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Socialist Democracy May Day 2005

 

ADAMS OSHIOMHOLE LED NLC:

Six Years Of Missed Opportunities

 

Without any iota of doubt, the Adams Oshiomhole led NLC, for the past 6 years, has been the most exciting and remarkable phenomenon that has happened to Nigeria labour movement in the past few decades. Unlike the openly pro-establishment, right-wing labour leaders like Pascal Bafyau, the NLC president between 1988 -1994, Adams Oshiomhole has brought in a new lease of robust radicalism and activism into the labour movement in general.

 

Throughout the protracted anti-military mass struggles of the 80s and 90s, the NLC, under the leadership of Pascal Bafyau, not only refused to lend the power of labour to that struggle but in fact on many occasions, used its position to undermine the anti-military struggles.

 

When the then military dictator, General Ibrahim Babangida, under pressure to quit power, announced a decision that his military junta would vacate power come January 1, 1993, Pascal Bafyau, as NLC president, publicly called the military to take their time and not succumb to mass pressure to vacate power in a hurry. The semi-general strikes that took place during Pascal Bafyau tenure were spontaneous amongst rank and file workers across the country and anytime they happened, Pascal Bafyau leadership was only renowned for taking steps to end such strikes, rather than helping to build the strikes to achieve their objectives.

 

In sharp contrast, the NLC under Adams Oshiomhole leadership has organised and led five nationwide general strikes/protests against government anti-poor, incessant fuel price hike apart from its several open critique of government anti-labour policies from time to time. However, a critical scientific analysis of the policies and conducts of the Adams Oshiomhole led NLC in the past six years sadly reveals the phenomenon of missed opportunities.

 

Despite the tumultuous labour struggles that have taken place since Oshiomhole became the NLC president, the working peoples’ economic and political conditions generally have been going from bad to worse. While the series of general strikes that have taken place on the one hand show the potential political power wielded by an organised working class movement, on the other hand, the lack of coherent anti-capitalist, working class programme and determined revolutionary leadership also means that this potentially most powerful force in the society can be made to passively endure anti-poor policies as the current attacks on the workers’ rights through the 2005 Trade Union Act and the current hike in fuel prices show.

 

ECONOMY

 

The entire trust of labour’s economic policy under Oshiomhole is, at best, bourgeois reformist perspective. Oshiomhole leadership does not see or recognise the fact that capitalism cannot guarantee the basic needs of life for the working masses, hence all the reactions to the economic policies emanating from labour always tend to give the false impression that workers’ and capitalist interests can, through "honest" dialogue, be reconciled to the mutual satisfaction of both classes. In one breath, labour supports privatisation and deregulation of certain aspect of the economy. In the same breath, the same labour leader will grumble about the anti-poor policies that are the logical features of these neo-liberal capitalist policies.

 

The Oshiomhole leadership has led struggles for the increment in the minimum wage and against casualisation of labour. In this respect, it should be noted that the labour leaders have recorded some measure of successes. However, this has been invariably followed by mass retrenchment of workers by the various managements and employers on the usual excuse that an increment in the minimum wage and the conversion of some casual workers into permanent staff have led to the escalation of their production cost without corresponding increment in revenues. This, in a way, has been responsible for labour’s inability to sustain the campaign against casualisation of labour and for increment in the minimum wage despite the fact that labour’s wages are grossly below the rate of inflation and cost of living. So, for years, while government indulges in incessant hike in fuel prices with their attendant geometric rise in cost of goods and services, labour leaders have been unable to lead the struggle for an increase in minimum wage to match the cost of inflation because they themselves are trapped in the bourgeois school of thought which only measures necessities and possibilities in terms of how much profit can be generated from any activity as opposed to the actual needs and aspirations of the vast majority of the society.

 

Instead of fighting for the common ownership and the democratic control of the commanding heights of the economy by the working people with a view to plan production and services centrally, so as to be able to attend to the basic needs of all, labour, under Adams Oshiomhole, like all pro-capitalist elements, has been giving support to quasi-populist ventures such as labour transport ventures and the demand that workers be assisted to buy a few of the shares of public companies being privatised. The Adams Oshiomhole NLC has not seen anything wrong in the outrageous salary and allowances being officially paid to themselves by top officials in both public and private sectors.

