Socialist Democracy Special Bulletin August 2003
26th July 2003
Paper of Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM)
Special Bulletin August 2003
General Strike against fuel price rise:
The Lesson For The Working Masses
After eight days of grim heroic struggles, the Obasanjo government was forced to reduce the recent increment in fuel prices by 15%. Now petrol officially is to sell at N34 per litre instead of N40, while diesel and kerosene respectively will sell at N32 instead of N38.
Compared with the previous prices of N26 and N24 respectively before the increment, these reductions are not sufficient. Nonetheless, the labour-led revolt, which brought about this even inadequate reduction, has demonstrated beyond all doubt that the electoral victories claimed by all the ruling parties were fake and non-existent in most cases. Just less than three months ago, the PDP, ANPP and AD claimed millions of Nigerians endorsed their mandate to continue in office. But both before and during the strike, none of these millions of voters came out in defence of the anti-poor, pro-rich hike in price policy of the Obasanjo government.
Although shorter than both the 1945 general strike, which lasted 45 days and was fundamentally based around 45,000 railway workers, and the 12-day general strike by 800,000 workers in 1964, this strike has been the biggest ever as well as the third longest general strike in Nigeria’s history.
As usual, the police and the judiciary played out their primary role as lackey of the capitalist ruling class before and during the strike in issue. An Ikeja High Court, for instance, gave an order that the NLC should not go ahead with the strike. It is important to note that this court ruling was based upon the 1990 Trades Disputes Act imposed by Babangida’s military regime! Also, not less than nine people were shot dead by the police in an attempt by the Obasanjo regime to brutally suppress the strike and protests. Hundreds were arrested and scores are still standing trial in different courts across the country over strike-related “offences”.
In sharp contrast, the NLC leadership and most sections of the working people exhibited a lot of courage and passion during the struggle against the hike in prices. Even the media, which played an ignoble role similar to that of retained prostitutes to the various capitalist parties and the PDP in particular during the recent elections, gave a remarkably passionate coverage to the struggle.
For eight days, the strike/protest/stay-at-home received massive and enthusiastic support of the vast majority of the working people across the country. In the early hours of Tuesday, the 8th July 2003, the ninth day of the struggle, the NLC leadership officially suspended the strike/protest against the price hike after having secured the reductions stated above. Couldn’t the NLC leadership have used the massive support of the masses against the price hike to secure total withdrawal of the price hike?
Wasn’t a total reversal possible?
With better involvement and enlightenment of the masses, it should have been entirely possible not only to secure a total reversal of the new increments but also to bring about the removal of the governments and politicians behind this hateful anti-poor policy. But two essential conditions that could have made this happen were either totally lacking or not sufficiently developed.
One, there was no sufficient, adequate organisational foundation, something which was essential to a fundamental complete victory. While the strike/protest itself involved virtually the entire working people, its control and direction was largely in the hands of a few top trade union leaders. This in no small measure reduced the potency of the struggle. Two, the NLC leadership lacks a complete comprehensive socio-economic and political views and strategies different from that of the capitalist class and its Obasanjo government.
Without these two factors, fundamental and complete victory in any mass struggle against neo-liberal policies and capitalism as a system is an impossibility. Where, notwithstanding the absence of these two factors (as were the case in the three general strikes/protests so far led by the trade unions) against hike in fuel prices by the Obasanjo regime, some limited concessions are forced out of the ruling class, these concessions have been very little and ephemeral in reality. Let us expatiate further.
A show of working people’s power
On the one hand, the struggle against the hike in fuel prices was scientifically speaking a mass revolt of the working people. The virtual, voluntary and popular support given by the different layers of the working people particularly in cities (which harbour over 50% of the population) was simply marvellous. This is more so because just about three months earlier, these same masses were claimed to have massively endorsed the anti-poor, corrupt agenda of the capitalist politicians. The struggle was so effective to the extent that most government activities and privately-owned businesses were completely shut down and paralysed. All the so-called elected officials across the country were reduced to the status equivalent to that of naked emperors!
Unfortunately however, this widespread support and commitment on the part of the working masses did not have an organisational frame-work within which to fully exercise its initiatives and creativity both in terms of organisation of the struggle and any consequent negotiations that may have to be done. This explains why socialists within the DSM had always advocated formation of struggle/action committees made up of active supporters of such struggle. This kind of committee will be made up of workers, transporters, market women, professionals, students, youths etc in every ward, local government, state and central levels. Severally and collectively, these committees will be responsible for the planning, execution and conclusion or suspension of a given struggle.
This kind of arrangement will first and foremost give a more conscious and focused backbone to the struggle and at the same time prevent the struggle from being derailed or diverted to anarchistic or self-serving ends. If every aspect of a struggle including negotiation involves active participation of action committees at all levels, then, charges of treachery and or betrayal will become a rare occurrence.
In this regard, all the general strikes/revolts against hike in fuel prices particularly since year 2000 have been left to the narrow and restrictive control and initiatives of the trade union leaders. This situation, however, we must immediately stress was not the result of any conspiracy by the trade union leaders but rather a condition necessitated by the current level of political consciousness of the working masses and at the same time the fundamental position occupied by the working class people in capitalist society.
Numerically, the working class constitutes a tiny fraction of the entire working people. Nonetheless its strategic importance in capitalist society is irreplaceable. If the working class says no, the capitalists cannot even access their accumulated profits from banks and financial institutions etc, let alone being able to make more profits. Again, it is not accidental that each time there is hike in fuel prices, the most serious sections and political organisations of the masses had always called upon the trade unions and organised labour to organise a fight back.
Thus, it was the NLC that officially called and suspended, on its own alone, the general strikes of June 2000, January 2002 and June/July 2003, even though all these strikes bore the central feature of a mass revolt. Of course, this approach may be the most natural in the given situation, it nonetheless suffers a fundamental flaw. The trade unions� organisational structure and outlook are too narrow for the kind of mass revolts in issue especially in a situation of a prolonged struggle. It should be stressed that what was required, and which was lacking, was a bold political and economic agenda which seeks to replace the prevailing anti-poor, pro-rich capitalist policies and government with one committed to the interest of the working masses. There was not even the slightest desire on the part of the labour leadership to put the solidarity/participation of the largely non-trade union members into a permanent organisational/political structure.
This was why in each of the general strikes/revolts in issue, it was the unorganised sections of the working masses that were always the first to show their restiveness by wanting to resume one form of economic activities or the other because a large proportion of these layers rely on daily incomes to sustain themselves. Therefore, for fundamental successes to be achieved in similar, future struggles, formation of strike/struggle committees linking and uniting the organised labour with its unorganised sections is an imperative. Labour in the time of general strikes in issue has shown beyond any reasonable doubt its capacity to paralyse the capitalist society. But a complete paralysis not only handicaps the capitalist exploiters, it could also have a counter-productive effect on the mass of the working people especially in a situation of prolonged conflict.
However, with effective Action/Struggle committees linking all the sections of the working masses in struggle together, there will emerge a new creative power of the masses to shut down what it wants shut down and ensure activities where it is expedient. This to a large extent will reduce the situations where sections of the working masses not necessarily opposed to a struggle or action will nonetheless be compelled to engage in activities capable of undermining such struggles. Unless this position is adopted, future struggles will meet the working masses in similar prostrate conditions.
NLC is not guilty
In suspending the recent strike/protest against the hike in fuel prices, the Central Working Committee (CWC) of the NLC had amongst other things stated: “Given the sacrifices and deprivations which Nigerians have had to contend with in the last eight days, the NLC has a compelling duty to avail the people some relief by suspending the strike action.”
To say the least, the reason given for the suspension of the struggle by the NLC leadership is apologetic and misleading: “NLC has a compelling duty to avail the people some relief by suspending the strike action.”
On the contrary every labour, working class propaganda and agitation should begin by appropriately placing the blame for the unrelenting agonies of life for the working masses under capitalism squarely at the doorsteps of capitalism and the vampire capitalist class which preside over this unjust system. It was not the strike that created problems. The strike/protest was actually carried out to redress the problems arising from the anti-poor policy of the Obasanjo capitalist government.
Sections of the working masses voluntarily and enthusiastically participated in these strikes and protests in virtually all the states across the country. But while the NLC and even TUC could called meetings of the leaders of their affiliates to review the struggle and take whatever positions they deem fit, there was no similar organisational structures to actively and consciously involve the unorganised sections of the working masses (who are in the majority) in the organisation of the struggle let alone its resolution.
Therefore, what the NLC leadership ought to say and which it did not say was that the strike/protest would have collapsed on its own given the growing restiveness amongst the vast majority of the working people over the prolonged nature of the socio-economic paralysis brought about by the indefinite strike action coupled with the NLC’s lack of perspective of how to win.
