Rising resistance and saving Nigeria
Hundreds of citizens joined the Save Nigeria Group rally in Abuja on March 10, with demands for: Yar’Adua’s final exit, dissolution of the Federal Executive Council, and implementation of the Uwais report on election reform.
The Save Nigeria Group (SNG) is a coalition of pro-democracy and human rights organizations. It organized a similar rally last month at the National Assembly complex. But this time it was denied access to this area by the security agencies.
The police’s excuse was given by John Haruna, who ordered the killing of civilians during the June 2003 NLC-led mass protests against deregulation. He claimed that there were counter rallies by groups such as the faceless Nigeria Unity Group and a faction of the PDP youth wing. He initially threatened to stop the rally entirely, but caved in to public opinion.
SNG has however vowed to “continue to mobilize Nigerians to engage in public action, including protests, sit-at-homes and strike actions until these demands are fully implemented in the interest of peace, security and genuine democracy in Nigeria”.
What are the implications of this for the emancipation of Nigeria’s working people and youths?
The resistance being mounted by SNG, and indeed any fight against the powers that be that exploit and dominate us is welcome. That the protesters were prevented from entering the Assembly complex and the state’s threat and use of paid “supporters” as IBB and Abacha did also show that our mis-rulers are feeling uncomfortable. It is also good that the pro-democracy movement which had retreated into holding workshops after the exit of the military is back on the streets.
The demands of the SNG though, do have many shortcomings. They portray symbols of the ruling class, such as Yar’Adua, as the problem, just as “civil society” queued behind Abiola during June 12. They speak not a single word against deregulation or privatization; there is no call for decent wages and better living conditions for workers. The SNG is more concerned with “peace, security and genuine democracy” for the bosses than with an end to the exploitation of workers.
However, any lasting transformation of Nigeria requires a revolution through which the workers and other poor people will emancipate themselves.
The prominent role the pro-democratic movement played in the June 12 revolution was due to organized labour’s inconsistent responses in 1993/94, with Bafyau as NLC President, and the subsequent crackdown on NLC by the military government. Despite this, it is noteworthy that the most successful “sit at home” “strikes” organized by Campaign for Democracy were those that synchronized with General Strikes of NLC or strike actions by other trade unions especially NUPENG and PENGASSAN.
The labour movement’s power and leadership has been demonstrated several times in recent years with eight General Strikes and huge mass protests which led Obasanjo to declare labour as a parallel government in 2004. This is not to discount efforts at resistance by other social forces such as the SNG. On the contrary, every form of resistance, every mobilization of the masses is a welcome blow against the forces of capitalism. And the utmost possible unity of these different actions should be forged, including within and even beyond the structure of the Labour Civil Society Coalition (LASCO).
It is important, if resistance is to create transformative change, for the demands around which they are organized to recognize the linkages between reforms and revolution, realizing that no new society, no liberation of the people has ever happened and can ever happen without a revolution. Demands against deregulation and for living wages are for reforms that can strengthen workers and fill us with confidence that we can indeed change our lives for the better through struggle.
SNG is interested in saving the Nigeria of the bosses. Workers need to overthrow the bosses to emancipate themselves and build a new Nigeria of the liberated working people. That groups like SNG are now rising shows that the contradictions of capitalist rule in Nigeria are getting sharper! The challenge now is to build workers power and deepen the influence of revolutionary socialist ideas.
Minister admits delay in deregulation is due to threat of labour unrest
The Federal Government has admitted that the delay in its implementation of the deregulation policy has been caused by agitation against the policy by the trade unions.
Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr Odein Ajumogobia, said that the government did not want the disruption to the economy which might arise if labour unions trooped to the streets in protest against the policy; hence the delay in implementation.
Yar’Adua’s ill Health and Governance Failure
The press and other media have been full of the story of President Umaru Yar’Adua’s health and the plotting between various cliques of the corrupt ruling elite.
What matters to poor Nigerians is good governance, how to meet their welfare needs – which the government has failed to provide. The Yar’Adua clique and other factions of the ruling class, including their foreign counterparts, have isolated the poor state of health of the President from the poor performance of the recent civilian regimes. This failure has been open in respect of social inequality, the dearth of electricity power supply and other social infrastructures that are lacking. This has resulted in the collapse of many industries and other commercial activities. None of the 7-point agenda items, the government set for itself have been realised.
The new government of Jonathan Goodluck cannot be separated from that of his boss, Yar’Adua. There is no hope that this new government will achieve anything different. The first step that it took was to surround the Acting President with a 26-member advisory committee. This is a clear indication of failure as these new advisers were part of the past failed governments. So the government will just play politics until the elections, rather than achieving anything meaningful for the workers and the poor.
The role of the working people led by NLC, TUC and LASCO should be to confront such a government that still plans to deregulate fuel prices. There should also be a massive campaign for a decent minimum wage and meaningful electoral reform.
