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20 June 2007
The first day (June 20, 2007) of the general strike and protest called by the Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO) in Nigeria was a huge success. This was despite the confusion that heralded the action. 24 hours before the strike, the government granted some concessions. All demands of labour were met, except the pump price of petrol whose N10 increment was reduced by N5. A litre of petrol had been increased from N65 to N75; it is now N70. LASCO stuck to its guns and stated it would continue with the strike until the fuel price is reverted. However, many people had thought, judging from the antecedent of labour leadership, with that concession, the leaders would surely suspend the strike. Screaming headlines in most newspapers on Tuesday suggesting that labour would suspend the strike further created misinformation and confusion.
But despite this confusion, there was a high degree of support for the strike by people across the country. It is significant that most people that work in informal sector like artisans, traders, etc stayed at home. Of course, unionized workers in Nigeria, estimated at more than 5 million, on the directive of their unions observed the strike. In the formal sector of the economy, it was total paralysis. Major roads were deserted; some were turned to makeshift football pitches. There was effective coordination of the strike in workplaces and communities.
Deep-seated mass anger against the government and its anti-poor, neo-liberal attacks were the main issues that mobilized mass support for the action. In the last two weeks, prices of goods and services increased astronomically. This is adding insult to injury for a people who are denied basic infrastructure and social service on the basis of neo-liberal economic reforms of the government. This has made life for poor working masses more "nasty and brutish" than Thomas Hobbes could have imagined! Yet, Nigeria is a land that flows with "milk and honey". The country is fabulously rich, both in human and material resources. Nigeria is the seventh biggest exporter of crude oil, and, just recently, it became the third largest supplier to the world largest crude oil market, the United States. Nigeria is archetype of suffering in the midst of plenty.
The Democratic Socialist Movement argued in speeches and statements, in preparation and during the strike, that labour should fight for total transformation of the unjust capitalist system, where the masses wallow in irredeemable misery in the midst of super abundance. We argue that labour should fight for a socialist society where the commanding heights of the economy, including finance, will be commonly owned and democratically managed and controlled by the working masses. This will ensure that the fabulous wealth, presently looted and wasted by a few, will be used to provide permanent decent living standards, for all.
Besides the strike there were protests and other forms of political activities in several places, across the country. In Lagos, DSM comrades, along with other activists, intervened in four communities, Agege, Ajegunle, Ejigbo and Ijaiye. Our leaflets, and those of the LASCO, were distributed very widely, as we discussing with people about the issues behind the strike. In Ijaiye, there was a brief rally on the Lagos- Abeokuta Expressway, a very busy road that links Lagos with Ogun State, and leads to 'Obasanjo farm' in Ota. The impromptu rally attracted about 500 people and was addressed by Lanre Arogundade and Rufus Olusesan (Vice-President, National Union of Shop and Distributive Employees (NUSDE)), both members of the National Executive Committee of the DSM. Lanre was on a live radio broadcast from the point of strike action, interviewed by a radio station covering the strike and protest. Earlier in the morning, DSM General Secretary, Segun Sango, along with the Lagos State Secretary of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), was on a live programme on Nigeria's second biggest television network, Africa Independent Television, to discuss the strike. In Osogbo, Osun State DSM comrades joined the state labour leadership in addressing and circulating leaflets around the town.
However, despite the mass support for the strike and protest, there is growing cynicism on the sincerity and steadfastness of labour leadership. Most people are apprehensive that the labour leadership may call off the strike without achieving the object of the struggle, citing a number of instances in past struggles when labour leaders did just that. Many working people also expressed the fear that, on the basis of previous experiences, even if government granted some concessions now it would return, sooner or later, with greater attacks. All this has raised two important lessons for the leadership of labour and mass organisation. First, we must not repeat a situation where a few labour leaders suddenly call off strikes and protests without substantial gains being made. Second, a mass working people's party is needed, to struggle for a workers' and poor peasants' government, with a socialist programme, against the government's neo-liberal capitalist programme, to guarantee basic needs for the mass of people.
There was a lack of time for proper mobilization caused by the labour leadership. There was only a day between the finish of the labour leaders' ultimatum to the government and commencement of the strike. In the last week of its two-week ultimatum, the labour leadership travelled to Geneva for an International Labour Organisation meeting, and government representatives only met with labour two days before the end of the ultimatum. This created uncertainty, not only on whether there would be strike but also when it would commence. The meeting where the strike was declared only took place on this Monday, on 18 June, less than 48 hours.
As we write, the labour leadership has announced the continuation of the strike for tomorrow (21 June). Today (20 June), there was a meeting of the central action committee in Lagos to review the strike. Impressive reports from various areas of activities indicated the strike was a resounding success. The mood at the meeting was upbeat and combative, and shows there is real determination to continue effective action.
We welcome the decision to continue with strike. The mood displayed on the first day of the strike clearly reveals the working masses across the country are yearning for a transformation of their poor conditions. Notwithstanding the purported concessions already given by the government, the strike has already enjoyed widespread support among all the diverse nationalities that make up the country. Therefore, labour leaders and leaders of the strike, in general, need to come up with a more coherent and comprehensive economic and political demands that fully capture the masses' aspirations. Without this approach, it will increasingly become more difficult to sustain an indefinite general strike, especially one which encompasses virtually all layers of working masses in the formal and informal sectors. If the strikes becomes drawn out, the question will be raised on continuing with the strike "just because of a N5 increase". This pressure can intensify in the face of ferocious propaganda from the ruling class and its media, which will go all out to claim that it has met many of labour's demands.
Therefore, it is necessary to broaden the scope of the struggle, also take account of the overall anti-poor, neo-liberal attacks of the government. It should be stressed that on the basis of neo-liberal, economic 'reform' of the government, the gains of the current struggle will be short-lived and there will be harsher attacks. This has thus put to the fore, again, the question of which class has political power to run the economy and society. Every general strike raises question of political power. The missing link today is a mass working people's party that would channel the anger of workers and the poor masses, to harness their potential power towards wresting political and economic control from the thieving rule elite. We reiterate our call on the leadership of labour and mass organisations to start the process of forming a mass working people's party. The ongoing general strike provides ample opportunity to do this, and should not be wasted by labour and union leaders, as they did previously after big upsurges of class struggles.