THE 10TH NLC DELEGATES CONFERENCE: THE TYPE OF LEADERS THE WORKING MASSES NEED IN THE NEXT FOUR YEAR
THE 10TH NLC DELEGATES CONFERENCE: THE TYPE OF LEADERS THE WORKING MASSES NEED IN THE NEXT FOUR YEARS
Segun Sango, DSM General Secretary
Four years ago, the Nigeria Labour Congress last elected its national leadership. Not unexpectedly, this past four years had witnessed a wide range of activities and struggles by the Abdulwahed Omar led executive. Elected barely few weeks before the 2007 farce called general elections, the Omar led NLC could be excused for not been able to put forward a genuine working class political and economic alternative in that election. However, such was the massive revulsion felt by the generality of the working masses, across the country towards the fraudulent election that brought the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua to power, that the Omar led NLC leadership had to lead, a few months later, arguably the most widely observed general strike in Nigeria’s recent history. That strike’s immediate issues were the hike of fuel prices and the privatization of the nation’s four refineries implemented in the last days of the anti-poor government of President Olusegun Obasanjo. Nevertheless, the determination and enthusiasm shown towards the June 2007 strike largely reflected the mood of anger over the rigged elections which plainly made it clear that, unless the working masses themselves are prepared to fight, their conditions would only become worse under the then new Yar’Adua government.
Unfortunately however, the Omar led NLC leadership, just like those of his predecessors, especially the Adams Oshiomhole led NLC, failed completely to draw the most central political and economic lessons from the series of general strikes which Nigeria has experienced since year 2000. These lessons are that for as long as Nigeria’s imperialist dominated economy is run on the capitalist basis, it will never be possible for the ruling elite to guarantee petroleum products at cheap and affordable prices for both domestic and industrial purposes.
Of course, the outcome of the 2007 strike has meant that the PDP central government has not been able to affect another increment in the prices of petroleum products, particularly diesel and petrol since 2007. It has not also been able to totally sell the refineries to profiteers. This is just a small illustration of how determined struggle can win concessions.
But, as long as capitalism continues, such isolated concessions will not be permanent. Sooner or later the ruling class will seek to either undermine or take back concessions they have been previously forced to concede. Today it is suffice to stress however, that the government’s spokespersons and their capitalist backers have continued to insist that there is no other valid alternative than for them to totally handover the entire oil sectors to profit mongers in the name of “deregulation” and “trade liberalization”.
Presently, because of the impending general elections, it does seem that the ruling capitalist elite have temporarily decided to temporize their quest in this respect. In the aftermath of the elections, the laboring masses must expect these profit mongers and plain thieves to furiously go back onto the attacks against the present pitiable living conditions of the masses as they once again begin to chorus that the alleged “subsidies” being spent by government on petroleum products are not sustainable and that only if they once again hike prices and/or sell the entire oil sectors to profit merchants can the nation’s economy and peoples’ living standard grow.
Commendably, the Omar led NLC has in the past four years generally continued with the traditional opposition of Labour to the constant quest of the capitalist ruling elite to make life more unbearable for the vast majority of Nigerians through implementation of unpopular, neo-liberal policies of incessant hike of fuel prices and or the total privatization of the oil sector. Unfortunately however, Labour’s opposition is still largely devoid of a coherent comprehensive working class alternative to these anti-poor policies. Yes, the NLC leadership has continued to oppose the deregulation of the oil sector and the outright sales of the public refineries without bluntly accepting the truth that the current kind of publicly owned companies being run by capitalist elements solely for profits and/or as a political patronages for a few elements can never meet the needs and aspirations of people in society.
Of course this is not an argument for privatization, on the contrary for this end to be attained, there would be need for a socio-economic revolution wherein the commanding heights of the economy, including natural resources, banks and finance, etc., are collectively owned by the society and specifically run on the basis of democratic management and control of the elected representatives of the working masses and youths. This is the only practical way that Nigeria’s stupendous natural and human resources can be collectively organized to take care of the basic needs of everybody and not just a few thieving capitalist rich as is the present case of endless mass poverty in the midst of an inexhaustible abundance.
