Agenda for Labour in 2007 and after
As a socialist organisation which places prime-most importance on the historic and decisive role of the organised labour vis-à-vis the eternal struggles of the working masses to permanently overcome perpetual misery in the midst of inexhaustible plenty, we feel especially honoured to be invited as a special guest to the 9th Delegates Conference of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) – the flagship of Nigeria’s labour movement. Without any fear of contradiction, this particular conference is taking place at a very critical period of Nigeria’s history and especially in the history of Nigeria’s trade unions and labour movement.
Barely two months away from this historic conference a general election to elect a new set of rulers across the country, for the next four years, is expected to take place. How prepared are the trade unions and the entire labour movement for this process? Put differently, what are the necessary perspectives and activities needed by labour to ensure that the next set of rulers elected in April will not continue, or be able to freely continue, with the prevailing anti-poor policies and corruption which pre-dominates the activities and conducts of capitalist politicians, of all the ruling parties, across the country?
For the past eight years, comrade Adams Oshiomhole has centrally led the NLC itself. Now this conference will have to elect a new set of leaders that, under the NLC constitution, will pilot the affairs of the NLC for the next four years. What are the principal issues which should pre-occupy this new leadership? Put differently, will the new leadership be prepared and capable of taking labour to a new heights or return it completely to the Pascal Bafyau era where the NLC was, at best, token onlookers in the decisive economic and political struggles of the day.
The Prevailing Situation
The past eight years of the so-called civil rule has witnessed a decisive shift from the way and manner by which the ruling capitalist class used to run the economy. Up to the 1980s, all the different layers of the ruling class, under pressure from workers and the poor, officially subscribed to what could be called a "welfarist" view. This meant that in a capitalist economy the state played a major role particularly in the provisions of key infrastructures and social services like houses, education, health care, etc. Of course, due to the inherent parochial nature of capitalist relations, the masses had never fully derived the full benefits of governments’ investments in this direction. Nonetheless, vast layers of the working masses still enjoyed certain relief in forms of states’ role in the education and health care of their children.
However, under today’s liberalisation and privatisation era, the reigning neo-liberal philosophy says that it is individuals themselves, and not the society collectively, that should be responsible for the overall economic growth of the society, as well as the basic needs of the people for decent housing, feeding, education, healthcare, transportation and communications, jobs, etc. Towards this end, the President Olusegun Obasanjo’s government at the central level together with those of his counterparts at the states level have made as their prime most duty the conversation of what belongs to all into an exclusive property of a few capitalist elements in the name of privatisation.
In reality this is a policy to boost the wealth and cut the taxes of the rich. Today the ruling elite has given up completely any serious idea of developing Nigeria, instead their aim is to make money and run. This fact was confirmed again by the recent Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) report that in 2006 industrial utilisation was 25 per cent and the CBN’s index of industrial production fell by 0.8% from 158.2 in 2005 to 157.0, while the index of manufacturing production dropped from 145.7 to 145.6.
Those that have been at the helms of affairs at the central and state levels have mostly been using their positions to loot public treasury for the purpose of selling to themselves the most profitable public ventures and resources under the guise of privatisation.
Quite naturally, the desire and calculations of how to maintain this ill-gotten wealth and power is directly responsible for the most crooked, undemocratic manipulations that have so far characterised the internal primaries of the 3 ruling capitalist parties, PDP, ANPP and AD/AC. The so-called primaries of these parties was a predetermined affairs where only those favoured by the incumbent power holders and top party officers emerged as winners. In fact, the ruling PDP is so audacious in its determination to ensure that only those prepared to totally continue with its present large scale corruption and anti-poor policies are presented as its candidates when it inserted a blatantly undemocratic clause in its party guidelines which states thus: "Notwithstanding the provisions of these guidelines and any other rules or regulations laid down by the party, the decision of the National Executive Committee (NEC) as recommended by the National Working Committee (NWC) shall be final and binding on all aspirants, officials and organs of the party with respect to the eligibility or otherwise of an aspirant". More than any other fact, this clause has sharply exposed the fact that the PDP as a party does not believe in democracy and that its primaries are just plain exercise in organized deception. It is the whims and caprices of its mostly imposed NWC members that will ultimately determine who flies the flag of the party at any level. Similar arbitrary imposition of candidates has been the main feature of the AC.
Virtually all the candidates being sponsored by the 3 ruling parties are proponents of the prevailing anti-poor, neo-liberal policies. Even a few of them, like Adams Oshiomhole in Edo State and Kayode Fayemi in Ekiti State who can claim to have some radical background have at best only promised to give the neo-liberal agenda a humane face. They have not come forward with a coherent pro-masses’ alternative to the agenda itself.
