LABOUR PARTY AND THE NEED OF A WORKING PEOPLES POLITICAL ALTERNATIVE
LABOUR PARTY AND THE NEED OF A WORKING PEOPLES POLITICAL ALTERNATIVE
As we write, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has released a time-table putting 2015 general elections on 15 February next year.
This election will be taking place against the background of colossal failure of the economic, political and social policies of all the ruling capitalist parties, at both federal and state levels: to meet the needs and aspirations of the vast majority of Nigerians. Now there is the new threat that the sudden fall in the price of oil will, given the country’s dependence on oil exports, mean a rapid worsening of the economic and social situation.
Consequently, the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) calls on workers and the trade unions, urban dwellers, peasant farmers, market women, youth and students, civil society and socialist activists, etc., to begin in earnest, even at this late stage, the task of creating a genuine working class political party that will, starting from the 2015 general elections, field candidates to wrest power from all the ruling capitalist parties.
The current unprincipled scrambling and merry-go-round of opportunist politicians jumping from one party to another in the hope of pursuing their careers shows, once again, that they do not offer anything substantial to working people. This NLC is right to call for action against those National Assembly members who voted to undermine the minimum wage, but this cannot seriously be done by voting APC against PDP members or voting PDP against APC members. What is needed is for Labour and the poor to have their own voice.
But working class and youth activists striving to build an independent political platform and programme that can best defend/represent the socio-economic and political needs and aspirations of the vast majority of Nigerians must first and foremost know that, unfortunately, the current Labour Party was never formed to provide an independent political platform for the exploited, oppressed and downtrodden.
The current Labour Party was formed, in 2002, by a section of the trade union leadership and was registered with the name “Party for Social Democracy”. The party was never created to provide an ideological or programmatic frame through which the mass misery of the majority, in the face of stupendous human and natural abundance, can be permanently ended. On the contrary, the party was built largely on the utopian idea that the socio-economic and political interest of the working people and the poor can be harmonised/ reconciled with those of their rulers and exploiters. However in 2004 the NLC, under the leadership of Adams Oshiomhole, for the first time decided to adopt the party as its own political platform. As Oshiomhole then told the BBC the NLC “would back the newly renamed opposition Labour Party. He said that was the only way the unions could fight for workers’ rights.” (BBC News, March 1, 2004). But then in 2007 Oshiomhole himself jumped into ACP (now APC) to contest and eventually win the Edo governorship.
However, beyond renaming the party as the Labour Party, nothing essentially changed from the programme and method of the “Party for Social Democracy”. Just as before, notwithstanding the fact that the Labour Party has now been officially adopted by the NLC leadership, the party remains overwhelmingly populated not by workers and the poor but by political jobbers and position seekers. This is so because the Labour Party has refused to articulate programmes and activities that can improve the living standard of the masses and their political liberation. Instead of mobilising labour and youth activists to take conscious steps to build the party, studious efforts were permanently directed at wooing failed politicians from the big capitalist parties to take leadership of the party.It is not in any way accidental that the Labour Party’s own internal election process is completely monetised, the Party operates like the looting parties.
The Exit of Governor Mimiko
The recent defection of Olusegun Mimiko the only governor elected on the platform of the party to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has only brutally exposed the political error and opportunism of seeking to build the party with elements rejected or those unable to actualize their personal political ambitions within big bourgeois parties. Apart from Mimiko, the list of the anti-poor politicians that have used the Labour Party to contest but later dumped it include Femi Pedro, former Lagos deputy governor, Andy Ubah, a former aid of Obasanjo now back to the PDP as a Senator, Ayodele Fayose, Ekiti State governor etc. However, from among those that have dumped the party it is only Mimiko that won an election on its platform.
