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Socialist Democracy March 2004

 

GENERAL STRIKE AND THE CURRENT POLITICAL SITUATION

* Excerpts from Segun Sango’s Review of the recent general strike

 

The recent countrywide, general strike and protest called by Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO) has revealed, with special clarity, many crucial aspects of Nigeria's socio-economic and political situation. Many activists will ask questions about what lessons can be learnt from the four general strikes in four years and what should be the next steps.

One, if there was still any doubt about the readiness and determination of the working masses to fight the anti-poor, neo-liberal, capitalist policies of the Obasanjo regime, the 3-DAY solid, general strike under review completely wiped out such an unfounded doubt. A further indication of the militant mood on ground was that this strike took place less than a year since the July 2003 eight-day general strike.

In most cities, the general strike was total with total paralysis of public institutions and key private sectors of the economy. "In Lagos, Abuja and various other state capitals, gates to major markets were under lock and key… And in a few instances where some markets opened, there were scanty or no buyers. Banks and other financial institutions did not also open for business. Ditto for factories. Aviation and maritime operations were equally affected. Airlines operated skeletally in Lagos. By noon Wednesday (the first day of the strike ed) only four airlines could fly. The situation did not improve on Thursday either… Heavily-armed security men kept vigil at the Tin can port and Apapa Wharf but neither the dockers nor staff of the Nigeria Ports Authority reported for duty". (Vanguard June 12, 2004).

Here, two remarkable features of the strike should be briefly highlighted. The general strike under review was unique because it was one strike in the recent years that took place without youths and pro-labour activists having to make bonfires on the roads to prevent movement. Notwithstanding, the strike was not only total amongst the workers in both public and private sectors, but equally solid amongst the students, self employed, artisans, petty traders, the urban and rural poor in general. There was no forceful coercion.

In this respect, the strike once again shows that the rest exploited and oppressed layers of the working masses in the urban and rural areas are prepared to fight anti-poor capitalist policies, if given decisive leadership by the working class.

So compelling was the strike waves that even significant layers of the capitalist elements and institutions were prepared to make verbal attacks against the fuel price hike which was the immediate reason for the strike. If the working masses had had a leadership with the correct and complete working class socio-economic alternatives, if the leaders of the general strike had had the determination to capture political power with a view to institute a workers and peasant government, the steadfast determination of the working masses across the country made this entirely possible.

 

CRISIS OF LEADERSHIP

 

Just before the last strike Oshiomhole gave an interview to the Vanguard (June 3) in which he accurately described what had happened during the anti-fuel price struggles. The newspaper reported:

"Congress, he said, would not make the mistakes of the past in the execution of next week's strike in view of the past deceitful manner in which the present government had dealt with the NLC each time it called similar strikes.

"We also want to re-assure Nigerian people, Nigerian workers and our allies that we have learnt sufficient lessons from the manipulations of this government, which has led to some confusion in the past. We now know that signing agreement with this government need not translate to reality because they have not respected previous agreements.

"We now know that they may wait till the last minute before they will call us to a discussion where they might make undertaking that they may not implement, we want to assure the Nigerian people that errors of the past will not be repeated." 'We are better informed about the characters and the attitude of the government that we are dealing with and those lessons, those experiences will guide our prosecution of this final phase of our struggle' he said."

But what conclusions were drawn from this? Looking at the events of the past few days, we have to say that the NLC leadership has learnt nothing from previous experience contrary to its claim.

What all these clearly demonstrate is that the Oshiomhole's led NLC harbours the illusion or practices the deception that capitalism, even in its naked, neo-liberal fashion can be made to "substantially" benefit the working masses, if only the capitalist class will not be "heartless" enough to want to deregulate the "down stream sector" of the petroleum industry.

