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Socialist Democracy Feb - Mar 2003

NLC’S Delegates’ Conference:

Time For Labour To End Pro-Capitalist Policies

By Olamide Olatunji

The 8th delegates conference of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) comes up on February 6th, 2003 at Abuja. The conference is essentially to elect officers to run the affairs of the congress for the next four years.

There seems to be no serious challenge to the incumbent leadership of Adams Oshiomhole, who looks set to get another four years mandate. However, there is a need for a critical review of the first four years of Adams Oshiomhole’s leadership.

Unlike the ponderous, openly right-wing leadership of the NLC of Pascal Bafyau's era, the current NLC president, Adams Oshiomhole, has brought robust flair to debate on labour and other relevant socio-political issues. Cogent facts and figures are produced by the leadership to back-up its campaigns.

However, the NLC leadership's propaganda and programme all suffer from a fundamental weakness. Every one of its programme and policy is always based on the illusory perspective of wanting to make capitalism and its managers perform better, in the interest of the working masses. The NLC leaders have retreated from their mid-1980s acceptance of socialism as the objective of the labour movement and today see no alternative to capitalism. Hence the labour leaders are unwilling to let struggles develop to a point where they challenge the whole capitalist system.

The Adams Oshiomhole leadership has led a series of national strikes against fuel price increases and also engaged some state governments for non-payments of the agreed minimum wage. Also some companies and banks have not been spared. But in the NLC's campaign against casualisation, the ambiguous position and pronouncements of the NLC leadership on issues such as privatisation, deregulation and commercialisation has done a lot of damage by creating confusion amongst the working class and raising serious doubts about the ability of labour to combat the ruling class.

The NLC leadership's membership of the National Council on Privatisation that has been overseeing the sales of public assets has also not helped matters Instead of openly mobilising against the sales of public property, Adams Oshiomhole is saying that "workers should be allowed to buy part of the companies" as if the workers even if allowed to 'buy' have the money to do so. The NLC leadership hinges its support for the sales of NITEL, NEPA, etc., on the basis of these public enterprises not being "functional".

As socialists have always maintained, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with public ownership of society's economy and resources. However for such public ownership to fully flourish, there must be actual "public" working class democratic control and management of all publicly owned resources. 

Wherever publicly owned resources and properties are left under the management and control of individualistic, bureaucratic, capitalists elements, it has always produced disastrous consequences against the economic and political interests of the working masses. Under this kind of arrangement, corruption, nepotism, red-tapism, mismanagement, etc., are bound to be the order of the day. It was precisely this lack of working class democratic control over the nationalised and centralised economies of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe that led to the eventual collapse of these Stalinists entities.

For the same reasons, NITEL, NEPA, etc., are not working not because they were not given sufficient money to operate, but because most of such money were usually stolen in the best spirit of "private enterprise" by its self-serving managers who are in no practical sense accountable to the masses who constitute the bulk of their expected customers.

The NLC under Oshiomhole's leadership has waged a lot of campaign on the issue of increased minimum wage, and since he assumed office, the official minimum wage has increased from N3,500 to between N5,500 and N7,500 for private and public sectors respectively. Regrettably however, this has not brought about any fundamental relief or improvement in the living conditions of the masses. While of course, as usual with capitalism, a tiny layer of the working masses may have achieved a noticeable improvement in their living standard, it has been a different ball game for the generality of the working masses.

On the basis of this increment alone, hundreds of thousands across the country have been retrenched by the different sections of the employers, on the pretext that those sacked could not be conveniently paid by their employers as a result of this increment. For this same reason, a state of virtual embargo against new employment reigns. 

Even thousands of those that have been unjustly retrenched, like those in Lagos state are yet to be paid their terminal benefits since after their unjust sack. As usual, the capitalists government's excuse is that there is not enough money to meet workers basic and legitimate aspirations, meanwhile no matter how broke the government is, the top officials and their capitalists contractors and friends will always find enough money to meet their own selfish ends.

Therefore, the minimum wage issue must be seen by socialists and working class activists as an issue that can never be satisfactorily permanently resolved in favour of the working class within the framework of capitalism. Whatever concessions the capitalists are forced to make in new minimum wage will always be negated by other counter-productive measures. 

This could be in form of back log of arrears of salaries and allowances, mass retrenchment of workers, commercialisation of indispensable social services like housing, health care, education, water, electricity, telecommunications, etc. Unfortunately however, the current NLC leadership gives the impression that adequate minimum wage can be won within the framework of capitalism. This is a fundamental error.

Labour politics is equally fundamentally flawed. Truly, Adams Oshiomhole's leadership has consistently raised criticism about corruption in high places. It has even organised protests and demonstrations against perceived corrupt tendencies of members of the National Assembly at a time. Sadly enough, this critique is usually done with a view of getting capitalist state functionaries or sections of the ruling class to effect necessary changes. Sadly however, the NLC leadership has failed to draw the appropriate conclusion that what the labouring masses need is a clean break with the policies and parties of the capitalist class.

The NLC leadership also sponsored and formed the Party for Social Democracy (PSD), one of the parties newly registered by INEC. But because of its pro-capitalist programme, its lack of a fighting strategy and the lack-lustre record of labour leaders, this party so far has not attracted support of even workers, talk less of other strata of the oppressed masses.

However, socialists and working class activists must not regard these fundamental shortcomings of the Oshiomhole leadership as a personal or national peculiarity. Rather, this should be seen as part of the world-wide, right-wing shift and ideological retreat by the labour leadership following the collapse of the Stalinist states, which were erroneously equated with socialism. Therefore, part of our central task today is to fight for the acceptance of basic socialist explanations and approaches in the day-to-day struggle of the working masses, in the trade unions and within youth organisations.

There is the need to return labour to its best radical past. The trade union movement needs to be rebuilt ideologically and organisationally, with educational programmes and mobilisation activities. There must be grassroot democracy in unions, with rank and file control over the policies of the unions and the leadership. Opportunist and corrupt leaders should be replaced democratically. 

To reduce the corruption and careerism, which have eaten deep into the unions, labour leaders at all levels must be democratically elected and should receive not more than the wage of an average skill worker. Without this kind of approach, the current NLC leadership's selective economic and political radicalism will soon completely run out of steam. It is never given that a correct political understanding and bold leadership will always automatically win every struggle. Even then, it will be easier for workers to recognise the reasons why a particular objective can not be attained and what should be done to achieve same.

Sporadic campaigns against the privatisation and deregulation of the oil sector, while giving support to the privatisation of NEPA and NITEL will always leave workers confused and ideologically unprepared. The conclusion has to be sharply drawn that the working masses need to carry out protracted mass struggles and strikes with the ultimate goal of overthrowing the prevailing unjust capitalist system.

The point to be stressed is that only a socialist society can provide the socio-economic framework, where production and services will be primarily planned for use and satisfaction of the needs and aspirations of everybody. Under a genuine socialist government of workers and poor peasants, there will be less need and opportunities for profiteering and racketeering which are the hallmarks of the prevailing unjust capitalist system. Unless this outlook forms the basis of Oshiomhole's NLC in the coming period, its seemingly radical and progressive stance on certain issues affecting the working masses will always inevitably end in cul-de-sac and even outright betrayal of the masses.


Continued ...