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civil servants, doctors, NLC

April edition

No fuel increases and, for a living wage

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) organized a rally on March 31 demanding the removal of the Chair of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Maurice Iwu, and electoral reforms based on the Uwais committee’s recommendations. There were less than two thousand people at the rally, making it the least successful of NLC rallies in recent times. This might be a reflection of working people’s concerns that we need more than electoral reforms.

First, NLC dropped its other two main demands: “no to deregulation” and “for a living minimum wage of N52, 200”.   This is linked to calls within the NLC for a compromise and further talks with the government.  In December last year, the some elements in th NLC leadership appeared set to give up the fight on deregulation.  Recent fuel shortages in Lagos and other cities have seen petrol prices go up to N150 showing what deregulation would mean.

On the other hand the committee looking into the minimum wage does not appear to have made much progress.  Wages have increased by around 12% in the last year for a few workers, but most workers have not received a pay increase.  The Federal Government is supposed to declare a new minimum wage in April, according to some labour leaders. This is however the more reason why it should have been included in the March 31 rally’s demands! Lessons from minimum wage-fixing in the past shows that, the FGN has never declared anything close to what labour had asked for in the first place!

The issues of Iwu must go and for Uwais report-based electoral reforms need to be examined carefully.

Iwu’s term expires in June and it is clear that he is very unlikely to be re-appointed.  No INEC Chair has ever been re-appointed and it is no secret that the acting president has been shopping for Iwu’s successor. So the anti-Iwu demand is not asking for much!

As we said in our December edition, “there is a need for thorough electoral reform in Nigeria”. But even the Uwais report does not ensure this.  It has severe shortcomings which can deepen the influence of moneybag politics.  As Balarabe Musa pointed out at the March NLC rally, the electoral system, even with reforms is designed solely for moneybags. The role of money in elite politics is not limited to Nigeria. This is the situation in all capitalist democracies.  In the US, the person that wins as President is usually the one that manages to collect the most money – usually from big business.   The Obama campaign was different in a way, in that it, received many more smaller donations.  Money will also be key to the outcome of the general elections in the UK in May.

In June 2007, in a matter of days, the Nigerian general strike won a reversal in fuel price increases and the increase in the rate of VAT.  The official price of petrol has not been increased since then and the rate of VAT is still only 5%.

The only power that workers have is when they collectively refuse to work.  Strike action quickly has a major impact and forces the bosses to give wage increases and other concessions as was shown by the 2007 general strike and the recent strikes by health workers in Sierra Leone and Edo State (see later in this Bulletin).  The government is just using talks as a way to postpone action.  This is especially important at the moment when the government is weak and suffering a number of uncertainties.

Workers need decent pay increases, cannot afford fuel price increases and are demanding free and fair elections next year.  Such demands will not be won through talks and argument, but strike action can be very persuasive.  The NLC needs to avoid being caught in the trap of endless talks with a weak government.  This year’s May-day rallies should be used to re-start a serious campaign backed up with the clear threat of strike action in a few weeks.  This could deliver our key demands – further talks are a recipe for disaster, in disguise.

Health workers in Sierra Leone win massive pay increase after 10-day strike

Strike organiser, Dr Freddie Coker said that doctors would now get a take-home salary of $600 a month, up from only $100. Nurses used to earn only $40 a month and have won a similar increase.

The stoppage led to the closure of the country’s main children’s hospital and several wards at the main maternity hospital were also shut.

Army and police nurses had been drafted in to help in the hospitals and the President had threatened to sack the strikers if they did not go back to work.  But the government then suddenly agreed to meet the strikers demands!

The strike comes as the country prepares to introduce free medical healthcare for pregnant women and breast-feeding mothers, as well as children under five years of age. The health workers said this would lead to a huge increase in their workload.

Doctors’ strike in Edo State ends kidnap of colleague

Dozens of doctors at a leading hospital in Nigeria’s southern Edo State ended a four-day strike and returned to work in mid-April after their colleague was freed by kidnappers.  Their action shows that strikes can also win non-economic demands.

Doctors at the main teaching hospital in Benin went on strike after unidentified gunmen abducted the chief medical doctor on his way home from work.  The doctors had demanded that authorities find the captors and bolster security in the area.  They were only treating emergency cases.

“The professor has regained freedom and is feeling well. With his release, we have called off the strike and since resumed work,” said Dr. Osahon Enabulele, state chairman of the Nigeria Medical Association.

Resident doctors start strike

The National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) has embarked on a full blown indefinite strike to protest the federal government’s delay in implementing the Consolidated Medical Salary Scale, COMESS. The strike follows a two-day warning strike in March.

