Education should be a right not a privilege
Basic education is widely recognised as an essential human right and a key to poverty alleviation and sustainable human development. Despite the wealth that the government receives from oil, it is failing to invest in education for our children.
Education should be a right not a privilege, but around a third of the children in Nigeria are not getting any education and many more are failing to learn the ‘three Rs’, reading, writing and arithmetic.
Education remains a privilege that many families have to struggle to afford, whilst the rich send their children to the best schools that money can buy.
What is worse is that things were actually better in the past. State schools once provided high-quality basic education that led to good jobs. In the late 1970s over 10% of government expenditure went on education, but it was less than 8% in the 2000s. The quality of education declined during the years of military rule, but has not improved since. As a result adult literacy in Nigeria is lower than the average across sub-Saharan Africa and Nigeria is not expected to meet the UN Millennium Development Goal for primary education by 2015.
Many other countries in sub-Saharan Africa spend much more on public education than Nigeria does. The government spends less than 9 % of its annual budget on education. The governments of South Africa and Kenya spend about a quarter of their budgets on education and Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana manage to spend around 30% of their budgets on Education.
A law was passed in 2004 making compulsory nine years of universal and free basic education. Despite this, Nigeria accounts for a third of all out of- school children in sub-Saharan Africa.
Goodluck Jonathan claims that education is a priority for the government, but the amount proposed for education in next year’s Federal budget is hardly more than for this year – only around 8% of the total budget – compared to the UNESCO target of 26%.
At this rate it will take many years for the multitude of problems afflicting the education sector. These range from lack of basic teaching and learning infrastructures, inadequate classrooms and collapsing school buildings, irregular payment of teacher salaries, inadequate teaching and non-teaching staff, embezzlement of funds, shortages of books, inadequate number of schools to accommodate increasing numbers of applicants, an underpaid workforce, brain drain, examination malpractices and mass failure; and, the fact that government often reneges on agreements between it and the teacher trade unions.
Teachers in public schools are poorly paid, some are paid only N8,000 a month. In 2008 the teachers held a magnificent month long strike and won a pay increase of more than 25%. The following year teachers in many states were forced back on strike as the state governments failed to keep to their agreement using the global financial meltdown as an excuse.
The strikes went long way to expose the collaborative tendency of some NUT leaders with the governments of their respective states. The state governments that financed and sponsored their elections did not do this for militant action, but for them to serve as government agents and to covertly break strikes as they have now done.
Despite the claims of the Federal constitution, many universities and polytechnics are increasing their tuition fees. Students’ contributions are obtained through a multitude of fees imposition – tuition in state and private institutions, acceptance, registration and certification, caution, sports, identity cards, late registration, examination, laboratory, transcript, and medical centre registration fees, among others.
October saw demonstrations by students against fee hikes and education underfunding across three states including Enugu, Ibadan and Lagos. The biggest demo was at the University of Ibadan where over 2,000 came out. In November it was the turn of students at the University of Jos, hundreds of students blocked the main entrance in protest against the recent 15% hike in school fees.
Many schools are without windows, desks, chairs, adequate roofing, toilet facilities and sources of water. Often, pupils must use nearby fields as toilets. Half of existing schools are estimated to need some renovation and almost twice the existing number of classrooms would be needed to achieve universal basic education.
Even if a child is able to acquire an adequate education, in the present Nigerian political economy it is unlikely that he or she will find employment without personal connections that will help them get a job. With unemployment at around 25%, and higher amongst youths, it is hardly surprising the some people are now denying the value of education and so fuelling the Boko Haram movement.
An academic study last year concluded that: “As a matter of urgency, government should massively invest in education. Within this context attention should be given to the need to provide educational facilities which makes learning practical and easier.”
We demand that education for all should be a basic human right, not a privilege. Free education should include books, breakfast and lunch and uniforms for 10 years for every child. There should be no cost sharing, fees or charges for education at primary, secondary of higher levels and the provision of student grants for post-secondary education. Then even the poor will be able to access these services.
Local Government workers defy Plateau government
By Baba Aye
Public sector workers in the Plateau State local governments have remained resolute in their historic six-month strike. They have met the arrogance of the state government with defiance. The state governor, Air Commodore Gyang (rtd) tried to break the strike twice in November, by issuing ultimatums for workers to return back to work or be sacked. United the workers have held out for the payment of the full N18,000.00 minimum wage. United they stand against all the threats and attacks of the bosses, led by the governor. Rather than quell the strike, it is about to lead to a broader wave of strikes, with tertiary institutions workers warming up to return back to the barricades as well.
The strike which has hardly been given the attention it deserves in the mainstream mass media commenced on June 1. The workers rejected the 50% (i.e. N 9,000.00) minimum wage which the state government has been paying. They are members of the five trade unions for local government workers, the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), Medical and Health Workers’ Union of Nigeria (MHWUN), National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives (NANNM) & Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU).
State Government Ignores the Federal Law
When the Minimum Wage Act was signed into law, Plateau State government appealed to local government workers to temporarily accept partial implementation. Its excuse was that the state’s revenue from the federation account of N 1.9bn was inadequate. It promised that once the situation improved the minimum wage act would be fully implemented.
By 2012, the state’s revenue from the federation account shot up to N 2.3bn and the workers felt there was no further excuse. But the state government refused to increase the workers’ wages, calling the increase a mere “augmentation”. It tried to use “stakeholders and elders” to fool the workers, in the name of the “public interest”. The workers refused to be tricked and took the right step of downing tools. In August, workers across the state went on a three-day solidarity general strike. This put pressure on the state government to bend a little, accepting to pay 55% (a mere 5% increase) of the legal minimum wage.
The state government then tried to rub insult upon injury by saying that workers would not be paid for the months they were on strike. The governor actually boasted that state-owned tertiary education sector workers that went on strike last year were not paid and nothing came out of it.
The national leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress has tried to intervene to no avail, while the National Union of Electricity Employee’s issued an ultimatum to the state government to pay or face total black out by December. All these go to confirm the fact that “an injury to one is an injury all”. Meanwhile, the State House of Assembly where a former state president of the Local Government Employees is the Speaker has tried to bring about a “political settlement” of the matter.
Interestingly, the tertiary education workers who have threatened to restart their strike action clearly show the danger of relying on such “political” resolutions. They returned to work last year and subsequently maintained their peace because of such “political” assurances. Of course, negotiations cannot be disregarded in the course of struggle. But it is in the mobilisation of its strength that the working class can win sustainable victory and ultimately overthrow this rotten system of the bosses and start to build a socialist society based on solidarity and cooperation.