 

The transfer of public resources and utilities into private properties of capitalist corporations of the few rich is the mother of all corruption. But instead of mounting a principled opposition to these anti-poor policies, labour leaders have turned themselves to cheer leaders of Obasanjo’s government fake anti-corruption crusade.

 

In the past six years, the Obasanjo government has earned about N10 trillion as income from various revenues. Sadly however, this period has also witnessed intensified sales of public properties to profit merchants and racketeers at give away prices. Very disappointingly, the labour leaders are not mounting a struggle against the entire capitalist class to give public account of where all this fabulous amount has gone to, who are the people buying these public properties being sold and how do they derive their wealth? With a leadership imbued with revolutionary programmes and strategies, the myriad of problems currently ravaging the capitalist economy nationally and internationally should have been used to advance an alternative working class, socialist agenda. But lacking an independent working outlook and strategy, the growing failure and crisis of capitalism has sadly now been represented by the bourgeois ideologues that there is no viable way out of the current social-economic hopelessness faced by the vast majority of the working people on daily basis.

 

POLITICS

 

Arguably, labour’s politics under the Adams Oshiomhole led NLC in Nigeria’s labour history is the most politically backward and or the most pro-capitalist. Internationally and nationally, labour used to have a tradition of forming own party or give active and open support to a party regarded as having a pro-labour or left wing inclination or image.

 

In 1989, Pascal Bafyau, the then openly right wing NLC leader, led the NLC to form the Nigerian Labour Party. Because of the NLC’s own leadership right wing outlook, the manifesto of the Nigerian Labour Party and the conduct of the party leaders were more pro-capitalist than pro-working people. Nonetheless, the capitalist ruling class, through its military wing which was then in power, refused to grant recognition to the party for the fear that some more pro-working class labour leaders might come up to use the party to give a true fight to its class.

 

Most pathetically, the NLC under Oshiomhole’s leadership has totally neglected or refused to take any practical step to form an independent working class led political party which will not only be prepared to fight for day to day improvement in the living conditions of the working masses but one which would have, as a primary goal, the task of winning political power with a view to form a government of workers and the poor working masses in general so as to be able to guarantee decent living for all in place of the present system where the vast majority live in permanent poverty and deprivation in the face of the inexhaustible abundance. Yes, there exists currently a labour party but this is only so in name. Both prior to the 2003 general elections and thereafter, Oshiomhole leadership has refused or neglected to take practical steps to build the party.

 

The five nation-wide general strikes/protests which took place against fuel price hike not only clearly demonstrated the fact that the working people want an end to Obasanjo’s government and its anti-labour agenda, but at the same time, provided the unique opportunity to build a formidable working class led political party among all strata of the working people across the country. So, during year 2003 general elections, the working people were left without own political party platform and thus became object of easy prey by the different sections of the prominent capitalist ruling parties. For narrow economic and political capitulations, most labour leaders at the states’ level gave political support to the governors or those they perceived as front runners in their respective states wile the NLC at the national level itself gave open support for Obasanjo’s re-election.

 

In his first term in office, the AD capitalist government in Lagos State headed by Ahmed Bola Tinubu sacked about 15,000 workers, including many trade union leaders like Ayodele Akele, for daring to demand the implementation of a new minimum wage which the Oshiomhole leadership itself had negotiated with the federal government under the excuse that government does not have enough resources to pay this. Yet, without qualms and sense of loyalty to the workers, Oshiomhole openly canvassed for the re-election of governor Tinubu. Even when it became apparent that the 2003 elections was characterized by massive manipulations and riggings and opposition parties, including pro-labour political party like the National Conscience Party (NCP) were calling for cancellation of the exercise and fresh elections, the NLC leadership stoutly queued behind the PDP government headed by Obasanjo.