This situation, as pointed out earlier, was partly due to the absence of an appropriate organisational framework like struggle/strike committees that can link and unite in one direction the activities and resolution of any given struggle/strike. The NLC leadership also ought to confess its trepidation at the prospect of the collapse of an Obasanjo capitalist government, lacking, as it were, its own independent political alternative without conjuring the spectre of a military dictatorship. The only way the strike could have gone forward would have been if the NLC leadership had been prepared to challenge for power.
Therefore, how do we, in future, inevitable, struggles, against anti-working class, anti-poor policies of the self-centred capitalist class, put in place committees of struggle to ensure that both the organised and unorganised sections of the working masses are organisationally and politically united in actions such that the resolution or suspension of any strike/struggle will be the collective and democratic decision of all those involved in the struggle and not just the leadership of the trade unions?
Programme and tactics
By July 7, 2003, the strike/struggle had entered its eighth day. Large layers of the unorganised sections of the working masses were prepared to go back to their occupations for one reason or another. To prevent this from weakening the struggle, some youths and struggle militants started to put bonfire barricades on the roads to prevent free flow of traffic. Predictably, the state securities apparatuses reacted brutally to this development. At the end of the day, at least about nine persons have been killed by police gunshots or related factors in Lagos State, the industrial and radical political centre of Nigeria. This development, amongst others, was the reason given by the NLC leadership for the suspension of the strike.
Yes, every responsible leadership of the masses must always pursue tactics that will bring minimal casualties in any given struggle. The same goal sought to be achieved by preventing flow of traffic through bonfires could easily and effectively have been achieved through an effective network of strike or struggle committees only which is capable of reflecting and enforcing the true wishes of the masses in any given struggle. In the absence of this kind of structure, the degeneration of a strike/struggle into a pathetic situation where a well-meaning minority will be attempting to compel a majority to fight for its interests will continue to hunt future struggles.
It is only by posing the issue in this honest manner can the true lesson be learnt from failure of struggle to achieve the desired results. And if it should be stressed, the UAD�s criticism that the NLC leadership should not have suspended the strike without achieving total withdrawal of the new increments based as it is on peoples “resolute determination to carry on the struggle”, equally misses the fundamental point/issue thrown up by the struggle itself.
At the beginning, the UAD declared a 3-DAY MASS ACTION for June 30, July1 and July 2 2003 respectively. As things turned out however, the nationwide revolt strike effectively lasted for NINE DAYS! Yet it could not totally achieve its set goals. Why was this so? How much longer could the strike have been sustained in the given circumstances? How do we ensure that in future struggles, the unorganised sections of the working masses, whose participation have been vital to the success of the last 3 general strikes called by organised labour, do have real say, commensurate to their strength and contribution in any given struggle? Put bluntly, how can we ensure that the running and control of a struggle in which the vast majority of the working masses are participants is not left in the hands of organised trade union leaders alone?
Unfortunately, in the haste to be seen as the most “resolute” fighters in town, the UAD leaders failed to pose these fundamental issues let alone trying to find answers to them. And herein precisely lies the tragedies for the working masses. As a saying goes, those that failed to learn from history are doomed to repeat its errors. If the above questions are posed and answered correctly by the UAD leaders, they would have been able to see that the general strikes and masses revolts against hike in fuel prices in the past four years suffer from certain fundamental political outlook and technical organisational deficiencies.
As an aside, the UAD slogans and positions over the strike in issue are both contradictory and bankrupt. Before the commencement of the strike, the UAD leaders called for a 3-DAY MASS ACTION. Yet, without hesitation, the UAD leaders slammed the suspension of the strike, by the NLC leadership, after 9 DAYS OF MASS ACTION, as “ill-timed and utterly insensitive”. In other words, the NLC leadership should have carried on with the strike indefinitely!
Both of the above outlined positions of the UAD were raised in an incorrect manner. Marxists internationally and DSM members in particular have over the years been raising the slogan of a 24-hour/48-hour/72 hour general strike/protests. But this was always proposed as a form of warning/mobilisation actions, as preparation for more protracted actions/struggles should the ruling class refuse to meet working people’s given demands. At all times, socialists had always raised this kind of slogan within the context of socialist transformation of society.
In the particular instance in issue, the UAD leaders raised a slogan of a 3-DAY MASS ACTION apparently based on a false assumption that the Obasanjo government would not be able to withstand the pressure to withdraw the hike in fuel prices if faced with a 3-DAY nation-wide shutdown. In this context, the position that NLC leaders ought to have continued with strike/struggle indefinitely is opportunistically bankrupt. It is opportunistic because it falsely seeks to prove that they (UAD leaders) are more “resolute” than the NLC leaders when in actual fact they did not envisage a 9-DAY MASS ACTION led by the NLC leaders. The position is bankrupt because it raises the issue of an indefinite general strike/struggle without squarely posing the question of which class will run the society the capitalists or the working class.
