NO TO FUEL SUBSIDY REMOVAL: NLC DECISION TO STAGE RALLIES AND PROTEST SHOULD BE A PRECURSOR TO A 48-HOUR WARNING GENERAL STRIKE
N0 TO FUEL SUBSIDY REMOVAL: DSM WELCOMES NLC NEC DECISION TO STAGE NATIONWIDE RALLIES ON JANUARY 27 2022 AND PROTEST ON 1ST FEBRUARY 2022 BUT DEMANDS THAT THESE SHOULD BE A PRECURSOR TO A 48-HOUR WARNING GENERAL STRIKE
Calls on Labour Leadership Not to Take Workers and Nigerians for Granted by Again Suspending Action before It Has Achieved Victory Like it did on 28 September 2020.
- Urges Labour To Widen Demands of Struggle To Include Issues of High Cost of Living, Non-Payment of Minimum Wage, Power Privatization and Electricity Tariff, Unemployment, Casualization and Other Anti-Poor Policies.
The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) welcomes the decision reached at the National Executive Council (NEC) of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) at its meeting held on Friday 17th December 2021 to reject and resist the planned increase in the pump price of petrol by the Federal Government. This was contained in a communiqué issued and circulated by the labour centre. According to the communiqué, the NLC NEC resolved “to organize protest rallies in all the 36 states of the federation on 27th January 2022 which would culminate in the submission of protest letters to all the 36 State Governors. Subsequently a National Protest will take place on 1st February 2022 in Abuja; and (d) In case government decides to announce new petrol prices before the proposed protests, the protest will kick off instantly and without any further notice in every state of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory”.
No doubt this resolution by the NLC to pick up again the gauntlet of resistance to the age-long agenda of Nigerian capitalist elite and imperialism to remove fuel subsidy and thereby subject prices of petrol to the vagaries of the world market is heartwarming. However, the leadership of the NLC must realize this news will be received with mixed feelings both in the ranks of the labour movement itself as well as in larger society. This is because of the serial betrayals by, and the mass of workers and poor Nigerians’ disappointment in, the leadership of the NLC (and TUC) who last year suspended without any meeting of its NEC a planned general strike and mass protest against fuel subsidy removal a few hours before it was to kick off while also acquiescing to deregulation in principle.
The NLC’s words must be put into action and we call upon trade unionists to mobilise support for these steps and urgent action should price hikes come into effect earlier. This is necessary both to ensure their success and to build resistance to any attempt to make another rotten deal with the government.
HOW TO FIGHT TO WIN
Notwithstanding the serial betrayal of the labour movement, the DSM welcomes this plan of action, even though limited, and urges Socialists and activists to support and earnestly begin to prepare for it. We also call on the Trade Union Congress (TUC) to urgently meet and consider adopting this timeline of action as decided by the NLC NEC in order to ensure a united struggle of both labour centres. Be that as it may, we have some observations and reservations about the NLC NEC resolution which we have put down below in order to stimulate comradely discussions within the labour movement about how best to conduct the struggle in order to avoid pitfalls of the past and to achieve victory:
Firstly, we observe that nowhere throughout the NLC NEC resolution was any attempt made to correct the erroneous capitulation to deregulation in principle which the NLC and TUC committed during the hasty suspension of the planned general strike on 28 September 2020. In suspending the action, the Federal Government and the NLC and TUC entered into an agreement which recognized the “inevitability of deregulation” due to “dire financial circumstances”.
LABOUR MUST REJECT DEREGULATION UNAMBIGUOUSLY
Though veiled, the continuation of support for deregulation in principle is reflected in the NLC NEC resolution. According to communiqué, the NEC noted that “the genesis of the crisis in Nigeria’s downstream petroleum sub-sector especially as it relates to the petrol pump price regime could be linked to a Policy of Importation Based Pricing Template for Refined Petroleum Products as against Local Production Based Pricing Template”. Going further, the NEC declared that “as long as the pricing of refined petroleum products is based on Importation Pricing Template which is heavily dependent on a volatile foreign exchange rate heavily skewed against the Naira, the price of petrol and other refined products will continue to rise beyond the reach of average Nigerian workers and citizens”.