In addition, workers’ leaders should give a proper lead for the next elections. There are several parties that could be used to make a difference for workers and other poor people. The Labour Party, for example, has been making serious gains recently. In addition, there is the National Consciousness Party. If our leaders could forge a united front, either of these two parties could provide an alternative in next year’s election.
Rank and file bank workers challenge Oceanic
Rank and file members of the Oceanic bank chapter of NUBIFIE rose against the bank, on Monday March 8, in an instructive show of workers’ power. The grievances of the workers include: non-crediting of their pension accounts despite deductions from their salaries since 2004; further deductions from their salaries into a shadowy “staff savings funds” and; anti-labour practices like shuffling recruitment agencies through which the workers are contracted to work for Oceanic, so as to reduce their severance emoluments.
The management of Oceanic was caught by surprise! How could shop floor workers ever rise with such defiance and might? It screamed that: “it was a faction; the union was not there”. But the action which workers at the shop floor started gained the support of the Oceanic chapter of NUBIFIE, as attested to by Peter Dio, its secretary.
There is nothing the bosses fear more than the independent action by the working class. The heart beat of any union is its rank and file, with solidarity as its blood. The Oceanic workers teach us all a lesson and give us an insight of things to come. It is we our-selves that can emancipate ourselves, by our determined independent struggle for our rights and in defence of our interests.
Oceanic bank was rescued with our money as taxpayers after its thieving directors had robbed it blind. Now they still shamelessly rob workers of their pension contributions and perpetuate anti-labour practices.
This is why we have to fight to win what is ours: better working conditions and indeed a better, socialist, society where the all-round development of everybody is the guiding principle.
We must stand by the Oceanic bank’s rank and file workers, and we must fight together for a better society. Socialist Bulletin calls on all unions, at branch, state and even national levels to give full support to the Oceanic bank workers struggle for their rights.
Doctors in Federal hospitals give strike warning
For two days in early March, doctors in Federal hospitals across the country went on a warning strike. This was over the Federal Government’s failure to pay doctors the mutually agreed Consolidated Medical Salary Structure (CMSS).
President, Association of Resident Doctors (ARD), Lagos Chapter, Dr Yemi Raji warned that they would commence an indefinite strike in another 21 days, if their demands were not met.
The government had promised to begin implementation of the CMSS from the beginning of January. But two months later, the Federal Government is not keeping its word. It now faces an indefinite strike action by doctors if it does not act by mid-March.
No wonder we experience a serious brain drain. A good number of foreign doctors in the United States and other industrialised countries are from Nigeria. As a result the corrupt elites go abroad to be treated, for example, Umaru Yar’Adua spent three months in Saudi Arabia. However, the poor cannot fly abroad when they fall ill and can only hope that the doctors’ strike is successful.
Meanwhile Kaduna State health workers suspended their strike in mid-February after three days. The leader of the medical and health workers forum, Dr Williams Ayet, said that the workers demands would be considered with the workers getting enhanced pay from next month.
Benue Government refuses to settle Judiciary workers strike
Benue State Government is refusing to settle the long-running strike by judiciary workers despite huge concessions made by the workers. The strike, which is part of the national strike by judiciary workers, has been on going since October last year.
The Federally agreed minimum salary for judiciary workers (N21,735) has been included in the State Budget for 2010. But the Governor is insisting the Benue State Chapter of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) accept the figure of N12,000 which was agreed in the neighbouring state of Nasarawa.
JUSUN reduced its demand to N16,300 in December. An agreement was signed with state officials, but they are now refusing to implement it. Richard Aoo, Chair of JUSUN in Benue said “the State government is playing games with the welfare of the Judiciary workers”.
Meanwhile in nearby Plateau state, the judiciary workers have suspended their strike. This followed an agreement, signed at the end of February, between the workers and government to implement the new consolidated judiciary salary structure within seven weeks.
Ogun teachers’ strike
In mid-February, teachers in Ogun state responded with strike action as the 20 local councils refused to pay 27.5 per cent Teachers Peculiar Allowance. In contrast the Governor of Lagos State finally followed most other states and announced that the teachers in the state would receive the increase from 1st January.
Abia council workers strike over salary arrears
The Abia State chapter of the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) began an indefinite strike from 1st March. The local chair of NULGE, Eze Idima, said the strike was to protest the non-implementation of the agreement between the union and the State Government. “We are on strike for two major reasons: the non-payment of salary arrears owed local government workers and the posting of local government treasurers to the state civil service”.
Oyo State continues fight against unions
In early March, Oyo State Government continued its oppression of trade unions with a mass transfer of teacher trade unionists.
State Wing Secretary of the Oyo NUT, Olu Abiala, faulted the transfer of teachers who had participated in the recent election of a new executive which had to take place in neighbouring Ondo.