Similar strikes in Ekiti are successful
Local government workers of the National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) in Ekiti State started work again on Monday 12th November, 2012 after a successful two month strike. The state government finally agreed to pay a minimum wage of N19,332 from 1st November 2012 as with the state level workers. In addition, the Consolidated Medical Salary Scale (CONMESS) and Consolidated Health Salary Scale (CONHESS) are to be paid with arrears to workers at the third tier. The workers were promised that their salaries for September and October would be paid by mid-November and had strengthened their strike with street protests.
Meanwhile, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) Deputy President, Comrade Promise Adewusi, has threatened governors who are yet to implement the national minimum wage of N18,000 may soon face the wrath of Labour. How is it that some state governments are still refusing to pay this minimum wage two years after it was past into law? Workers in Ekiti and Plateau states are showing that workers collective action is more effective than Federal laws at improving the lot of workers.
University Workers Threaten Joint Strike Action
The three unions in the university sector and have threatened a one week warning strike from 10th December over demands to the Federal Government. The Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), the Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU) and the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT) have fixed a crucial meeting for December 3, to mobilise workers for the strike which is due to start a week later.
The workers are upset about threat to reduce the number of non-teaching staff in the universities and the failure to provide for the payment of earned allowances in the 2013 Budget.
Lawmakers get thrashed
By Baba Aye
Members of the National Assembly claim they represent the people. But the poor works actually know better, they only represent themselves and the class of bosses they belong to. This has stoked the embers of popular anger against them. But normally, they are guarded by security personnel, drive in bullet-proof cars and live behind high walls and razor wire. In November when these law makers went to the public meetings held in their constituencies to discuss the proposed amendments to the country’s constitution, the annoyance of common men and women were demonstrated as they lawmakers were slapped and beaten in some states in the North Central and North Western zones.
The protesting constituents were quite clear in their message; “you are not representing us”. In some cases, the security personnel had to take to their heels and abandon their bosses. Where they stood, they could do nothing but watch. This shows the fact that in our numbers we are stronger than them, even though they might be protected by police and soldiers.
It is however important to point out that it would be an illusion for us to expect these lawmakers to represent us, as working people. The executives, legislators and even the judiciary in any society might claim to represent everybody in the society, but this is never true. Their first “constituency” is and will always be the ruling class in such a society, no matter how “democratic” it is. In a capitalist society, where the elite few are so rich and the majority of working masses are poor, it is the interest of the rich elite that will always be primarily defended. This is why they make laws and policies that are detrimental to the poor, such as those on privatization and cuts in the funding of social services.
We can fight for some reforms and a few progressive laws could be passed especially when we mobilize in defence of our demands. At times they even act well before we start to mobilise, so as to sow illusions that they represent us all. But we need realise, as the constituents who gave dirty slaps did, that this is just shakara.
MHWUN mobilises members
by Tunde Adebola
November was a month of membership mobilisation for the Medical and Health Workers’ Union of Nigeria, particularly in the tertiary health institutions. The union’s national leadership organised an advocacy/mass membership education tour in each of the six geo-political zones. This was with the aim of: deepening members’ consciousness of the union; fostering a greater sense of membership; getting to know the problems and challenges of members; and presenting members’ grievance lists to management,
Thus, in each of the hospitals, three sets of meetings were held. These were with: the branch and state council executives; the rank and file members and the management of the institutions. There was great focus on the meetings with the rank and file who expressed their approval of the whole exercise. Such an experience was a new one for many. There were discussions on the history and goals of trade unions in general and MHWUN in particular. Similarly, the members stated their grievances and yearnings in clear terms.
The benefits of this tour are definitely immeasurable. Without a vibrant union life, from the grassroots of the rank and file to the national leadership, the union cannot adequately represent its members. There is every need for regular interactions between members and the leadership. Similarly, monthly or bi-monthly branch meetings as clearly stated in the constitutions of virtually every union remain of the essence for the unions to continue to make us strong.
WORKERS OF MAINSTREET BANK PROTEST AGAINST MANAGEMENT AND ASSBIFI
By Biodun Olamosu
Eight hundred retrenched workers of the Association of Senior Staff of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions (ASSBIFI) recently protested against the leadership of their Union, for compromising their interests with the management of Mainstreet Bank (formerly Afribank).
These workers were not paid their entitlements when they were disengaged by the Bank, after it had been nationalized last year as a result of its operational challenges. This is despite each of the affected workers only being offered a paltry N50,000. These were workers that had served the Bank for up to 20 years; while other members of the Union had collected over N8million on being disengaged. Workers of Mainstreet Bank were not the only bank workers to be retrenched. Over 9,000 workers were retrenched in the last 12 months. These include Union Bank (400); Access Bank (1,110); First City Monument Bank (550); Ecobank (1,850); Enterprise Bank (150); Sterling Bank (400).
The role of the ASSBIFI leadership has been treacherous. The Union abandoned its responsibility to defend these workers and left this to the TUC. The argument of the Union National President, Sunday Salako, tends to corroborate the allegations made against the ASSBIFI leadership by the affected workers. In the interview he granted to a national newspaper (not Socialist Worker), he said:
We as a Union, are treading carefully in our pronouncements, otherwise we will be sending more banks into their early graves. If these banks go down, the government will be a major beneficiary as the banks’ assets would be sold at give away prices. As it is now, the shareholders have lost their money. If we cry too loud, these banks will go under and with it, the entire workers. The mistake we made was not to have encouraged our members in Mainstreet Bank to accept two years basic pay when the bank made the offer. I wonder if that was not better than nothing. If the bank dies, who do you hold responsible to pay out?
This is a statement of weakness, powerlessness, collaboration and failure in the face of huge potential power the Union could have. In actual fact the best public relations officers of the banks could not have done better in defending their interests than the ASSBIFI national president did.
In other countries, Zimbabwe for instance, the workers did not give up on the management despite the obvious economic and financial crisis. One thousand bank workers were retrenched last year. For this reason, the trade union embarked on preemptive action this year to avoid any further retrenchments. The entire union membership was mobilized along with their labour centre, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions. In another case, SASBO of South Africa, the Union went to court and successfully stopped the rationalization of their members.
The approach of the ASSBIFI leadership of only negotiating an end to their members’ work is preposterous and opportunistic. Only the banks have benefited. The banks have been able to utilize this opportunity to embark on rationalization exercises on an annual basis since 2009. The Governor of the Central Bank, Lamido Sanusi, has seen these exercises as being so successful that he wants this practice extended to the civil service. He has recommended cutting the workforce of the civil service by half, at all levels.
The ASSBIFI leadership has a responsibility to the rest of the trade union movement to resist such retrenchment exercises which further increase the level of unemployment. The situation has already reached crisis point with about 50 million people unemployed; and 40% of youths searching for jobs. The government should be made to pay the full entitlements to all the affected workers. The government paid out huge sums to bailout private owned banks in the past and has just abolished VAT, stamp duty and commissions for those gambling on the stock exchange, as well as cancelling N23 billion of their loans! In this situation, what rational argument can there be for the Government not paying the workers of the nationalised banks their full entitlements?
