Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM



Labour Flags Off Mass Protests in Nigeria

By Peluola Adewale

The rampaging global economic crisis has continued to hit hundreds of millions around the world as a wave of retrenchment, wage cuts and short-time working hits workers. In many countries workers are shocked and fearful of the future. Many have the hope that this will be a passing storm but increasingly many workers and youths have started to understand that this is not a temporary blip. There is a growing realisation that the high growth rates of the past years will not return, that mass unemployment is here to stay around the world and that the rich will try to force working people to pay the price for the crisis in their capitalist system.

But this in turn is creating resistance. Already, in country after country around the world workers, youths, farmers and the poor have taken to streets. The protesters have been raging from few hundreds to millions in number. Some of the protests have toppled European governments in Latvia, Iceland and Hungary, while other European regimes in Belgium and the Czech Republic have fallen because of the crisis.

There have been cases of workers rising against factory closures. In February thousands of Opel workers around Germany embarked on a mass rally as part of an international protest against the plan of General Motors to close plants in Europe. In April the workers of Visteon, a former Ford car parts division, occupied three plants in Britain and Northern Ireland to demand proper redundancy packages. Earlier in the year between January and February, there were massive protests of construction workers at the Lindsey refinery in Britain against redundancy and the use of foreign labour to undermine union organization and conditions.

Even about 15, 000 police officers staged a one-day protest in Sofia, Bulgaria in March to demand improved pay and working condition. This will appear out of this world in a country like Nigeria where a police protest is considered as a mutiny.

There are potentials for much greater movements in the coming period. What have been missing internationally are mass working class parties that are willing to challenge the capitalist system. That is why struggles have not, so far, been channelled towards defeating capitalism.

In Nigeria, the Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO) has commenced a mass mobilisation of workers, youths and the poor for a series of march protests/rallies to be flagged off in Lagos on May 13. The rallies will be held in 8 cities across the geo-political zones on specific dates and rounded off in Abuja. The Yar’Adua government has resolved to put the burden of the capitalist crisis on the shoulders of the poor who did not benefit fundamentally anything from the longest boom in the annals of Nigeria. The government is planning to deregulate the downstream sector of oil industry and sell off refineries to its fronts and lackeys. This anti-poor policy will put at altar of the profit-first interest of private vampires the availability of fuels, which are essential for both domestic and industrial survivals in the face of the near collapse of the public electricity, and for transportation system in the country.

The previous attempt to sell the refineries was roundly defeated by a mass protest and general strike in June 2007. Nigeria is the 7th largest producer of oil but none of its refineries has been functional. The huge some of money said to have been spent on the refineries has only gone down the drain.

Nigerian workers are also demanding a new minimum wage of N52, 000 in the face of soaring cost of living triggered by lack of social infrastructure in spite of huge revenue at the disposal of government, which has meant that people have to pay exorbitantly to acquire basic needs of life. The situation has only been worsened by the global economic crisis.

In Europe, where the basic infrastructure has been taken for granted, there have been protests. For the second time in less than two months about 3 million workers and young people stormed the streets across France on March 19. It was a national strike and demonstration against attacks on jobs, public service and living standards. Earlier on January 29 about 2 million people had participated in the similar action in the country. Opinion polls show that a large majority of the French population supported these protests, but despite this the French trade union leaders were not prepared to move beyond protests to launch a determined struggle.

Among the worst hit by the global economic crisis is the Republic of Ireland, which was once, dubbed the “Celtic Tiger” for its phenomenal growth until recently. The country could witness a 20% fall in its economy this year. While the government is bailing out the banks it is unleashing pay and spending cutbacks. This has attracted a mass demonstration of over 120, 000 people, marching through Dublin on February 21. The trade union leaders were pressured to call a 24-hour general strike for March 30 but later called it off as they feared confronting the government.

The economy of Germany, the strongest in Europe, could shrink by 7% this year. With growing factory closures, wage and job losses, workers and young people have started feeling the heat. A movement, started from below by union and political activists, against attacks has begun on March 28 in Berlin and Frankfurt, the capital city and financial centre respectively with nearly 60, 000 people marching through these cities telling the governments and bosses, “We won’t pay for your crisis”. Yes, the crisis is that of capitalism; workers and the poor must resist being made to pay for it. May Day and May 16 have been slated by the official trade union leaders for other mass actions in greater scale.

The absence of a mass revolutionary party that could help channel the deepening anger to defeating capitalism has given rise to elements of individual terrorism in Greece and now Germany where there have been growing cases, but isolated incidents, of arson attacks on luxury cars and, in April, on a military transport depot. Currently in Berlin there are almost daily reports of luxury cars being set alight.