Atilola, leader of NARD, said: “we state that failure of the Federal Government to meet our demands by the expiration of the ultimatum will leave us with no other option than to proceed on indefinite strike”.

All Federal government-owned hospitals nationwide including teaching hospital are affected by the industrial action.

A new salary scale was formally approved in September 2009 for resident doctors in the federal government’s employment but its implementation was delayed until 1st January 2010.  However, the federal government reneged on the terms of the agreement having failed to implement the scale as promised.  The doctors are also demanding improved training.

One of the doctors said the action would cripple heath care delivery in all federal government owned hospitals adding that the strike would not be called off until the government implements the agreement.

Civil servants defer strike till Mayday

The planned strike by the public service workers over salary disparity in the service has been shelved after a meeting between the Joint Public Service Negotiating Council and the new Minister of Labour and Productivity, Chief Emeka Wogu.

The negotiating council, comprising the unions in the civil service, had proposed to take action against the salary disparities in the service from early March.  However, the council members resolved to merely defer the strike till 1st May if the Federal Government has still not met their demands.

Comrade Adekunle Olaitan, who led the negotiating council, in his opening brief at the meeting, reiterated the demand of the civil servants for justice, saying that the core civil servants have been at the receiving end of poor Federal Government’s salary awards.

NUPENG Threatens Shell with Strike Action

The National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) members in the union’s Western Zone commenced an indefinite strike on April 9.  Mobilization for the strike started after a 14-day ultimatum given to Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production (SNEPCo) expired.

The Western Zonal Chair of NUPENG, Tokunbo Korodu explained that “in March, our unit chairman and three others were sacked after working for16 years in SNEPCo for no justification and their salaries and other entitlements have not been paid”.

NUPENG needs to take action to protect workers employed as contract workers being threatened with retrenchment at any slightest provocation.

Gabon oil workers strike

A three day strike by oil workers in Gabon in mid-April brought public transport in the capital Libreville to a standstill. Their main grievance is that too many oil jobs are going to Africans from other countries and Westerners.

Guy-Roger Aurat Reteno of the National Organisation of Petroleum Employees (ONEP) said the strike had been called off after three days, but warned the union reserved the right to stop work again if the authorities fail to honour their pledges.

Every action of workers against the bosses must be supported by us as socialists. We however stand for the unity of workers irrespective of nationality and while supporting ONEP against the employers call for it to embrace workers from all countries as we face the same fate of exploitation under capitalism.

Gabon’s previous President Omar Bongo amassed a vast fortune during his 41 years in office and was accused of embezzling oil revenues.  His son succeeded him in September 2009 after polls which opponents say were fixed.  The election was followed by violent street protests by opposition activists.

Labour Party Govt. releases N866m for ex-office holders in Ondo!

The Labour Party government in Ondo state has clearly demonstrated to the world that it stands for the interests of the bosses over those of the labouring people. On April 2, one Mr. Sule-Akinsuyi, a commissioner in the state revealed that all former political office holders in the state, from 1999 till date are to be made wealthier to the collective tune of N866m “dash”! This of course is without prejudice to the whooping severance allowances they had gotten when they wounded up their services at different times.

For the avoidance of doubt, the commissioner made it clear that the largesse would be across party affiliations. This is not surprising as the Labour Party Governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, had himself served under the banners of the AD and PDP. Obviously, there is little difference between the Labour Party and the parties of the bosses!

To rub this in, the Labour Party government proudly announced that it has set aside N70m as housing loan for public sector workers of which just N17.5m had been released. It also felt no shame in further informing the public that it would commit N604m to building housing units, only. We cannot but imagine how many houses, schools, or hospitals could have been built for working people with the N866m being thrown down the drain of the elites purses!

Socialist Bulletin demands, and calls on the trade unions to equally demand that a halt be brought to this madness! The throwing of monies that should be used to better the lot of the people into the coffers of ex-office holders (who stole when in office anyway) MUST BE STOPPED IMMEDIATELY!

This should also make things clearer to working class activists that the Labour Party is now a party whose soul has been stolen by the capitalist elites. Indeed, this goes to show us that, we cannot change our lot through electoral parties based on the principles of liberal democracy which the capitalist system designs. We must build a workers party, which must fight for and win revolutionary change from below. This is the only pathway towards our self-emancipation.

Thailand’s Red Shirts shake the regime

Hundreds of thousands of Red Shirt demonstrators took to the streets of Thailand over the last few weeks, demanding democracy.  The Red Shirts have been holding peaceful protests in Bangkok since mid-March, demanding that the government calls new elections.  This show of force proved the strength of the movement.  It dispelled the lies of the royalist government and the media, who claim that the Red Shirts are not representative of the majority of the population.