But this precisely is the crux of the matter. The capitalist ruling class has repeatedly shown its determination to deregulate and privatise all key sectors of the economy, including the petroleum sector, up and down streams. All the general strikes, including attempted ones, called by the Oshiomhole leadership in the past five years were all severally and collectively provoked by the regime's "heartless" policy of deregulation and privatisation of the "down stream sector" of the oil industry. Therefore, any "hope" based on the Obasanjo's capitalist government expectation to stop its anti-poor, pro-capitalist policies, will produce no permanent improvement as it ignores the fact that these policies flow from the character of the capitalist system itself.

Regrettably, the labour leaders do not want to break with capitalism. The more corrupt are quite happy with it and many others see no alternative to it. But the history of post-independence Nigeria shows that on a capitalist basis, the country will not develop. So, instead of a continuation of this obviously bankrupt, and sometimes, opportunistic perspective, labour needs a clear cut revolutionary break with the inherently unjust and self-serving capitalist economic strategy being defended by the ruling class and imperialism. In the midst of inexhaustible human and natural resources, despite the huge billions of dollars being raked from exportation of crude oil alone, the overwhelming majority of the working masses, including wide sections of the middle class elements continue to go down the ladder of an irredeemable misery, while a few individuals and capitalist corporations wallow in needless, stupendous opulence. This situation is like putting reality upside down.

To set this situation right, the stupendous, inexhaustible resources of the society must be commonly owned, democratically run and controlled by the working class people, before the basic needs of the masses for food, housing, health care, education, water, electricity, functional and affordable transportation and communication networks, etc can be objectively guaranteed. Put simply, this will mean the public ownership and working class democratic control and management of the key sectors of the economy such as industries, including petroleum sector, banks and financial institutions, agriculture, social services, etc. Under this arrangement, economic development, strategy and provision of goods and services will be primarily based on the principle of giving decent living conditions for all sections of the working masses as opposed to the prevailing unjust capitalist dispensation which puts profit first, above every human consideration.

But as we in the DSM often explain, this desirable, achievable and necessary end can only be actualised by a labour movement imbibed with a new revolutionary socialist ideas, strategy and methodology. First and foremost, this will require a new layer of labour leaders who consciously pose the issue of revolutionary, socialist transformation of the prevailing capitalist system, as opposed to the hopeless perspective of looking for "pragmatic" ways to make capitalism work. Secondly, there is the need for new layers of labour leaders who would base their strategy on the industrial and political mobilisation of the various sections of the working masses as the central and most effective way to protect the interest of the working masses, as opposed to the self defeatist strategy of the current labour leaders who chose to keep quiet over act of electoral robbery by capitalist parties, all in the name of protecting democracy. Just imagine. "Our loyalty to the survival of the democratic project was demonstrated when despite the fact that the last general elections were characterized by a lot of anomalies, we remained clam and did not go on street to protest it". (Oshiomhole, Punch June 4, 2004).

We need new labour leaders who would consciously base their strategy on the construction of a pan-Nigerian working masses political platform completely independent of other capitalist parties in policies and organisation, whose central objective is the struggle to remove the capitalists from power with their replacement by a workers and peasants' socialist government.

Thirdly, we need new layers of labour leaders that concentrate on direct mobilisation of all layers of the working masses before, during and after strikes as opposed to the prevailing shambolism of a mobilisation strategy which focuses on diversionary and wasteful visits to capitalist leaders in the senate, house of representatives, governors, clerics, Manufacturers Associations, Nigerian Bar Association, traditional rulers, etc. As we said before, all these layers of capitalist institutions and elements, may for one selfish reason or the other, today pretend to be fighting the anti-poor policy of the Obasanjo government. But to the extent that they all support capitalism and its neo-liberal policies of deregulation, privatisation, etc their interests remain, always antagonistic to the interest of the working masses.

Tragically, during the last strike against hike of fuel prices, labour leaders virtually concentrated all their propaganda and energy on these hopeless elements to the utter detriment of mass mobilisation of the working masses who actually effected the strike action and protests. There were no rallies and lectures organised amongst trade unions and in the communities. The few leaflets that were produced and circulated in a few cities like Lagos only came a day before the commencement of the strike. As in other general strikes led by the current labour leaders, no effort was made to create strike committees in the communities for the prosecution and control of the strike action with the resultant effect that most layers of the working masses were often totally left with only fragmented news from the bourgeois media to fathom what was going on.