Sack CBN Governor – NLC
The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) has demanded the sack of Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi on the basis of his call for the sack of 50 per cent of Nigerian workers. As the NLC has pointed out, corruption is a problem that has to be fought. But the root cause of the Nigerian economy is the capitalist economy which nurtures corruption.
The Press Release of the NLC reads:
“We were not shocked to hear the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi once again display his contempt for the working people in Nigeria with his recommendation that the Federal Government should sack 50 per cent of its workforce for the economy to be revived.
“It has become obvious that there are some individuals parading the corridors of power who are not qualified to be anywhere around organisations saddled with the responsibility of developing policies for national development. Since assumption of office as the governor of CBN, all Sanusi’s major pronouncements have been either directly anti-people or ruinous to the Nigerian economy.
“The burden of wealth creation in Nigeria, like any other country, has been on workers, while some politicians and economic parasites like Sanusi over-consume what the workers sweat to create. Workers are the key driving force of all economies and only a hollow economist like Sanusi will underplay this.
The major problems of the Nigerian economy are corruption and lack of good governance, and until we solve these problems our economy will continue in comatose.
“Today, there are countless probe reports with names of those who swindled our country of several trillions of both naira and other foreign currencies still living in Nigeria either walking freely around the corridors of power or directly holding public or political offices rather than being in jail.
“We see, in Sanusi, an agent of death that must be defeated and crushed before he further destroys the Nigerian economy.
“While President Jonathan is promising to create more jobs, Lamido Sanusi is calling for mass sack of civil servants in a country with one of the highest number of unemployed, which has indeed led to gross deprivation and the current state of insecurity in Nigeria.
“While we believe the Federal Government will ignore the ranting of this hollow economist, Sanusi has never demonstrated patriotism in all his advice on economic and financial management in Nigeria.
“Sanusi’s only understanding of governance is simply about saving money and not saving lives, as his proposals are repeatedly devoid of human content and without consideration for the implications on larger society. The burden that will come with mass sack as high as 50 per cent of civil servants in addition to the already-saturated unemployment market can better be imagined. Governance is about improving the quality of lives of the people and not destruction of productive lives.
“To show how unknowledgeable and unfit he is as a public office holder, Sanusi also called for the scrapping of local governments in Nigeria, a country that runs a federal system no matter how inefficient the system is. Local government is an important tier of government in a federal system and what we need is to strengthen the system to enable it deliver good governance to the people as it is the closest to the grassroots; and rather than removing the tier as proposed by Mallam Sanusi, the local governments require more funding to enable them function properly as required under a federal system.
“The truth, which Sanusi as a beneficiary is running away from, is that corruption has become a real burden on the economy and it should be the only priority item on the table of any serious government. Even if you sack all the workers in Nigeria, any amount saved from that will be stolen and the culprits will walk in freedom.
“LET THE TRADE UNIONS BE”
Being the text of the Welcome Address at the Formal Opening of the Conference on 100 Years of Trade Unionism in Nigeria: Retrospect and Prospects, Organised by the Working Class and Trade Union Studies Association of Nigeria(WCTUSAN) at the Conference Centre, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Nigeria, 5-7, December 2012.
It is with utmost pleasure that I welcome you all to the 2012 Annual conference of the Working Class and Trade Union Studies Association of Nigeria. This is the second of such since the Association was inaugurated in 2008. Coming at this time of the year and with the theme; 100 years of Trade Unionism in Nigeria, our gathering here today is a befitting way to end the year which began with the mass protest against the ill-advised increase in the prices of petroleum products by the Jonathan administration in January 2012. It is also a demonstration of our abiding commitment to generating ideas that are aimed at strengthening the trade union movement in Nigeria. The Working Class and Trade Union Studies Association of Nigeria (WCTUSAN) is a platform that brings together scholars, unionists and civil society activists with an interest in studying and subjecting to intellectual scrutiny, the lot of working people and trade union organisations. This is with a view to energizing the Nigerian trade union movement in the overall interests of union members in particular and members of the working class at large. 100 years is certainly a milestone and we consider it appropriate to celebrate in our own little way, the folks who made the weekend a reality. Irrespective of our reservations about trade unions, I dare say, that without them things would have been worse!!!
A little over 100 years ago, Nigerian workers, in spite of the hostile environment of colonial rule, emulated the heroic efforts of fellow workers in other parts of the world by embracing the ideals of trade unionism. In August 1912, the Southern Nigerian Civil Service Union was formed and with the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates as well as the colony of Lagos into a single political entity in 1914, the fledging union became the Nigerian Civil Service Union. It is significant to note that the first trade union in Nigeria came into being 26 years before any enabling legislation was put in place. This is similar to developments in other parts of the world by which workers decided to take their own destinies into their own hands by creating the organisational platforms for the protection and advancement of their interests, not only at work but in the industrial capitalists society at large. The point to note here is that trade unions are not the creations of laws but of the resolve of workers to resist the exploitation, iniquities, inequities, injustice and oppression which constitute the foundation of capitalist employment relations. It is about the resolve of workers as free citizens to say no to the inadequacies and shortcomings of paid employment.
Essentially, trade unionism was a direct response to the challenges posed by the realities of capitalist employment relations. It can, therefore, be said without any fear of contradiction that unions were formed primarily to play a role in the industrial relations set-up. This role is that of protecting and advancing the interests of their disadvantaged members against predatory employers who enjoy the massive backing of the state. It is precisely this role defending members’ interests that employers and their apologists would want the unions to jettison. This position cannot be correct because, as Flanders (1972) argues: “The first and overriding responsibility of all trade unions is to the welfare of their own members. That is their primary commitment; not to a firm, not to an industry, not to the nation”. This is also in line with the characterisation of trade unions as independent organisations of workers. Consequently, the prevailing attitude of management and the state that frowns at any union posture that is not supportive of the ‘official’ position does not seem to appreciate the primary purpose of trade unions.
In spite of the fact that unions were the creations of workers themselves for the furtherance of their collective interests within the employment relationship, efforts have always been made to co-opt them to the side of capital and a good number of industrial relations policies are geared towards this end. Hyman (1975) comments on this trend by insisting that: “Policies designed to curb the oppositional basis of trade unionism and encourage a collaborative orientation shape the general character of industrial relations”. We should, therefore, resist the attempts of enemies of the movement to convert the unions into instruments of control over their members.