 

Three months later, President Obasanjo’s government imposed an outrageous fuel price hike which provoked a 9-day nation wide general strike and protest. This strike/protest shook the government to its foundations, such that the usually self-confidant President Obasanjo lost his composure and accused the NLC leaders of wanting to topple his administration. Instead of stating that the working people also had the inalienable rights to win political power in the country and that President Obasanjo’s government had lost all legitimacy and acceptability of the people, a condition which made it a necessity for the working people to remove it from power, the NLC leaders went out of their ways to convince the government that labour had no interest in political power and that it is just a pressure group.

 

At a time, when most conscious members of the working masses have come to the conclusion that nothing good can deliberately come the way of the masses and are earnestly yearning for a political leadership to once and for all confront the Obasanjo government, the NLC leaders have decided to give an undeserved credibility to government diversionary national confab with their participation. As we write, an unconfirmed story circulating in the labour circle claims that all that Oshiomhole himself is politically scheming for is to become governor of Edo State come 2007 under the PDP platform.

 

While the Oshiomhole leadership has tenaciously held on to the false philosophy that the capitalist ruling class and the working masses are "partners in progress", Obasanjo’s regime has never lost a moment to push the working class down the drain so that profitability can flourish. While the pretence called the National Confab to reform Nigeria’s polity is going on, the regime has just promulgated a new Trade Union Act whose central thrust is the killing of any effective working people resistance to pro-rich and anti-poor policies of capitalist government and the so-called private sectors. Yet, labour leaders continue to politically cling to the coat-tails of the capitalist parties for salvation to the working people.

 

GENERAL STRIKES

 

Easily, the most unique feature of Adams Oshiomhole led NLC is the fact that under him, the NLC has led five nationwide general strikes/protests. Without doubt, these strikes severally and collectively have established labour as the most capable and viable platform which can lead a successful resistance and onslaught of labour against capitalist induced mass misery and political oppression.

 

Unfortunately however, the pro-capitalist outlook and conduct of the labour leaders have, for now, make it impossible for the full potentials of this labour power to positively manifest in the living conditions of the working masses. While the working masses regard these general strikes as a process through which fundamental improvement in their living conditions can be achieved, Oshiomhole merely sees them as means of trying to persuade President Obasanjo to be a listening leader. In other words, the masses are striving to use the general strikes to effect change of the government and its bad policies, the NLC leaders merely want to use the strikes to persuade the capitalist ruling class and the Obasanjo government to change its bad policies.

 

So, instead of effecting rank and file mobilisation of workers within and outside the trade unions, students, rural and urban poor, etc, the Adams Oshiomhole led NLC had always chosen as its priority the mobilisation of prominent members of the ruling class in the National Assembly among governors, top clerics, lawyers and traditional rulers in the false belief that these sections of the ruling class can actually stand for more edifying ideals than what is spear-headed by the executive led by Obasanjo. In reality this false approach has never succeeded either with respect to the fuel price issue, privatisation, mass retrenchment, anti-labour law, etc or prevent the Obasanjo’s government from rough-riding over the economic and democratic rights of the working people. In sharp contrast, this false strategy has had the opposite effect of practically demobilizing the building of an effective organisation of struggle/action committees among the different strata of the working people across the country.

 

DEFINING MOMENT

 

The Adams Oshiomhole led NLC is, as the saying goes, in the eye of history. The capitalist government of President Obasanjo has now totally revealed its pro-rich, anti-poor character. Equally too, the futility of the NLC leaders’ strives to present themselves as a responsible, moderate opposition has been shown beyond any reasonable doubt, as absolutely ineffective to secure the basic needs and aspirations of the working masses. The current hike in fuel price is nothing but a provocative attack on the living standard of the working masses. Coming immediately after the regime has just signed into law a trade union Act which not only expressly forbids the NLC from leading the struggle against this kind of policy but one which makes provisions that make the organisation of a strike almost practically impossible, the stage has been prepared for additional attacks and derogations from the economic and political rights of the working masses in the coming period.