The UAD leaders of course in their public poster calling for a 3-DAY MASS ACTION also demanded that “Obasanjo and Atiku must resign.” But if these two individuals resign, what happens to the rest capitalist elements and structures? Should the working masses’ political actions be directed towards the end of replacing one set of capitalist exploiters with another, or instead of being steered in the direction of mobilising the working masses themselves to take political power from the capitalist ruling class? These are the kind of fundamental questions that need to be posed and addressed while evaluating the role of the NLC leadership in all the general strikes/protests it had led since coming to office in 1999.
According to the Vanguard report of Thursday 10th July 2003, the UAD and CLO asserted that “only a return to the old price of N26 will reduce the hardship of the ordinary people”. This is, literally and politically, purely verbal radicalism. Yes it is correct to raise in agitation the demand that the new increment be totally reversed and immediately ease working people’s lives. However, under capitalism, the achievement of this kind of demand on its own does not automatically guarantee a lasting, overall reduction in the hardship of the ordinary people. Take for instance the fall out of the year 2000 minimum wage increment. Under the guise of inability to pay the new wage rates, tens of thousand of workers in both public and private sectors were relieved of their jobs.
And as normally happen whenever the capitalist class were forced to grant a concession on one issue they quickly device several other means to take this back. The recent and past increases in the prices of petroleum products is just one of such means. General geometric rise in the cost of living and social services are the other measures constantly employed by the ruling class to claw back from the working masses whatever concessions are forced out from this greedy class.
For instance, until the recent increment, the official price for diesel and kerosene was N24. But in reality, there was nowhere across the country where diesel or kerosene was sold for N24. In fact, diesel was selling at about N60 in Lagos before the new increment! Kerosene currently sells for N60 and above notwithstanding the fact that the new official price is N32.
This is not to suggest that the working masses must not fight for daily improvements in its living standard. Far from it. Serious and determined struggle can defeat individual attacks, but increasingly the issue is posed of changing society, how can the working masses attain a permanent success in their struggle to achieve a guaranteed living standard. Unfortunately, both the NLC leadership and its CLO, UAD etc, critics lack the appropriate revolutionary, socialist outlook necessary to proffer a balanced strategy and tactics to guide the struggle of the working masses.
The NLC CWC resolution which suspended the strike amongst other things demanded: “amelioration of the harsh impact of the increases in fuel prices through policies such as wage review and mass transit � Revitalising, expanding and upgrading the railway system in the context of a medium to long-term strategy of addressing the challenges of intra and inter city transportation”. etc. etc.
Socialists argue that there is no way by which a decidedly greedy and anti-working class and rapaciously corrupt neo-colonial capitalism which holds sway in Nigeria can ever voluntarily implement measures to ameliorate the harsh impact of the increases in fuel price. Ditto, there is no way under capitalism, particularly that of chronically depressed economy like Nigeria, to permanently increase real wages without mass retrenchment, irregular payment of salaries and pensions, etc. Similarly an expectation of government’s expansions of mass transit and rail network in an era of privatisation and capitalist globalisation is simply utopia.
Of course, there is no question on whether if done the suggested measures can uplift the living standard of the masses. But to be able to carry out this kind of economic orientation will require nothing short of a complete break with the contemporary capitalist economic and political paradigms. Sadly however, the views of all the trade union leaders (including the leadership of the NLC), economically and politically, amounted to no more than a futile and doomed effort of proffering solutions to make capitalism work better in the interest of the masses!
The central planks of the policies of Obasanjo administration and all the state governors are privatisation, liberalisation, commercialisation, re-organisation, etc. These as we all know are the various terminologies for concentration of the societal wealth in a few hands, increases in cost of living and social services, mass retrenchment of both public and private sector workers, etc. Only a clear alternative economic strategy built on public ownership and working peoples’ democratic control of the commanding heights of the economy and societal resources can guarantee a situation where the living standard of the working masses achieved a rounded and stable growth. To achieve this goal however, the leadership of the working class organisations including trade unions need to build an independent working peoples political party to remove the stranglehold of self-serving capitalist elements from the economy and polity of society.