Our plea as we celebrate 100 years of trade unionism in Nigeria is that the Nigerian state and those who love to hate the unions should “LET THE TRADE UNIONS BE!!! They should stop creating the impression that trade unions are the problem. We also say here without equivocation that much of the advancement that humanity has witnessed is because of the efforts and sacrifices of workers and their unions. Even when they focus on economic issues, the rest of the society, particularly the voiceless, are the ultimate beneficiaries. Nobody can accuse workers and their unions of being selfish. That we are talking of an independent Nigeria today, is largely due to the contributions of the trade union movement. It is generally acknowledged that the successful prosecution of the 1945 General strike hastened the collapse of colonial rule in Nigeria. This is to the extent that the strike exposed the underbelly of colonial rule and the vulnerability of the colonialists. Is it not an irony that the Nigerian political class that profited from the activism of trade unions in the pre-independence era, is the same that displays a rabid intolerance of trade union activism today?
Permit me to also use this medium to draw attention of those employers that inhibit the right of workers to join trade unions in their industries that they are violently violating the provisions of S.40 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which guarantees that “Every person shall be entitled to assembly freely and associate with other persons and in particular, he may form or belong, to any political party, trade union or any association for the protection of his interest”. It is my hope as we begin the journey into a new centenary that Nigerian trade unions and their allies would press charges of treason against employers, both private and public, who are guilty of preventing their workers from joining unions of their choice.
It also appropriate to quickly respond to the call of the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) that 50% of the public sector workforce should be sacked. In spite of the belated explanation that he was quoted out of context, it should be noted that Sanusi’s outburst is in the character of the Nigerian state which readily makes victims of ill-advised policies the sacrificial lambs. In dismissing Sanusi’s call it is important to draw his attention to the reality on ground. By government’s own admission as at early 2006, the total employment figure in the entire public service of Nigeria from the federal to local government levels was 2,267,492. With a population of about 140million, the total number of persons employed in the entire public service in Nigeria (federal, state and local governments) as at then was only 1.61% of the populace!!! This figure has gone down considerably since. It is amazing that anybody would argue that it is too much for a government to employ directly less than 2% of its total population.
Closely related to the above is what the average public servant earns. By government’s own account those in the cadres of permanent secretary and the directorate during the same period each earned on the average, US$1,000 and US$ 700 per month respectively and constituted less than 2% of all employees. The bulk of the employees outside the directorate cadre as at 2005 numbered 178,445 (excluding those at the directorate level as well as the permanent secretaries). Those at the level of confidential secretary are credited with a pay packet of US$400 per month (Adegoroye, 2006) while those at the lowest level earn less than US$100 each per month. We can then put the average earning of the civil servant at about US$ 250 translating into a monthly wage bill of US$ 44,611,250. at an exchange rate of N130 to US$1, this amounts to N5, 799462,500bn per month or N69, 593, 550, 000bn per annum. This wage bill contrasts sharply with a figure of N65.5 billion spent annually on the salaries and allowances of 472 political office holders who constitute the Federal Executive arm of government in Nigeria (see The Guardian, Sunday July 1, 2007 for details). Again this gives the lie to government’s position as to what constitutes the drain on the common purse. Rather than the underpaid workers, it is the idle political office holders that constitute the drain on public funds in Nigeria.
The above are a few of the challenges and travails of the trade union movement in Nigeria. It is my hope that we shall all make good use of the platform provided by this Conference to reflect on the journey of the last 100 years with a view to ensuring that the next 100 years would be less bumpy and more rewarding. The end of this Conference should mark the beginning of a robust debate about the future of the Nigerian trade union movement, with a particular focus on what to be done to ensure its continued relevance to the yearnings and aspirations of members.
Finally, I wish to place on record, the financial support of the following organisations in organising this conference;
i) Food, Beverage and Tobacco Senior Staff Association(FOBTOB)
ii) Association of Senior Staff of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions(ASSBIFI)
iii) Michael Imoudu National Institute for Labour Studies(MINILS), Ilorin
iv) Academic Staff Union of Universities(ASUU), University of Ibadan Branch
v) National Union of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions Employees(NUBIFIE)
We appreciate your kind gesture. To all of you who are part of this conference, we salute your steadfastness and commitment to building a virile trade union movement in Nigeria. We further enjoin you to come on board the ship of our Association as we struggle to ensure that the Nigerian working class realises its full potentialities as NOT JUST AS A CLASS IN ITSELF BUT AS A CLASS FOR ITSELF.
MAY OUR STEPS NEVER FALTER WHERE PROGRESSIVE FORCES WOULD HAVE TRIUMPHED.
ALUTA CONTINUA, VICTORIA ACERTA
Interim Coordinator (WCTUSAN) &
CELEBRATION OF 100 YEARS OF TRADE UNIONISM IN NIGERIA
On 5 to 6 December 2012, the Working Class and Trade Union Studies Association of Nigeria organized a Conference to mark the Centenary of trade unionism in Nigeria. Below, we bring you the Welcome Speech f the Interim Coordinator of the Association and the Opening Speech of the Chairman of the Opening Ceremony, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN.
IN CELEBRATION OF 100 YEARS OF TRADE UNIONISM IN NIGERIA
By Femi Falana, SAN
The Working Class and Trade Union Studies Association of Nigeria deserves commendation for organising this workshop to celebrate the centenary of trade unionism in the country. The programme could not have come at a more opportune time than now. Just last week, the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Mr Sanusi Lamido Sanusi called for a 50 percent reduction in the work force to balance the budget. He also called for the complete removal of fuel subsidy to free funds for development in the country. Although the leaders of the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Centre have joined with Mr Sanuso it is pertinent to appreciate that the Goodluck Jonathan Administration shares such superficial solutions to the crisis of underdevelopment. Apart from his membership of Jonathan’s economic team Mr sanusi has teamed up with the other apostles of market fundamentalism to justify the removal of the so called fuel subsidy, retrenchment of workers, galloping inflation, the manipulation of the foreign exchange market and the dollarisation of the economy. Through dubious monetary policies the CBN has kept interest rates beyond the reach of genuine investors. These anti-peoples’ policies constitute the cornerstone of the transformation agenda of the Jonathan Transformation Agenda.
About a year ago, the triumphirate of Mallam Sanusi, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Mrs Deizani Alison-Madueke claimed that fuel subsidy had gulped N1.3 trillion in 2011 and that smugglers, oil thieves and the cartel of fuel importers perpetrating fraud in the oil and gas industry could not be arrested and prosecuted. The solution which they prescribed was that fuel subsidy should be removed to allow market forces to determine the real prices of petroleum products throughout the country. Thus, the Federal Government was forced to punish Nigerians for its incompetence which has forced a major oil producing nation to depend on fuel importation and the fraudulent manipulation of the fuel subsidy fund by the Ministries of Petroleum and Finance as well as the Central Bank in collusion with the cartel of fuel importers. Hence the price of petrol was increased from N65 to N141 per litre with effect from January 1, 2012. But due to the popular rejection of the insensitive policy through the historic protests of January 2012 the price was reduced to N97 per litre. And following the demand of Nigerians for transparency in the oil and gas sector the mismanagement of the fuel subsidy fraud was referred to the EFCC and other committees set up by the federal government. Both chambers of the National assembly have equally conducted investigated into the rot.