The police and the army have attacked the movement. There were battles between protesters and the state in the capital Bangkok last weekend.  At least 17 demonstrators and four police officers were killed in clashes.

An army coup overthrew the government of millionaire and populist politician Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006.  Due to a vacuum on the left, he had managed to inspire millions of ordinary Thais.  The Red Shirts like Thaksin—but they are not just being used by him or fighting only for his return.  They want real democracy and social justice.

The mass democracy movement is starting to question the entire elite structure, including the monarchy.  Jatuporn Prompan, a protest leader, said, “There is no more negotiation. Red Shirts will never negotiate with murderers.  Although the road is rough and full of obstacles, it’s our duty to honour the dead by bringing democracy to this country.”

The vast majority of Red Shirts are poor people and their leaders are at last talking openly about a “class struggle” between the people and the elites.  This is the most profound political crisis and unrest since the 2006 coup.  Many commentators try to explain the conflict as an elite dispute between Thaksin and the conservatives.  But the missing element in most analysis is the actions of millions of ordinary people.

The military-backed Democratic Party government of Abhisit Vejjajiva has declared a state of emergency and issued arrest warrants for Red Shirt leaders.  It has attempted to close down internet and satellite media or websites that don’t follow the government line.  How the movement, and the Thai ruling class, respond to the dynamic situation will shape the country’s future.

Revolution kicks out Kyrgyzstan’s president

The people of Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia rose up and overthrew President Bakiyev in mid-April.  Rapidly rising energy prices have been one cause of the rebellion. Russia’s decision to impose new import duties on the oil and gas it supplies the country is the main reason for the price hike.

The police fired live bullets while protesters used stones and Molotov cocktails. Then the people captured an armed personnel carrier and took weapons from the police.  Official reports put the number of people killed at more than 75 and those wounded at more than 1,500.

The struggle between Russia and the US for dominance over the Central Asia region shaped the revolution.  The revolt shook the US establishment because its base there is a key staging post for the war in Afghanistan. But events are not reducible to the conflicts between the major powers.

The people have demonstrated that the state does not possess a tight control over the means of violence, and that popular demands cannot be ignored or suppressed.

But the new government looks too much like the previous two to suggest that it will bring change.  That can only come from the people who brought down the government.

Sign up in solidarity with the people of Cuba

On March 11, the European Union parliament issued a resolution urging “…European institutions to give unconditional support and encouragement for the initiation of a peaceful political transition toward a plural democracy in Cuba”. This expresses Europe’s resolve to restore the form of capitalism which had existed in Cuba before its revolution fifty one years ago. It is in line with the embargo US has also placed against Cuba for half a century now.

The Cuban revolution inspired youths and working people across the world. A lot has been done since then to make many see hope for a new society in the country. It today has one of the very best healthcare system and an educational system that any country would be proud of. All these are despite the attacks by the United States and the longest embargo against a country in history, which has caused so much misery for the working people of Cuba.

These are all reasons why workers must stand in solidarity with Cuba at this hour when the EU and particularly the US just have to give a country a bad name to hang it, like Iraq for example. These are also reasons why workers, youths and socialist activists in general have to realize the limitations of the society being built in Cuba, and understand that while it might be more progressive than the crass bourgeois capitalism in Europe and America, it is not “socialist”.

Socialism is a social, economic and political system rooted in the active and indeed lead participation of the working people in the day-to-day running of society at the: workplace, communities, local governments and central government. Socialism is built on and builds the self-emancipatory activities of the working class. While the great and selfless feats of such revolutionaries as Fidel Castro and Che Guevara must be commended, socialism can not be won by new super men, but rather is won by the mobilized rank and file. At the heart of the socialist struggle and construction of society is workers’ democracy. This is needed to take Cuba beyond its present state of bureaucratic state capitalist development. This, is where, as was also the case in the USSR, the state becomes the sole owner and controller of capital, and state power itself is wielded by a new class of bureaucrats who might have genuine concerns for the masses, or not.

Socialism as we say is won only through revolution from below. “Socialism” from above can at best only lead to bureaucratic state capitalism. Socialism can also be won and protected only as an international effort. The EU’s resolution however, is an attempt to change Cuba from above the head of Cubans; taking it backwards to the state of bourgeois capitalist development, where a few bosses control the resources of society and thereby exploit and dominate the working people. This is why we stand at this hour in solidarity with Cuba and urge all our readers and supporters once again, to sign in defence of Cuba at: www.porcuba.org.

About socialistworkersbulletin

a bi-weekly publication of the Socialist Workers League, in the traditions of International Socialism. we stand for revolution from below! and our call is: workers & youths! unite & fight!

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