Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM)

For struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

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17 January 2004

KICK OUT OBASANJO'S ANTI-POOR GOVERNMENT

For An Independent Working People's Political Alternative Now!!

The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) fully supports the renewed campaign by the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) to resume the suspended general strike/protest against President Obasanjo led PDP capitalist government, especially, its anti-poor policy of increases in the price of petroleum products under the guise of deregulation of the down stream sector of the petroleum industry.

We urge every section of the working masses and the poor in general to give active support to this campaign in the overall interest of the struggle against perpetual capitalist exploitation and political enslavement.

Against the background of labour leaders’ record of having in the past suspended similar campaigns without achieving the best possible concessions from the ruling class and the Obasanjo government in particular, fears are now being raised by sections of the working masses and pro-labour groups about the sincerity and determination of the NLC leaders to prosecute the current campaign to a logical end. Many amongst the working people are still bitter about the NLC leadership's suspension of an impending general strike/protest in the night of October 8th 2003 merely based on a paper agreement by a so-called stakeholders forum of oil marketers, masquerading as state governors! To us in the DSM, these are legitimate and valid issues that have to be addressed for the purpose of the current and future struggles.

Suffice to note, the NLC President, Adams Oshiomhole, himself has now, post facto, admitted the NLC leadership's error in calling off an impending strike that had, for all practical purposes and intents, gathered full steam, without achieving a single concession from the government and oil marketers!  While addressing a public mass meeting of labour leaders and representatives of civil society and pro-labour political parties in Lagos on Friday, January 9th 2004, Oshiomhole had amongst other things stated, " I regretted suspending the strike, we have learnt a lot of lessons. This time, there is no going back." - ThisDay, January 10th 2004. This position certainly represents a positive hope for the current campaign but significantly does not adequately address all key and relevant issues needed for the maximum success in this and other future campaigns. There is therefore the necessity to define right now the immediate, medium, and long-term demands, and methods of struggles needed to be applied to achieve the best possible outcome for the working masses.

AIM OF STRUGGLE

"From President Obasanjo's antecedent and conducts up till date, it is very clear that the regime is hell bent on carrying out a comprehensive package of policies which severally and collectively only tend to attack the living standard of the poorest sections of the society including the working class"- Page 60 of "Time For System Change", a special publication of the DSM, November 2003.

Therefore, it should be stressed that the latest hike in fuel price, courtesy of N1.50k fuel tax, the relentless assaults on pension, job security, the ever increasing elitist policy of ensuring that only the rich and the very rich can have access to qualitative education and healthcare services, the perpetual assaults and trampling upon individual, trade union, and political rights of the working masses etc. are the only logical consequences of this disposition.

So, first and foremost, labour leaders, leaders of civil society/pro-labour political parties leading the current impending general strike/protest must not for a second forget that we are opposed to a president, government and capitalist ruling class nationally and internationally which is irredeemably committed to a pro-rich, neo-liberal capitalist agenda and which by virtue of this fact can never consciously and willingly implement any policy that can bring real succour to the permanently suffering masses.

Thus, for the current mobilisation and impending strike/protest to be qualitatively different from the previous ones, labour leaders and others leading this campaign must recognise as primary aim, the imperative and urgency of regime and policy changes. That is a comprehensive campaign demanding an immediate end to the Obasanjo regime together with its capitalist, pro-imperialist, anti-poor policies and undemocratic political conducts. This is not an undemocratic demand. Let no one forget that Obasanjo secured his so-called re-election on the basis of massive corruption and vote rigging, for example, who believes that he really won 99.92% of the vote in Ogun State?

WHAT TYPE OF STRUGGLE?

But what kind of struggle can bring about this kind of outlined changes? Some will even ask: what kind of government or elements will come to power if the Obasanjo led PDP government were to be defeated by mass actions led by the labour movement?

To the first question, only a conscious, revolutionary mass movement led by the working class can proffer the kind of capacity justification and organisation needed to ultimately defeat every anti-poor policy of the Obasanjo regime or that of any capitalist government headed by any other bourgeois politician in Agbada or Khaki. To limit struggles merely to secure a concession on one or other anti-poor policies of the government while leaving the anti-poor government in power is like laying a foundation for greater attacks on the working masses' interests. Equally, merely struggling to change a regime without changing the anti-poor policies will only lead the masses to a dead end.

Against this background, the debate about whether the impending struggle should begin either with an indefinite general strike or start with a limited warning general strike acquires a concrete and fundamental character. First and foremost, socialists always stress the fact that every general strike whether limited in time or indefinite, raises the question of power, of who in the period of strike and after, controls the running of society.

We in the DSM propose that the next step should be a general strike/protest lasting for a limited time, that is 48 hours, 72 hours etc. This, of course, should be seen as a warning strike/protest, mobilising the broad masses in preparation for an escalation as and when necessary and possible. Against this proposal, some activists before and now favour an indefinite, total strike option. Their central argument is that given the insensitive nature of President Obasanjo, the PDP government which he leads will simply go on holiday until the strikers themselves go back to work.