The main finding of the probes is that whereas N245 billion was appropriated in 2011 for fuel subsidy the Central Bank illegally paid out N2.3 trillion to the NNPC and other fuel importers on the recommendation of the Federal Ministries of Finance and Petroleum Resources. Up till now, the lousy officials who committed such grave economic crimes have not been brought to book. In a very arrogant manner the indicted officials are trying to divert attention of Nigerians by making reckless statements on the state of the economy. The statement credited to the finance minister two days ago that Nigeria lost N400 billion last year through fuel subsidy is grossly misleading. If the genuine fuel imported into the country in 2011 was not more than N800 billion it is submitted that the country lost N1.7 trillion which has to be accounted for by the Finance Minister and Co-ordinator of the economy. Mr. Stanley Reginald, the Executive Secretary of the PPPRA has just disclosed that from January-October 2012 fuel subsidy payment was N679 billion in 2012 as against the N1.3 trillion paid within the same period last year. This was made possible because the number of importers has been pruned down to 38 from 128.
Since the Federal Government is currently studying the report of the Steve Oronsanye Committee which has recommended a restructure of the overbloated public service the call of Mr Sanusi for 50% reduction of the workers in the civil service is rather opportunistic. In any case, the wage bill of civil servants is not the problem of the economy but the gross mismanagement, corruption and capital flight perpetrated by a parasitic ruling class. For instance it is public knowledge that the budget of the National Assembly is N150 billion while that of the CBN is N300bn in 2012. The PPPRA is paying salaries and allowances of N5.7 billion to 249 staff. In the 2013 budget, hundreds of billions have been allocated for food, entertainment, cutleries and sundry items in the villa a country where the majority of citizens are wallowing in abject poverty. The loquacious CBN governor is not condemning the allocation of such huge funds to service a few government officials! On its own part, the CBN has continued to distort the economy through the monthly conversion of revenue in dollars to Naira for payment of statutory allocations instead of the issuance of dollar certificates to the three tiers of Government.
No doubt, Mr Sanusi’s call is designed to cover up the unprecedented looting of the economy. Not less than N3 trillion has been channeled to bail out banks which were run down by bank executives with the connivance of the corrupt inspectorate division of the CBN. The Auditor-General of the Federation has just disclosed that N4.4 trillion has been stolen by MDAs while NEITI has said that $9.8 billion has been withheld illegally by oil companies. On its own part the Nuhu Ribadu-led PRSTF has reported a loss of over $50 billion. Why is Mr Sanusi not asking that the stolen funds be recovered? In the face of mounting unemployment of young and able bodied citizens the retrenchment of workers by 50% should be resisted. The increase in the prices of petroleum products under any guise should also be rejected by the workers and the Nigerian people.
Finally, in spite of its limitations, the trade union movement has played a positive role in the struggle for political independence and the expansion of the democratic space in Nigeria. Therefore, the trade unions should draw sufficient lessons from the collapse of the January 2012 strike and popular protests in other to forge ahead. It is high time the trade unions, in collaboration with other progressive forces fashioned out an economic programme designed to “harness the resources of the nation and promote national prosperity and efficient, a dynamic and self reliant economy” and ensure that “the economic system is not operated in such a manner as to permit the concentration of wealth or the means of production and exchange in the hands of a few individuals or of a group” as stipulated in Section 16 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).
Femi Falana SAN
A new beginning for public sector workers? – Public Services International elects Rosa Pavanelli as new General Secretary
by Baba Aye
The 29th World Congress of the Public Services International (PSI) was held in Durban in late November. This might represent a new beginning for the global union of public sector workers with the election of Rosa Pavanelli from Italy as the new General Secretary. The Congress also passed resolutions aimed at sharpening the fighting capacity of the International and its affiliates spread across over 120 countries.
Rosa was the General Secretary of the Health Workers Union in Italy and the Vice-President of Public Services International for the European region. She reflects the rising resistance against austerity and cut backs by public sector workers.
Candice Owley, a Vice President of the American Federation of Teachers and a member of the Public Services International Executive Board captures this. She said the experience of workers power in Wisconsin against the anti-workers laws of Governor Scott Walker last year had made her, “understand more clearly than ever the critical importance of a strong global voice for public employees with an activist agenda that will mobilize workers around the world in defence of public services and trade union rights”.
The 28th Congress took place five years ago in Vienna, before the global crisis started. It marked the end of an era within the International itself. That was when Public Services International clocked 100 years and Hans Engelberts who had been the General Secretary for a quarter of that century, stepped down. Peter Waldoff from Denmark had defeated Keith Sonnet of Unison, UK in a keenly contested election, to step into Hans shoes. Five years later, the general feeling was that Mr. Waldoff did not have what was needed to pursue an “activist agenda” for the International. Rosa Pavanelli became the first female General Secretary of Public Services International.
The conference hall erupted in celebration when the results were read out. Rosa Pavanelli might not be a revolutionary in the mould of the famous Polish socialist, Rosa Luxembourg, but she has a track record of sincere and passionate activism.
The election of Rosa and the adoption of a radical four year programme of action at the global level are not enough. There is the fundamental need for trade unions within each country to raise higher still, the banner of struggle against the exploitative system of capitalism and for an alternative system based on social justice, solidarity and cooperation. The unions have to be fighting unions, educating and mobilizing rank and file members on a constant basis. They equally have to forge stronger alliances with radical civil society organisations as agreed upon at Durban. These include socialist tendencies such as the Socialist Workers League.
We are at a turning point in the history of humankind. Not to fight is to surrender to destruction by the bosses who will make us bear the brunt of the crises they have brought upon us all. To fight is the only way we can build and win pro-working people alternatives and ultimately, bring to birth a new, socialist world. The new spirit of the Public Services International is definitely a spark for public sector unions fighting spirit to be rekindled. We must bear the torch of this new spirit in the battles that lie ahead in our country.
There are nine affiliates of the International in Nigeria. These are; Medical and Health Workers’ Union of Nigeria (MHWUN), National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), Nigeria Civil Service Union (NCSU), Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU), Amalgamated Union (AUPCTRE), National Association of Nigerian Nurses (NANNM), National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE), Agric and Allied Employees Union (AAEUN) & the National Union of Civil Service Secretarial & Allied Workers (NUCSSAW).
Egypt : All power and wealth to the people!:
– By Egypt’s Revolutionary Socialists
Today all the masks fell from Mohamed Mursi and his Muslim Brotherhood organisation, who trade in revolution and for whom the revolution is nothing but a means to reach the seat of power. They and the remnants of the old regime are two sides of the same coin, which is tyranny and enmity towards the people.
Mursi has issued a constitutional declaration in the name of the revolution. It appears on the surface to show compassion, but in reality it promises torment.