Against this background, there is the urgent necessity for the trade unions and the labour movement in general to come up with a coherent political strategy and programme that will ensure that the masses’ interests, both during and after the elections, are effectively defended and protected. As we have often stated, the labour movement needs an outright working class oriented political organisation which is primarily committed to the emancipation of the working masses from capitalist induced suffering in the midst of plenty.
But quite unfortunately, many trade unions and labour leaders have reached an erroneous conclusion that a viable working masses party cannot be presently built due to the large-scale monetisation of political activities by capitalist politicians. The capitalists have so much corrupted politics such that, so far, only plain looters, or those backed by plain looters, have been able to put up a functioning and viable political network ever since the 1998 military transition programme. We are however quick to say that this is largely a reflection of a political milieu dominated by self-serving, anti-people agenda. If the labour movement today is able to come up with a perspective and programme which expressly places primary premium on the needs of the entire working people and the poor it would then be in a position to generate sufficient human and material resources needed for its activities and victories. This would require providing a clear economic and political alternative to the prevailing capitalist disintegration. Then labour would have the chance to command the allegiance of the vast majority of the masses and as such would not require the kind of mind-boggling sums being spent by capitalist politicians in the name of electoral victory. Such a labour platform, by virtue of masses’ voluntary allegiance, could rapidly build support.
A Free and Fair Election?
Most unfortunately however, many prominent trade unions leaders have been stating that only "free and fair elections" in the conduct of the 2007 general elections can safeguard the interest of the masses in the aftermath of the election. Yes Labour should campaign against rigging, but if Labour ignores the question of candidates then this single postulation does not provide an answer. To start with, the majority of the candidate being fielded by the ruling PDP got their tickets through fraudulent manipulations of rules and naked power. Those that chose them mostly got to power through riggings and manipulations. Their bourgeois opponents most especially in AC have been ruthlessly and undemocratically dealing with all those who disagree with the choice of candidates favoured by the party leaders like Ahmed Tinubu, the outgoing AD governor of Lagos State.
The situation within the ANPP is the same in all important respects. Of course, this party’s primary has not attracted the same degree of denunciations by those who lost out as is the case with the PDP and AC, nonetheless it was the same cheerless phenomenon of favoured candidates of the party leaders and financiers emerging "victorious" at the end of their mostly predetermined congresses. Sadly however, if elections were to hold tomorrow, it is these utterly corrupt politicians that will form most if not all the governments at the central and state levels. Yes, in a number of states, some capitalist politicians, who lost out of the PDP and AC, are running on the platform of the Labour Party. But the blunt truth is that these desperate politicians like Dr. Segun Miniko in Ondo and Femi Pedro in Lagos State have nothing in common with the needs and aspirations of the labouring masses. These elements are not only part and parcel of the moral and material corruption which have dominated the capitalist rule in the past eight years they are, despite mouthing a few "pro-labour" words now, totally committed to the prevailing anti-poor policies of neo-liberalism being called "reform programme".
Therefore, simply and blatantly pushing the issue of "free and fair elections" without situating the demand within the context of a virile labour political movement ready to do battle with the bourgeois elements, programme for programme and candidate for candidate is at best an exercise in futility. Firstly, within the context of the specific and general self-seeking economic and political interests of the ruling class elements that are so evident in the processes so far, any talk of "free and fair elections" in April can be nothing but a sheer illusion and or a huge joke. Two, even if the ruling class against all known odds organizes a "free and fair election", the outcome can only bring to power elements from the well known 3 ruling thieving capitalist parties of the PDP, ANPP, AC/AD, especially since labour has no independent, genuinely pro-masses party and candidates of its own contesting in the forthcoming elections.
Balance Sheet of the Past
For the vast majority of the working masses, the past eight years of the so-called civil rule has brought little or no any tangible improvement to their living standards. In fact for many, life has taken a drastic plunge negatively. Very sadly, this has been happening against the background of the unprecedented wealth that has accrued to the contrary within the same period. For instance, an estimate says that about 2/3 of the total sum of money realised by Nigeria since 1955, when the country commenced large scale commercial exportation of crude oil, has been earned in the past 8 years. But most tragically these stupendous resources have only mostly been looted by top government officials and their favoured contractors, both local and foreign. Side by side with the massive looting of treasury, the Obasanjo led civilian capitalist politicians have equally implemented neo-liberal policies which had only always add to reduce the living standard of the entire working class elements including vast layers of even middle class people.