The Bloomberg news online edition of February 27 captures the situation: “Youths in Berlin rage at their economic plight by targeting the most expensive cars — symbols of German wealth and power.” A German police spokesman rightly attributed the arson to “a protest against the world economy and rising rents.”

While it is understandable that the arson in Germany and similar actions elsewhere reflect the frustration of people mostly the youth at the system with abundant wealth but that could not provide for their decent living standard, Marxists unequivocally condemn these attacks on property, persons and any act of individual terrorism in the struggle against crisis of capitalism. Rather, we call for the mass action of the workers, peasants, young people and the poor to defeat capitalism and enthrone socialist order.

An example of how youths should channel their anger into building an organised movement was shown by about 600 young people, including workers and students, who staged a protest march through some of the poor areas in London on April 2 under the banner of “Youth March for Jobs”. The action also shows how socialists could influence process as the Socialist Party, the DSM sister organization in England and Wales, played leading roles in planning of the action. Young people had also played significant roles in the recent mass movements against neo-liberal attacks in France and Greece.

Britain has also had its own fair share of protests. On February 10, bank workers protested outside the Parliament saying that executives who have put their jobs in jeopardy have continued to pay themselves outrageous bonuses. According to Reuters, between last August and February, the British based banks have cut 14, 000 jobs and international banks with UK operations have announced tens of thousands more. At the centre of the public opprobrium in Britain is the Royal Bank of Scotland which lost over Ł24 billion in 2008 and was bailed out by the government, yet its chief executive resigned with an annual pension of over Ł700, 000/N147, 000, 000.

The anger against bankers and financiers is however beyond Britain. It has similar tempo in the US also for instance where the executives particularly of the AIG shared a part of the tax-payers money used to bail out the financial institution to pay outrageous bonuses to themselves. Worse still, the AIG has just recorded the worst financial result in the corporate history of the US.

The protests against G20 in London and the subsequent NATO meeting in Strasbourg, France attracted large numbers of people marching on streets in Europe, US and Latin America. There were about 20, 000 in London on April 1, and 10, 000 in New York on April 3. Strasbourg attracted 20,000 demonstrators while Rome paid host to 300, 000 on April 4.

The cradle of the global crisis has not gone without protests. Beyond the march against G20, earlier on March 6 over 50, 000 workers, community activists and others had marched in New York City to protest budget cuts by the state government. There were cuts on spending on education, health care, housing assistance and crisis intervention programme. The revenue of the state had been affected by decline in the fortune of the Wall Street, and the burden was passed on the ordinary people. But the protesters said no; the beneficiaries of the boom rather than the ordinary people should pay for the crisis.

“For those of you who prosper during boom time, we ask them pay a little bit more. Pay a little more so New York can avoid cutting the services that our most vulnerable need,” United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said.

Perhaps, the hardest hit by the economic crisis is the former Stalinist states of Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. The economies of the countries like the Baltic States, Hungary, Romania and Ukraine are almost in tatters. Russia itself has also been seriously dazed by the crisis. As an article in the Guardian (London) put it, “While the UK, Germany, France and others plough hundreds of billions into public spending, tax cuts, bank bailouts and guarantees to industry, the east Europeans (plus Iceland and Ireland) are broke, ordering budget cuts, tax rises, and pleading for international help to shore up their economies.”

This development is significant because the collapse of Stalinist regimes of this region in 1989/90 had been elevated as triumph of capitalism over socialism. Now the region is a postal child of hollowness of capitalism. However, while not in the scale of the west the region has also witnessed some protests. There have been demonstrations in Bosnia, Latvia, Russia, Lithuania, Ukraine, etc.

What has been the major defect of all the actions triggered by the capitalist economic crisis is the absence of mass working class parties that could wrest political power and ultimately defeat capitalism. However, in countries like France, Germany and Greece there are new workers’ parties, which have the potentials if well repositioned and built with socialist policies. The sections of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) in these countries are working in those parties in this regard. The CWI is the international socialist organization to which DSM belongs. The CWI sections elsewhere, including Nigeria, have also been campaigning for the formation of such parties. This campaign had been on much before the current crisis even got lurking in the dark.

In Nigeria the DSM has been long calling on the leadership of labour and pro-masses’ organizations to facilitate the formation of a mass working peoples’ party that could wrest power from the thieving ruling elite. We have also added that such party must be prepared to struggle to create a workers’ and poor peasants’ government that will put under public ownership the commanding heights of economy with democratic management and control by the working people. This is necessary in order to be able to mobilize adequate resources to democratically plan the provision of basic needs of all and social infrastructure for meaningful socio-economic development of the country.