He has started to open investigations into the murder of revolutionaries, dozens of whom fell at Maspero, in Mohamed Mahmoud Street and outside the Cabinet Offices. The Muslim Brotherhood had previously ignored them.
He announced the removal of the attorney general, whose sacking we have been demanding since the beginning of the revolution since he is a part of the old regime. This is the same regime whose leadership Mursi has largely preserved, such as the current interior minister, or the businessmen who accompany Mursi on his plane when he travels abroad.
The declaration then moved on to its real object: to give immunity to the president’s decisions until the election of a new parliament. This will also preserve the Shura Council [the upper house of Egypt’s parliament] and the farcical Constituent Assembly, which has seen a large number of its members resign in recent days.
This assembly does not represent the Egyptian masses. It was the result of a deal in a hotel room between the Brotherhood, the Salafists and the parties of the old era. Its members aren’t concerned with economic and social rights. They are more interested in the age of marriage for girls, in abolishing the divorce law—and in expanding the powers of the president.
The declaration also gives Mursi the right to take any decisions necessary in the face of threats to the country, national security, the revolution or national unity.
We say to Mursi: you and your organisation are the real threat to the revolution, as you embrace Mubarak’s businessmen, run panting after loans from the IMF, trade in religion, threaten national unity and sell the revolution.
The words “social justice” are not even in your dictionary. You’ve forgotten the minimum and maximum wage. You’ve raised prices and left the poor eating mud while they still need a bottle of oil and kilo of meat before the elections.
We will not accept a new pharaoh. You will not succeed in stabilising your tottering government which crushed dozens of children with neglect, killed and injured hundreds of young people with bullets and tear gas, and detained hundreds after severe beatings and torture from the dogs of the interior ministry.
But we will not accept remnants of the old regime returning to the revolutionary scene under the pretext that “we are all against the Brotherhood”. We will not work with anyone who worked hand in glove with the deposed dictator, because these people participated for many years in looting and killing the best sons and daughters of the people. We call on our comrades in the revolutionary march to step back from this game of shuffling the decks of cards.
The Revolutionary Socialists call on the revolutionary people to save the revolution which has been stolen by an alliance between the Brotherhood and the remnants of Mubarak’s regime. We call on people to come out into the streets with the slogans: bread, freedom, social justice.
the cancellation of the supplementary constitutional declaration which entrenches tyranny and autocracy
the formation of a new Constituent Assembly which represents all sections of society, including workers, peasants, civil servants, professionals, women, Copts, Nubians, the people of Sinai and Upper Egypt, fishermen and others
the resignation of Qandil’s failed government and the formation of a revolutionary coalition government to take office until the completion of the new constitution and the election of a new parliament
serious steps towards achieving of social justice, such as: implementing a minimum wage of 1,500 Egpytian pounds a month [£150] and a maximum wage; seizing the assets of corrupt companies and Mubarak’s businessmen for the benefit of the people; imposing progressive income taxes; renationalising companies that were sold in corrupt deals and cancelling the privatisation programme
All power and wealth to the people!
Statement published by Egypt’s Revolutionary Socialists on 22 November. Thanks to Anne Alexander for this translation. The original Arabic is online at the Revolutionary Socialists’ website revsoc.me
Questions and answers on Israel and Palestine
On 29 November 2012, the UN voted to upgrade the status of Palestine from an Observer to nonmember Observer State. Below, we present basic questions and answer on Isreal-Palestine relationship
Why does Israel exist?
Israel was founded in 1948 on land grabbed from Palestinians. It was created as a settler state based on the ideas of Zionism—which argues that Jewish people can only find peace by living in a separate state.
Zionists demanded Palestine as the site of historic Israel. Then they took Palestine through brutal violence, based on the notion it had been the site of ancient Israel 2,000 years earlier. They could only gain control with the support of imperial powers.
At first, Zionism was not supported by the majority of Jewish people across the world. But after the Nazi Holocaust the separatist ideas found more support.
In 1947 the United Nations passed a declaration giving the Zionists 55 percent of the land. But despite decades of settlement they only made up around 30 percent of the population.
In 1948 Palestinians were hounded and murdered by Zionist gangs until they fled. Generations have grown up in refugee camps. They are unable to return to their homeland. Yet the Israeli state has ruled that anyone of Jewish descent is entitled to “return” and live in the country.
Since 1967 Israel has occupied the remaining parts of Palestine—Gaza and the West Bank.
Gaza is a prison camp. Israel controls almost all travel in or out—apart from the goods smuggled through tunnels and the border connected to Egypt. Israel complains that the tunnels allow weapons in, but these contraband supplies keep people alive.
Why does the West back Israel?
National liberation movements were challenging Western imperialist powers in the region when Israel was formed.
The West sought to create as many allies as possible to maintain control of resources and vital trade routes such as the Suez Canal. Once oil was discovered in the region the West was determined to keep control.
Britain’s Balfour Declaration in 1917 supported the creation of Israel. It began the process of turning Zionist settlements into colonial outposts.
Israel later became the West’s watchdog in the region. When the US became the dominant power, Israel made its allegiance to it clear.
While the US struggled in Vietnam, Israel defended its interests in the region, defeating Egypt, Syria and Jordan in the Six Day War.
Israel has been a reliable ally ever since. That is why it gets billions of dollars in aid every year.
What is the solution?
There are frequent calls for Israel and Palestine to negotiate a settlement. But Israel can only exist by denying the rights of Palestinians. And its growing settlements push Palestinians into ever smaller enclaves.
The only solution is to create a single state that allows Jews and Arabs to live alongside each other and allows all Palestinians the right to return.
The “peace process” is sponsored by the US, which sides with Israel. The US and Israel will only negotiate with leaders who give up resistance. That’s why they refused to recognise Hamas, the democratically elected government of Gaza.
Who are Hamas?
Hamas emerged from a failed peace process that repeatedly robbed the Palestinian people.
It got support because it said it would not negotiate while Israel was building settlements and holding Gaza hostage.
But instead of focusing on grassroots resistance to Israeli domination, Hamas has found itself governing Gaza.
Obama’s re-election: myths and reality
by Anindya Bhattacharyya
“We are an American family and we rise or fall together as one nation and as one people,” said Barack Obama in his victory speech after winning his second term as US president.
The truth is that the US has never been more divided. Unemployment rose sharply in the first couple of years of Obama’s presidency and has remained high. The gap between rich and poor continues to get wider.
And this has been accompanied by a widening split in popular politics. “As Americans head to the polls this November, their values and basic beliefs are more polarised along partisan lines than at any point in the past 25 years,” the Pew Research Centre notes.
This trend has been building ever since the 2007 global financial crisis, and it shows no sign of stopping. Many of those who leaned left as the banks were bailed out have moved further left, while those who leaned right and blamed blacks and migrants for the crisis have moved further right.