To say the least this is a rather simplistic conclusion. A 2 or 3-Day general strike/protest can trigger bigger political/social/economic crisis which can easily consume a sitting government. Very importantly too, a 2 or 3 Day general strike/protest, vigorously and comprehensively articulating the need to fight and defend working peoples' rights against their capitalist exploiters can go a long way to prepare the necessary mass organisation and consciousness needed to bring an immediate permanent end to the unending misery and terror being daily inflicted on the working masses by the combination of the capitalist governments of PDP, ANPP and AD across the country. Of course there is a danger that some labour leaders would use a limited protest as a safety valve with no intention of continuing a struggle. This would have to be fought against, but there is no guarantee such leaders would not also sell out an indefinite strike.

If an indefinite general strike does not consciously pose the issue of capturing political power from the capitalist governments across the country, it will not be able to fully utilise its potential and this, it must be stressed, carries a sharp risk of defeat. One, it is difficult to indefinitely sustain a situation where nobody works, nobody sells, no banking, no hospital and school services etc. As has happened in similar circumstances in the past, this kind of approach will only lead to internal weakening, after the first few days, in the number of people willingly participating in the total indefinite general strike. Ultimately, if this kind of indefinite general strike is undermined by a falling away in its support, it will end on more favourable terms to the ruling class than to the working masses.

FORCES

Whether limited in time or indefinite, how can labour mobilise the necessary forces needed for a successful general strike in the specific conditions of today? Put differently, which combination of forces are needed for a successful campaign to defeat the current capitalist governments and their anti-poor policies across the country?

Each time this issue crops up, there is a school of thought which always argues that for labour to have a successful campaign against the anti-poor policies of the Obasanjo regime, traditional rulers, religious leaders, state governors and all political parties excluding PDP, or President Obasanjo in particular have to be organised into one broad platform. On the surface, this seems to be a very reasonable strategy. After all, the more the merrier, so goes a saying. In reality however, this is an unattainable strategy.

It is an open truth that most of the prominent traditional rulers, state governors and religious leaders themselves truly support the capitalist, neo-liberal, anti-poor policies of deregulation, privatisation, liberalisation and commercialisation of all social needs such as education, housing, healthcare, food, etc, apart from the fact that most of these elements are oil marketers of substance.

In May, 2003 when several political parties including sections of the AD were denouncing the "elections" in which the PDP had emerged "winners" as wholesale fraud and as such calling for their cancellation, Governor Bola Tinubu of the AD had declared: "The most urgent need of the hour is to rally round the president... we must accelerate the pace of privatisation. We must intensify the liberalisation and opening up the country... let this task unites us irrespective of the party affiliation or political disposition" (Nigerian Tribune, May 27th 2003, page 2).

Therefore, paying visits to these elements not only represents a wasteful exercise, tragically, this gesture can only end in miseducating the labouring masses about the truth. There must be a distinction made between parties like the NCP that stand on masses' side and those, for example, in the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) that opportunistically are trying to exploit popular anger at the fuel tax for their own ends. The CNPP leaders are not our allies but our class exploiters and tormentors who must be uncompromisingly fought until they and their self-serving capitalist system is replaced with a democratic socialist system where the needs of all, and above all, the needs of the working people constitute the primary reason why a government exists.

ACTION/STRUGGLE COMMITTEES

For the proposed general strike/protest and future struggles, socialists and labour activists must step up agitations for the creation of Action/Struggle committees of workers and all sections of the working masses to organise mass meetings, rallies and symposia in all towns, cities, local government and states across the country. It should be stressed, this is one of the best practical ways to make the current campaign and impending general strike a truly mass action.  Unfortunately, too little of this kind of mass education and mobilisation is being done by the labour leaders even in the current campaign.

With effective Action/Struggle committees linking all the sections of the working masses in the struggle together, there will emerge a new creative power of the masses to shut down what it wants shut down and ensure activities (e.g. organise food, water) where it is expedient. This, to a large extent, will reduce situations where sections of the working masses who are not necessarily opposed to a struggle or action will nonetheless be compelled to engage in activities capable of undermining such struggles. The continuation, resolution or suspension of any strike/protest should be the collective and democratic decision of all those involved in the struggle and not just the leadership of the trade unions. Without this kind of mass, democratic, revolutionary approach the impending general strike whether in form of a limited warning strike or an indefinite general strike will, notwithstanding, the degree of heroism that may be invested in this by labour leaders and rank and file sections of the working masses, run the risk of adding little or nothing substantial to strengthen the resistance of the working masses against their capitalist exploiters and oppressors in the immediate, medium and long-term.

REGIME AND SYSTEM CHANGE

Everything flows from the situation! There is absolute need for regime and system change. Labour and civil society leaders and rank and file members need to come up with immediate and long term political agenda which consciously strives to remove the current capitalist politicians and their unjust economic and political order with a workers and peasants government. Such a government must start to build a democratic socialist arrangement where the commanding heights of the economy and resources of nature are commonly owned, the banks nationalised, Nigeria's fraudulent foreign debt repudiated, the nationalised industries and the state are cleansed of corruption and democratically controlled. On this basis the use of the country's resources can be centrally planned and run through democratic elected committees of workers, peasants, youth, members of the armed forces, market women etc so that the needs of the society and peoples can be addressed from the primary point of need and not private profit. Such a change would not just start to transform the lives of ordinary Nigerians but also be a symbol to the rest of Africa, and beyond, of how working people can take control of society and begin to run it in the interests of the vast majority and not for the elites.

Dare to struggle, dare to win!