Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM



The Role of JAF

H.T Soweto

Arising from its last convention in October 2011, the Joint Action Front (JAF) – formerly Joint Action Forum – was properly defined as a platform of socialists, trade union and pro-labour activists which works with Labour within the Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO), while also organizing its own independent activities, to fight back against neo-liberal attacks.

Debates over the struggle against removal of fuel subsidy has consciously centered on the practical interpretation of this. Exactly how does JAF play its role within LASCO while also organizing independent activities? What would be the purpose of such independent activities by JAF? These questions demand very clear answers. This is more so considering the enormous anger that exists among activists and the rank and file of workers against the unwillingness of the trade union leadership to fight and their readiness to accept any compromise even when the movement could win more.

To start with, the JAF is a platform of socialists, pro-labour and trade union activists who believe in the role of the working class and its organizations, especially the trade unions, in the struggle to change society. Within JAF the DSM argues that its task is to help the working class to realize its role of leading other oppressed Nigerians against capitalist neo-liberal attacks, strive for improvement in living standards while arguing for and working towards revolutionary change. Concretely now the direction of JAF’s activities must be to argue for the NLC and TUC to adopt a consistent fighting program against removal of the fuel subsidy and other neo-liberal attacks.

While JAF must be seen centrally mobilizing the working masses, youth and angry Nigerians in protests and demonstration against the neo-liberal attacks of fuel subsidy removal, it must not lose sight of the enormous organizational and political importance of the trade unions and the working class. The trade unions having millions of membership and armed with the weapon of strike – an extremely powerful weapon of the working class – can play an important part in a victorious struggle against capitalism. The about 8 mighty general strikes against fuel hike between 2000 and 2007 called by the NLC and TUC, despite the compromises of the Labour leadership, show in practice the enormous power of the working class and how it can attract the support of other layers in society.

At this stage of capitalist development internationally, a process of bureaucratization has taken place in the tops of trade unions leading to a situation where leadership of the trade unions are often different in their conditions, interests and political attitude from the rest of the working class. This is clearly glaring even in Nigeria where the experiences of ordinary workers and poor masses push them towards revolutionary conclusions and a striving to overthrow of the corrupt ruling class while labour leadership are talking of “strategic partnership” with an anti-poor government!

For socialists and activists of JAF, this challenge has to be tackled head-on not by belittling the role of Labour itself but by arguing among rank and file workers for the trade unions to be democratized, revived and armed with a leadership that cannot only fight consistently against neo-liberal attacks but also for a revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. Any disagreement with some trade union leaders is not equal to an attack on Labour itself, on the contrary Labour needs healthy, democratic debate on its experiences and the way forward.

Right now, the role of JAF in the struggle against fuel subsidy removal should be to organize independent activities like leafleting, symposia, rallies, protests, demonstrations within and outside the trade unions to mount pressure on the trade union leadership to call a 48-hour general strike as the next step in the response of the working class against the threat to remove the fuel subsidy.

In the workplaces, communities and campuses, JAF must begin to circulate leaflets, organize symposia and rallies as well as other activities to popularize the call for a 48-hour general strike and mobilize mass resistance against deregulation. JAF should be urging trade union activists and rank and file workers to take up the debate in their unions for a strike. Such a campaign could lead to the development of vibrant state and local JAF and/or LASCO bodies that involve wider numbers. Only these kinds of activities linked with discussions and debates with the NLC and TUC leadership within LASCO can build enough pressure on the trade union leadership to break from the inertia and call a strike.

The struggle against removal of fuel subsidy can play an important role in building JAF and, socialists would argue, also a means of raising the consciousness of the working class and poor masses on the horrors that capitalism will continue to mean unless replaced by a socialist society. The capitalist ruling elite have posed removal of fuel subsidy as their own ‘solution’ to the corruption in the energy sector. According to them only oil racketeers and importers are benefitting from the over N600 billion government claims to spend on fuel subsidy annually. The solution according to them is therefore not to deal with the thieves in the energy sector (both politicians and oil dealers and multinationals) but to give them free reign by removing subsidy and introducing a regime of full deregulation! For instance no one, whether political office holders or fuel importer, has been prosecuted for this alleged stealing of the fuel subsidy!

Fuel subsidy removal in essence means that the oil sector will be handed to the same oil racketeers, importers and dealers whom the government accused of wrongly benefitting from oil subsidy. Unfortunately save for some demands for refineries and infrastructures to be built, labour is not posing a clear alternative to this policy.

However some have claimed that fuel subsidy is a ruse. Equally the Senate inquisition into the oil sector as well as the outrageous revelations of sharp practices by the NNPC (withholding oil proceeds of up to N842 billion from the federation account) all shows that the enormous corruption and theft of public resources going on in the energy sector. It is not just about oil subsidy, the entire system is a pack of fraud and corruption. Without clearing out of the energy sector and of society, the parasitic multinational companies, dealers and importers of fuel, it will be impossible to Nigerians buy fuel at the right price.

JAF must argue against removal of fuel subsidy, but must also pose the alternative of public ownership and democratic running of the oil sector as the only way out of this crisis. With public ownership and democratic running under which arrangement government will be responsible for lifting, refining and distribution of fuel, it will be possible to cleanse the energy sector of the profit-seeking dealers, importers and racketeers who constitute part of the rich 1% benefitting from Nigeria’s oil wealth. This has also raised the question of political power and the working class, poor and youth building their own mass force to change society. It is only a working people government run on a socialist program that could successfully implement this measure and commit the resources of the society for the benefit of all.