A visible wave of anger and disappointment from labour activists and those wanting to defend living standards swept Nigeria as news came out that the country’s trade union leaders had, at the last minute, ‘suspended’ a general strike due to begin on Monday, 28 September.
While many expected that such a step was possible, the union leaders have acted similarly before. What was especially shocking this time was the late-night agreement they signed. This fundamentally accepted the government’s argument that there was no alternative to increases in the prices of fuel and electricity, measures which came on top of a VAT hike and the continual failure to fully implement last year’s rise in the legal minimum wage.
In Benin City and Ibadan, trade unionists and others rapidly took to the streets to protest at the national leaders’ decision. In other cities, there were stormy meetings of activists.
Like many countries, Nigeria has been hit hard by the world economic crisis. It is now in its second recession in four years. Officially unemployment is now over 27%, while just 14.7 million of Nigeria’s 40 million 15-34 years old eligible to work are employed.
The fall in the oil export price has hit Nigeria hard. Between January and May, Nigeria’s government spent 72 per cent of its income just on debt service.
Inflation rising, effecting food prices, in particular, and increases in VAT, electricity and fuel prices, have created such anger that the two trade union centres, the NLC and TUC, were forced to call an ‘indefinite’ general strike. However, most of the leaders were not serious about this. Hardly any serious preparations were made. The NLC gave just $260 towards strike mobilisation in Lagos, a city of over 21 million!
Activists, including members of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM – CWI Nigeria), strove to build support for the strike from below and argued for a clear programme and strategy to win its demands. (see www.socialistnigeria.org).
Below is a statement issued on 29 September by the Socialist Party of Nigeria, the party initiated by the DSM as part of its work to help build a mass workers’ party in the country.
SPN Condemns Suspension of Strike by NLC and TUC Leadership
No to Deregulation and Privatization
Working Masses and Youth Must Continue to Organise to Resist the hike in fuel price and electricity tariff and other anti-poor capitalist policies
The Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) joins workers and the poor masses in condemning the calling off of the strike action and mass protest scheduled to begin on Monday, September 28, 2020, without achieving its purpose by the leaderships of both Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress.
We reject the agreement signed between the labour leadership and the Federal government which accepted the capitalists’ argument that Nigeria’s “dire financial circumstances” meant the “inevitability of deregulation”. In agreeing to this the labour leadership politically undermined the movement’s opposition to subsidy cuts, price and tax hikes plus delays in minimum wage implementation. Our argument against deregulation and privatization is not about timing or provision of palliatives to cushion the effect. It is that these are fundamentally pro-capitalist and anti-poor policies which will continue to ensure that the situation of poverty in the midst of abundance continues. To this extent, the SPN shall continue as a party and in alliance with other pro-masses organizations to resist these criminal policies of deregulation and privatization until victory.
The strike was called off without winning the reversal of the prices of fuel and electricity tariff. Rather, the labour leaders acquiesced to the position of the government on deregulation and only agreed to suspend the electricity tariff for two weeks. It is more ridiculous for labour leaders to agree to palliatives that are so insignificant even if they are actually implemented, an area wherein government has failed woefully in the past.
We recall that it was the pressure from below in trade unions and outside, as well as the groundswell of anger, which forced the labour leadership to issue ultimatum for a strike in the first instance. It should be recalled that different protests were held over hikes in fuel price and electricity tariff including Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) on September 10, 2020, and Joint Action Front (JAF) on September 16, 2020.
Regardless of the position of the labour leadership, we call on workers, youth and the poor masses to continue to organize to resist the hike in fuel price, hike in electricity tariff and other anti-poor capitalist attacks.
We call on workers and trade union activists to reject the anti-poor deregulation policy which the labour leaders have accepted on their behalf, more so without any democratic discussion and engagement. It is also clear that the labour leaders have not rescinded their support for neo-liberal policies of privatization and deregulation as labour representatives sit on the board of the National Council for Privatization, a body that sells our collective assets to the thieving bourgeois elite.
As long capitalist policies are implemented, there will more attacks on the working conditions of the working masses through price hikes for the purpose of guaranteeing huge profit for the capitalists. For the SPN, only a nationalised planned economy under workers’ democratic control and management can ensure the use of human and material resources for the needs of all.
Therefore, workers and the working people must fight for the return of the power sector under the democratic control of workers and consumer in order to guarantee the judicious use and democratic planning of its resources and thereby ensure affordable and regular electricity.
It is the lack of this clear socio-economic and political alternative by the labour leaders to the anti-poor policies of the government that is responsible for the usual rotten compromise and their difficulty to defend the interest of the working people.
Therefore, we call on workers and trade union activists and workers to agitate for a fighting labour leadership and truly democratically run labour organization that leads the working people to resist anti-poor capitalist policies and for better working conditions.
Technically the strike has been “suspended” for two weeks. Many labour leaders may simply want to get any sort of deal so they can justify their position. In this situation there now needs to be a determined campaign from the ranks of Labour to insist that the labour leaders do not retreat from the demands of no hikes in fuel and electricity prices, a reversal of the VAT rise and immediate payment of the N30,000 minimum wage. This has to be linked to stepping up serious preparations for a strike. If the current labour leaders are not willing to do this they should stand aside and be replaced by those willing to seriously struggle.
We also call on trade unions, pro-masses organisations, socialists, activists, the working masses and youth to join the SPN in order to build it as a mass working people’s political party on a socialist program that will challenge the anti-poor capitalist parties (PDP, APC, APGA) for power with a view of forming a working people government determined to defeat capitalism and enthrone a socialist order.
Acting National Chairperson