Nigeria: Resisting neo-liberal attacks – fighting for a socialist alternative

While Africa pays $15 billion yearly to service its debt to the rich nations and financial institutions, it receives less than $13 billion as aid with strings attached.

The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) in Nigeria is the second biggest section in the Committee for a Workers’ International. Demo, from Lagos, explains how the DSM has played a key role in mobilising the workers and poor masses in general strike action against the Obasanjo government’s massive price hikes in fuel and its anti-labour laws.

Resisting neo-liberal attacks – fighting for a socialist alternative

Nigeria’s situation is much more pathetic. Its annual debt payment is equivalent to $14 per person while receiving aid of just $2 per person.

Nigeria has made payments of $6.9 bilion but its debt has increased by $7.4 billion.

The working masses who originally benefited nothing from these fraudulent loans are now repaying them with sweat and blood. But just as under the trans-Atlantic slave trade and colonialism, the working masses are not absorbing these ceaseless attacks on their living conditions meekly.

There have been seven massive general strikes led by the Nigeria Labour Congress, (NLC) in the last six years. This is apart from some pockets of strikes, picketing, and protests in different parts of the country by the youth and poor working class.

To gag this wave of resistance, the regime promulgated a new Trade Union Act in March 2005 forbidding workers, especially from "essential services" like Education, Health, Airways etc., from embarking on strike.

Central trade union organisations like the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) have also been legally banned from organising strikes over issues unless they are included in workers’ contracts of employment. This is despite the fact that less than 20% of the population is engaged in contractual employments.

Since the new law was passed, between 6-8 June, there has already been a three-day warning strike by University of Ibadan Educational workers (both academic and non-academic) to protest against four months’ unpaid salaries, and a hike in fees amongst others issues, with the authorities unable to victimise the workers.

The working class struggles have brought many opportunities to kick out the regime and defeat its anti-poor policies. However, the labour leaders’ lack of a viable working-class alternative has prevented maximum gains being made.

The DSM has been fully involved in all these struggles. Amongst other things, we have been campaigning for these general strikes to be organised so that all basic issues affecting the daily lives of the working masses, not just the hike in fuel prices, are included in the demands.

We’ve equally being campaigning for the formation of struggle/action committees at local and national levels for the effective democratic coordination of these strikes.

The DSM has also been campaigning for the labour movement to create a viable mass party of the working people committed to mass struggle on a daily basis to fight to protect the interests of the working people. It should also have the ultimate strategy of capturing political power from the present, ruinous capitalist class to form a workers’ and poor peasant government.

Some of the DSM leaders have played key roles in the organisation of the general strikes through the Labour-Civil Society Coalition (LASCO) formed by the NLC.

During the May Day 2005 celebrations organised by the trade union movement, we were given special recognition to address a rally and to march under our own banner. But overall, the labour movement is still mainly dominated by labour leaders without an independent working class alternative.

However, the combination of unrelenting neo-liberal attacks on working people’s living conditions and the potency of our ideas can favour a socialist working-class alternative.

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June 2005