Nigeria has recently seen a brutal example of the link between anti-trade union court rulings and an onslaught on living standards.
Only 48 hours after the Federal High Court in Abuja decided that the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) is not entitled to call strikes, the state owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNCP) increased fuel prices by 33%. In 1992 the price for one litre of petrol was 22 Naira. In the past few days, prices went up from 43 Naira to 53 Naira per litre. Kerosene is even up to 60 Naira a litre.
Nigeria has seen four general strikes by the NLC in the past four years against the repeated hikes in fuel prices. The price of fuel has a direct impact on the living standards of the mass of the population in Nigeria. Not only do they need fuel to run vehicles but kerosene is used in almost every Nigerian household to do the cooking and often to generate electricity. Every threat to increase the price of fuel has therefore understandably led to outrage and anger amongst the Nigerian working class, the poor masses and also the middle class. The last general strike, called last June by the NLC, was solid and was not only followed by Nigerian workers but also by small shopkeepers, market women etc with the support of almost the entire population.
Faced with the mass backing for each of the general strikes, the ruling class wants to use the Federal court decision to intimidate the NLC leaders from calling further action. But faced with a government installed via rigged elections and repeated attacks against their living standards the working class have participated in strikes and protest actions as the only means by which they can strike back and defend themselves.
The ruling of the Federal High Court has clearly encouraged the NNCP and fuel marketers to go for the increase in prices which they had wanted to implement long ago.
The court ruling poses a great challenge for the future of the Nigerian Labour Congress.
The NLC has called an emergency meeting of its leadership on Monday to discuss how to respond to the new developments.
There is a need for action and for a mobilisation of the rank and file of the unions and the wider population. This is a test by the government and its imperialist backers to see how far they can go in dismantling workers’ and trade union rights in Nigeria. But it is one thing to issue a court ruling and another to implement it. The NLC must ignore the law and to call decisive strike action not only to resist this hike in fuel prices but to defend democratic and workers’ rights in Nigeria in general.
At the same time the lessons need to be drawn from the government’s repeated attempts to attack living standards. There is the urgent necessity to build in Nigeria a socialist movement capable of forming a workers’ and peasants’ government that would break with capitalism and begin to plan the use of Nigeria’s vast resources in the interests of peoples’ needs not private profit.