A general strike, called by the main labour and trade union organisations, started on 20 June, in Nigeria. This is just weeks after the coming to office of the new Yar’Adua-led regime, which only won power through massive and widespread ballot rigging. The Yar’Adua administration immediately carried on with the hugely unpopular neo-liberal policies of the previous Obasanjo regime, which ruled from 1999 until April, 2007. These policies included a massive hike in fuel prices and a big increase in VAT. The labour and union organizations that called the general strike also demand a wage increase for workers.
Reports from Nigeria, on 20 June, show the strike is solid.
The following leaflet text was produced by the Democratic Socialist Movement (CWI in Nigeria). It looks at the issues behind the mass action and at a strategy for victory.
Solid general strike against fuel and tax hikes and for decent wages
Fuel Price, VAT:
Workers and Poor Masses Must Resist the Increase and
Fight for 15% Pay Rise!
Arise, workers and poor masses of Nigeria and join the nationwide strike and protest called by Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO). We have nothing to lose but shackles of anti-poor, neo-liberal attacks, inflicted on us by Obasanjo/Yar’Adua government. LASCO has called on us to protest the recent fuel price increase from N65 to N75 per litre and the hike in Value Added Tax (VAT) from 5% to 10% (100% increment). We are also urged to fight for 15% pay rise for workers and against the sale of Kaduna and Port Harcourt refineries.
It would be recalled that two days to the expiration of its tenure, the immediate past Obasanjo government, as parting neo-liberal attacks on poor working masses, increased the pump price of fuel and the VAT. This latest increase was the eleventh time the anti-poor, Obasanjo government had increased the fuel price before leaving the office. It met the price of petrol, for instance, at N20 in 1999 and increased it to N75 in 2007 - 275% price increase - which has made life miserable for the vast majority of the poor working people.
More than two weeks into its administration, Yar’Adua government has turned a deaf ear to all the hue and cry of workers and poor masses against the latest imposed anti-poor policy of its forebear. It has thus pretended as if nothing had happened until a few hours to the expiration of a 2-week ultimatum given to it by Labour to reverse the hike. Yar’Adua government, the so-called "victor" of a stolen election, has only proved that it is an ‘old wine in a new bottle’.
This latest reprehensible and inhuman action has led to the increase in the price of articles and transportation fares. For workers and poor masses, the cost of living has become much more unbearable.
Moreover, the Yar’Adua government, just like its predecessor, has refused to implement a 15% pay rise for workers, despite the increased fortune of the country, excruciating inflation rate and government policies that have rendered worthless the current income of workers. But applying ‘different strokes for different folks’, the political office holders at all levels (from President to Councilor) have been awarded bumper pay rises, back-dated to last February, citing as reasons, "Changes in the basic fundamentals of the Nigerian economy", "external reserves", "GDP growth rate" "rate of inflation" "getting the best out of the political class", and "the need for living wages".
Though no official reason has been given for the latest increase, it is not unconnected to the resolve of the government to satisfy profit interest of the new buyers of the nation’s refineries, sold few days before May 29, to former president Obasanjo’s Transcorp business and the likes. It is commendable that the LASCO has also included the reversal of the sales of Port Harcourt and Kaduna refineries as part of its demands.
Oil rich Nigeria but masses get poorer
At the same time as Obasanjo inflicted excruciating suffering on the poor masses, the income of the country rose, as a result of the high price of crude oil in the world market. With only the possible exception of the oil boom-era of the mid 1970s, no Nigerian government amassed such huge wealth from the sales of crude oil as Obasanjo’s. Nigeria realizes $200 million per day from the sales of crude oil, alone. Yet, there is nothing to show for this fabulous wealth. Selling crude oil at much higher price than the budget benchmark of $40 per barrel has meant a huge excess revenue and phenomenal foreign reserve at disposal of the government.
But these huge resources of the country are not committed to meet the basic needs of the poor working masses. Obasanjo left the state of the electricity supplies in a worse situation than he when he came to power in 1999. People rely on generators run on expensive fuel to generate power for business and to live. As a result, the cost of doing business is so high that many shops have closed. For artisans, with a feeble financial base, but who need electricity for their livelihoods, life is now hell.
We of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) demand the Yar’Adua government should immediately reverse the increase in fuel price and VAT and also implement 15% pay rise for all workers in both public and private sectors, with regular increases to match the rate of inflation, without any form of retrenchment. The huge wealth generated from the sales of crude oil, and other means, should be used to guarantee provisions of basic needs, like quality education, health care, good roads, electricity, housing, etc., for workers and the poor masses.
Total transformation of society needed
However this can only be achieved if labour fights for total transformation of the prevailing and unjust capitalist system, where the masses wallow in irredeemable misery in the midst of super abundance. In this respect, labour should fight for a socialist society, where the commanding heights of the economy, including finance, will be commonly owned and democratically managed and controlled by the working masses. This will ensure that the fabulous wealth being presently looted and wasted by an elite few will be used to provide permanent decent living standards for all.
Working class, community, youth and student activists should immediately begin to build action committees or coordinating centres at local, state and national levels, as a basis of mobilising mass support for the national strike and protests. Such committees should form the democratic basis for a movement uniting Nigeria’s working masses, youth and poor. Where and when possible, there should be rallies, meetings and demonstrations during the strike.
We must not have a repeat of what happened during previous strikes against fuel price rises, when a few labour leaders suddenly called off strikes and protests, without any gains being made. The largest possible numbers of people must be involved in organizing the strike and discussing tactics. Even if the government offers concessions, labour has to realise the ruling elite will later try to take back what little they have given. This is why the struggle against fuel price hikes should be linked with a struggle against the overall anti-poor, neo-liberal economic reforms of the PDP/Yar’Adua government.
It is clear to everyone, even the official "observers" from the imperialist countries, that this year’s elections were massively rigged and the results stolen. Unfortunately, all the main parties were really rival gangs or looters or would-be looters, and the working masses were not represented in the elections. This is why it is imperative that the labour and pro-masses organizations should build a mass working class political alternative that is opposed to anti-poor, neo-liberal policies and which will challenge for power, creating a workers’ and poor peoples’ government that will protect and improve the economic, social, democratic and political interests of the workers and poor masses.
Visit the DSM website: www.socialistnigeria.org (opens in new window).