NLC and privatisation
Sadly, the labour leaders do not oppose privatisation in principle. While the NLC leadership claims to be opposed to the deregulation of the oil sector, it supports the privatisation of NEPA, NITEL, etc. The NLC president up till today sits on the National Council for Privatisation. Recently, the Obasanjo government made moves to privatise the Airport Authorities together with the Nigeria Airways. In response, the NLC leaders wrote a memo to the government saying among other things that: “the unions are not necessarily opposed to privatisation, but are concerned about the method being employed. We call on Mr. President to take steps to halt privatisation until the issues concerning serving and retrenched staff as well as pensioners are addressed satisfactorily”. After this privatisation can go on! If it should be stressed, this is one of the reasons why the trade union leaders always capitulate to the dictates of the capitalist class lacking any independent ideas of their own!
Politically, the bankrupt, pro-capitalist outlook of most contemporary trade union leaders cries to high heaven. Compared with the mid-eighties to late eighties, the political outlook and conducts of most trade union leaders today are a setback. It was in that period that the trade union leaders proclaimed socialism as the best ideological framework to solve the problems ravaging the working masses and also to take Nigeria forward. It was also this era that saw the formation of the Nigeria Labour Party (NLP) by the trade union leaders. Even though the Party for Social Democracy (PSD), floated by some trade union leaders, was one of the recently registered political parties, the trade union leaders, in entirety, played no independent political role in the year 2003 elections.
Instead, most of their hopes and sympathies were covertly and overtly placed on the PDP, ANPP and AD victories! “Victory” cake was in fact presented to President Obasanjo during the year 2003 May Day celebration in Abuja by the NLC leadership! Typical of capitalist politicians, the regime has carried out an increment in fuel prices with the attendant hike in the cost of living, while doing nothing on wage increments which had been theoretically agreed upon before the last elections!
ANPP and AD
All segments of the ruling parties have also shown that they are one and the same entity when it is time to attack the living standard of the working masses. If you ignore the fake radicalism of a few party officials, all the elected officials in the State Assemblies, members of National Assembly and governors of both the ANPP and AD fully supported the recent hike in fuel prices. If only for this fact, the advanced layers of working class and youth organisations and labour leaders ought to recognise the imperative of building an independent mass political party of the working people.
Whatever bourgeois ideologues and PDP spin-doctors may say to the contrary on the results of the last elections; notwithstanding the crushing “moon slide” victories claimed by the PDP across the country, the overall results of these elections clearly revealed the potentially explosive nature of the unresolved nationality question troubling Nigeria. The predominantly Hausa-Fulani, Islamic dominated core north voted or generally tolerated the pro-sharia ANPP. The predominantly Yoruba dominated south-west voted or tolerated PDP because President Obasanjo is a “son of the soil”. Ditto, the votes for and/or toleration of PDP rule in the Middle-Belt and south-south regions was an expression of a bourgeois nationalism groping for an alternative political option to the known but hateful rule of the Hausa-Fulani led bourgeois governance.
Against this background, only the labour movement had several times, in the past four years, shown a tremendous capacity to genuinely unite the diverse national and religious groups that make up the country in an honest and beneficial cause of actions. Put bluntly therefore, only the working masses and labour movement can champion the building of a political party that can selflessly and consistently defend and fight for the interests of the masses across the country, regardless of their ethnic, religious or sexual background. The individualistic, selfish calculations of capitalist politician make it impossible for capitalist elements from diverse ethnic and religious background to genuinely and consistently fight for the interests of the masses to such an extent required to attract support and following of the working masses of all the ethnic and religious dispositions.
And if it should be stressed, it is precisely the inability of the capitalist class (either in khaki or mufti) to provide acceptable national leadership that lays beneath the insoluble political instability that has been the main feature of Nigeria since independence. Only the emergence of a truly revolutionary working peoples party can bring this perennial instability to an end.
A revolutionary working peoples party
Some have argued that the way the masses responded to strike actions/protests against anti-poor measures such as hike in fuel prices, etc, may not be the same way they will respond to pro-masses agenda and political parties in elections time. In the case of Nigeria, this is a groundless proposition. During the last election, the entire labour leaders played no higher role than that of cheerleaders of the various bourgeois parties or politicians that caught their fancies! The NLC president, Adams Oshiomhole even publicly endorsed the re-election of the anti-workers, anti-poor, neo-liberal capitalist governor of Lagos State, Ahmed Bola Tinubu! Yes the NCP, a pro-masses party, whose presidential candidate, Chief Gani Fawehinmi was well known across the country as a pro-masses and anti-corruption fighter, participated in the elections and that did not substantially altered the voting pattern nor the reactions of the masses towards the whole scale electoral frauds that characterised these elections.
