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Socialist Democracy July 2004


"Working class living condition in Europe is far less glamorous than many Nigerian youths may actually think" - Segun Sango.


Segun Sango, General Secretary of Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), Nigerian section of Committee for a Workers' International, CWI, recently went on a speaking tour to some European countries. On his arrival early in June, he spoke to Socialist Democracy (SD) on issues like living conditions of European working class, the question of racism in Europe, among other issues. Excerpts:


Socialist Democracy (SD): Many Nigerians have a view of a "golden west" where everything works, with the basic essentials of life guaranteed to majority of the population. With your brief sojourn in Europe can you tell us what is the real situation?


Segun Sango (SS): First and foremost, it should be made clear from the outset that there exists a huge disparity when we are talking about level of socio-economic development between the countries of Europe (especially Western Europe) and those of Africa. Unlike the situation of extreme backwardness which dominates most of African countries, the situation in all European countries I visited, namely: U.K, Ireland (North and South), Greece, Sweden, France, Netherlands, Austria and Germany, can be conveniently described as exceedingly developed.

The inter and intra city roads in all these countries were either tarred or paved. Electricity, telephone and water services were always constant. Compared with hovels, which pass for accommodation for most working class people in Africa, many layers of working class elements can be conveniently said to be living in earthy paradise. The education and healthcare delivery system are far better off than what obtains in virtually all African countries. Virtually all the countries of Western Europe do operate one form of unemployment benefit scheme or the other, something that working class struggle won during the twentieth century. Outwardly therefore as compared with Africa, countries of Europe can be called "golden west".

However, a critical appraisal of the actual conditions of the working class in this society shows how inaccurate this kind of description could be. Of course as compared with African workers, the living conditions of European workers is far better off, but when the overall cost of maintaining this living standard is placed side by side with the wealth and profit generated for the capitalist class, the anti-working class character of capitalism, even in the west comes out sharply. While the level of technological and industrial development of these societies are developed to such an extent where decent living standard could be guaranteed for every body in society a substantial proportion of working class element are forced to maintain their living standard through needless agonies and exploitation. But all the gains west European workers won in the past are now under continuous attack. Right now there is growing unemployment and overall rate of private family debt. All the relative concessions on housing, healthcare, education, pensions benefits, which the working class elements had won in the past, have for sometime now been placed under systematic assault by employers and capitalist government in the name of liberalisation and privatisation.

Against this background, the economic and political rights of Nigerian immigrants and others have become considerably worsened in the past period. Right now many Nigerian immigrants and others face the danger of deportation aside from growing racist attacks, which sometime results in killings of immigrants.

When looked from this perspective, then the situation in Europe from the working class point of view and especially from the experience of African immigrants is far less glamorous than many Nigerian youths may actually think.


SD: The issue of racism and migrant discrimination especially against black immigrants is notorious in Europe, despite western jingoism about globalisation and liberalism. What is your assessment of this phenomenon?


SS: Imperialist propagates liberalisation but in real life engage in systematic policy of restriction and ostracisation against immigrants from working class background in Nigeria and other so-called third world countries. Right from the domicile country of an immigrant, impossible conditions are often put forward for anyone seeking to obtain visa, and for the lucky few that are ever able to get the visa or somehow get to these imperialist countries atrocious working conditions and degrading immigrant laws, most often, are their lots. As a result of the increasing inability of capitalism to guarantee decent living standard for the citizens of its own metropolis, increment in immigrant population in these societies are often wrongfully used by rightwing and neo-fascist elements as the central reason why the living condition of the European workers has continued to decline. This has created an atmosphere of growth in racist attacks in many European countries. For instance, a young racist about two years ago shot at a group of black immigrants in Athens, Greece. In this one singular incidence, five immigrants were killed while a few sustained permanent serious injuries.

From this perspective the much-touted capitalist liberalisation, for most working class elements and especially immigrants, is an absolute nightmare. The very imperialist countries that make life a hell for many African working class persons that want to emigrate to Europe and/or those already living in Europe is always however eager to collaborate with the African elite to loot and stash away, in different European banks the limited resources from Africa and Nigeria etc despite the existence of many bogus laws prohibiting money laundering.


SD: The DSM, is Nigerian affiliate of an international socialist organisation Committee for a Workers International (CWI) with your brief sojourn in Europe, can you talk of any special peculiarities and/or similarities in terms of organising a revolutionary movement in Europe and in this part of the world? Any particular lesson?


SS: From my own point of view there are many similarities. Even though the countries of Europe are far more developed than those of Africa, I also discovered that when it comes to mindless daily attacks on working people living standard the capitalist are one and the same everywhere. I also discovered that the mainstream political parties and top labour leaders are in the main only ready to preserve the unjust capitalist system at all cost. On the basis of this experience, the universality of Marxist ideas and methodology stand out clearly. In most cases the issues, which the working class people have to confront here, are in most cases the very same issues, which confront the European working masses.

In contemporary Nigeria, the working people daily fight against education commercialisation for affordable healthcare, housing etc these same issues form the core of struggles of the European working class today. However, it is good to make some distinctions. The level of mass poverty and social decadence, which presently dominate the feature of existence of African countries like Nigeria means that the situation in Africa is far more objectively radicalised today. For instance, Nigeria alone in the past for years has undergone four general strikes plus two that were cancelled by labour leaders at the last minute.

Of course the Nigeria situation has equally revealed that a brutal, bloody ethno-religious conflict and wars can equally capture the centre stage of politics if the working class radicalisation expressed through mass struggles, including general strikes, does not permanently overthrow capitalism in the medium and long-term basis. In this regard, the situation in many European countries is at a lower tempo relatively speaking. Still talking about peculiarity, I found very exciting and inspiring the enthusiasm and tenacity with which the CWI sections and comrades struggle to build a socialist world in an atmosphere where presently the overwhelming majority of the elements in society do not yet regard the overthrow of capitalism as the precondition to guarantee decent living standard for working class elements.

However, when the similarities and peculiarities are put together, one thing stands out clearly and that is that there is an urgent need to intensify the building of a worldwide genuine, democratic and revolutionary socialist political platform to fight and defeat capitalism worldwide as the only way to guarantee decent living for the working class people internationally.



Socialist Democracy July 2004