The Omar led NLC has periodically campaigned during the past four years for a new living minimum wage. Originally, the leadership in December 2008 demanded a monthly minimum wage of N52,200 for workers across the country. In pursuant of this objective, the NLC leadership in collaboration with Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO) organized series of mass meetings across the different zones of the country. Unfortunately however, the leadership appears not to accept the fact that the issue of minimum or living wage is intimately tied with the overall economic character of a capitalist society. The leadership does not yet appear to fully recognize that there is no viable alternative to mass struggle in order to achieve a decent minimum wage and to ensure that both public and private employers do not as usual resort to mass retrenchment of workers under the excuse that there is not enough money to implement any wage increment.
Of course, the leadership has also on occasions called mass actions including last December’s one-day general strike to compel the Jonathan presidency to implement the paltry monthly sum of N18,000 which it eventually agreed with the government after a protracted negotiation. However, such mass actions are apparently seen by the leaders as means of frightening the ruling elites to grant concessions so that they would not come under mass pressure of their rank and file to lead a fight against government and private employers. Recently, the NLC sent a delegation of a few leaders to lobby the National Assembly members to give the passage of a new Minimum Wage Bill an accelerated treatment.
The DSM strongly feels that this is not a right strategy given the open and notorious anti-poor characteristics of capitalist politicians of all the ruling parties towards the issue of workers earning decent wages. It is true that the Jonathan presidency has forwarded a Bill to the National Assembly for a minimum wage of N18,000 per month. At the same time however, its various spokespersons have continued to harmer the fact that this paltry amount may not be possible for implementation across the country by both public and private employers. On their part, state governors that collect jumbo salaries and allowances, on the basis of a package by the Revenue, Mobilisation, Fiscal and Allocation Committee (RMFAC), a federal institution have, as usual, began to hypocritically cry out that the paltry monthly sum of N18,000 minimum wage will not be implemented by the states allegedly because Nigeria, being a federation, the National Assembly has no power to pass a law that would affect individual states! Evidently therefore, even if the National Assembly should pass the Bill recommending N18,000 monthly minimum wage, many employers in both public and private sectors will certainly require a determined mass struggle for the implementation of same.
The NLC leaders ought to know and should be prepared to lead a nationwide mass struggles to ensure the implementation of the paltry sum of N18,000 monthly minimum wage without a single retrenchment from both public and private sectors. This is the only way to ensure that the new minimum wage can really be a benefit for the working masses. Once beaten, twice shy, thus goes an English saying. Consequently, the DSM urges the Omar led NLC to learn from the shortcomings of labour in the last wage increment under President Obasanjo in year 2000. Then, at the end of the day, tens of thousands of workers from both public and private sectors lost their jobs and or were retrenched on the basis that the management does not have enough money to implement the N7,500 monthly minimum wage then passed by the National Assembly. Many states and private employers only paid what they wanted under the dubious excuse that the Minimum Wage Act is a federal legislation which is not automatically binding on the states!
This time around, the Omar led NLC must insist that the same principles applied for the payment of political office holders at federal and state levels should equally apply to workers whether working for the federal, state, parastatals, local government, etc. To this extent, we call on the NLC to begin today, to make necessary organizational and political measures needed to mount the necessary mass protests and struggles for the implementation of the new minimum wage presently being debated by the National Assembly. Ultimately however, the Labour leaders must squarely face the fact that for as long as capitalist relations dominate the governance of society, no amount of minimum wage paid to workers will be able to bring forth a decent and permanent living standard for the working masses. This is because for every marginal increment in workers wages the capitalist elites and its government will always device multiple ways to render any increment worthless with hike in prices of basic goods and services. It is for these reasons that the DSM has always urged the Trade Union leaders, LASCO leaders, socialists, rank and file workers to struggle for the institution of a workers’ and poor peoples’ government which will be prepared to use the natural and human resources of the society to cater for the needs of all and not just the whims and caprices of a few who think that the world was created for their own sole amusements and the miseries of all others.