Some organisations in the Labour and Civil Society Coalition criticized the trade union leaders for suspending the strike when many oil marketers had not yet complied with the court "ordered" sale price and when evidently significant sections of the masses were still proposing that the strike should go on. This in our view was a justifiable criticism. Unfortunately however, many of these organisations and individuals themselves failed or refused to see that unless a general strike is run and controlled by strikers and communal committees, an indefinite or prolonged strike becomes impossible to sustain either due to the conduct of labour leaders or as a result of the inherent limitations of a struggle mainly built on blind anger and spontaneity of the masses.

 

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

 

Far from being a "substantial" victory for the working masses, the last general strike against hike in fuel prices represents another missed opportunity by the working masses to put in place an economic and political arrangement under which its basic needs can be guaranteed. The main responsibility for this negative situation squarely falls on labour leaders who regard general strike as an instrument to get limited concession(s) from the ruling class rather than being seeing as a political process through which the working masses can realise its political and Organisational potentials in its historically conditioned struggle to overthrow capitalism.

While every key policy of the government across parties and across the country represents a vicious attack on the living standard of the working masses, the Oshiomhole leadership has continued to give the impression that the regime's policy on oil is different from its policy on jobs, wages, health care, education, etc. Consequently, no general strike has ever been called or contemplated to fight the equally anti-poor, pro-rich government and employers policies on wages, job security, employment, housing, transportation, education and health care, etc.

In suspending the strike, labour threatens to resume the general strike if government and oil marketers failed to go back to February 2004 price of a litre of petrol. Unfortunately however, this threat was not backed by any concrete mobilisation of workers and members of the community for such an eventuality. Apparently aware of the weakness inherent in this kind of verbal threats, many oil marketers have continued to sell above the expected price.

There is therefore the need to begin practical acts of mobilisation such as rallies, symposia, lectures, leafleting, etc with a view to raise general level of awareness and organisational preparedness amongst the working people. To have prospect of maximum support and enthusiasm, the issue of fuel prices must be raised side by side with other key economic and political issues relevant to the emancipation of the working masses. In this respect, the issue of living minimum wage, functional and affordable housing, health care, education, unfettered right of workers to form and belong to trade unions and political parties of their choice, for free and fair elections, etc must be placed on the front banners of issues upon which new LASCO mobilisation and agitations should be based. This would prepare the ground for the next step we propose in reviving morale and confidence, a DAY OF ACTION including a general strike, rallies, protests, etc. with a view to highlight these and other necessary demands. This would strengthen the morale and organisational preparedness of the working peoples' organisations with a view to taking more far reaching and longer actions to both win immediate reforms and replacing capitalism with a democratic, socialist workers and peasants' government.

As we often explained, creation of an independent Pan-Nigerian working people's, socialist party is central to the task of revolutionary overthrow of the prevailing unjust capitalist order. In this respect, LASCO activists at local, state and national levels should without further delay put in motion a process to begin the creation of such a party outlined above. This can be started by calling for democratic conferences of the Labour Party, the National Conscience Party (NCP), Democratic Alternative (DA), Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), trade unions, student unions, market women and all those that claim to support the emancipation of the working masses to be organised at local, state and national levels. Such meetings should discuss and decide upon what programme is needed and what next steps should be taken. If based on the day-to-day needs, aspirations and struggles of the different layers of the working masses, if consciously built as a platform to transform society, then sooner than imagined, such initiatives could begin to lay the foundations of a vibrant mass working class political party in Nigeria.

 

POLITICAL SITUATION

 

From the above explanations, the working masses both in the medium and long-term basis, will still be presented with the opportunity of transforming capitalist society along working class basis. This however, is not the only perspective, if the working class fails to take adequate advantages of its opportunity to transform society, the country and the entire working masses may find themselves engulfed by ethno-religious conflicts and even military dictatorship.

