MAYDAY 2014: WHERE NOW FOR THE LABOUR MOVEMENT IN NIGERIA?
MAYDAY 2014: WHERE NOW FOR THE LABOUR MOVEMENT IN NIGERIA?
FOR 24 HOUR GENERAL STRIKE NOW!
Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) May Day Statement
This year’s May Day celebration provides another opportunity to review the state of the Nigerian workers’ movement vis-Å•-vis the continuing multiple crises afflicting the country and the urgent need for it to lead all the oppressed sections of society in struggle for socialist change. The brief official celebration when the government announced Nigeria’s economy was the biggest in Africa rapidly evaporated as the masses saw no real improvement in their lives and asked ‘were these figures real?’ and, if so, ‘where had the money gone?’
2014 opened up with a new wave of workers’ strikes and struggles as again it became clear to many that only action by working people can secure improvement and real change. However, the central leadership of the labour movement, specifically the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), has failed to provide an organic leadership to the strikes of both unions, which are affiliates of the labour centre. The interventions of both the NLC and TUC on burning issues facing the workers’ movement has been limited to mere issuance of lifeless press statements.
LEADERSHIP CRISIS IN THE LABOUR MOVEMENT
What is majorly responsible for this ideological and political bankruptcy of the labour movement is the rightward shift and degeneration in the orientation of labour leaders. This degeneration is sharply reflected in the odious reports of the mindless trips of labour leaders, widely reported in the media.
According to media reports, the central leadership of the NLC went on a mass exodus to Dubai on a state-sponsored pleasure-seeking trip. It is no news that the major pre-occupation among labour tops is the scramble for mindless trips to leisure spots across the world.
This equally explains why since the January 2012 general strike and mass protests, the central leadership of the labour movement has not led to any serious mass opposition on any issue confronting the mass of the working people. The reality is that most of the current labour leaders are quite happy with this capitalist system. Because of this they are scared that movements like general strikes could get out of their control and pose a threat to the system they support. This inglorious picturesque of the trade union movement confirms the urgent need for working class activists and rank-and-file workers to intensify the struggle to reclaim trade unions from the stranglehold of right-wing leaderships.
LABOUR LEADERS AND THE CALL FOR A GENERAL STRIKE
However, the passivity of the current labour leaders has not placed a bar on struggles from erupting. The latest is the growing movement against unemployment that trailed the tragic spectacle of the deaths at the Immigration Service recruitment exercise. We have equally seen spectacular united mass actions of striking lecturers and students against the refusal of the Jonathan regime to implement agreements with education workers unions. Polytechnics and colleges of education have been shut for the past 11 months and 3 months as result of the strikes embarked upon by ASUP and COEASU when the government contemptuously refused to meet the agreements with them. Yet the central labour leadership has not only refused to call for solidarity actions but indeed appears not be interested or concerned.
Struggles in communities and workplaces have trailed the electricity privatization. The working people and youths in communities protest against power outage that has become worse since the privatization and the high tariff being charged for service not enjoyed. Electricity workers who were sacked without benefits in the wake of privatization have picketed the headquarters of the new owners.
What is clearly missing is a rallying general strike that can draw together all the strands of struggle breaking out and offer an alternative. It is no accident that Boko Haram did not dare to carry out any attacks on civilians in January 2012 when the vast mass of Nigerians were united in struggle against an oil price hike. Without labour offering an alternative there is an increasing danger that groups like Boko Haram, along with opportunist politicians, will offer fake ‘solutions’ to the masses. But this does not seem to strike a chord with the labour leaders. They have now got new preoccupation which is the sideshow called the national conference where every principal officer of the two trade union federations, NLC and TUC, is a delegate. To them struggles can wait while they count their millions of naira at the national conference. Every delegate is paid N4million per month in a country where the national minimum wage is N18,000.
Despite the warnings of genuine working class political organizations like the Democratic Socialist Movement, Socialist Party of Nigeria and the Joint Action Front, which doubles as a partner of the NLC and TUC in the Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO), that the two labour centres withdraw from the Jonathan’s National Conference, the central labour leadership has buried its head in the sand, thereby trying to provide a soft landing for the Jonathan regime from the heat of working class struggles from below
POLITICAL BANKRUPTCY AND CRISIS
The most horrifying aspect of the depth of the crisis in the labour movement is the political bankruptcy of the labour leaders in perpetually failing to provide a genuine working class political alternative. While the labour leadership originally formed the Labour Party, they have not only abandoned the party to rotten bourgeois politicians but have built a culture of publicly endorsing these candidates.
For instance, the National Chairman of the Labour Party, Daniel Iwuanyanwu publicly endorsed Goodluck Jonathan, the sitting anti-worker Nigerian President for second term in office. However, this ridiculous and terrible endorsement has not been condemned by the leadership of the labour movement.
Yet, this is unexpected due to the fact that the leadership of the labour movement does not only see no evil in the actions of the Labour Party national leadership but also publicly endorsed them. For instance, the NLC President Abdulwahed Omar was reported in the media to have publicly endorsed Ifeanyi Ubah, a subsidy scam suspect facing corruption trial as gubernatorial candidate of the Labour Party in the last Anambra state elections.
This scenario presents two realities; one, a confirmation of the complete degeneration of the Labour Party and two, the urgent need to reclaim the trade union movement as a basis for the prospect of a new genuine working class political alternative.
2015 ELECTIONS: WHAT PERSEPECTIVE FOR THE WORKERS’ MOVEMENT?
As the 2015 general elections approach, the sad reality is that the working masses may be caught politically unarmed. To avoid this tragic fate, genuine socialist activists and working class forces have initiated the Socialist Party of Nigeria. The SPN have striven to meet the obnoxious pre-condition imposed by INEC to pay the sum of one million naira application fee for registration as a political party.
However, genuine working class forces are not under illusions that INEC would not be prepared to deny any serious working masses-initiated party like the SPN from being registered. Legal and political actions would become necessary when confronted with the scenario. In the event of being registered, the SPN would be a ready vehicle for working class political representation, upon which pro-worker candidates can stand in the 2015 elections, ready to take the average wage of a civil servant.
Yet, the awful picture that the build-up to the 2015 general elections is presenting is another round of bitter and brutal scramble for political power between the divided sections of the oppressive elite with the tragic aftermath of politically-sponsored election violence.
MASS MOVEMENT FOR SOCIALIST CHANGE
What can rescue the apparently ugly scenario is the preparedness on the part of working class elements to build an uncompromising mass movement against neo-liberal attacks linked to fundamental socialist change. This must be tied to a conscious effort on the part of the rank-and-file of the trade union movement to put in place a fighting leadership.
Specifically, the Quadrennial Congress of the Nigerian Labour Congress would be coming up in 2015. This is an opportunity for rank-and-file workers to utilize the Congress elections to put in place a fighting and resolute leadership in the labour movement.
However, rank-and-file workers must also utilize every opportunity at shop floor, local government, state and national levels of the trade union movement to remove bankrupt and backward leaderships to replace them with genuine, fighting and responsible leaderships.
The tumultuous events of the coming period would provide an echo for genuine socialist ideas. A successful working class transformation in Nigeria would provide a beacon to the struggles of workers and youth in the Middle East and Africa, Europe, the Americas and the entire world.