the surface it sounds radical to demand that the existing four refineries be made to function and that more be built where necessary with a view to meeting domestic demand of products, guaranteeing stable electricity, making roads viable and reactivating the railway system etc. However, asking dyed-in-the-wool capitalist, neo-liberal elements, who have only been able to prove their mettle by selling public properties and institutions to themselves at give-away prices in the name of privatisation, to now begin to spearhead a programme of massive public investment in roads and rail construction is totally unrealistic. Asking elements that have allegedly already spent over a period of time hundreds of billions of dollars to maintain the nation’s refineries and boost electricity generation and distribution, with nothing concrete to show for it, to now assume responsibility for developing the nation’s refineries, electricity, roads and rail systems, is nothing but a hopeless illusion and deception.
Instead of making futile calls on capitalist politicians and government to implement pro-poor policies, the NLC and TUC leaders should immediately set in motion concrete steps to build a movement that can secure a real improvement in living standards. This needs to be linked to the creation of a truly working peoples’ political party, or the building of the Labour Party as a genuine political platform of the working class, that is committed to fight for a workers’ and poor peoples’ government. Only such a government can take power from the hands of the self-serving capitalist elements, so as to be able to harness Nigeria’s natural and human resources for the benefit of all. To achieve this, such government must ensure that the commanding heights of the Nigerian economy are publicly owned, democratically run and planned by the working people themselves so that there will be more than enough resources to meet the needs and aspirations of all.
Now, the government has claimed to have agreed to some of the conditions demanded by Labour. For instance, the government has announced a halt in the planned privatization of the refineries. But before shouting hurrah, it should be recalled that this is not the first time the government has been forced by Labour to retreat on the sales of the refineries. Indeed, refineries that had been already sold to a hurriedly formed company, Bluestar, were taken back after a mass protest led by Labour in 2007. The government did not only stop the sales they also claimed to have pumped some money on the turnaround maintenance of the refineries, yet there have not been fundamental improvement in the functioning of the facilities. More than 80 percent of fuel for local consumption is imported. The billions of naira spent on the refineries have gone down the drain because some sections of the thieving ruling elite have turned the refineries into cash cows.
Therefore, it is not enough for critical facilities like refineries to be publicly owned, they have to be subjected to open democratic control of the working people, trade unions and professionals. It is only on this basis that huge resources committed will be judiciously spent and translate into functional refineries that work optimally. It is also in this context that the demand for building new refineries, which are necessary in order to meet domestic demands for fuel, could be meaningful. Otherwise, the effort will either be sabotaged by the ruling elite who make quick and cool profit from the fuel importation or provide new goldmines for the public looters. It is not accidental, that the elements who have been granted licenses to build refineries have not done so since 2001. Most of them have not even laid foundations for the projects. Nigeria’s ruling elite are parasitic, they do not invest in long time projects that create jobs and have positive multiplier effects on the economy like refineries but in short time speculative activities.
The tactical retreat of Labour on deregulation, the roots of which were sown in the December 15 resolution, may have been accentuated by its growing illusion and political endorsement of Goodluck Jonathan’s acting presidency. Their pronouncement since his emergence has shown indication of Labour dropping the fight against deregulation. It is scandalous for Labour to sow illusions among the working masses that the country has seen a messiah in Jonathan, someone who has been a part and parcel of the neo-liberal agenda of the Yar’Adua government that has continued to unleash excruciating suffering and poignant agonies on the ordinary masses.
However, despite their conduct and official position pointing to the contrary, some Labour leaders have continued to affirm their commitment to the fight against deregulation. After the nationwide rallies held last year, Labour had told workers, youths and ordinary Nigerians that if the government insists on going ahead with the deregulation the next steps would be a general strike and mass action. Nothing of this is contained in the March 4 resolution. Therefore, to truly reassure ordinary Nigerians of its unflinching commitment to take concrete steps to struggle to defeat deregulation Labour should give an ultimatum to government to stop all plans to deregulate the petroleum sector and at the same time guarantee the availability of petroleum products at current prices. Furthermore in order to raise living standards Labour must also press for the immediate implementation of its longstanding demand for a N52, 200 minimum wage and firmly resist retrenchment. If the ultimatum does not compel the government to meet the demands, there should be a 48 hour warning general strike and mass protest as a first step to fight for these demands. In such a movement Labour should link its immediate demands to wider ones for jobs, health, education, electricity, transportation and housing that would show the real alternative that would be possible if capitalist rule was ended.
The only notice of mass action contained in the March 4 NEC resolution of the NLC is to demand the removal of Maurice Iwu as the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission. According to the NLC this together with the implementation of Uwais electoral reform report would guarantee credible election in 2011. While it is highly debatable whether or not the simple removal of Iwu and implementation of Uwais report will ensure credible election, it is desirous to institutionalize electoral process in which people will truly and democratically choose their leaders. However, as we of DSM have consistently argued, in the given situation, any mass action and electoral reform would be tantamount to preparing a level playing ground only for different sections of the thieving ruling elites if the Labour Party is not built as a fighting working class political alternative that could take political power in the interest of the poor working masses.
To show that the ruling elite in power usually consider laughable any struggle that places demands on government without question of political power, Yayale Ahmed, Secretary to the Federal Government, while receiving the protest letter of the Save Nigeria Group on Yar’Adua’s absence, challenged the protesters to join political parties and contests election in order to achieve some of their demands. In his words, “I will like to urge you to know that in the machinery of democracy and instruments of government, political parties are very important. You mobilize people like yourself to join political parties, be elected and come so that we can change Nigeria” (Vanguard, March 11, 2010)
The central thrust of Yayale’s challenge is that there can no be change without political power. But unfortunately the Labour leadership has not recognized this or simply sought to make deals with different groups of capitalist politicians. Labour has increasingly tended to organize purely token, rather than mobilizing, actions. It has failed to learn the major lesson of the general strikes and mass struggles it has led in the last one decade which is the need for Labour to take political power in order to defeat, on a lasting basis, all anti-poor neo-liberal policies of deregulation and privatization. The general strikes and mass actions showed that Labour can stop the country and the elite only exploit; the challenge for working people is to take charge of the country.
Although, the NLC formed the Labour Party, it has abandoned the party, letting some elements turn the party into the dumping site of anti-poor politicians who cannot realize their individual self-serving agenda in their original pro-establishment political parties. The party has to be reclaimed by trade unions. Good enough, the Joint Action Forum (JAF), a coalition of socialists and radical civil society groups which collaborate with Labour in the LASCO, has passed resolution committing itself to joining the party and helping build the party as a fighting working class political party. This should encourage Labour to play its historic role of leading workers and poor masses in the struggle for political power. The party should be built with a pro-working people ideological outlook different from that of the capitalists, who only rejoice in the creation of a few millionaires while millions live in abject poverty amid super-abundance.