Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM)

For struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

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DSM statement 21 February 2003

OIL WORKERS’ STRIKE:

FOR WORKERS’ CONTROL AND PUBLIC OWNERSHIP OF THE OIL INDUSTRY

The two oil workers’ unions in the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) on Thursday, 20th February 2003, announced the suspension of their four-day nationwide industrial action which began on Monday, February 17th, 2003 following the signing of an agreement between them and representatives of the Federal Government.

The strike action was called by the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association (PENGASSAN) to reiterate the workers’ long-standing demands for autonomy for the department and for an end of irregular payment of the salaries and other benefits. According to the unions, the government failed to implement previous agreements reached with the unions on these issues.

Mr. Sina Luwoye, the national president of PENGASSAN, said the strike was suspended due to the commitment made by the government to now honour these agreements. Among other things, the government had also agreed to expedite action on a bill on the restructuring of the petroleum industry which is presently before the National Assembly.

As a result of the strike action, there was fuel shortage across the country and long queues at fuel stations in many cities were reported by both the print and electronic media, especially in Abuja and Lagos. This effect of the four-day strike shows once again the strategic position of workers in the society. It reveals their potential power to paralyse the capitalist economy. If the strike had lasted a few days more, economic and social activities could have become grounded across the country.

This confirms the position of socialists that with a correct leadership, the working class possess not only the capacity to successfully lead other oppressed strata to fight against the capitalists’ neo-liberal attacks on the living standard of the working people, but to overthrow the present oppressive and unjust capitalist order and replace it with a democratic socialist arrangement in which the real needs of society and not the profit greed of a minority rich few.

We in the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) supports the struggle and the industrial action of the DPR workers. We endorse the objectives of the strike which is to ensure sanity in the Nigerian petroleum industry and to secure improvement in the workers’ working and living conditions.

Petroleum is Nigeria’s most strategic industry, responsible for over 90% of the country’s foreign exchange earnings and over 80% of government revenues. But despite its importance, the industry is bedevilled by sharp practices, mismanagement and corruption leading to the loss of billions of dollars to the economy annually.

Among these fraudulent practices perpetrated by multinational oil corporations, the Nigerian capitalist elite and contractors are illegal bunkering and product adulteration. In addition, oil spillage, gas flaring and other activities of the oil corporations lead to destruction of the environment and loss of sources livelihood such farmlands and rivers by the residents of oil producing areas. These have made the communities in these areas one of the most inhabitable and poorest in the country despite the oil wealth.

It is these fraudulent practices and environmental destruction that the DPR was set up to monitor and prevent. But the department has failed over the years to achieve this objective. The leadership of the oil workers’ unions believes that the department could be made to perform by taking it out of the bureaucratic control of the Ministry of Petroleum Resources. The unions listed the benefits to be derived from an autonomous DPR as including "effective monitoring, elimination of illegal bunkering, proper accountability, prevention of product adulteration, pillage control, prevention of fraudulent practices by all operators in the sector."

Furthermore, despite their billions of dollars in annual profits being made by the oil companies, atrocious working conditions such as casual labour is still prevalent in the industry.

But while we in the DSM associate with the genuine aspirations of the oil workers, we would like to warn that merely removing the DPR from the Ministry of Petroleum Resources would not in itself eliminate the problems in the industry and the harsh working conditions of workers. So long as the petroleum industry remains in private hands and run essential for the benefits of the multi-national companies and their local agents, even an "autonomous" DPR would still not succeed in stopping the mismanagement and pillaging of Nigeria’s oil industry.

Therefore, rather than demand for mere autonomy, NUPENG, PENGASSAN and the labour movement in general should demand for workers’ democratic control and management of the industry. But this could only be effective done when the oil resources are taking out of private ownership and instead made the collective wealth of the entire society. Only through this and the public ownership of other commanding heights of the nation’s economy such as banks and big companies under the democratic control and management of the working people can the country’s abundant natural and human resources be optimally use to provide for the basic needs of the working masses and eliminate mass poverty, environmental destruction, poor working conditions, corruption and crimes.

 

SEGUN SANGO

General Secretary

Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM)