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Socialist Democracy Nov - Dec 2002

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US: "Living Conditions In Decline"

The General Secretary of Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), Segun Sango, recently visited the United States. During the tour, he met several labour, youth and anti-globalisation activists and spoke on the situation in Nigeria and the African continent in general. In this interview with Demola Yaya, he narrated his experience during the tour.

Socialist Democracy (SD): The United States is the world's dominant economy and now the sole super-power. What are the effects of these on the conditions of the American working class?

Sango: On the average, the quality of life of the US working class is generally higher than those of the working class of even Europe and most especially, the third world countries. This can be glimpsed from the type of housing, education, healthcare and general access to socio-services such as telephone and internet. For instance, almost every comrade I visited at home has a computer with full internet services. This, of course, is just an aspect of the condition of the US working class.

Beneath this seeming easy life lies a ruthless exploitation of most US workers. Compared with their forebears, the current generation of US working class suffers worse working condition. Most workers and youths spend their virtual lives barely struggling to be able to maintain their basic living standard. A typical feature of capitalism is most brazenly manifested in the US in an obscene manner. For example, 0.2% of household controls 40% of household wealth while 40% of household controls 0.2% of wealth. In a society where wealth is more equitably distributed, it should be possible to increase the present living standard of the American working class ten times while at the same time reduce the needless agonies and stress they have to go through under the prevailing unjust capitalist order.

SD: The 11th September, 2001 terrorist attacks in the US was an important turning point in the global political situation. The Bush administration and other world capitalist rulers have since launched a "war on terror"

in response to that event. A year after 11th September, what is the mood and attitude of various layers of US society to this issue, particularly with the determination of the Bush regime to wage war against Iraq?

Sango: The 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon in Washington was a major turning point in global politics. In one respect, the terrorist attack shows vividly how a good cause can be ruined by a wrong methodology. By attacking the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, the organisers of the 9/11 calculated that they were striking at the heart of US imperialism. In reality, the overwhelming majority of the casualty of the attack were working class elements. On top of this, the US and capitalist leaders internationally have also capitalised on this counter- productive attack to further tightening the noose of political oppression against the world working class movement.

Capitalising on the revulsion of the working class people internationally, the Bush administration together with its counterparts internationally had in the wake of 9/11 attack, initiated or promulgated a wide range of legislation, all which variously seek to further derogate from the democratic rights of the working people. It was against this background that the Bush administration, with its imperialist allies, launched the war against Afghanistan.

The then prevailing atmosphere also contributed to discourage combative working class actions in defence of class interest. However, all these are beginning to change now. The clearest manifestation of this can be seen from the growing anti-war movement building up against the US planned war on Iraq. There have also been crucial industrial disputes and actions involving teachers, long shore men, firemen, etc in US. There is a growing awareness among the working class elements that waging a war on Iraq will only deepen the danger of terrorism, and far from eradicating it. Significant layers of anti-war elements are also demanding that the huge amount usually spent on instruments of mass destruction be invested in socially beneficial ventures.

SD: While you were in the US, an important labour dispute involving port workers on the western coast of the US took place and President Bush in fact had to invoke an anti-working class labour law, the Taft -Harley Act, to force the workers back to work. What is the situation in the US labour movement?

Sango: The situation within the US generally mirrors what is happening in labour movement internationally. It is a situation where virtually most labour leaders hold the believe that there is no alternative to the capitalist system. Most of the time, their efforts are always directed at proposals which only tend to resolve the problem of capitalism at the expense of the working class interest. Because of this, the consciousness of average working class elements lags behind their objective conditions even when compared with their European counterparts. Nonetheless, there are indications that more and more workers will be compelled to take actions in defence of their interest in the coming period with or without the enthusiastic backing of their official leaders.

That President Bush was forced to invoke an anti-workers act to enforce a temporary truce between the workers and the employers of the port sector is an indication of the restive mood and the fear of workers’ potential power by the American ruling class.

SD: You also visited some university and college campuses. How is the student movement in the country?

Sango: As an organised political movement, the students' movement in tertiary institutions does not exist in the US. Most students' unions or organisations that I encountered were largely creations of the school authorities. This state of affair to me partially reflects the relative privileges of the students in the past period. Things are beginning to change now. A greater number of students now have to take up employment in order to sustain themselves in school. More and more students are beginning to grumble about the growing nature of school fees with a lot graduating with huge debts.

In a few of the universities that I visited, comrades of our sister organisation, the Socialist Alternative (US section of CWI) were beginning to build campaign for 'Tuition Free Education'. The more this kind of struggle goes, the higher the chances of having independent and politically active student movements developing in US schools.

SD: What level of awareness and interest about events and issues in Africa did you observe during the visit?

Sango: There were lots of keen interest shown by workers and students about happenings in Africa and events in the world but as usual, very little meaningful report can be found in bourgeois or capitalist press. For this reason, awareness of the comprehensive situation in Africa and the rest of the world is usually low.

SD: What are the role of socialist activists in the US and the challenges they face having to work in the world's most dominant capitalist nation?

Sango: As I indicated earlier, the living condition of the working class element in the US is not as desperate as those of their counterparts in Africa and most of the Third World countries. Of course, within the framework of the available wealth within the US society, the conditions of the workers can be greatly improved than what entails at the moment. However, against the worldwide right wing shift in the post Stalinist era, most workers and youth are forced to accept their conditions under the false notion that there is no alternative to the inequities of capitalism. Operating in this kind of environment, the socialists in the US and the advanced capitalist countries in general are waging a very difficult battle at this stage.

Here in Nigeria for instance, the evidence of utter failure of capitalism daily steers you in the face. In the US, a significant majority of the working class are able to afford certain degree of decent living standard which encourages, in the absence of a revolutionary alternative, a false notion that capitalism is not incurably bad. But as these relative conditions and living standard come under greater attacks and onslaughts of the capitalist sharks, anti-capitalist consciousness will become a greater phenomenon and in the same ratio, the activities of socialist activists will become more rewarded. The various anti-global capitalist protests which started in Seattle in 1999, the growing opposition to the US imperialist proposed war on Iraq, etc. are pointers of the more objective favourable situation which could develop in the coming period.

SD: Most of Nigerian youth will want to go to US by any means, what are the conditions of life for the immigrants in US?

Sango: Contrary to the false impression that regards immigration to the US as automatic solution to problem of poverty, life for most immigrants to the US is to say the least, very difficult. Most of the time, most of these immigrants have to keep a minimum of two highly exploitative but poorly paid jobs to make ends meet. A significant layer of them live in worse accommodation than they left behind in Nigeria. Of course, if any immigrant is able to save and bring back to Nigeria a sizeable amount, then, such immigrant can hope to live a semi-decent life in Nigeria. But, there are two problems always mitigating against this scenario. One, it is always difficult, if not totally impossible to acquire a sizeable fortune outside day to day expenditure and maintenance given the kind of jobs which most of these immigrants are forced to do. Secondly, the intractable nature of the economic crisis in Nigeria also means that little or no honest business can thrive. Thus, there exists very little chance that these immigrants can be able to voluntarily come back to Nigeria and hope to work and live in peace. Meanwhile, they remain a largely alienated and unintegrated lot in the US. Except there is a social change in both Nigeria and the US, they will remain trapped in their forced exile.



No To Bush’s War Against Iraq

For Working Class Actions To Remove Saddam Dictatorship

The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), the Nigerian affiliate of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), calls on the Nigerian working people and youth to oppose the planned military action by the US and its allies aimed at overthrowing the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq.

Continued ...