Meanwhile the NLC and TUC leaders, in the wake of Mimiko’s defection, have been giving statements and impression that they were unhappy with the defection. In consequence they had called for the postponement of the Labour Party’s Mimiko backed convention which held on 11 October, 2014. The NLC leadership in addition hurriedly called a meeting of selected “stakeholders” where a call was made on trade union members of the party to ensure the postponement of the convention which held in Akure, Ondo state. The leadership of the Labour Party fired back to state that the two trade union federation (NLC and TUC, the true owners of the party) had only three slots which were gratuitously given to the trade unions and that even the unions had never taken necessary steps to process these allotted seats. Most significantly, the NLC and TUC leaders totally failed, throughout their face-off with the leadership of the Labour Party, to outline any political differences or unfold any concrete measures to be taken to build the Labour Party of their dreams if their ultimatum that the convention should be postponed is ignored.
As we write it is over three weeks after the Labour has held its convention yet none of the labour and pro-labour elements that called for the postponement of the convention has made any public reaction to those development or outline steps being contemplated to build a true working peoples political platform. In fact, given that INEC seems to have no objection to the Labour Party’s Akure convention, it means that pro-PDP elements are in control of the Party and it will most likely, as in 2011, support Jonathan in next February’s presidential election. This poses very sharply the question of what initiative Labour should immediately take.
Working class, Socialist Alternative
Genuine working class activists and socialists must note that the absence of a follow-up step to build a true alternative working peoples’ political is the logical consequence of the abandonment, by most contemporary trade unionists, of the steadfast defence of the working masses interests against employers of labour and governance in the interest of imperialism and capitalism. Trade union leaders that are incapable of defending and protecting the economic and trade union rights of their members cannot be suddenly expected to have political understanding and energy to build a vibrant independent working class political party against the capitalist forces with which they have struck an apparent strategicpartnership. For those who want labour to have its own voice, whether they be rank and file members or hold positions, there is a need to act now. The Labour Party’s takeover by pro-PDP elements means that discussion of the next step has gone beyond debating whetherto still try to reclaim the Labour Party or to begin to build a new workers party.
For genuine socialists who have ceaselessly over the years being on the forefront of propaganda and agitation for a trade union based or a true mass political party of the working people, the task posed by the recent developments over the issue of the Labour Party requires a more profound and sobering response than which can be given by pro-capitalist trade/labour leaders and mere socialist commentators.
Therefore, in order to ensure that this exercise does not end in futility like similar efforts in the past, we hereby reproduce a few general points on the programme, strategy and tactics to grow a vibrant working class led political alternative stated in the July/August, 2001 edition of the Socialist Democracy, organ of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM).
“(a) Anti-Capitalist Orientation
If the proposed political party is to be radically different from the existing registered parties, it must have a clearly anti-capitalist/imperialist programme and outlook to say the least. Without this kind of outlook, such a party if voted to power will be compelled to implement anti-poor, capitalist measures of privatization, liberalization, commercialization, devaluation, mass retrenchment, etc. just as Fredrick Chiluba’s Zambia.
In Zambia, as a result of the pro-democracy wave that swept the continent in the 1990s, Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) headed by Frederick Chiluba, a former leader of the Zambian trade union federation, was in October 1991 elected into office to replace Kenneth Kaunda’s United National Independence Party (UNIP) which had ruled the country since independence in 1964. Tragically, the Chiluba government, despite initial popular support, confined itself within the framework of capitalism. Therefore, it was compelled to implement IMF/World Ban neo-liberal policies of deregulation, privatization and commercialization. The result has been mass retrenchment, cuts in social spending and growing mass poverty.
Under the grinding drive of imperialism and finance capital especially the prevailing rapacious drive to colonise the world working masses and resources under the guise of globalization, it is utopia to have a conception of a functional and rational capitalism in any given country whether in the developed or underdeveloped world.
In 1986, the Babangida military junta set up a political commission headed by Professor Cookey. The primary assignment of that commission was to ascertain the political ideology under which Nigerians would like to be governed in post- military era. The unequivocal answer (but which was understandably very unpalatable to the junta) of most mass organisations including the then NLC was socialism. In our view, the conclusion drawn by the then NLC leadership on the ideological socialist orientation needed to guarantee the needs and aspirations of the working masses are ever more relevant today than when it was first made.
