Nigeria: Trade Union leaders arrested: Free detained labour leaders and stop all attacks on the labour movement

The Democratic Socialist Movement calls for the immediate and unconditional release of the six labour leaders who were refused bail and sent to prison custody by an Abuja magistrate court on Tuesday, 14th October 2003.

Trade Union leaders arrested

Free detained labour leaders and stop all attacks on the labour movement

If the government and the court refuse to immediately and unconditionally release these activists from illegal and unjust detention and the oil marketers and the government refuse to honour their agreement with the NLC on fuel prices, the trade unions and the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) should commence immediate mass mobilisation and resume the suspended general strike and mass protests.

The labour activists were arrested and arraigned before the court by the police because of their involvement in the picketing of petrol stations which were selling petrol above the price of N34 per litre which was agreed at a meeting of the Nigeria Labour Congress, petroleum marketing companies and representatives of the government on 8th October, 2003. It was as a result of this so-called agreement that the NLC leadership suspended the general strike and mass protests against fuel price hike which would have commenced on Thursday, 9th October 2003.

We condemn the arrest and detention of these labour activists by the government in flagrant violation of the democratic right of protests, assembly and the right of workers to picketing. This clampdown on the labour movement by the Obasanjo regime is a manifestation of the cold determination of the regime to impose the unpopular and anti-poor policies of deregulation and increase in fuel prices on the Nigerian working people. With this step taken by the regime, it is very clear that it has commenced its policy of repression of the labour movement and the NLC which Obasanjo hinted at in his venomous speech to the nation on the 8th October, 2003.

We equally condemn the decision of the Abuja magistrate court to deny bail to the labour activists. The offences which these labour activists were alleged to have committed by the police are bailable offences and there is no logical reason why they should have been refused bail. By taking this retrogressive decision, the Abuja magistrate has turned itself into an instrument in the hands of the government for the repression and suppression of the democratic rights of citizens. This type of unconstitutional and democratic conduct by the Judiciary can only put the current civil rule in the country into total jeopardy.

Lessons for the labour movement

The violation of the agreement reached with labour by the oil marketers and the government and the incipient clampdown on the labour movement by the Obasanjo regime show the determination of the regime to dare mass opposition and impose its unpopular policies on the poor working masses. It is therefore absolutely necessary for the NLC leadership to draw the right lessons from this turn of events.

Firstly, the NLC should commence mass mobilisation not just against the increment in fuel prices but the entire gamut of the neo-liberal policies of deregulation, liberalisation and privatisation which lie at the root of the incessant fuel price hike and retrenchment of workers. As experience since the introduction of SAP in 1980s have shown, these policies can never be made to benefit the working masses. Instead, they would cause further mass hardship and impoverishment.

As alternative to these pro-rich, anti-poor neo-liberal policies, labour should campaign for public ownership of the petroleum industry and the commanding heights of the Nigerian economy but with democratic control and management by the working people. Through this arrangement, it would be possible to stop the wastage, corruption and mismanagement bedeviling the oil industry and run the industry and the entire economy to serve the interests of the overwhelming majority of the society.

Finally, the NLC should also commence the building of an independent working people political alternative to the present self-centred and profit-driven neo-colonial capitalist system and the political parties, namely PDP, AD, ANPP, APGA, etc, which uphold it. To bring an end to the endless misery, poverty, oppression which the working people face daily, the NLC should be building for the coming to power of a workers and poor peasants government on the basis of a democratic socialist programme.

As a first step in this direction, we call on the NLC leadership to as a matter of urgency call a conference of trade unions, students unions, professional groups like market traders associations, artisans groups, socialist groups, the NCP, PSD and other pro-labour groups to discuss and work out the strategy and tactics for the building of a mass working peoples’ political party.

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October 2003