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Socialist Democracy March 2004

 

THE LAUNCHING OF NEW LABOUR PARTY:

A WELCOME DEVELOPMENT BUT……

The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) heartily welcomes the transformation of the Party for Social Democracy (PSD) into the Labour Party (LP). For close to almost two decades of its existence, the DSM has been in forefront of propaganda and agitations for the formation of a trade union based/sponsored mass political party of the working people. When in 1989, under military rule, a short lived efforts was made to form the now defunct Nigerian Labour Party (NLP), members of the DSM played active role in many parts of the country to build the party as a truly independent party of the working masses. Throughout the almost 5 years tenure of the Adams Oshiomhole's leadership of the NLC, the DSM has repeatedly called on the trade union leaders to take concrete steps to form a pan-Nigerian political party of the working masses. In this context, the adoption of the PSD and its transformation by the NLC leaders into Labour Party is welcome development. All these, however, have been lost on successive generations of labour leaders.

As socialists, we do know from the history and experience that only the working class have the requisite capacity and interests needed to engage and lead the other oppressed layers of the working masses in decisive and consistent struggles against imperialist/capitalist economic exploitation and political oppression. The history of Nigeria, most especially in post-colonial periods has been largely dominated by ethno-religious conflicts and strife, always threatening the very existence of the country most of the times.

Consequently, Nigeria's political history and electoral activities have equally been dogged and dominated by ethno-religious interests and calculations that were often at variance with the real interests of the working masses of the different nationalities and religious groups. Only the united activities and struggles of the labour movement has offered a glimpse of hope that it is possible to genuinely unite the diverse ethnic and religious groups that make up the country around a mutually beneficial goal. This particular prospect was amply demonstrated in the general strikes of June 2000 and June/July 2003. On those two occasions, the working masses across the country shunning ethno-religious divisions, rallied behind the banner of the NLC to make a decisive point against the Obasanjo government's anti-poor policy of incessant increases in fuel prices.

But lacking a viable pan-Nigerian political party of the working masses with sufficient spread and structures, these same masses have also revealed a tendency of being very easy to be deceived and divided amongst the capitalist parties for different selfish short sighted ends, particularly at election times. Thus for us, the birth of the Labour Party particularly its resolve to henceforth run candidates in elections provides a significant opportunity to rally the working masses of the different parts of the country in a beneficial political direction, away from the capitalist parties and their self-serving agenda.

Numerically, the organised layers of the working class people constitute a minority in the society. However, given its decisive positions within the capitalist economy and society, it has a tendency to draw behind itself the other layers of the oppressed masses whenever it is involved in a struggle against anti-poor policies and the capitalist class. Thus a properly oriented and organised Labour Party can rapidly become a decisive political factor in Nigeria much sooner than may be anticipated by some. But this is not the only possible perspective. It is equally possible that the Labour Party may remain a still born child, a mere media event.

How can this kind of apocalyptic perspective be averted? How can the Labour Party be rapidly built as a vehicle that will accelerate the struggle of the working masses against capitalist induced mass misery in the midst of inexhaustible abundance, eradicate political oppression, in an atmosphere of limitless freedom? How should the Labour Party relate with other pro-masses parties like the NCP? These are some of the relevant major questions begging for answers.

GOAL AND ORIENTATION

Right from the onset, Labour Party should make it expressly clear that its goal is the capturing of political power, with a view to form a workers and peasant government, which is committed to the re-organisation of the economy and society in such a way that needs of the people, and not profits for a few, as is the case under capitalism, shall constitute the primary and sole reason for governance. Flowing from this, the Labour Party must be built consciously as a working class party, whose primary constituents are the workers, peasants, petty traders, market women, rank and file members of the armed forces including police, intelligential, students, urban and rural poor. A Labour Party solidly built on the above outlined layers will be an unbeatable phenomenon which will not have to cringe before traditional rulers and religious clerics, before it can embark on successful struggles and campaigns. Right from the beginning, the Labour Party must make it clear that it will not enter into a coalition government with any capitalist party, either now, or in future.

LABOUR PARTY: NOT AN ALTERNATIVE TO THE NLC

At the launching of the Labour Party, the NLC president, Adams Oshiomhole stated that the NLC will retain its independent status as a trade union federation. This is a very valid and inescapable truth. To start with, the NLC as a trade union federation only directly embraces a fraction of the working class people. To be able to capture political power, needed to effect the necessary socio-economic transformation within the economy and polity, the Labour Party has to be built as a platform for all sections of the working masses and the oppressed in general. To be members of the NLC, you have to be employed within the public or private sectors and organised within any of the 28-affiliate industrial unions that make up the NLC, whereas, every working class person of voting age can register to become member of the Labour Party. For these and other unstated reasons, the NLC and the Labour Party will always be run as two separate organisations.

However, for maximum success to be achieved, the activities of the NLC and Labour Party henceforth have to be coordinated and synchronised as much as possible. Right now, the NLC is preparing to wage war against casualisation in the banking sector. The Labour Party and other pro-labour parties like the NCP, DSM, etc must not only be prepared to join this kind of battle but must in fact strive to link this battle with the struggle to eradicate casual labour in all ramifications and the central struggle to overthrow the unjust capitalist system, the breeder of mass poverty and casual labour.

At the launching of LP, Oshiomhole amongst other things stated: "you cannot find a lasting solution to the Nigerian masses through strikes, but political solution. It means, we will be active actors in the politics of this country (The Guardian February 29, 2004). This remark gives the unfortunate impression that the NLC leaders no longer contemplate organising strikes in defence of workers and peoples living conditions in general. It gives the impression that henceforth all labour strategy will be placed on becoming "active actors" in politics, through the Labour Party, which is seeing as the vehicle through which "lasting solution" can be found to the masses' needs and aspirations.