The government saw the action of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) union leaders as an affront as it had tried to impose its own leadership on the union. It has transferred all the 72 teachers who participated in the Akure elections to rural areas where it will be more difficult for them to be active in the union.
In a press release Oyo NUT said: “Why mass transfer of teachers in the middle of an academic session? What benefit does the government derive from disorganising families?”
Oyo State is now one of the few states not to implement the 27.5 per cent TSS increase won after the month long national strike in June 2008. Its continued fight with the NUT is having a harmful impact on education in the state.
European workers begin fight against economic meltdown
Europe is in turmoil. Bosses are desperate to force workers to pay for the economic crisis. But they are facing growing resistance.
The Greek general strike in early March was the third and latest in a series of acts of defiance against the bosses, the government and the leaders of the European Union.
The general strike in Greece coincided with walkouts by German pilots (affecting flights to Lagos amongst others), French oil refinery workers and air traffic controllers and protests in Spain.
Major strikes were also planned for March in Italy and the UK public sector. Whilst in Portugal there was also a general strike against tax increases and cuts to pay for the economic meltdown. The strikes also included dockers in Finland and public sector workers in Ireland.
Military rule in Niger: any hope for the working people?
The military coup staged in Niger recently was against the background of a full-blown civilian dictatorship. Mamadou Tandja manipulated a referendum to extend his misrule for a third term after 10 years of woes for the people of Niger.
Uranium is the major source of the country’s foreign exchange earnings, but is not being used for the benefit of the poor people of the country. As in Nigeria, only the multinational corporations and the corrupt elite are the beneficiaries of the system.
The general strike organized by Nigerian workers in December, 2009, and the mass support it received, provides an indicator of the potential for true democracy. The workers called for an increase in wages and for a fight against the undemocratic practices of the government. The trade unions are also active in the main opposition movements in Niger. An active trade union movement rather than the intervention by the military is the real hope for democracy in Niger.
The experience and lessons of military rule over the past decades in Africa have shown that the military cannot be trusted with governance, whatever might be their rhetorical assurances that they support the people and will fight for popular interests. They usually just identify with the rich elite, like their civilian counterparts, rather than the masses.
The military in any class society is an instrument for imposing the ruling class’ interest, by defending “law and order”. At times when a “people’s power movement” becomes strong the army may side with the masses. This was the case in the Philippines in 1986 when the military refused to obey President Marcos as a mass movement kicked him out of power. At other times, as seems to be the case in Niger, a corrupt civilian regime loses all respect. Then the military seizes power to prevent a mass movement led by the workers from developing.
We are in solidarity with the working people and youths of Niger in their struggle for a democracy that will benefit those who toil and not the corrupt elite. In the first instance, we call on the new military rulers to hand over power immediately by constituting a Constituent Assembly. This should comprise representatives of the working class and other poor people; only then could it pilot a transitional programme to bring about a political, social and democratic regime.
We say neither the dictatorship of Tandja nor the military government! We support concrete moves towards democratic control of the wealth of Niger (especially the uranium mines) by the working people for the benefit of the majority of poor people.
Jos massacre – socialism or barbarism?
Nigeria and the whole world is again reeling from the shock of yet another massacre in Plateau State. This shows the real level of desperation of most people in Nigeria and across the world.
In the early twentieth century the great Polish socialist, Rosa Luxemburg, said that the future would be socialism or barbarism. Since then the world has suffered series of barbaric acts of which the Jos killings are the latest part of.
The corrupt elite of Nigeria and their allies across the world are not capable of providing a decent standard of living for most people and their families. It is estimated that several thousand children die every day across the world from poverty. Even in countries like the UK several thousand old people die each year because they do not have enough money to heat their homes. This is the real terror that most of us face – not the supposed threat from al Qaeda and others.
This adds urgency to our task of building a socialist alternative. If we fail, people will look to alternatives like Boko Haram, fundamentalist Christian churches or, even worse, attacks on neighbouring communities considered to be benefiting from marginal gains. The corrupt elite are, of course, happy to divide us along ethnic, regional or religious lines. While we fight each other, we are not fighting the real causes of poverty and desperation in the world.
The workers united will never be defeated is a well known slogan. We have to work to make this a reality. If you are appalled by the events in Jos and want to build a socialist future then we need you to join us to make this a reality.
Death of Comrade Decker
We lost one of the finest comrades in the working class movement, David George Decker on February 27. Decker, until his death, was simultaneously secretary of the Amalgamated Union’s FCT Council, Liaison Officer in the AUPCTRE National Secretariat and a leading member of Socialist Workers’ Movement (SWM).He served as a trade unionist for three decades. He was a trade union educator, serving as the NLC Adamawa State Level School facilitator and was also Labour Party Secretary in the state
Decker was an active member of the Working People’s Vanguard and a committed socialist. He was very simple but very thorough. He not only loved work, he loved life…often after work with his Star lager and snuff box. We have lost a friend, a brother and one of the most sincere and compassionate comrades.