Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM

Textile Workers and Others Protest Near Collapse of the Industrial Sector

Textile Workers and Others Protest Near Collapse of the Industrial Sector

By Bosah Chinedu

About 3,000 industrial workers from the National Union of Textile, Garment and Tailoring Workers (NUTGTWN) and National Union of Chemical, Foot, Rubber, Leather and Non-Metallic Product Employee (NUCFRLANMPE) on April 23 embarked on a mass and long protest procession in Lagos as part of a nationwide campaign to revive manufacturing industry in Nigeria. Workers from Iron and Steel union and banking union (NUBIFFE and ASSIBIFI) as well as pro-labour activists from the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) and United Action for Democracy (UAD) participated in the action in solidarity. The protest match started at the popular Aswani Market (Five Star Bus Stop), an area that used to accommodate several textile factories including Five Star and Aswani textile companies, and ended at the government house at Alausa Ikeja, in a journey that covered about 15 kilometres.

The core industrial sector is in doldrums. The textile industry that once had 200 companies and over 1 million workers now has just 24,000 workers and 10 factories in stable condition with capacity utilisation put below 25%. By virtue of the near collapse, the industrial estates in Lagos and elsewhere have become industrial graveyards. Those still employed in the textile industry are among the lowest paid workers in the country. One of the major problems suffered by manufacturers in Nigeria is the absence of basic infrastructures, particularly the lack of power, which contributes largely to the cost of production. So, there is no way the problems faced by industry can be resolved without massive investment in infrastructures such as energy and transportation.

The DSM supports workers in their struggle to save jobs and even create more jobs. We call on the government and private sectors to pay workers living wage and living pension to the retirees. The central slogan of the protest is “re-industrialise Nigeria, create jobs!” while the workers correctly called on the government to provide regular and uninterrupted power supply and other basic infrastructures. They opposed trade liberalisation and called on the federal government to ban imported textile materials. Some of the inscriptions on vests and placards specifically called on Chinese textile materials, which was tagged cheap and inferior, to be banned. The argument posed was that it would protect the local industry. This is ‘protectionism in disguise’. It is protectionism because their call only protects the interest of the local capitalist.

Protectionism means measures that make imported goods or services to be more expensive, thus giving local goods an advantage, by increasing tariffs, placing import quotas etc. or outright bans on such imported goods as demanded by the textile union. However, protectionism and free trade are two faces of the same coin of capitalist exploitation. The proponents of protectionism can easily become advocates of trade liberalisation should they become strong to compete internationally. Conversely, the advocates of trade liberalisation can become proponents of protectionism should their trade volume reduce drastically, possibly because other foreign competitors have become stronger and threaten the home market. It is neither here nor there as the capitalist class can choose to adopt policies that suit them. That largely explains why each national capitalist economy has always had in place some dose of protectionist measures, be it immigration controls, tariffs, outright ban of imported goods and subsidies to local industries. It also explains why the big economies (Japan, US, Great Britain, China etc.,) who hypocritically advocate free trade carry out some measure of protectionism against emerging economies. Protectionism can also attract retaliatory measures by other economies. For example, if Nigeria bans other imported manufacturing goods and other countries also ban our products say, crude oil, Nigeria may gain possibly in the textile industry and would record losses in oil and gas sector.

The profit-first capitalist system is bedevilled with the economic crisis of overproduction for the market, not people’s needs, leading to reductions in wages and job losses. Since capitalism has created one global economy and the pursuit of profit both at home and abroad, workers should take an international solidarity approach with the aim to defend jobs and welfare, be it at home or abroad. Even if the local industry is protected, the advantage they enjoy does not necessarily mean that the home capitalists will invest more to boost productivity. Socialists defend the common interest of workers worldwide. Job security and sustainable development can only be guaranteed when the means of production is socialised and placed under working class democratic control and management.The General Secretary of the Textile Union (NUTGTWN), Issa Aremu, while addressing workers said that government could not create sustainable jobs, as it is only the private sectors that could. It is true that government under capitalist bureaucratic control cannot create sustainable jobs. It is also true that the private sector cannot also create sustainable jobs given the contradiction in capitalism. But the government that gears its planning of production through democratic control and management by the working class to meet the needs of all will ensure sustainable job creation.

The unions, particularly the textile union, equally used the opportunity to call on the government to bail out the textile industry starting with the release of the N70billion Textile Intervention Funds to the manufacturers. The DSM is opposed to using public funds to bail out private firms and private interest; we only support using public resources to meet social needs. The recent bailout package of some big companies in the capitalist western nations where the first thing the bosses did was to pay themselves jumbo allowances is still fresh in our memory. We call on the government to take over the textile industry, massively invest in them and place them under democratic control and management of workers. This should side by side with massive injection of resources into provision of basic infrastructure and putting under public ownership the commanding heights of economy with open working people’s democratic control.