Obama and his supporters skillfully set out to channel opposition to the wealthy few into votes for the Democrats. And, while seeking to capitalise on the popular anger, the president also sought to dampen down resistance in the streets and on picket lines—fearing that the new wave of cuts he is planning will be met by a wave of popular anger.
Class pattern to the Obama vote
Obama was elected in 2008 on a tide of popular optimism and euphoria. That certainly wasn’t present this time round. He has failed to deliver on his supporters’ hopes. But fear of the rabid Republican right meant that disillusion didn’t translate into major electoral losses.
The coalition Obama pulled together four years ago—ethnic minorities, the young, working class voters and middle class liberals—by and large held together.
Turnout only fell slightly, from 62 percent to around 60 percent. Only two marginal states changed hands, with Indiana and North Carolina going back to the Republicans. Slice up the figures by class, race, or gender and you typically see the same picture of a small drift away from Obama 2008, but no major changes.
There is a clear class pattern to Obama’s vote. He won a clear majority of “lower income voters” (those earning less than $30,000, or £19,000, a year)—63 percent. This majority drops as you climb the income scale. Americans earning more than $50,000 a year preferred Mitt Romney.
And there’s a similar geographical pattern. Among voters in big cities, Obama won 69 percent. Romney was ahead in smaller cities, suburbs and rural areas. So Obama’s base is urban and working class. And these factors cut across racial divides.
Romney’s attempt to play the race card
This doesn’t mean race had no effect on the election. Black voters still turned out overwhelmingly for Obama. His share among Hispanics rose from 67 percent in 2008 to 71 percent this time round. And it jumped sharply for Asian Americans, from 62 percent to 73 percent.
Meanwhile racism was never far from the surface in the Romney campaign. An audience member photographed at an early rally wore a T-shirt calling for the white to be put back in the White House.
This was reflected in the results. Obama’s vote was 56 percent white, 24 percent black and 14 percent Hispanic. Romney’s was 89 percent white, 2 percent black and 6 percent Hispanic.
This picture has led many to declare that white working class Americans flocked to the Romney camp. And it’s undoubtedly true that there was a swing towards the Republicans among these voters. But the full figures show a much more nuanced picture.
Obama was still ahead among lower income white voters. According to Pew, some 45 percent of them lean towards him, compared to 43 percent for Romney. This is a smaller lead than in 2008, but it is still a lead.
Moreover the white working class Romney vote is concentrated geographically. Romney enjoyed a huge lead in the states of the Deep South—and challenging racist traditions of the South has not been a priority for the Democratic Party.
But in the rest of the country Romney’s lead among working class whites was at best marginal—and in the Midwest, the core agricultural and manufacturing states, the polls put Obama ahead among working class white voters.
So the picture is complex. A section of white workers have fallen for the idea that their interests are opposed to those of black workers and foreigners, both at home and abroad. And they fell for Romney’s racist pitch to them—the idea that he would look after the whites while Obama would look after the blacks.
But the Romney voters do not represent white workers in general. And Romney’s hold over them should not be overstated. Many of these workers can be broken from racist ideas if they are seriously challenged and if the unions mount the kind of action necessary to save jobs and improve wages.
Election is only a pale reflection of popular mood
The BBC’s election day coverage included an idiotic piece that talked up the Tea Party while completely ignoring Occupy and the big strike movements that have taken place during Obama’s time in office. This is a typical theme of the mass media. It likes to present crazed racists and rabid anti-abortionists as somehow representative of ordinary Americans.
But there is also a growing left wing mood in the US. Slogans of the Occupy movement that label the rich as “the 1%” and the rest as “the 99%” have passed into everyday vocabulary. Large militant strikes, such as those in Wisconsin last year and most recently the Chicago teachers’ strike have won massive support.
An echo of this mood showed up in some of the referendums that took place on polling day. Four states voted to back gay marriage: Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington. Two states, Colorado and Washington, voted to legalise cannabis. The Republican candidates that made the vilest anti-woman comments during the campaign were all defeated.
This popular mood gets stronger when you factor in the 84 million Americans who could vote but didn’t. A recent poll of non-voters by Pew found they leaned to the left by around two to one. They are typically young, lower income and include a high proportion of Hispanics.
One effect of the election campaign and the fear of the right is to channel working class anger into the altogether safer arena of electoral politics. That process saw union leaders aligned to the Democrats using their influence to curtail struggles and limit demands.
The battles of the future
Obama used his victory speech to talk dreamily about a truly “united” America, in which the growing divisions are healed by a revived national spirit.
His speech also contained warnings for the future, including Obama looking forward to “sitting down with Governor Romney to talk about where we can work together to move this country forward”. And by “move this country forward” he means introducing huge cuts in public spending.
The Democrats know that cuts to healthcare, education and welfare will hit many of its own supporters hard, but the party is committed to putting the interests of businesses first.
Fuelling all of this is the global economic crisis, which neither the Democrats nor the Republicans can solve. One minute they bicker, the next they kiss and make up. But they will have to keep attacking workers, and that will only “divide the nation” further.
The disarray of the Republican Tea Party far right will give confidence to all those that want to fight back. Our hope must be that in doing so, workers discover the power to unite and go well beyond the Democratic Party that has taken their votes for granted and delivered so little.
NANS TEAM RESTORATION 2012
C/O STUDENTS’ UNION BUILDING, LAGOS STATE UNIVERSITY, OJO, LAGOS
IFE REMAINS THE BASTION OF PERMANENT MOBILISATION AS THE SYMBOL OF GENUINE STUDENTS’ INDEPENDENT DEMOCRATIC UNIONISM: LET US RECLAIM NANS FOR THE STUDENTS ON CAMPUSES WITH CORRECT VALUES.
Great Nigerian Students,
It has come to our knowledge that the management of Obafemi Awolowo University under the leadership of Prof. Bamitale Omole has neither yet learnt the lessons of history nor gotten into the realisation that we are in a democratic dispensation since 1999 albeit deform democracy. However, the NANS TEAM RESTORATION 2012believes fervently that human needs go beyond bare survival needs.
We are disturbed to understand the Great Ife tradition is not only being eroded but being sold at half a penny to those who do not want it, (pun away) it is left for Ife students’ and unions to defend the intellectual sanctuary, democratic independent unionism, political suavity and economic sensitivity which were the bedrock of setting up Great Ife. It has come to our knowledge that in the last few years, both the workers’ unions (academic or non-academic) and the Students’ movement have been under vigorous attacks by the management in collusion with unscrupulous individual within and outside the campus, yet how interest is for Ife to be Great again as the Avant-garde of progressiveness.