 

Unless the NLC leaders today are expressly prepared to reject capitalism with all its unjust ethos and practices, they will not be able to find the necessary focus and vigour needed to wage successful struggles against capitalism and its inherent injustices. Sadly however, this would mean that the years of radicalism and struggle presided over in the past six years by Adams Oshiomhole are nothing but wasted opportunities.

 

WHAT TO BE DONE

 

The current socio-political situation and as well as the crisis of leadership within the labour movement pose serious challenges before socialists and the advanced layers of the working class movement in general. To drive the working class movement forward at this stage requires an organised and focused left-wing/socialist platform of the most combative elements within the NLC, TUC, CFTU, LASCO, NCP, Labour Party, etc. At recent labour meetings, there have been noticeable growing opposition to some of the most pro-establishments positions of the Adams Oshiomhole leadership. The suspension of the general strike slated for November 16 2004, was seriously challenged by significant number of labour leaders. The decision to participate in the government’s so-called National Confab also reportedly attracted vast opposition by certain elements within the labour hierarchy. Significantly, the Oshiomhole leadership had its way on both occasions notwithstanding this opposition.

 

We should be frank with ourselves. One of the main reasons responsible for this is that this opposition itself lacks a holistic analysis of the political character of the trend represented by Adams Oshiomhole and what kind of political alternatives are needed to overcome the short comings of the leadership. In addition, this opposition does not even have a defined left platform to articulate and defend its positions against that of main leadership. Thirdly, this opposition has so far given the false impression that its desired changes in policies and strategies could be achieved within the frame work of the current bureaucratic and highly self-serving trade union structures and leadership.

 

The combinations of the above factors have created a pathetic situation where at the end of the day, the opposition leaders always toe the line dictated by the main leadership. But as could be seen by every honest person, this kind of "don’t rock the boat" approach has only helped to deepen the frustration of the vast majority of the working masses.

 

Therefore, to break this dam of frustration, there is an urgent need to create a broad left labour platform. This platform should embrace all those that support the economic and political needs and aspirations of the working people against capitalist oppression within and outside the trade unions. This platform must expressly pledge to struggle for the working masses to capture political power so as to form a working people’s government in order to permanently guarantee their economic and democratic rights. The platform must be made up of all those that accept as main strategy mass mobilisation and mass actions by the working people themselves as the primary strategy to better their own lots now and in the long run. This kind of platform, from the beginning, will have to expressly pledge to relentlessly fight any government that says it can not or does not have the resources to make life better for the working people.

 

To start with, this platform must be prepared to articulate the basic demands and needs of the working masses and simultaneously commence mass mobilisation, mass action on these demands, aiming to involve the widest layers, inside and outside the trade unions. These actions can begin on single issues like fuel price hike, the minimum wage, water, electricity, education but also need to link these questions to the general need to change society. Simultaneously, this kind of platform will have to boldly campaign for democratic control and financial accountability within the trade union itself. This kind of platform has to insist that workers’ leaders earn no more than the average income of those they are representing plus only genuine incidental expenses. Without this kind of agenda, all lofty working class ideals and aspirations which any contemporary left labour platform may have will come to naught under the crushing heels of self-serving pro-establishment labour bureaucrats. However, a left labour platform, with the correct political programme and determined revolutionary strategy and tactics, can rapidly become a formidable political force within a very short period of time.

 

Never before in history has the working masses been so put off/alienated by the policies and conduct of the capitalist ruling class. Therefore, the present impression of class harmony is absolutely false and groundless. The experience of the last seven general strikes/protests has clearly shown beyond doubt the fact that an anti-poor capitalist government headed by Obasanjo still remains in power till today is because the labouring class, the only class capable of forming and running a different kind of government from the ruinous and self-serving one being run by Obasanjo has not been able to produce the kind of revolutionary leaders needed to bring to an immediate end, the tenure of this anti-poor government or any other similar one.

 

The more this kind of consciousness and programme gain ground and influence within the labour movement, the nearer will be the permanent victory over mass exploitation and oppression. On the other hand, the more the present kind of leadership dominates the labour movement, the more the years of harsh anti-people’s policies and wasted opportunities lie ahead for the working masses.

 

 

Socialist Democracy May Day 2005