The arguments above are only sounds on the surface but in reality; the final import of this line of argument is that labour would accept deregulation so far Nigeria is able to guarantee local refining of crude oil. This is a setback and retreat from previous argument of labour where it used to openly call for repair of the existing public refineries. Now in view of the establishment of Dangote refinery and petrochemicals which is scheduled to become functional next year, this line of argument by labour can be easily interpreted to mean support for private refineries which will not resolve the problem but may even worsen it. Importation of fuel products is just half of the crises plaguing the oil sector in Nigeria. The other factor which is more fundamental is the domination of the sector by profit interest in the shape of multinational and local oil and gas companies and marketers. Therefore, the question is not just about stopping fuel importation by ensuring local refining, the question of whether local refining is going to be accomplished through public or private investment is equally important.
For instance, on the basis of profit logic, Dangote refinery when it becomes fully functional will not sell its petroleum products at local prices but at international prices. This much had been made clear repeatedly by the company’s officials. So, what this means is that the scenario is possible whereby Nigeria is able to stop fuel importation and yet either citizens continue to pay exorbitant amount for petrol or a form of subsidy or under-recovery is again restored by the government to moderate the cost while boosting the profits of Dangote and other private refiners. This means the problem of today will just continue in a new form tomorrow. Similarly, despite the capacity of the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Limited (NLNG) to produce and meet the domestic demand for cooking gas, the prices are at present very high beyond the reach of many working-class people and the poor because of the deregulation policy and the fact that the NLNG is run as a profit first private company. This is why labour must be clear and unambiguous about its opposition to deregulation which should mean opposition to domination of profit interest in the oil and gas sector and a demand for the nationalization of the oil and as sector under democratic workers control and management and the building of new public refineries.
LINK ACTIONS TO A 48-HOUR WARNING GENERAL STRIKE
Secondly, we observe that despite the pledge to reject and resist the government attempt to increase fuel price, there was no part of the resolutions of the NEC where the question of a general strike was considered. This to us is a big limitation in the plan of the NLC. This is because the history of mass struggle against fuel price hike and anti-poor policies in Nigeria shows that rallies and protests alone are not enough to defeat this neo-liberal agenda. To defeat fuel price hike and anti-poor capitalist policies, the labour movement needs a comprehensive plan of action involving general strikes and mass protest and the building of a mass workers political alternative to fight for political power.
Consequently, as far as we are concerned, the protest rallies on 27 January and the National Protest in Abuja on 1st February ought to serve as preparatory and mobilizational actions towards a 48-hour warning general strike as the next step. We hereby propose that a date for the warning 48-hour general strike should be agreed between the NLC and TUC beforehand and efforts made to begin right from now to popularize these dates during the preparatory and mobilizational actions of January 27 and 1st February. This is the best way to build momentum and demonstrate that this is not going to be another episode of “kicking and kissing” between labour and government and that labour is ready for a serious struggle this time around.
EXPAND THE DEMANDS OF THE STRUGGLE
Thirdly, we believe restricting the demands of the struggle to just fuel price hike is not only self-defeatist, it is also counter-productive. This is because from the point of view of the working class and poor masses today, it does not make any sense to begin to mobilize and fight for an attack that is still expected whereas a series of attacks have already been launched against the living conditions of the masses without any serious response from the labour movement.
As we write, several states are still not paying the N30, 000 minimum wage and pension, cost of living has become so high because of inflation, tens of millions of Nigerians are unemployed, education and healthcare are underfunded with dire consequences for workers and the poor, power privatization has failed and Nigerians continue to grapple with high electricity tariff and darkness, many Nigerian workers are subjected to horrendous exploitation and oppression due to casualization and other indecent labour practices etc. The prices of cooking gas and food items as well as electricity tariff have become exorbitant and thereby further exacerbate the high cost of living. All these are key factors in the growing insecurity throughout the country.
