Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM



Lagos Meeting Calls for a More Steadfast Resistance by Labour Leaders

By Peluola Adewale

Many Lagos workers, socialists and civil society activists were present at the February 22 general meeting of Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO) that was significant in some respects. A trade union of tipper drivers and owners, which is a new affiliate of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), was also massively represented. The workers were mobilized with hope of meeting the NLC leadership and using the opportunity to agitate for the inclusion of their demand for better roads.

But the labour leaders were not properly represented. None of the top leaders was at the meeting. They chose to attend a meeting with the acting president over deregulation instead. Already before meeting him, the labour leadership had openly expressed illusions in Goodluck Jonathan.

Many contributors at the meeting expressed serious reservations at many labour leaders’ attitude towards LASCO, something which is reflective of their half-hearted approach towards the fight against deregulation. Some of the activists even went to the extent of discounting the central role of labour in such struggles, saying that the civil society could go alone in the fight against deregulation. They cited the June 12 and pro-democracy struggles against military rule which were led by the civil society.

However, the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) members argued that it is politically wrong and myopic to consider shoving aside labour in the current struggle. Firstly, there is a difference between the potential strength of labour and the role of the current labour leadership. Furthermore, despite the labour leaders’ limitations, the labour movement has led the main opposition against neo-liberal attacks in the last one decade. Labour is a critical sector at the heart of economy and potentially a homogenous social force whose instrument of struggles like strike actions and mass protest can be widespread, mobilize the broad layers of poor and readily bring the government to its kneels.

It is also instructive to recall that the intervention of the oil workers’ unions made the effect of the June 12 struggle, for instance, to be decisive and truly national. Also, for a good part of the pro-democracy struggle period under the military, the central labour centre was proscribed. Moreover, if the current struggle is not to be limited to mere agitation for immediate demands, like anti-deregulation, but also to be linked with the struggle for political power, workers and trade unions have to be at the centre of the movement. We therefore must strive to sustain a critical relationship with labour movement with constant pressure on labour leaders not to betray the historic responsibility to ensure a better society for workers, youths and poor masses.

However, there was some reassurance on the commitment of the labour leadership from Bello Ismail, the Secretary of the Lagos State Council of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) who is also a member of its NEC. Denja Yakub, an assistant secretary with the Congress, was sent officially by the national leadership to attend the meeting. There was no representation from the Trade Union Congress (TUC).

The attendance by many radical elements reflected the level of anger at deregulation and the determination to defeat this anti-poor policy which has effectively started with acute fuel scarcity and outrageous price of petrol wherever it is available. Petrol is sold for as high as N120 at most filling stations.

The meeting however arrived at a number of resolutions which included a call on the labour leadership to stop sowing illusions in the federal government and come back to LASCO in order to commence mass mobilization of workers and masses for decisive actions against deregulation. In this regard, there was a proposal that a definite ultimatum should be given to federal government to stop the deregulation and ensure that petrol is sold at the current official price. There was also a call for picketing of filling stations to enforce the official price.

An important step was this meeting’s resolution that the Lagos state chapter of LASCO should organize a day of mass action that will effectively involve trade unions in the state and pro-masses’ organizations. This action, if it is seriously implemented, will go a long way to reassure workers and poor masses that the struggle for deregulation has not been abandoned by LASCO. It can mobilize support that will also show the government that the rank and file workers, youths and poor masses are prepared to defeat the deregulation. A successful action in Lagos will help raise morale of activists and the section of labour leadership who are still committed to fight against deregulation. Decisions like this, if acted upon, are also important in helping to build an active rank and file in the labour movement that can ensure that the leadership does not make rotten compromises.

The most important part of this meeting’s decisions was the appreciation of the major lesson of a decade’s struggle against deregulation which is the imperative of workers and ordinary people taking political power into their own hands in order to defeat, on a lasting basis, all anti-poor neo-liberal policies of deregulation and privatization. The Labour Party, which was originally formed by the NLC, still has the potential to do this, but it is increasingly becoming the dumping site of the anti-poor politicians from the pro-establishment parties to actualize their own self-serving individual agendas.

LASCO has to resolve to help build the party as a fighting working class political alternative that could wrest power from the thieving ruling elite at all levels and form a government that would act in the interest of the poor working masses and genuine socio-economic development of the country. Already, the JAF (Joint Action Forum of political and civil society groups) has passed a resolution to orientate towards the Labour Party and agreed to agitate for LASCO to the same. Unfortunately, this was not raised at the meeting, perhaps because the top labour leaders were not present. At the next proposed meeting, building the Labour Party should be on the agenda.

The meeting agreed that the JAF leadership should strive to meet with the labour leadership to discuss the resolutions that were passed and secure agreement for another general meeting within the next two weeks where how to implement the resolutions will be concretized.