Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM)

For struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

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2nd July 2003

NIGERIA’S STRIKE:

WORKERS DEMONSTRATE THEIR POTENTIAL POWER

There has been massive response across Nigeria to the general strike called by Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) to protest against the 54% increase in the prices of domestically-consumed petroleum products. The price of petrol was on 20th June raised from N26 to N40 per litre, diesel from N26 to N38 and kerosene from N24 to N38.

Most of public transport, markets, petrol stations, banks, manufacturing industries, public service and private companies throughout the country have been shut down since the strike commenced on Monday 30th June, 2003. From media reports, it is in only two out of Nigeria’s 36 states (Osun and Niger States) that the state civil servants have not been fully observing the strike. Even then federal civil servants and private sector workers in these states are on strike.

The strike has revealed the complete unpopularity of the fuel price increase not only among the working people across the country but several sections of the middle class as well.

This enormous support for the strike is very significant coming less than 2 months that President Obasanjo and the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) supposedly won a landslide victory in the general and presidential elections held between April and May 2003. It confirms the position of socialists in the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) that the so-called victories of Obasanjo and other capitalist parties and candidates during the election was not a product of their performance during the first four years of civil rule but due to a host of reasons including the nationality question in Nigeria, massive election rigging, and, above all, the absence yet of a visible and sufficiently mass-based and independent working class political alternative.

Furthermore, the response to the strike clearly refutes the position of some activists who after the election falsely concluded that the result of the election shows that the masses are not ready for change. If anything, the masses’ marvellous response to the strike confirms that where the leadership of the labour movement gives a clear lead, the masses are prepared to struggle to resist the attacks from the capitalist class. It shows the potential for building a mass working people’s political party. In a country notorious for incessant ethnic and religious conflicts, it has again revealed the capacity of the labour movement to unite the working people across ethnic and religious divide.

STATE REPRESSION

The strike has been met by widespread repression by the government. On Monday, the rally and procession organised by the Joint Action Council Against Hike in Fuel Price (JACAHFP) was violently dispersed by armed anti-riot police in Ikeja, Lagos. In many parts of Lagos and other cities, peaceful protesters were dispersed by policemen who shot tear-gas indiscriminately into the crowds. On Tuesday, armed policemen attacked a rally organised by the NLC in Abuja, the federal capital, and invaded the Abuja secretariat of the NLC. Several labour activists and journalists were assaulted and brutalised by the police. According to a report in the evening paper, Daily Independent of Tuesday 1st July 2003, four people have been killed and eighty arrested by security agencies. By now, hundreds of people must be in police custody.

NEGOTIATIONS

Negotiation between the government and the NLC leaders has been going on since Sunday but so far, the two sides have not been able to reach any agreement. Reports in the media claim that the government is offering a concession of N35 per litre while the NLC leadership is insisting that the cost of a litre of petrol should not be more than N28.

If a settlement is not reached in the next few days, the question of how to sustain the strike will be raised. Socialists are suggesting that the strike should be escalated and that the NLC should call street demonstrations in order to put greater pressure on the government. On the other hand, socialists have raised the question of the difficulty of sustaining an "indefinite strike" particularly in a society where most working people live on income earned on a day-to-day basis. This explains why, before this action started, the DSM advocated a 48-hour general strike in the first instance with escalation if the regime refuses to yield.

POLITICAL POWER

The strike has again highlighted the necessity and the possibility of the working class taking over political power and using it to reorganise society in the interest of the working majority. The paralysis of the capitalist economy as a result of the strike shows again that the working class is the most decisive class in society. However, unless the working class uses its strategic position to take power, overthrow capitalism and transform society, the capitalist ruling class will sooner or later regain the initiative and reassert its control over society. Even if the present strike succeeds in winning total reversal of the fuel price hike, so long as capitalists remain in power, another increase is only a matter of time, and other forms of attacks on the working and living conditions of the working masses will continue.

Thus, while labour, youth and NCP activists and socialists must do everything necessary to ensure the success of the present struggle, the task of building an independent mass-based and democratic political platform of the working people must equally be treated as a matter of immediate priority. Only this can bring a lasting end to the vicious cycle of mass poverty, corruption, ethnic and religious crises, rising crime wave and political instability.

DSM

The members of DSM have been at the forefront of the mobilisation for the strike and protests. In the Ajegunle district in Lagos for two days our comrades led rallies of youth across the community. They have sold 700 copies of the new edition of our paper, Socialist Democracy, and made 14 potential new DSM recruits. A national newspaper, ThisDay, 1st July 2003, published a photograph of one of the Ajegunle demonstrations with the DSM banner at the front. In Ikorodu, a town near Lagos, a DSM comrade who has just been admitted into the state polytechnic on his own initiated a demonstration by students. The protest was shown on a TV station (Channels) with the comrade addressing the crowd. He has sold 50 copies of the paper, collected 80 more copies and he is working towards establishing a branch of the DSM in the school. Altogether, 1,568 copies of the new edition have been sold within 5 days of its publication.

The DSM is fighting for:
  • The immediate reversal of the fuel price increase

  • Immediate release of those arrested by the police and an end to police attacks on protesters

  • Respect for the rights of assembly, association and peaceful protests

  • An end to privatisation of social services, commercialisation of social services, retrenchment of workers and all neo-liberal, anti-poor capitalist policies

  • For a publicly-owned petroleum industry with democratic management and control by the working people

  • Public ownership of the commanding sectors of the economy under workers’ democratic management and control management and control

  • Resignation of the Obasanjo/Atiku PDP government and the convocation of a democratically-elected Sovereign National Conference (SNC) comprising elected representatives of social groups such as workers, peasant farmers, traders, rank-and-file of the armed forces and police, professionals and ethnic nationalities according to their numerical strength to deliberate and decide on the way forward for the country and draw up a new constitution

  • An independent mass working people’s political party with a socialist programme

  • A workers’ and poor peasants’ government with a socialist programme

DSM National Secretariat

2nd July 2003