LABOUR’S POLITICS IN THE PAST FOUR YEARS
As observed earlier, the Abdulwahed Omar led NLC only came to power a few weeks before the farce called the 2007 general elections. Even then, such was the high degree of frustration, alienation and disappointment felt by the generality of Nigerians over the farcical exercise called general elections that the then newly elected Omar led NLC leadership had no alternative but to lend its voice and weight to condemn and denounced the fraud called elections. In fact, at a stage, the Omar led leadership called for the cancellation of the entire exercise and demanded new, free and fair elections.
Unfortunately however, the leadership made a complete political summersault, shortly after, in the aftermath of the June 2007 general strike mentioned above when it openly entered into a “strategic partnership” with the same elements it accused of having rigged themselves to power! Very tragically, the Omar led NLC has, like previous leaders, refused to draw the central political conclusion that the working class people would need to wrest power from the self-serving, corrupt, anti-poor capitalist elements currently controlling society before a realistic basis can be created for the actualization of the basic economic and political needs of the masses. The sharpest expression of the leadership failure in this respect can be seen from the inherent limitations of the sole political program and strategy being pushed on behalf and within the working class movement by the Omar led leadership in relation to 2011 general election.
According to the NLC and TUC leaderships, the entire laboring masses must be prepared to play the role of mere monitors in order to ensure that the 2011 general elections is truly free and fair. Although, the Adams Oshiomhole led NLC leadership had long ago got registered a party eventually called Labour Party, sadly however, neither Oshiomhole as NLC president nor the current crop of leaders, led by Omar, did or has taken any concrete political steps to crystallize a distinctly working class political platform through which the capitalist politicians can be engaged in contest for political power during elections such as the forthcoming exercise in April.
On his part, Adams Oshiomhole originally declared his aspiration to run for the governorship of Edo State under the platform of the Labour Party way back in 2006. Unfortunately however, he reneged on this commitment and later run as a candidate of the Action Congress, one of the main bourgeois opposition parties with a deceptive promise that his move was a mere electoral tactics and that after the elections, concerted efforts will then be made to build the Labour Party in earnest. But instead of this happening, the so-called tactics has become a political weapon used to indirectly kill the Labour Party, as prominent Labour activists were encouraged to express their political aspirations through the AC and not through the Labour Party which logically should have been the case. Not unexpectedly, many of such “labour and progressive” political adventurers failed to secure the nominations ticket of the AC which itself was largely determined by how big is your pocket and or the degree of support being given to your candidature by the main leaders of the party.
In this situation, the perspective of the current NLC leadership, which practically, expects the ordinary masses to play the role of mere “monitors” of the forthcoming general elections, is to say the least absolutely wrong. To start with, this false strategy is based on a non-existing assumption that the existing ruling political parties offer real, credible, pro-masses’ political alternatives. But nothing could be farther from the truth. However, if anybody reasonably expects any positive outcome for the working masses in the aftermath of 2011 general elections, the outcome of the recent political party primaries conducted and organized to pick parties’ flagbearers for the forthcoming elections has totally destroyed the basis for such optimism.
From the ruling PDP at the centre including all the ruling parties controlled by the opposition elements (ACN, ANPP, Labour Party, CPC), all, without exception, organized farcical exercises called primaries. First and foremost, most of those that emerged as candidates got their positions through a “cash and carry” affair and or outright manipulations and impositions of the main party leaders. The situation today is so demoralizing and cheerless such that even hack reactionary and pro-capitalist elements have been forced to openly denounce the conducts and outcome of the political parties’ primaries. Even AREWA, the political platform of the right wing pro-capitalist elements of the northern extraction, has this to say in a communiquÃ© released to the press on 15 February, 2011:
“If the behaviour of Nigeria’s political parties during the recent primary elections is anything to go by, then it is safe to assume that the quality of the forthcoming general election in April will make the discredited 2007 election seem credible, free and fair.”