But it should be noted that the NCP participated in those elections with little or no time and resources. Primarily for this reason, the working masses in general did not see the NCP as a viable alternative to the ruling parties. So those who were tired of AD voted or tolerated PDP, some voted or tolerated PDP because they were tired of ANPP and vice versa. A major lesson flowing from this for the NCP leaders and activists is the urgent imperative of creation of functional political structures across the country. Every where during the campaigns, the NCP teams and particularly its leader, Chief Gani Fawehinmi were always warmly and enthusiastically received at rallies and in the communities at large. If the leaders of the trade unions with sufficient spread and organisation across the country had come up with a bold independent, pro-masses political agenda and collaboration/alliance with a party like the NCP, the response of the masses across the country would certainly have been different. Instead, we had a tragic situation wherein the different sections of the working people queued behind capitalist politicians from their own ethnic and religious backgrounds out of the false hope that their respective interests can by so doing be better protected, or simply because there seems to be no other viable alternative.
In June 2000, January 2002 and lately in June/July 2003, the working masses of Nigeria had shown convincingly that collectively, they possess the capacity to dictate what happens in the society. On each of these occasions, against all false propaganda, intimidation and violence by the capitalist elements, the working masses through general strikes/protests ensured a complete shut down and paralysis of socio-economic activities nation-wide. The most recent of such general strikes cum protests, effectively lasted for 10 days. Throughout such shut down and nation-wide socio-economic paralysis, the ruling class were usually reduced to mere shadows that can be easily dispelled. But instead of using such awesome power possessed by the working masses to come up with a working class political party/agenda, the trade union leaders had on each occasion went back obediently to hand-over de-facto power to the same wretched gang of capitalists who will continue with their stock-in-trade: the exploitation of the working masses!
This is the greatest political danger standing against the interests of the working masses at this point in time. The CWC resolution of the NLC which suspended the strike in issue hailed “Mr. President for appreciating the imperatives and dynamics of constructive dialogue in the face of pressures by big players in the industry and advisers who failed to reckon with the larger interests of the nation”. This statement is both false and tragic. It is false to seek to distinguish President Obasanjo’s class interest from that of the alleged “big players” in oil industry and “advisers”. President Obasanjo is in no any fundamental and positive way different from the rest of the thieving capitalist class. While his regime in the last four years shared as federal revenues a whopping sum of N7 trillion, in the year 2003 budget, the lowest ever allocation of 1.8% was earmarked for education!
For almost six months, academic staffs of the nation’s universities went on strike centrally demanding better educational funding and the reinstatement of 44 of their colleagues sacked from the University of Ilorin during a similar struggle in year 2001. President Obasanjo’s regime has up till date refused to grant concession on any of ASUU’s just demands. To personally demonstrate his disdain for public education, he recently made a grandiose effort to present private universities as solution to the endemic under-funding of the educational sector by appearing in the convocation ceremony of Babcock University, Ilisan, Ogun State, a private “university” that possibly has less than 1,000 students while leaving the interests of the hundreds of thousands in public universities in jeopardy.
It is tragic to present the certainly temporary and marginal concession granted on the recent price increases as evidence that President Obasanjo has thus become a reasonable listening person different from the other members of the capitalist class. If it should be spelt out, president Obasanjo’s regime by virtue of this concession has not given up on all its anti-poor, pro-rich, pro-IMF/World Bank policies. In fact notwithstanding this formal concession, petrol continued to be sold at far higher prices in many places within the country with the exception of a few cities like Abuja, Lagos, etc. Without exception, diesel and kerosene are sold between N60 and N100 per litre in different parts of the country. Meanwhile, notwithstanding this formal marginal reduction, the inflationary spiral which the increases in fuel prices occasioned has remain unabated. Prices of transportation for instance remains at its pre-reduction level.
Already, the regime has sounded the warning to embark on fresh mass retrenchment exercise. The various school authorities through gross under-funding and direct instructions are being put under greater pressures to hike the cost of education to be paid by students. Ditto, the management of public hospitals and all other public utilities and social services. Based on the interest of a narrow minded capitalist elements, predicated on the neo-liberal policies of privatisation, commercialisation, etc, President Obasanjo’s government or any other capitalist government will have no choice than to redouble all these anti-growth, anti-poor policies in the coming period. This, of course, as experience has shown, will meet stiff and bitter resistance of the working masses. But the working masses can only come out victorious in these inevitable conflicts only if its leaders have clear cut economic and political alternatives. If not, the tragedy of the working masses flooring its class enemy each time, in life and death battles, only to bring back the enemy to life to continue with the ruination of its interests and that of the society as a whole will continue.
