As Nigeria is hit by economic recession and Covid, protests are starting to develop against new added burdens of increases in fuel and electricity prices. These price hikes are just adding to the disillusionment and rising anger against the Buhari administration which came into office in 2015. The Democratic Socialist Movement (the CWI in Nigeria), is active in different parts of the country in the unfolding protests and issued, on 7 September, the following statement on the next steps that need to be taken.
We, of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), join the labour movement and the working masses to condemn the fuel price hike from N145 per litre to N162 per litre, the third hike in two months and hike in electricity tariff by about 90%. It is obvious that these hikes are aimed at continuing the sustainability of huge profit for the capitalist and huge privileges for political office holders such as jumbo salaries and allowances. We demand the immediate and unconditional reversal of both anti-poor policies. Both policies represent a brazen assault on the living conditions of the workers and poor Nigerians to make them pay for the crisis of the capitalist system. It must be resisted by mobilising the entire strength of the working class and oppressed masses to confront the regime.
We also demand a reversal of the policies of deregulation and privatisation which are major factors behind the outrageous hike respectively in fuel price and electricity tariff. Instead, we insist that the oil and power sector be returned under public ownership but this time with democratic workers control and management. We also call for the building of new publicly-owned and democratically-managed refineries to ensure capacity for local refining of crude oil products at affordable rates.
We call on the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) as a first step to declare a 48-hour warning general strike and mass protest to begin to lead a fightback against the hike in fuel price and electricity tariff as well as all other anti-poor policies. However and side by side with calling on the labour leadership to act, we challenge all pro-masses’ organisations, workers and radical youth to begin to organise in every workplace, neighbourhood, streets and campuses into strike/action committees which if linked up over entire communities, state and nationwide can become a solid basis to build a democratic grassroots mass movement involving demonstrations and protests to begin to fight back against the fuel price and electricity tariff hike and all anti-poor policies of the Buhari APC regime.
PAYBACK FOR LABOUR LEADERS’ WEAKNESS AND ILLUSION
While reacting to the news of another increase in fuel price by the President Muhammadu Buhari Capitalist government, the President of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Ayuba Wabba, had complained bitterly in the following manner:
“In fact Nigerians and even NLC, we are in a shock, and this increase is coming at a time when many Nigerians are passing through very peculiar and precarious times.”
“It’s like Nigerian are being taken for a ride, the increase in the price of petroleum is like adding insult to injury… While rejecting this with the strongest terms, I think the Nigerian government is taking Nigerians for granted.” (Vanguard newspaper, 2 September 2020).
While we agree with the NLC president that the fuel price hike coming on the heels of hike in electricity tariff and other anti-poor policies indeed represents a slap in the face of the long-suffering workers and oppressed masses of Nigeria, nevertheless we cannot fail to point out that this is not accidental. The government feels able to do this because the entirety of the class-collaborationist policy of the leadership of the labour movement over the past period prepared the ground for the emboldening of the Buhari regime and consequently the successive humiliating attacks that we have seen in the last few months.
Right from the inception of this administration, the DSM has unrelentingly argued that despite its promises of change, the Buhari government remains a capitalist government and only the preparedness of labour to fight that can guarantee the interests of workers and poor masses. Rather than heed this warning, the Ayuba Wabba leadership of the NLC and following on its heel, the Quadri Olaleye leadership of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), have instead pursued a policy of class collaborationism, with occasional militant sounding words, rather than a realistic policy of seriously mobilising the working masses on a war footing in order to best defend their interest at all times under the regime.
WHAT IS CLASS COLLABORATISM?
By class collaborationism, we mean a middle of the road strategy of struggle much favoured by a majority of bureaucrats in the leadership of labour at national and also state council levels which consist of trying to balance the interest of the employers and employees (in order words, the capitalist class and the working class), in other words, a so-called ‘win-win’ outcome whereby either side supposedly wins and lose something during negotiations of wages and other issues concerning workers welfare.
According to this policy, it is in labour’s interest for the business or industry to survive; therefore only demands that are permissible or admissible within the precinct of capitalism and that do not challenge or undermine capitalist profitability should be fought for. By its nature, this reformist strategy does not favour a consistent struggle that can win maximum victory for workers and it does not envision an alternative way of running society and production other than the capitalist status quo. In a crisis-ridden country like Nigeria this is a recipe for concession after concession by labour. To make a bad situation even more tragic, this policy, which on its own is a dead end for struggle, was further supplemented by the capitulation of a majority of labour leaders to illusions in the Buhari capitalist regime.
Lamentably, all of labours’ efforts and struggles of the past 6 years have been waged under the influence of this class collaborationist policy and illusion in the Buhari regime. This includes the failed general strike against fuel price hike of May 2016, the struggle for payment of backlog of wages owed by state governments across the country, the N30, 000 minimum wage struggle and of course, the struggle to defend jobs and livelihood of Nigerians since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the struggle against casualization and outsourcing contracts. In each of the struggles mentioned above, the labour leadership failed to give a proper and bold lead and therefore prepared the way for either outright defeat or victories that have little or no significance for the fortunes of the long-suffering working masses. The N30, 000 minimum wage which is still by far the only significant accomplishment of the Ayuba Wabba NLC leadership is still yet to be implemented in many states across the federation while the few states that are implementing it have succeeded in mutilating the wage thus short-changing workers.
Suffice to add that what is responsible for these weaknesses on the part of the leadership of labour is the ideological capitulation of the key sections of the working class leadership to the reigning ideas of the ruling class – capitalism.
CAN THE WORKING CLASS BE BYPASSED?