Therefore, if the proposed party is not just to be a party of labour in name but that of the bourgeois in real life, just as the New Labour Party in Britain is, then an anti-capitalist, internationalist socialist ideology is an imperative for the proposed formation.
(b) Membership Base and Focus
To become a viable political Platform a truly working class or labour based party must be able to attract and organise in its ranks, members of the other oppressed segments of the capitalist society such as the youths, artisans, poor peasants, rank and file members of the armed forces, house wives, etc. Needless to stress, this kind of party will not be formed solely for the purpose of scrambling for elective or appointive posts. In and out of office, it must be a party that is always prepared to identity with the struggle of the masses in all walks of life either through implementation of measures favourable to their interests or the support of struggles towards that end.
The proposed party for instance must be seen to identify with the on-going struggles against mass retrenchment and victimization of labour activists across the country, particularly in states like Osun, Oyo and Lagos states. Fighting the renewed anti-union drives of governments and private employers of labour for instance, the Guardian, First Bank Plc and Carnaud Metal Box Nigeria Plc, etc. should be top on the list of priority of the proposed party.
The reasoning behind the above orientation is this. A truly labour or working class party will any day provoke the worst hatred of the bourgeois and all layers of the conservative sections of the society. Also, a truly working class party will never be able to match the spending power of a bourgeois party in election campaigns. But if a party is well rooted amongst the masses as a result of its policies and activities, all the usual lies and propaganda normally dished out by bourgeois parties can be easily punctuated and neutralised at affordable cost.
Of course, there is no need to emphasize that the degree of enthusiastic support, which the proposed formation will enjoy amongst the masses, will proportionally correlate to its orientation and activities amongst the masses.
(c) Democratic Structures
If the proposed formation is to be a truly labour or working class party, then conscious effort will have to be made, right from the beginning that the affairs of the party is scrupulously democratic. This amongst other things will mean that decisions on major political issues like that of party’s ideology, tactics and strategy, etc are not rushed but rather subjected to as much widespread and critical evaluation as possible internally before final decisions are made.
This to us will be a very effective way of avoiding the ruinous experience of the past where party policies only reflect the whims and caprices of party leaders. For instance, the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Party (NLP) in 1989 foisted on the party a bourgeois. programme under the guise of playing “politics of registration” i.e. politics that will be acceptable to powers that be so that the party can secure license to contest elections. While of course this unprincipled approach failed to achieve its goal, it achieved the tragic goal of killing the initial mass enthusiasm that heralded the birth of the NLP.
A formidable mass working class or labour party can only be built in the prevailing socio-economic relations which operate in Nigeria by an approach which guarantees down-to-top, rank and file democratic control of all political and administrative conducts and decisions of party officials (elected or appointed) as opposed to the prevailing bourgeois top-to-down method. The latter method kills; only the former approach offers a prospect of a healthy living for the organism.
All party officials at all levels must be democratically elected by the membership and subject to recall at any point in time if found wanting. Also, to forestall corruption and careerism which is characteristic of capitalist parties and politicians, officers and elected representatives of the party must be made to live on the average wage of a skilled worker, donating any excess income to the labour movement. This measure will in addition, make the party representatives to live close to the reality of the-working people whose interests they’ were elected to represent.”
If the present issue of building a genuine working masses political alternative party is to go beyond mere talks, the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) calls on the leadership of both the NLC and the TUC to immediately commence steps to convoke a special conference of all working class activists, youths and socialists within and outside the organised trade unions with a view to agree on programmes and organisational and political methods of building a working peoples political party that can begin the process of dislodging the capitalist politicians from power starting from the 2015 general elections. The kind of conference being advocated must be an all embracing affair of all genuine pro-labour forces beyond the hurried and selective exercise recently conducted by the Political Commission of the NLC.
Without this the voice of working people and the poor will once again be absent and the elections will be dominated by rival cliques competing to get into positions from which they can simply loot. But even if Labour’s voice is silent in the elections, it must not give up on the struggle both to improve life now and to fundamentally change society.