Of course, there is no doubt that the task of social transformation is not an easy one. The capitalist exploiters of the masses are a seemingly powerful lot. They have money, own companies, the media, the police, the army, SSS, prisons, and other coercive forces. On top of this, it is a well-organised forces internationally. But notwithstanding all its powers and tricks, each of the three general strikes/struggles in issue had shown conclusively that this seemingly immovable power can be moved and in fact can be rendered impotent by the activities of the working masses. Of course, if the masses had attempted to seize political power on the basis of the overwhelming support given to the labour led strike/struggle, the international capitalist countries of UK, US, etc, would not have hesitated to use all means including military invasion to quell such effort.
This is because such a bold effort by the working masses would not only amount to a negation of the imperialist neo-liberal schemes, more frightfully is the effect which such an upturn may have on the struggles and consciousness of all the labouring masses suffering under the yoke of imperialist/capitalist domination across the world.
Only an internationalist, working class approach can safeguard a successful anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist socialist revolution in any part of the world particularly in dependent capitalist countries at this point in time. Internationally, the working masses must be armed with a class conscious and resolute leadership prepared to implement necessary socialist programmes without which the masses interests and support cannot be guaranteed. In opposition to the principle and practice of privatisation of major means of production and societal resources, such a working class, socialist party and leadership must be ready to counter-pose the principle and practice of public ownership of these resources built as of necessity on the foundation of workers/masses democratic control and management.
As we in the DSM always explain, only a genuine workers and peasant government, built on active support and membership of the working masses can have the interest, capacity as well as courage needed to implement the kind of programme outlined above. Similarly, only such a government will be able to mobilise the solidarity and collaboration of the world working classes needed to foil the certain imperialist quest to either economically sabotage such a revolutionary government and or remove it from power through armed intervention led by imperialist countries such as UK and US.
PRIMARY TASK OF TODAY
To take a decisive step in building a mass working class party which this period needs, we in the DSM hereby call on the trade union leaders (including those of the NLC) to immediately set in motion a process for the convocation of a Special Conference of labour activists, pro-masses and radical organisations and parties like the NCP, NANS, DSM, DA, etc. with a view to working out a common political agenda/party, within which all the forces that had always sided with labour in all past and present struggles can collaborate to fight for the winning of economic and political power from the capitalist class. Organisation like the NCP could equally initiate such a process.
If built on an independent working peoples’ economic and political interests, such a formation can grow rapidly and strong enough sooner than later, to capture political power and thereafter begin the process to bring to a permanent end the economic, political, national, religious, etc, exploitation, oppression and deprivations being suffered by the overwhelming majority of mankind under capitalism.
However, for this end to be attained, the trade union structures itself must undergo a revolutionary transformation. First, the trade unions and the NLC have to be run as fighting, militant and democratic organisations. The prevailing bureaucratic approach whereby only a few elements at the top take all organisational, strategic and political decisions is not only prone to abuse and corruption, it can never help in bringing out the best from the trade union rank-and-file and the entire working class in any given struggle. Two, the prevailing pathetic mentality of most labour leaders striving in vain to reconcile the interests of the working masses with that of the capitalist rich will have to be replaced with one that primarily sets out to emancipate the working masses from the ruinous rule of capital. In other words, a political agenda to replace/remove capitalist rule, not one seeking to reform it. A social revolution against capitalism as opposed to an unattainable “social partnership” with capitalism.
If the trade union leaders address themselves properly and consistently to this task, the future struggles would meet the working masses better prepared and can lead to the socialist transformation of Nigeria. If not the prevailing agonies of the masses will become prolonged and further struggles likely put in jeopardy.
We in the DSM call on labour, youth, community and NCP activists and the working people in general who agree with the ideas, perspectives and programme explained above to join us so that together we can rebuild the mass movement in general and the labour movement in particular towards achieving lasting liberation from capitalist-induced poverty and misery.
POLICE KILLING OF PROTESTERS:
Labour Must Fight For Justice
The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) has called for an independent labour movement enquiry into the killing, by the police, of several unarmed protesters during the general strike and protests against hike in fuel price increase. In a statement issued on 8th July 2003 and signed by the organisation�s general secretary, Segun Sango, the DSM demands for the prosecution of those responsible and the dismissal of the police high command. The full text of the statement is produced below:
“The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) condemns the callous killings of several innocent Nigerians and peaceful protesters by the Nigeria Police in the attempt by the Obasanjo government to quell the nationwide strike and mass protests against its 20th June cold-hearted and anti-poor hike in the prices of petroleum products.