Faced with the kind of labour leaders described above, can the working class be bypassed and another class in society sought out which can lead the struggle for social emancipation? Put in another way, what should Socialists, activists and radical youth do given the pro-establishment nature of the labour leadership?
For us in the DSM, notwithstanding the above correct criticism of the labour leadership, the working class especially those organised in the trade unions remains the most potent force in society that can lead a revolutionary movement to uproot capitalism and enthrone a democratic socialist alternative. It is also the only class that can galvanise and unite the entirety of the oppressed masses under its leadership in struggle. A successful one day general strike of the organised working class will do far more damage to the Buhari APC regime and the capitalist class which is responsible for our impoverishment than a thousand small protests of youth and other social classes. No doubt these small protests are important, but very little will be achieved nationally without the working class coming to the fore to lead the movement.
The lessons of the 2011 Arab spring and the revolutionary uprising in Sudan, Mali and other countries in recent times show that where the working class does not play an independent leadership role of the movement on the basis of a clear programme linking day to day demands with the need for conquest of political power, mass movements may not only face the danger of being defeated, they can also be easily hijacked by other reactionary forces for their own end.
WHAT IS TO BE DONE?
While the top of the labour leadership is generally quite pro-capitalist, the same cannot be said of the base of the labour movement composed of militant rank and file workers from several branches of industries and the civil service who have shown time and time again an enormous appetite for struggle and a superior organising strength far above any other social class to shut the entire country down and put the capitalist system in disarray.
Therefore, what is necessary, as we are faced with a bureaucratic leadership of labour that is reluctant to struggle, is for socialists and activists to campaign with a view to rouse the rank and file of the trade unions to begin to organise to compel the leadership to fight and where they don’t be prepared to replace them with those ready to struggle. This can take the form of leafletting the workplaces and organising meetings of activists from several branches of industry and unions to agree on a plan of action to compel the leadership to act. Such a plan of action would have to include a series of activities including encouraging and organising rank and file workers to pass resolutions in their branches and affiliates demanding action and transmitting these resolutions to the labour centre for implementation.
Mass meetings of action committees in the communities can also be convened to pass similar resolutions with signatures attached. A similar signature campaign can also be launched online demanding action from the NLC and TUC leadership. All protests being organised by civil society groups and radical youth need to lead to the offices of the NLC and TUC as well as their affiliates nationwide to pile pressure on the leadership to act. This kind of campaign if done consistently and energetically might not only spur the bureaucratic labour leadership to act against its own wish, most importantly such a campaign can also lay the basis for the rescue of the labour movement from the grip of the bureaucracy and its rebuilding as a democratic and mass based movement led by a militant and Marxist leadership.
THE ROLE OF STRIKE/ACTION COMMITTEES
The leadership of labour are in a quandary. They do not want to struggle because of their fear that any struggle can lead to challenging capitalism. But at the same time they can only maintain their position, power and privilege in the movement by showing to the workers through actions, once in a while, that they are still capable of defending their interests. Therefore the greatest danger actually comes after the labour leadership decides to act with the aim of controlling and limiting struggles, therefore the greatest vigilance by the working masses and radical youth will be needed.
The experience of the January 2012 general strike and mass protest comes to mind where the labour leadership having joined the movement late on January 9 decided to call off the highly successful general strike on 16 January 2020 after about 6 days in order to save the President Jonathan’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from collapsing. A few days before then, a threat by the oil workers union (PENGASSAN) to completely choke off the regime by cutting off oil production was not carried out. This kind of reluctance by the labour leadership to fight consistently should also be expected in the current struggle.
To counter this danger, the strike and action committees, the nucleus of which we urge activists, radical youth and pro-masses organisations to begin to build across the country, cannot just be a vehicle for mobilisation for protests alone. They also must become mass assemblies to organise the movement, debate and put forward slogans, ensure provision of essential supplies while the strike is on, take other initiatives and above all, determine the course of the struggle including when to start and suspend action. In this way, the undemocratic power which the leadership of labour has arrogated to itself to suspend general strikes without consulting the movement can be taken away and placed in the hands of the masses organised in democratic mass assemblies.
Ultimately, a serious struggle against fuel price hike and electricity tariff hike can win a reduction of even outright reversal, but this victory will not be sustainable so far the capitalist system is preserved. This is the lesson of the January 2012 anti-fuel subsidy removal 6 day general strike and mass protest. While announcing the suspension of the general strike on 16 January 2012, Abdulwaheed Omar, the then NLC president enthusiastically declared: “we are sure that no government or institution will take Nigerians for granted again” (BBC, 16 January 2012). Eight years after, this statement will sound like absolute nonsense in the ears of Nigerians who have experienced far worse attacks on their living conditions. Even to labour leaders, this statement is like music of a distant time. Little wonder that Omar’s immediate successor, Ayuba Wabba, when he got news of the fuel price hike reacted with exasperation: “It’s like Nigerians are being taken for a ride”.
The only way to put a permanent end to perennial attacks on our living conditions is to struggle to overthrow this rotten capitalist system through a socialist revolution. A key task is building a movement which can achieve this, something that the DSM is striving to do. By enthroning a workers and poor peoples’ government armed with socialist policies, it can be possible to place the commanding heights of the economy including the oil sector, energy sector, the mines, industries, banks and financial institutions under public ownership and democratic workers control and management and institute a planned economy to banish for over the condition of mass poverty in the midst of abundance. Suffice to add that in a period when capitalism is in crisis worldwide, such a successful revolution in Nigeria would be the first step in the struggle of the working class to end capitalism and establish a socialist Africa and world.