Nigeria has faced increased turmoil as the neo-liberal attacks launched at the end of May by the new president, Bola Tinubu, produced a huge leap in fuel prices and a currency collapse, giving a further twist to inflation and falling living standards. There is mounting pressure on the trade unions to act but, so far, while issuing militant statements, there has been little mobilisation and action. Nevertheless the rulers are scared of a protest movement taking off. In the southeast state of Imo, the Governor, fearful of the possibility of action on November 1st, sent police to the state office of Nigeria Labour Congress, the largest trade union centre, who then physically attacked and briefly detained Joe Ajaero, the NLC National President, who was there to address a meeting of state workers struggling to obtain unpaid wages. Since then, there has been pressure for national protest action. Strike action in Imo started this week and nationally airport workers have joined in. On November 8 the Democratic Socialist Movement (CWI in Nigeria) issued the following statement:
The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) welcomes the decision of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) to go on a total strike in Imo State in order to force the state government to meet the legitimate demands of workers. We also support the demands of the strike over the brutalization of the NLC President Joe Ajaero and others by the police and thugs at the behest of Governor Hope Uzodinma on Wednesday, 1st November, 2023 in Owerri.
As we argued in our last statement, the bestial assault on Ajaero is a clear message on behalf of Nigeria’s decadent capitalist elite that no one is beyond repression, not even the leader of the largest trade union movement in West Africa. Therefore, such a criminal attack must not be allowed to slide without a full response from the labour movement. More importantly, we call on working people and youth to support the demands and struggle of labour over the criminal assault on democratic rights and fundamental freedom in Imo state.
However, we propose that the strike called by the NLC and TUC in Imo State must not just be a stay-at-home action. It should be matched with mass protest rallies and demonstrations of workers. In addition to using the mass protest to sensitize and mobilise public support for the demands of workers, it is also imperative it is used it to regain the street from the thugs whom the state governor has been unleashing on the people of the state.
Besides, we call on the Labour to consider provision of emergency and skeletal services in hospitals and essential public services like electricity and water supply while the strike lasts. Doing these will help make it difficult for the government to use propaganda presenting Labour as anti-people to gain traction while sustaining public support for labour’s struggle. In the final analysis, a strike’s success is guaranteed not only by the readiness and militancy of strikers but also by the degree of support it is able to generate among other social forces and oppressed masses. Therefore, it would be necessary that labour establishes a mechanism for democratic review of the strike on a daily basis while it lasts in order to be able to respond to any new development and consider additional tactical measures that may be necessary to keep the strike strong while sustaining vital public support.
We also welcome Labour’s plans to escalate the action into a nationwide strike if the demands of Imo workers are not met. However, we are of a strong opinion that the demands of such an escalated strike should be expanded to include the plights and issues facing workers in other states such as the non-implementation of the national minimum wage and the criminal non-remittance of deductions from workers’ salaries for pension, workers’ cooperative and as union dues in many states. It should also be used as the first step in a centrally-coordinated action against all the state governors who have refused to implement wage awards for workers and to begin to demand the reversal of all anti-worker, anti-poor and pro-rich policies of President Bola Tinubu’s capitalist administration which have plunged the majority of the Nigerian working and toiling people into new abyss of suffocating and multi-dimensional poverty.
The attack on the NLC President Ajaero shows why it is important for the Labour leadership to begin to have a radical change of course in their response to the plights of the vast majority of working people who are groaning under severe economic attacks. In the past, no section of the capitalist ruling elite, not even under the period of military despotism, could ever dare subject the President of the NLC to such a humiliating assault. But apparently due to labour leaders’ perennial barking without biting and its class collaboration with the capitalist status quo, Nigeria’s rotten capitalist ruling elite have lost their fear of the labour movement and Nigeria’s workers who are historically one of the most militant working class on the continent.
Furthermore, they do not think that the leadership of the labour movement has any real support among their members and in the general society because of their past and present betrayals. This could explain why they are not afraid of any consequence for their actions on November 1st. Unfortunately, they are partly right. The fact is that the majority of working people and youth feel abandoned by labour leadership in the face of the serious attacks by Bola Tinubu’s government. Therefore, while they could be genuinely sympathetic to Labour over the situation in Imo, they may not feel compelled to go to war with Labour. While the NLC and TUC occasionally utter militant words, the fact that these are merely hot air that leads to no serious action is demoralizing activists and undermining labour’s standing and support. Therefore the labour leadership has to begin to rebuild the social base of support and strength on the working people and youth and not base itself in a strategic partnership with the government or any section of the capitalist ruling elite. This also means that Labour leadership has to rethink their support for neo-liberal capitalist policies which are the basis of the current economic hardship, cost of living crisis and declined living standards faced by the vast majority.
Therefore, we again call on Labour to also use the current strike and any national action to demand the complete reversal of all anti-poor capitalist policies such as the criminal hike in petrol price, devaluation of naira and increase in school fees in public universities and other institutions. Also importantly, the fact that all the three major parties, the APC, PDP and Labour Party, and their candidates support and advocate, the fundamentally same anti-poor neo-liberal capitalist programme which attacks the interest and well-being of the vast majority underscores the need for a genuine mass working people party with a socialist programme. We call for a conference of trade unions, socialists and radical activists to discuss building of such a party that could wrest political power and begin to use the huge human and material resources of the country on the basis of socialist planning to guarantee the basic needs of the vast majority and begin to genuinely develop the country.