“We demand the immediate resignation of the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Tafa Balogun and the police top hierarchy over these heinous killings and general police brutality against strikers and protesters.
“We equally demand for the immediate release of scores of people being detained by the police as a result of their participation in the strike and protests. Among them are Mr. Eko John-Nicholas, a student of Lagos State Polytechnic and member of DSM, and 49 other students of the institution who are presently being detained at Panti Police Station, Ebute Meta, Lagos. If the police are of the view that any of these detainees has committed any offence, then he or she should be immediately arraigned before a court rather than being detained illegally in a police cell.
“Reports from many parts of Lagos confirmed that many unarmed peaceful protesters and in some instances innocent bystanders were shot dead as armed policemen indiscriminately fired live bullets into crowds of unarmed protesters.
“In the Dopemu/Akowonjo area in Lagos, three people were reportedly shot dead including a man who was coming from a pharmacy where had gone to procure drugs for his wife who put to bed last week. A young man was equally killed in front of his house along Tejuosho Road around Ojuelegba and his corpse was brought by sympathizers to the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) secretariat in Lagos. According to a report in The Punch of Tuesday, 8th July 2003, not less than twelve people were killed by the police during the protests in Lagos and Ogun States on Monday, 7th July 2003. This is on top of the four people killed by the police in Abuja last week.
“These killings came on the heels of the order of the Inspector-General that the police should use “maximum force”
to suppress the NLC-led strike and protests. These killings are barbaric and reveal the desperation of the Obasanjo regime to force the unpopular and anti-poor fuel price hike down the throat of the already impoverished working masses.
“To us in the DSM, peaceful assembly and mass protests are legitimate, basic democratic rights. The use of teargas and live ammunitions to disperse unarmed protesters is a brazen crude and dastardly violation of these rights.
“Above all, these killings and the suppression of legitimate protests by the Obasanjo regime expose once again the hollowness and the undemocratic character of the present civil rule in the country.
“We call on the NLC, trade unions, students’ unions, human rights and pro-democracy groups to organise an independent enquiry into these killings and to demand that the perpetrators be dismissed from the police and prosecuted. The labour movement should equally demand the resignation of Mr. Tafa Balogun and other police commanders who gave the orders that led to this wanton loss of lives.
“This state murder of innocent and defenceless Nigerians, incessant fuel crisis, worsening living conditions and general economic, social and political crises confirm the need for a fundamental social transformation of the Nigerian society. The decadent, anti-poor and crisis-ridden neo-capitalist system which engenders mass poverty and endless misery in the midst of potential abundance needs as matter of urgency to be overthrown by the Nigerian working people and replaced it with a democratic socialist order in which satisfaction of the genuine needs of the masses and not profits and wealth for a small capitalist super-rich minority will form the basis of production, economic management and governance.
“To this extent, the NLC and the labour movement should as matter of priority commence the building of an alternative, independent mass working class political platform, which will be fundamentally different in ideology and methodology from the pro-rich capitalist political parties, to champion the rights of the masses and lead the struggle to change society. Towards this end, the NLC should immediately call a conference of trade unions, students’ unions, peasant farmers’ groups, artisans’ and market traders’ associations, youth and community groups, human rights and pro-democracy groups, socialist organisations, the National Conscience Party (NCP), Party for Social Democracy (PSD) and other mass-oriented organisations to discuss the establishment of this independent mass working people’s party.”
As a result of the widespread condemnation of these killings, the Senate has set up a committee to investigate the matter. But the labour movement should not rely or place any hope in this effort or any investigation conducted by any arm of the capitalist government. The members of the senate are all in one with Obasanjo over the fuel price increase. None of them came out to oppose the increment. From past experience of investigations into crimes committed by the state security agencies or members of the ruling elite, it can be safely predicted that nothing meaningful will come out of senate investigation. At best, it will only put the blame on the individual junior ranks of the police while exonerating the Obasanjo government and the police top layers who gave the orders that the strike and protests be forcefully repressed.
Therefore, the NLC should not relent in its campaign on this issue until the murderers are brought to justice. If necessary, industrial action should be organised by labour to achieve this objective, as the NLC president, Adams Oshiomhole, pledged during his visit to the home of one of the victims of the police brutality. NLC should also demand that those who have been put on trial in various courts for participation in the struggle should be freed. While it cannot eradicate the wanton violations of democratic rights of the working people by the police and the capitalist state, this approach will show the determination of labour to always defend those rights. Among other things, this will encourage participation in future mass struggles by workers and youth.