Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM

DSM May Day Statement

DSM May Day Statement

Insoluble Socio-economic Crises: Labour Should Fight For Socialist Alternative

On May 1, 2007, the venues of rallies and activities to mark international workers day were heavily militarised, armour personnel carriers were stationed strategically at the entrances, workers were frisked to their underpants before going inside to attend their own events, pro-labour activists were whisked away and anti-government materials impounded. In other words, armed security operatives were deployed by Obasanjo government to May Day rallies to repress any attempt to protest at the presidential election that had taken place few days earlier, specifically on April 21, and adjudged, locally and internationally, as the worst election in Nigeria, nay the third world.

It is now a year that the beneficiary of the electoral farce sustained by brute force and lack of viable political alternative, the Musa Umar Yar’Adua government, has been in office.

Against the background of its fraudulent emergence, Yar’Adua’s government has tried to suspend some of the anti-poor policies of the Obasanjo government, like the sales of refineries, in order to gain legitimacy. However, its socio-economic policies have been essentially continuation of Obasanjo’s. For workers and the poor masses the standard of living has continued to plummet in spite of huge revenues accrued to the nation occasioned by the record price of crude oil alone.

Yar’Adua’s government on assumption of power had promised to confront the paradox of poverty in the midst of abundance with its fabled seven-point agenda. This agenda, for almost a year, has turned to be a mere wish list. If a wish were a horse, a beggar would ride. But it is not, and the beggar lacks financial muscle to own a horse and thus cannot ride. Yar’Adua, like the proverbial beggar, lacks correct economic principle to actualise the seven-point agenda. His government, like Obasanjo’s, is run on the basis of anti-poor neo-liberal economic philosophy, which has proved a nostrum for sustainable economic, social and human development.

For instance, the seven-point agenda talks of the development of human capital, but it will be easier to turn stone to bread than achieving that under neo-liberal economic policies that discourage adequate funding of education and the health sector. The combined allocation for health and education in the 2008 budget is less than allocation to debt servicing and a far cry from standard recommendation for the sectors in a developing economy by relevant international bodies. The social infrastructures are in primitive state. Public electricity is almost non-existent. The cost of doing business is prohibitive. As a result many factories have closed shop or relocated out of the country.

While the food crisis is a global phenomenon, Nigeria is among the worst hit because it is a net importer of food despite its enormous potential to be one of the food baskets of the world. Successive governments, despite lip service, have effectively abandoned agriculture that used to be mainstay of the economy until early 1970’s as a result of neo-liberal economic principle and attraction to lucre of oil wealth. Yar’Adua’s government has only allocated 7% of its budget to agriculture, which is less than Africa Union’s Maputo recommendation of 10%, itself a miserable target for a developing economy.

As against the jamborees that have defined May Day rallies in the past few years, Labour must use this occasion to demand wage increases to match the rate of inflation. The political office holders have just approved for themselves jumbo pay rise of 120% in addition to other perks of office like free food, free accommodation, etc, not to talk of loots from treasury.

Workers must not be swayed by argument that they had just enjoyed a pay rise. The percentage pay rise of 15% is miserable compared to the 120% for the political office holders. Besides, the 15% pay rise, which has not even been implemented by some states of federation and private employers of labour, is a product of the 2002 labour agreement with the government. Between 2002 and 2007, the economic indices and other considerations that informed agreement had been eroded. This has been worsened by unfavourable consumer price index particularly in relation to high cost of food and energy.

Labour should be ready to employ mass action, including strikes and protests, in case the government and employers of labour refuse to agree to payment of living wage. Even many states have not implemented the current 15%, yet Labour leaders have refused to lift even a finger. Labour leaders must, at all times, rise up to defend interest of workers to the logical conclusion.

Also important is the urgent need for Labour to demand commitment of the huge revenue from crude oil on infrastructural development and provision of basic needs like education, health care, housing, food, decent jobs, etc for Nigerians. The huge oil wealth of the country is either kept in form of foreign reserves, put at about $50bn, that provide capital and attendant profits for some local and foreign banks at expense of poor masses and development of infrastructure or becomes excess crude oil which is looted by the executive at all levels.

Labour should however note that one important revelation from the ongoing probes of some transactions of last administration have shown is that the public spending is just another avenue for treasury looting by the rapacious ruling elite in government at all levels. Labour should therefore demand open democratic control of public spending by working people themselves. It is instructive at this point to stress that beyond mere denunciation of different instances of corruption that have been revealed by recent probe activities, Labour should mobilise workers and masses for a mass action to demand all the culprits to be brought to book.

The ruling elite for their self-serving interest cannot meet or agree to the demands enunciated above. It is therefore imperative for the labour to lead workers and poor masses to chase out the thieving ruling elite out of power. The starting point is the formation of a fighting working peoples’ party to contest political power and defend the interests of workers and poor masses in and out of offices. To mobilise adequate resources for meaningful social and economic development and provision of basic needs for workers and poor masses on the lasting basis, the said working peoples’ party should put all the commanding heights of economy including oil, gas, banking, under public ownership with democratic management and control by the working peoples themselves. More importantly Labour should pointedly fight for a socialist alternative as against the prevailing pro-rich capitalist globalisation and its anti-poor neo-liberal mantra.

Segun Sango
General Secretary, Democratic Socialist Movement