Already, the ethno-religious conflict is daily assuming an horrendous character. Between the months of May and June 2004 alone, over 1,500 Nigerians have been killed with tens of thousands permanently displaced from their homes and means of livelihood as a result of one ethno-religious conflict or others. Significantly, the last general strike against hike in fuel prices took place side by side with an ethno-religious genocide in Adamawa State. So serious is the danger of ethno-religious mayhem at the present time such that the Obasanjo capitalist government has been able to use that excuse to sack the elected governor and members of house of assembly with the imposition of a state of emergency in the entire Plateau State.

But as we in DSM often explain, these strong hand tactics will woefully fail both now and in the long run to address this age long crisis. Sadly, the labour leaders do not also have a working class policy and initiatives different from those being put forward by the Obasanjo capitalist government. Beneath the incessant, ethno-religious conflicts are age long unresolved nationality question arising from the arbitrary and undemocratic manner with which the country called Nigeria was created by British imperialism. It is equally important to note that this nationality question has always created passionate agitation including armed conflict both before and since after independent.

Of course, there can be no doubt that the frequency and mendacity of these conflicts have in the recent period, acquired an horrendous proportion as the living standard of most section of the working masses across the country become worse in the face of an unrelenting socio-economic crisis. Therefore, without willingness and capacity to tackle these crises historically and socially, the current strong hand tactics of shooting at sight as a central strategy is doomed to fail.

In this respect, it should be noted that all previous capitalist governments from colonial period up till present Obasanjo regime had always resorted to the use of one form of act of suppression or the other. Since colonial time up till now, the elite of the major nationalities had always ganged up to suppress the right of self-determination of the minority nationalities. There is therefore nothing new in the current futile venture called state of emergency.

Even in the event that sections of the capitalist class succeed in bringing back full military dictatorship, the ethno-religious conflict will only, on the long run, become more ferociously morbid, with special calamitous consequences for the socio-economic and democratic rights of the working masses.

So, instead of labour leaders giving support to capitalist declaration of state of emergency as a central strategy to suppress agitations for self determination, independent working class policy which fully accepts the right to self determination of all minority, nationalities and religious groups should be counter-posed. Similarly, independent working class initiatives which practically encourages formation of joint committees of the different embattled nationalities and religious groups should be encouraged as a more effective means of checking mindless and needless killings of working class elements of all warring factions.

Some on the left have always argued that with a good government which is prepared to guarantee improved living standard for all across the country, ethno-religious conflict will largely cease to be or become a thing of the past. There is an element of truth in this point of view. However, the issues involved are much more complex than this over simplified proposition.

In contemporary Nigeria, any left political party wishing to bring about a society where decent living standard is guarantee for all cannot get properly started to secure the support of the vast majority of the working class people of the different nationalities without a clear-cut democratic and sensitive policy on nationality question and self-determination. Such a party has to come up with bold economic plans and policies which overtly seek to place the masses of the different nationalities across the country at the centre of economic planning and strategy, unlike the prevailing capitalist system which puts profit interest of a few above everything else in life.

This is not all, such a party has to make it theoretically and practically clear that it is not interested in the ethno-religious supremacy of one nationality or religious group over one another. Such a party has to be seen to be expressly committed to give full democratic, nationality and cultural rights (including cessation if democratically decided by any given nationality) to all nationality within Nigeria no matter how small numerically such nationality may be.

Thus, from every angle it is examined, socially, economically, politically, the national question puts Nigeria on a brink of disaster. Fortunately however, there exists a prospect of a working class, socialist way out of this deepening disaster. Regrettably however, if the working class solution does not develop in the medium and long term basis, Nigeria and its working people will find themselves engulfed by socio-economic political disaster of unimaginable proportion that will make the tragedy in Rwanda, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Democratic Republic of Congo, etc appear like mere child's play.

 

Join the DSM in its struggle to:

 

Defend and improve living standards

 

Build militant democratic fighting trade unions

 

For a mass working people's movement/party and for a workers' and peasants' government.

 

 

 

Socialist Democracy March 2004