For us in the DSM, this will be a mistaken approach. Strikes for now and in future will remain a major mobilisation factor in the struggle of the working masses to capture political power. It therefore cannot be counter-posed to the activities of the Labour Party. As a matter of fact, before it can be placed in a position to capture political power, the Labour Party has to be in forefront of agitations for mass working peoples’ strikes and demonstrations, against every anti-poor policy of the government. This is the only way by which the powerful capitalist class and its state apparatuses can be overcome at election times and/or periods of mass revolutionary upheaval.

A MERE ELECTORAL MACHINE?

In today's Nigeria, virtually all political parties are operated as mere electoral machines. In other words, most of these organisations only attempt to function as a collective at elections times. Once the elections are over, most of them ceased to be active as a collective with common goal, strategy and tactics.

Due to this counter productive approach, ruling parties are often left without any coherent and concerted criticism and alternatives either from within or without the ruling parties. You thus have a completely irresponsible and unaccountable elements ruling while little or no coherent opposition is being provided by non-ruling parties. Predictably when elections are held in this circumstance, the opposition parties often find themselves too weak to mount a serious bid for power, thus forever making it possible for the incumbent corrupt elements in power to manipulate their ways to remain in power.

Therefore, right from the beginning, the Labour Party must be built deliberately as a struggle party that is always prepared to organise and fight on the day to day issues affecting the working masses during and outside elections times. This is the only way to ensure its effectiveness at election times.

RELATIONSHIP WITH OTHER PARTIES

At the proclamation of the party, its leaders said they would be fielding candidates in the forthcoming local government elections. This is a good development. We in the DSM however would suggest that Labour Party leaders should evolve a strategy that will make it possible to secure the best possible collaborations, on the basis of commonly worked out programmes and perspectives, between itself and other pro-masses parties like the NCP, DSM, DA, etc, with a view to avoid needless rivalries which could detract from the needed political onslaught on right wing, capitalist parties and their surrogates within and outside the trade union movement.

Right now, the NCP is in the forefront of struggles to ensure a more democratic electoral process at the local government level. What is the position of the Labour Party on monetisation of politics vide compulsory "deposit" payment as a pre-condition for running in elections? How will Labour Party be able to get genuine working class candidates if the law as it is, expressly makes it impossible for working class persons to stand in elections without first giving up their jobs? This to us provides a good example of issues upon which the NCP and Labour Party can jointly prosecute for the overall benefits of the working masses.

PROGRAMMES AND PERSPECTIVE

"The ruling parties are deficient of appropriate ideological tools and political will to address the roots of the country's present quagmire. This explains their choice of policy options, in particular their obsession for economic and social policies that advocate the doctrines of the supremacy of the market for addressing deep-rooted backwardness…….. It will be highly illusory to expect the market, rather than the state to pull the country out of its present state and reposition it towards national development". (Sylvester Ejiofor, Labour Party National Chairman, The Guardian Sunday February 29, 2004, page 2).

From a revolutionary, marxist point of view, there are many ambiguous definitions and or formulations in the above quoted passage. However, notwithstanding these ambiguities, the above quoted passage represents a radical departure from the outlook of most political parties in Nigeria today. Unfortunately however, the Labour Party chairman, immediately, at the occasion, made a contradictory statement which greatly reduces the weight that can be attached to the above quoted statement, when he, inter alia, said: "for the avoidance of doubt, as social democrats, our party is not doctrinally hostile to the market, nor is our party opposed to private entrepreneurship".

These contradictory positions sadly mean that the future growth and relevance to masses quest for justice of the Labour Party is not automatic. In all history, every effort of seeking to reconcile the self-serving interests of the capitalist class with that of their victims, the working masses had always ended on a disastrous note for the working people. From Nkrumah's Ghana, to Allende's Chile, Chiluba's Zambia, each time a working class movement had attempted to compromise with capitalism, the end result had been disastrous both for the masses and the leaders of such workers formations.

There is therefore the need by the Labour Party to clearly come out in favour of the public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy including banking, finance, insurance, etc on the basis of working masses direct democratic control and management, within the framework of an internationalist socialist perspective. Without this approach, it will be impossible to meet the material and political yearnings of the masses both now and in the long run.

NATIONALITY ISSUE

The Labour Party needs to come out with a clear policy on the nationality question. There is a pseudo-scientific opinion which holds that the conflicts arising over ethno-religious matters will totally or largely disappear once a genuine pro-masses party comes to power. Outwardly, this of course sounds nice, but it does totally fails to articulate how a truly pro-masses party can come to power.

In contemporary Nigeria, it will be impossible for any party, bourgeois or proletarian, to have mass following in the embattled areas of Niger Delta, Anambra, Plateau, Osun, Kaduna, Kano, etc just to mention a few of the country's ethno-religious hot spots, without such party having a programme which must be seen to address their immediate daily demands and agitations.

Similarly, only the active intervention of Labour Party's activists in the day to day struggles of the masses against incessant increment of fuel prices, education and health care commercialisation, privatisation of social services such as housing, water, light, transportation, telecommunications, etc can endear the party to mass of the working people. Thus, from whichever angle it is examined, the Labour Party will only grow and in turn be able to satisfy the needs and aspiration of the working masses, only if it is built as a fighting organ of struggle for the total, comprehensive emancipation of the working masses from capitalist exploitation and oppression.

If the Labour Party leaders take a critical look at some of the issues raised above and accordingly take appropriate measures and actions, then there exists the potentials, that the party can contribute to the rapid building of a powerful pan-Nigerian working peoples political platform/organisation capable of bringing to a permanent end the needless nightmare which capitalism has reduced human life to. Without this approach, the Labour Party proclamation may sadly turn out as another lost opportunity.

 

 

Socialist Democracy March 2004