The NANS TEAM RESTORATION 2012, on behalf of DAYO SHOYOYE (LASU TICKET) for NANS PRESIDENCY salutes Ife students’ for the heroic battle which wrestled our humanity from the jaws of charlatans and those who want us perpetual Damocles. It is now left to Great Ife to rethink, reflect and reposition. Let us learn mobilisation strategy from the experience of other Universities, LASU, UI, UNI-ABUJA, UNI-JOS, UNI-PORT, etc. For example it was only when UI fought for water and light that they got it and it was only when other campuses fought for their rights that they got it.
Dare to struggle, Dare to win. NANS TEAM RESTORATION will always be with you, Ife remains a strong pillar of struggle; we join you to reclaim the NANS movement from below…
Fraternal Regards, Till Victory!
NANS TEAM RESTORATION 2012
Culture and the National Question
By Biodun Olamosu
A culture consists of attributes acquired by a group of people, in the course of engaging and using nature to meet their basic needs such as food, housing, clothing and reproduction. This is the reason why anthropologists, such as Tylor, defined culture as a way of life that includes customs, traditions, habits, behaviours, language, beliefs, religion, technology etc that are passed from one generation to the next.
Culture can be divided into two broad categories – material culture and culture in form of a group’s shared consciousness. Material culture involves advances in technology as in today’s capitalist industrial world; but it may also be in the form of simple tools or implements known to early humans. The stage of development at any point in time can be determined by the level of technology in use (such as the bronze age, stone age, industrial age, electronic age etc).
But the most important aspect of human culture is the shared consciousness of a group, which is also broadly determined by technology. It is derived from the process of transforming nature and like technology, consciousness generally changes over the course of history.
Class divisions also influence and determine culture. This influence came about when class divisions first developed; first with slavery, then feudalism and finally the capitalist stage of development. In class societies, people are divided into two major classes; the exploiters and the exploited, the oppressors and the oppressed, the haves and the have not.
In the case of colonialism, as experienced in our situation, western education was introduced by the missionaries and later the run by the colonialists to train staff to work in their various institutions – the civil service, banks, insurance, sea ports, trading/distribution, railways, mining, schools, etc. as clerks, teachers and other officials. Such education was also used to promote a foreign culture and degrade the culture of the colonized Africans. At the same time, colonialism led to the development of the working class that later opposed the colonialists and their supporters among the old traditional ruling class. This was predicted by Marx when he said that the working class, created by capitalism, would ultimately be its grave digger.
But culture has also been used to institutionalize exploitation and oppression, for example, in some class divided pre-colonial African communities, under colonialism, and now in the independent capitalist countries of Africa.
Culture is what distinguishes human society from animals. Promoting one culture above that of another one by the government and the bosses cannot serve the interests of the working people, but may help to gain the support of some of the poor in the pursuit of the corrupt elite’s egotistic competitive rivalry. For working people, culture is the product of their collective work (and that of their forebears). Each people possess their own culture and anthropologists say: no culture is inferior to another.
Ideally, the dominant culture of the working class should be its collective culture of resistance against poverty. We should be cautious of any faction of the ruling class that claims to share the same cultural background with us. They usually do this to try and manipulate us to serve their own purposes. Workers and other poor people have more in common with the poor of other countries, tribes and cultures than with our so-called leaders.
At various times in history, nations of different cultural backgrounds have come together to wage war against a common enemy or for developmental purposes. At other times, they have disintegrated due to internal frictions or, as is common today, to try and monopolise natural resources.
It is natural that oppressed nations should be granted the right to self-determination. But this may be denied for selfish reasons. Marxists, as fighters against exploitation and oppression, support any group in society that is cheated, exploited or oppressed. We refuse to accept, in the course of such struggles, the superiority of one ethnic group over another. It is our responsibility to work towards organising the working class internationally as one united group to better defend our interests.
Our problem is not that of living in a culturally diverse world, but that the corrupt ruling class may use tribalism, racism or nationalism to divide and weaken the working class and other poor people. We need better organization of the working people at both the political and economic levels. We can then pose the required challenges against the capitalist ruling class and ultimately working people should take over the running of society in their own interests.
UNDERSTANDING BOKO HARAM CRISIS
By Drew Povey
What attitude should Socialists take to Boko Haram and the vicious state repression associate with their attacks?
Boko Haram is a symptom of the severe socio-economic problems that the working class and other poor people face; despite the fact that this is clothed in religious dress. There is high unemployment even amongst graduates – so is western education really the way out of poverty? Why do most people exist below the poverty line when there are so many rich people in Nigeria? Dangote is now the richest person in Africa and is even richer than the richest person in Britain. The corruption and theft by the rich elite is crying out for justice, but the police and the army just protect them.
Of course we condemn the killings and violence of Boko Haram – how does killing other, mainly poor people, help the poor generally? Divisions between Christians and Muslims only benefit the rich elite. During the great general strike in January this year Muslims in the north projected Christians at prayer whilst in Lagos Christians protected the Muslims. It is only if the working class and other poor people are united that we have a chance of creating a more equal, fairer and more democratic society. Strikes can only be successful if they unite the whole of the workforce whatever their religion.
The violence of Boko Haram means that the police and the army can easily increase their budgets. As a result, during future working class struggles they will be more powerful and more able to suppress us. Though we condemn the killing of security officers, this statement by a Senator is equally a matter for concern: “Security agencies are the number one killers in term of number… If one army officer is killed in an area, they will come and cordon off the whole place and kill people they can get hold of and then burn all property in that area.”
We understand that many of the working class and other poor people are desperate to try and improve their lives. In this desperation, some will be attracted by many different ideas. Some will join fundamentalist Pentecostal churches, some will try and use witchcraft and others will be attracted by militant Islamic groups. Whilst others turn to crime and armed robbery – recently suffered by our comrade Femi Aborisade in Ibadan. We are under no illusion that religious groups such as Boko Haram are capable of resolving the problems that we face. While we recognise the group and its supporters as victims of the system, we condemn their violence and the greater increase in religious divisions it engenders.
The state should maintain neutrality in religious matters. These should be the personal affairs of each individual with the right to freedom of worship for all, whatever their religion.
As Socialists, we can only condemn any organisation that takes the lives of working people; at the same time, we point out that the main killers locally and across the world are the armed forces of governments (who protect politicians while they loot the common wealth of the society) and capitalist politicians who loot resources that should have been used to provide for the wellbeing of ordinary people. The US and British armies (led by Bush and Blair – both fundamentalist Christians) killed more people in Iraq and Afghanistan than al Qaeda ever has. The Israeli army, funded by the US, and led by Jewish fundamentalists, kills far more Palestinians than the democratic government of Hamas. Similarly the police, army and other security forces kill more people across Nigeria than Boko Haram.
The real problem we face is poverty, unemployment and corruption. Until we have a far more fair, equal and democratic society some people will turn to violence, but the greater violence is that used by the government against the poor. We have to unite and use the collective strength of the working class and its allies, as demonstrated during the great general strike in January, to fundamentally change the society in which we currently suffer.