The meeting, which was chaired by the group’s leader Malam Adamu Ciroma, Madakin Fika, said all the nation’s political parties must share responsibility in the unveiling political mess, but the leaders singled out the ruling Peoples Democratic Party [PDP] for a special condemnation “because of the level of impunity it exhibited” in the processes leading to the emergence of its candidates.
The communiquÃ© observed that there was “lack of internal party democracy characterized by sham elections at all levels and, where a semblance of election was held, the substitution of bona fide winners with losers or total strangers in the PDP, which unfortunately continued to the very last hour and allowed by INEC.”
NPLF also said there was “total disregard of the constitution of the party [PDP] and the law governing elections in a desperate bid to maintain the status quo” in addition to “excessive corruption and financial inducement leading to the outright purchase of delegates, the naked display of wealth by public officers and their spouses and their open misuse of resources largely belonging to the public.”
The communiquÃ© also decried the “violence and thuggery leading to political assassination of opponents as well as wilful and blatant misuse of public office to intimidate, harass and deny perceived opponents their liberty and democratic rights” in addition to “using security agencies and the judiciary to manipulate the electoral process in order to favour preferred candidates.”
“With all of these and more taking place in the just concluded primary elections, one can only imagine what will happen during the general elections in April,” the forum said. It called on all political parties to call their members to order. It also urged INEC to sanction all those found to be involved in subverting the nation’s democracy for personal political gain. (Daily Trust, February 15, 2011)
Against the above quoted background, it is politically wrong and totally inadequate for labour leaders to reduce the role of working masses to that of mere elections “monitors”. This is because even if the forthcoming general elections is free and fair, which in fact can never be, then the absence of genuine pro-labour candidates means it is more than certain that governance at all levels will be under the charge of one sections or the other of capitalist looters and electoral manipulators. Those currently spending millions in naira and dollars, should naturally be expected to lay in waiting to recoup their financial investments multi-fold in the aftermath of the elections. In that kind of atmosphere, the working masses can not reasonably expect an improvement in their material and democratic rights. In fact, the new set of rulers that can only emerge as leaders in the aftermath of 2011 elections across the state, within all the ruling political parties are elements that should be expected to buckle at nothing to unleash further attacks on the socio-economic conditions of the masses. Giving the pro-capitalist ethos, and practices of all the ruling political parties, the next set of rulers should be expected to be mostly made up of elements that would carry out ferocious attacks on the living and political rights of the masses to an extent in which people may begin to falsely believe that an outright military dictatorship was a far better dispensation.
This apparently distasteful/calamitous prognosis can only be averted through a conscious, redefined socio economic and political agenda by the entire labour movement and foremost in this respect, the NLC leaders. The NLC leaders must be prepared to immediately and fully abandon its false economic and political strategy that expect the working masses to have economic and political justice under the current dispensation. The NLC and the entire trade union leaders, organisations, socialists and all genuine pro-labour people must be prepared to immediately and totally regard every economic and political demands of the masses as one and part of the general process of carrying out a social revolution that would bring to an end the current unjust capitalist disorder and in its place constitutes a workers’ and poor peoples’ democratic socialist government, only which can be expected to be genuinely interested in the true emancipation of man from man’s socio-economic inhumanity.
Towards this goal, the new NLC leaders that emerges at the forthcoming delegate conference must be committed and prepared to immediately flag off the process of either reclaiming the current Labour Party that has been hijacked by money bags and capitalist elements and or in the alternative begin in earnest, the creation of a truly and independent political party of the working and poor masses which will lead and coordinate the inevitable economic and political struggles of the masses in the aftermath of the 2011 general elections which for all practical purposes and intents can only produce leaders that would further carry out attacks on the economic and political rights of the already over burdened ordinary Nigerians.