Quite remarkably, the labour movement, under the central leadership of the outgoing NLC President, Adams Oshiomhole, waged about 7 heroic general strikes and mass protest against the policy of incessant hike of fuel prices, a key component part of the neo-liberal reform programme of the government. Most unfortunately however, these general strikes and mass protest were conducted by most labour leaders from the premise of staging protests rather than starting struggles and within the framework of vainly trying to reform the system. To start with, the issue of incessant fuel price hike was never seen as part and parcel of other anti-poor policies such as health care and education, commercialisation and privatisation, massive retrenchment of workers side by side with total absence of any form of social security benefit, etc. Even the issue of incessant hike of fuel prices was treated in an unscientific and illogical manner.
The country’s tremendous crisis in the 1980s led the NLC to abandon its previous support of "welfarism" and support socialism. But this has not been reflected in day-to-day campaigning. There was no principled, socialist demand for the public ownership, under working class democratic control and management, of all the major sectors of the economy including finance. Instead most labour leaders, led by Oshiomhole himself, were on the one hand giving support for the privatisation of other sectors of the economy while at the same time making a utopian demand that the oil sector be maintained as a public venture – albeit controlled by capitalist governments!
In line with this pseudo-reformist approach, all the general strikes and protest under reference were equally conducted in a pseudo-reformist fashion. Instead of a revolutionary approach which sees and organises these struggles as part of the working masses necessary struggles to overthrow the current unjust system, most prominent labour and civil society leaders of these struggles regarded them as a means of persuading the ruling capitalist class to give their system a "a human face". Suffice to stress, the failure of this approach has been underlined by the fact that the capitalist class has continued to hike fuel prices from time to time. As we write, there are plans to once again hike fuel prices if not before, but most certainly in the aftermath of April’s elections. Meanwhile, government, through manipulated judicial proceedings and pronouncements, are carrying out an unrelenting plan to deprive the vast majority of the working masses their basic democratic and constitutional right of association and peaceful mass assembly/protest. As the NLC has correctly stated these restrictions are worse than those suffered during colonial times.
Tasks Before the New Labour Leaders
Therefore the 2007 general elections will certainly bring to power capitalist elements that will attack the economic and political interests of the masses with greater vigour and in the most bestial fashion. As pointed out earlier, the past eight years have been especially fortunately for Nigeria in terms of huge money generated from sales of crude oil internationally. However the steady rise in oil prices in the past eight years cannot be expected to continue indefinitely. In fact from a peak of around $73 per barrel a few months ago the price has presently declined to under $60 per barrel.
This scenario raises a fundamental problem for the masses. If the especially greedy capitalist class totally failed to use this oil boom to effect an improvement in the masses’ living conditions, then it be as certain as night follows day that this self-serving ruling elite will only use the period of sharp fall in oil income to impose harsher anti-poor policies on the working masses and the poor in general. Suffice to stress this scenario will only compound an already complicated situation.
Presently the ruling PDP government at the central level has converted governance mainly into an instrument to sell to themselves choice public properties at rock bottom prices. Equally the main opposition parties like the ANPP and AC fully subscribe to the privatisation agenda. Their own grudge is simply borne out of the desire to be the ones in the central control so that they can easily buy these choice public properties themselves.
In pursuance of these self-serving, anti-poor agenda both the PDP and its main bourgeois rivals have been spending billions of naira so as to win political power come April’s elections. Just like as in the past, it is the working people and poor that will be made to pay for this financial brigandage by the ruling class. Therefore, from whichever angle one may choice to critically examine the current socio political situation, the post election position will need a well-focused and determined Labour leadership drawing appropriate conclusions from its recent history. The new Labour leadership emerging from this conference must of necessity be equipped with a comprehensive economic and political programme which dialectically combines the working masses’ needs of today with tomorrow’s aspirations.
Right from its first day in office we in the DSM would expect the issues of a decent living wage, the minimum wage level, alongside more social issues like free quality health care and education for all, to be put on the Congress’s front burner. If this strategy were pursued with all the needed commitment and determination, then it would soon be made obvious that the working masses need their own independent, democratic political party. Since our own foundation we in the DSM have been advocating such a party through which the workers and poor can wrestle political power from the present corrupt capitalist politicians. As the DSM often stated only a genuine workers’ and poor peasants’ government, built on a socialist economy wherein the commanding heights of the economy are publicly owned directly and democratically run by the working masses themselves, can begin to ensure that the human and material resources of society can be used for the benefit of all.
We strongly wish to warn that the continuation of the prevailing capitalist, neo-liberal economic and political agenda, under any shape or guise, will only unleash an unimaginable disaster, socially and politically, on society as a whole and on the working masses in particular. In this situation the NLC will have a responsibility to again take a lead alongside other trade unions and pro-masses’ organisations. Most recently the September 2005 rallies showed again the potential support that can be mobilised but future mobilisations must be used as a preparation for real struggle not just symbolic protest.
We wholeheartedly wish you a successful conference which, we trust, will prepare the way for victory in the inevitable struggles that working people will have to wage in order to change society.