To proceed to conduct any national mass struggle today without raising demands on the above-mentioned issues that concerns the overall wellbeing of the working class and poor masses will amount to labour playing the ostrich. As the NLC NEC resolution noted, soaring inflation of basic commodities and services “presents additional pressure on the lean income of Nigerian workers and other citizens and has made life terribly unbearable for the poor masses of the country”. Besides, all the issues are interconnected and none can be completely resolved without the other. For instance, the price of cooking gas has risen by more than 500% in the last 8 months without the NLC and TUC calling for a strike. Gas is as important as petrol as it is used by many working families for cooking. Similarly, electricity which is needed by industries and homes has been comatose since it was privatized in 2013 while consumers continue to pay through their nose for darkness. It would therefore amount to hypocrisy to fight and resist one aspect of the crises while leaving the others. In fact such a conduct can help government propaganda, which labour’s habitual resistance to fuel subsidy removal when it does nothing about other attacks is to protect the interest of fuel marketers, subsidy thieves etc., to flourish and become believable. We hereby urge the NLC and TUC to include the following demands:
- Down with deregulation and the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA). For nationalization of the oil and gas sector under workers democratic control and management and the building of new functional public refineries.
- No to increase in fuel price and electricity tariff. For reduction in the price of cooking gas to at least N250 per kg.
- For payment of all backlogs of salaries and pensions owed workers and retirees
- For an increase in the minimum wage to nothing less than N100, 000 in view of high cost of living.
- For decent jobs for all. Payment of monthly unemployment benefit to all those, graduates and non-graduates, without a job.
- Stop casualization and indecent labour practices.
- Reversal of electricity tariff and end to power privatization. Re-nationalize the power sector under workers and consumers democratic control and management.
- End to underfunding of public education and healthcare.
- Defend democratic rights. Arrest and prosecution of all those responsible for and adequate compensation of all victims of Lekki and other acts of oppression by state forces. Immediate and unconditional release of EndSARS and other democratic rights protesters still in detention.
- End to deregulation, privatization, Public Private Partnership (PPP) and all anti-poor capitalist policies.
- For the NLC and TUC to support building a workers’ political alternative, a working peoples’ party, that will campaign for the nationalization of the key sectors of the Nigerian economy under democratic workers control and management.
NO TO BETRAYAL
Given its history of betrayal, the labour leadership will have to do a lot more to prove to Nigerian workers and masses that they actually mean to fight this time around. Words will not be enough, the actions of the leadership in ensuring that the January 27 protest rallies and the 1st February 2022 go ahead as planned without arbitrary and undemocratic suspension of action will be crucial in showing that the labour leadership is not again on a journey of betrayal.
This is why the DSM is using this opportunity to urge the leadership of the NLC not to again take workers and the masses for granted by calling for actions it does not mean to see through to victory. We demand that since it is the NEC of the NLC that has agreed to call action on January 27 and 1st February, it is this organ at a properly convened meeting that should also have the power to decide when actions should be suspended after democratic discussions and careful consideration of all facts. Therefore, we reject the usual but undemocratic practice whereby a few National Administrative Council (NAC) members suspend actions called by the authority of NEC as soon as any token concession is offered by government. It is this undemocratic practice that was used to derail the general strike last year as well as several actions before now. Nonetheless, we don’t have any illusion that present NEC itself cannot also suspend the strike or an action without achieving its objective.
At the same time, we call for immediate preparations for the January 27 and February 1st action to commence through the convening of public meetings at state council levels as well as formation of action committees in workplaces and communities to comprise labour leaders, activists, Socialists, youth and civil society members. These action committees should be tasked to organize and mobilize for the actions of January 27 and 1st February 2022 in collaboration with the respective state councils of the NLC and TUC. They should also serve as important assemblies for discussing tactics and strategies on how best to conduct the struggle including the need to name a date for a warning 48-hour general strike.
For Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM)