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Socialist Worker Issue 04

NIPOST pensioners win partial victory

by Baba Aye

 

Members of the National Union of Post and Telecommunications Employees (NUPTE) and the NIPOST Pensioners Association held demonstrations in front of post offices across the country on January 8, when it commenced a strike that lasted two weeks on the plight of the pensioners. The NIPOST authorities had refused to pay pension and gratuity arrears for upwards of seven years. NIPOST Pensioners Association affiliated to the Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP) organised protest rallies across the country to draw attention to their plight, starting on Christmas Eve, before NUPTE joined the struggle.

 

This struggle led to a limited victory as the NIPOST authorities signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Nigeria Union of Pensioners in the third week of January. Only three months pensions are to be paid in the first instance. And these are only for those pensioners who were “verified” in December 2011.  All outstanding pension arrears are however to be paid before the end of the first quarter of this year.

 

The employers claim that they cannot pay the entire backlog at a once. But the billions of naira stolen regularly by the bosses are much more than the due entitlements of these senior citizens.  They have spent the better part of their lives working and yet the pensions of many of them are far below the minimum wage of N18,000!

 

NUPTE and the Pensioners’ Association have raised the matter time and again over the years. This led to the payment of just three months of the arrears in 2010. But that was hardly enough to meet even the primary needs of the pensioners. At least 426 pensioners have died over the last seven years, from starvation and the worst forms of poverty.  Nearly 350 died in the last three years alone according to Jonathan Ashade, Chair of the Ogun State chapter of the NIPOST Pensioners Association.  He could not hold back his tears as he lamented the predicament that these senior citizens have been thrown into.

 

The inability of these aging citizens to pay hospital bills, in a country where “health insurance” remains largely a mirage has equally resulted in their deplorable state of health. A pitiable example reported in the Sunday Punch of January 26, 2013 was that of Mr. Dimgba Ojukwu, who informed the world that “I lost my sight in 2007 because I could not get the money to treat my eye problems.”

 

Such painful situations will not be addressed by the cosmetic provisions of the MoU with NIPOST. Socialist Workers League demands the immediate full payment of the pensioners’ entitlements and calls on NLC and TUC to stand by NUPTE, NUP and the NIPOST pensioners for this demand. The pittance being paid as pensions also has to be reviewed upwards to reflect the current cost of living.

 

Workers and retired workers (pensioners) should note that the bosses will hardly ever improve wages and working conditions without a struggle.  It took a two week strike for NIPOST to make only a partial payment and more strikes may be necessary before the full arrears are actually paid.

 

Reinstate Kanicos & Agada NOW!

…sacked for revealing corruption in Women Centre

by Yusuf Lawal

 

It is almost two years since Dr. Bernard Agada & Emem James Kanico were first suspended without pay and subsequently dismissed from the service of the National Centre for Women Development. The “crime” of the two comrades who were Chair and Secretary of the Amalgamated Union (AUPCTRE) branch in the Centre was revealing the financial crookedness and corruption of some key officers of the National Centre for Women Development.

 

As branch officers, they raised an alarm in 2010 when N250m was transferred from the CBN Account into the personal account of the Centre’s Head of Finance/Accounts. This was from the sum of N300m supposedly set aside as a Poverty Alleviation Intervention Fund for Rural Women, in the 2009 Federal Supplementary II budget. Armed with facts and figures, the branch argued that this was contrary to the Public Service’s Financial Regulation 813. It was not just that this illegality was perpetrated, N80m remains unaccounted for till date, from the money lodged in the officer’s account till date.

 

Of the amount eventually recovered, the unionist whistle blowers presented documentary evidence that the Director General further collected N47,000,000.00 supposedly for “Poverty Alleviation of Nigerian Women in Diaspora”! Eventually, the entire “intervention” scam was put on hold. But Dr. Tyoor Terhemba who as a Director in the Centre was supposed to coordinate the programme was sacked for daring to request that the money for women in the diaspora be returned. He has gone underground after several assassination attempts since then.

 

Comrades Kanico and Agada petitioned the Governing Council of the Centre on the perverse corruption and dastardly high handedness of the key officers. However, the Council was dissolved as part of the Federal Government’s re-organisation of its parastatals’ boards.

 

Subsequent to this, the Minister of Women Affairs, Hajia Zainab Maina, a close ally of the Director General of the Centre, who had not responded to any of the earlier petitions of the union, set up a committee charged with “re-engineering the status of the National Centre for Women Development”. Its major recommendation, which was promptly carried out in August 2011 was the dismissal of Bernard Agada and Emem Kanico from the public service, ostensibly in the “Public Interest”.

 

As if such a reason was not spurious enough, the Centre went ahead to claim that both comrades have “fake certificates”. Both Kanicos, and Agada, who joined the Centre as Youth Corpers, consider such slander vexatious. They have presented their certificates to several bodies including the National Assembly and challenged the Centre’s management to write to their different institutions seeking to confirm these rather than calling a dog a bad name so as to hang it.

 

The two comrades have taken their legitimate battle for reinstatement to different arms of the government. Series of letters have been written to: the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF); the House of Representatives; the Public Complaints Commission (PCC); the EFCC &; ICPC.

 

A public hearing of the House of Representatives Committee on Public Petitions asserted that their sack definitely did not follow due process. It further expressed the opinion that they were being victimised for whistle blowing, but stopped short of ordering their immediate reinstatement.

 

The SGF has not bothered to respond to the petition of these comrades, while the Public Complaints Commission (PCC) states that matters of corruption are beyond its purview. Both the EFCC and ICPC, the anti-corruption watchdogs have equally kept mute on the matter.

 

The civil society pillar of support for Comrades Kanico and Agada in this struggle has been the Zero Corruption Coalition. Speaking to Socialist Worker, its Secretary, Mr Tunde Oluajo expressed his utter surprise that even the trade unions have not risen to the cause of these victimised unionists.

 

This is the time for working class activists, trade unionists, and all other well-meaning persons and organisations within and beyond Nigeria to demand the immediate reinstatement of Comrades Bernard Agada and Emem Kanico.

 

 

Against killing health workers

by Yusuf Lawal

 

The Fundamentalist insurgency in some northern states took a turn for the worse with the killing of nine health workers who had been taking part in the National Immunization Plus Days (NIPDs) programme, in Kano. Two days later, four North Korean doctors were also murdered in Yobe state. As socialists, we condemn all forms of individual terror, particularly when these involve killing poor working people. It is however particularly terrible when the victims are health workers trying to prevent young children catching terrible diseases like polio.

 

Sadi Mohammed, Jamila Yusuf, Naja’atu Salisu, Hadiza Ibrahim, Ramatu Abdullahi, were active members of Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria (MHWUN), Kano State Council, while Hauwa Abdulrazaq, Binta Salisu, Rabi Abubakar and Hadiza Ibrahim were volunteers. They were all women with young children. The MHWUN has condemned these killings and has pointed out that it is extremely difficult for its “members to continue working under circumstances in which their lives are threatened”.

 

The union further stated that: “we make bold to say that this is not about religion”. This is very true. Islam is a religion, but Fundamentalist Islam is a political ideology which stirs up the religious sentiments of people with the intent of winning power, not for the people, but for the leaders of a Fundamentalist sect to rule over society.

 

Fundamentalism of whatever religion feeds on the anger and despair of the poor and oppressed and thus challenges some of the excesses of the rich elite.  But, both the aims and the methods of Fundamentalists are generally against the interests of working people.  The goal of the working class is the fullest democratic rights. Fundamentalist sects (of whatever religion) however, stand for constraining democratic rights. The use of terror is also alien to working people. It is with the mobilisation of our collective strength as the mass of the population, against the few rich exploiters that we can fight and successfully win.

 

In the case of attacks against the health workers in Kano, the peddlers of terror in “religious” clothing might have been inspired by similar senseless murders of health workers in Pakistan recently, as the Federal Government has claimed. But they hope to draw support from the distrust of the immunization process sown in Kano twelve years ago by Pfizer, a pharmaceutical multinational corporation.

 

Eleven children died from the unethical drug trial of trovan, by the corporation. For many years, Islamic scholars in Kano had mobilised against immunisation programmes. But it took the Kano state government nine years before it filed a suit against Pfizer.

 

It was largely the gallant efforts of health workers that turned the tide around, winning the minds of poor families in Kano for their children and wards to be vaccinated. This selflessness has come under attack with the February murders. Such attacks must be resisted.

 

The working class in Kano and other parts of the north facing Fundamentalist onslaughts have to win the hearts of the mass of poor people, establish their self-defence and refuse to be intimidated. The Federal Government and its agencies have proved that they can hardly provide security for health workers and the working masses in general. The bosses and their governments are as usual more part of the problem than the solution.

 

 

Who benefits from “ghost workers”?

By Segun Ogun

 

Forty five thousand (45,000) “ghost workers” were recently discovered in the course of an audit of over 150,000 staff in more than 250 Federal Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs). While addressing the press, the Minister of State, Finance, Dr. Yerima Ngama, claimed the Government had thereby saved N100bn – the wages that would have been paid to these “ghosts”.

 

Similar audits are yet to be undertaken in at least 320 more MDAs as the Integrated Personnel Payment System (IPPS), which centralises personnel payroll data, is introduced. It is expected that more “ghost workers” will be unveiled. But who are those that perpetuate this racket? Who benefits from such fraud? Someone who should know is Gariel Omohinmi, a former Director in the Federal Civil Service.

 

Speaking on Channels Television in mid-February, he noted that a great chunk of the “ghost workers” are former aides of former political office holders. The names of special assistants or advisers of ex-ministers, chairs of boards of parastatals, etc.  Some of these people “served” over ten years ago, remained on the payroll and so keep collecting salaries each month.

 

He also informed the public that, “in some agencies, you will find a mother, a cousin, a son, a daughter, all loaded in the same agency posted to different departments. If you have cause to complain about the person that brought them in, they go home and meet the person and the following morning, queries start flying about…so you dare not protest”.

 

Trade union activists have been at the fore of trying to curb this situation. But this has often resulted in victimisation. As Omohinmi further pointed out, such activists are often thrown to the “Siberia” of out stations where it is almost impossible for them to operate.

 

Obviously, the politicians and top civil servants who together are the bosses in the civil service are those with the power to perpetuate the “ghost worker” racket. They are also its beneficiaries. This is why the phenomenon has continued for so long. This fraudulent practice is not limited to the Federal Civil Service. It also abounds in the states and local government councils.

 

In Bayelsa State, for example, almost four years ago the government announced that it had busted a syndicate involved in loading “ghost workers” onto its payroll. Speaking in June 2009, Von Kemeani, Director General of the State’s Due Process and E-governance Bureau said “the people arrested so far…are small fry”. He further promised that “those at the pyramid” of the racket, which he described as “exploitation”, were being investigated and “at the appropriate time, they would be arrested”.

 

But till date, no arrests have been made and currently the State government is lamenting that the number of “ghost workers” in its employment might have trebled. This might not be too surprising since Mrs Patience Jonathan is one of these ghosts. She was recently made a Permanent Secretary in the State, despite the huge popular outcry. But what many might not know is that she has been collecting monthly salaries from the State Government since 1999 when she became the second lady of Bayelsa.

 

“Ghost workers” are one of the ways in which the corrupt elite carry out their endless “primitive accumulation” of public wealth. However, action taken to reduce “ghost workers” may also be used to retrench unwanted workers.  To put an end to this, we, the workers ultimately have to take over the reins of public administration.

 

But the bosses do not stop at this daylight robbery. They try to make it seem that “ghost workers” are part of the cost of their workers! This argument has been used by several states who have refused to pay the paltry minimum wage of N18,000. The trade unions have to debunk this faulty argument. “Salaries” of these “ghost workers” are paid through banks. The NLC & TUC must demand the documents and CCTV clips of those who collect these “salaries”. And, persons indicted must be publicly named and brought to book.

 

It is through this action and the collective strength of the unions being used to protect the activists from victimisation that we can begin to ensure that public resources are used for the benefit of most of the people rather than just a select few.

 

 

NO to sack of Bauchi teachers!

By Baba Aye

 

The Bauchi State Government has reacted to the legitimate strike action of secondary school teachers in a very dictatorial manner. Alhaji Yahaya Baba, Chair of the State’s Teachers’ Service Commission at the end of February declared that any teacher who failed to resume for duty by March 4 should consider herself/himself sacked. The workers who had commenced an indefinite strike action organised by the Academic Union of Secondary Schools on February 8, remained steadfast as one. None of them broke the strike. This is a clear example of solidarity, at the heart of any successful struggle.

 

The State government believes it can break the ranks of workers because of the high rate of unemployment in the country. It had boasted that there were over 20,000 application letters from which it could recruit 5,000 to replace the striking teachers. This is in total disregard of the universally recognised rights of workers to organise and strike and shows no concern to address the legitimate demands of the teachers.

 

The teachers are against the unilateral deduction of monies from their salaries, supposedly to aid the state’s “development”. The state government’s response has been that such deductions are not limited to teachers but cut across all civil servants, due to the state’s dwindling resources. But the political elite in government who “earn” and still steal millions of naira, as well as the bosses in business are not making any such “sacrifice”. Why should exploited workers be made to bear more burdens?

 

The teachers have also condemned the slanting scale used to work out the wages of their members on the basis of the N18,000.00 minimum wage. It is best described as a fraud, with workers on Grade Level 07 and above in the state receiving the least in the geo-political zone, even without the criminal deductions. ASUS had called out its members on strike last year over this matter, resulting in the compulsory retirement of some of its activists. These have not been recalled and their terminal benefits have not been paid. The teachers are also fighting for justice for their colleagues.

 

During the strike last year, the state government had used a similar tactic by using National Youth Service Corp members for the NECO examinations in the state. But the teachers remained firm and eventually the state was forced to negotiate. Now, more than even before, the teachers have to remain resolved in pursuit of their demands.

 

This struggle is not just one for the striking teachers. Their fight against unilateral deductions from their salaries is a fight for all public sector workers. And the battle they wage for justice in the case of earlier retired teachers is one for due respect of workers’ rights to organise and strike, as enshrined in the ILO Conventions 89 and 95, which Nigeria is signatory to. By defying these subsisting laws, the bosses show once again that the laws they always respect, are those with which they oppress workers.

 

The Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress in Bauchi State must rise up in solidarity with the striking teachers, and stand by them to ensure that the state does not break this heroic strike by dividing working people with the whip of unemployment. An injury to one is an injury to all!

 

 

BAD LEADERSHIP:  A MANIFESTATION OF JONATHANISM

By Isaac Botti

 

The fuss about bad governance and poor leadership around the world today is having its toll in Nigeria. World governments have been nothing but a failure and a pain to poor people with inequality increasing in almost all regions over the last 30 years. The uprising in various parts of the world is an indication of this and general poor governance and anti-poor people policies of their governments.

 

As if nothing was learned from the crises experienced in most parts of the world, the Nigerian government took the people on a ride of pain and frustration when it removed its so called subsidy on petroleum products. This is part of a trend of reducing subsidies since 1999 which has been slowed significantly with general strikes in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2010 and finally January 2012.  One would have thought that the Nigerian Government would avoid a situation that would provoke the wrath of the over 120 million Nigerians living in abject poverty, but in January 2012 the fuel subsidy was removed.

 

During the 2012 General election, specifically the Presidential election, I was surprised to see the short sightedness of the people who kept shouting “Goodluck! Goodluck!!…” and trooped out en mass to vote in President Jonathan. Some went as far as naming their new born babies “Goodluck”. But today the bad luck of the Jonathan administration is manifested in its anti-poor policies. It is only in Nigeria and some other countries in Africa that, after the western powers reluctantly gave independence, our own governments still embraced them and continue to turn their colonial masters for direction and advice.

 

Any rational mind would think that in a country where the President is well educated, in fact a PhD holder, this would be reflected in the administration. But I would say without any reservation that this is the worst administration that I have ever seen. There is a saying that, “only a foolish person rejects advice, but it is a very foolish person that takes all advice without thought”. This is evident in the manner in which Jonathan, who claimed to know the suffering of the poor, blindly accepts the destructive policies of the World Bank / IMF which are being propagated by their “agent of the devil”, the Finance Minister. The worst aspect of this is that Jonathan is so mean at implementing these wicked policies that further impoverish many people, even when he admits the suffering which the policies bring to the poor people.

 

BOKO HARAM AND INSECURITY

The level of insecurity in the country has reached a remarkable point that one can say Nigeria has become a breeding ground for ‘terrorists’. This shows the desperation of some people in looking to militant Islam for an answer. Lives and properties of Nigerians are no longer safe as one religious sect incessantly launched sinister attacks on innocent Nigerians claiming lives and destroying properties. This is compounded by the violence of the security forces which have killed almost as many people as the so called terrorists that they are supposed to protect us from. I was not surprised, in October 2011, when there was a bomb blast that left many people injured at the venue where the President and cronies sat to celebrate the 51st years of Independence. The strange part was that the government had to rely on American Intelligence to detect the bomb.  A few weeks later, the police headquarters was targeted and some months after that, the UN offices. This was after the December 25, 2011 church bombing at Mandala, Niger State and the attacks in Plateau State which left many people injured. Yet nothing helpful was done.  The recent attacks and the extra judicial killings point to the fact that security has been shut down. As clearly pointed out in the Aljazeera interview with Jonathan on 24th January 2013, the president shows his confusion over a solution to the Boko Haram issue. He publicly states that they have tried all means to curb the problem, but yet Boko Haram is still a threat. I think that is a disgrace that Jonathan cannot guarantee the security and welfare of the people as required by the Constitution. With the high level of insecurity in Nigeria, the, “I-don’t-know-what-to-do” attitude shows that the Jonathan administration is a failure just as much as the failure of the whole system.

 

The struggle for the emancipation of Africa from imperialism has to be done by the working people of Africa. Workers must take their destiny in their hands and fight for self emancipation from bad leaders who only promote the interests of their colonial masters as it provides an avenue to express their greed within the corrupt system which has been entrenched in the rotten capitalist system. African workers should learn from the spontaneous reaction across Nigeria to the fuel price increase of January 2012. We should look back and see what the power of the workers can do. In the hands of the people lies the power to change the society. Workers and youth unite and fight!!!

 

 

The suffering of junior Police officers

by Nnamdi Ikeagu

 

Channels Television recently exposed the appalling state of the Police College, Ikeja. Shortly after the programme, President Jonathan visited the College. But his main grouse was not the inhuman conditions police cadets suffered, rather, he was angry that the whole world had been made to know how bad the College was. This reflects how the elite see the police, particularly those of the rank and file cadre. They are simply seen as mere tools to use for suppressing the masses without the slightest consideration for their welfare.

 

The police force is the first line of the bosses’ coercive machinery. It is thus a very important institution for their capitalist system. But like many institutions which this oppressive system requires to thrive, its class composition is mixed. At the top, we have officers who are made very comfortable, through all sorts of means, so that they will remain loyal members of the ruling class. In terms of the wealthy ones among them, we can recall the case of Tafa Balogun in 2005.  When serving as an IGP, he managed to amass over N16billion. He was jailed for just six months. Three years later, the monies and other assets he returned as part of the “plea bargain” could not be traced.

 

At the bottom ranks are men and women from poor working class and peasant backgrounds. They are the ones that have to attend such run down police colleges like the one in Ikeja and other parts of the country. The children of top police officers never go to such colleges. They are trained in the best universities across the world after elite private secondary schooling.

 

The yawning gap in living standards between top officers and the rank and file is not enough. Not only do poor policemen and women suffer today, their hope of happy lives after retirement is being shattered. Pensions are not paid because members of the elite class steal their pension funds, and get away with it. A clear example of this rubbing of salt on the open wound is that of Mr. John Yakubu, an Assistant Director in the Police Pensions office, earlier in January.

 

After admitting that he stole N3.8bn from the pension funds, in collaboration with others, an Abuja High Court sentenced him to two years in jail with an option of N750,000 fine! Meanwhile, tens of thousands of retired junior police officers and members of their families have not received pensions for upwards of six years. About 2,000 retired policemen and women, as well as their family members protested against this condemnable situation last August.

 

It is not only pensions of retired police officers that are delayed. Salaries of serving policemen and women are equally delayed for months. Junior officers are very angry and have threatened to go on strike, as reported by Ayodeji Dedeigbo in PM News of February 6. Junior police officers organised a national strike in April 2002. Teslim “Samore” Oyekanmi, a firebrand International Socialist played a central role in this, as “Monday Sule”. The strike was very successful despite the army being brought in to do the police work. Police workers won enhanced wages. In 2006, grievances of police workers were also heeded after much grandstanding when they threatened to go on strike.

 

Rank and file policemen and women are workers. It is their right to organise in a trade union. There is nothing unusual about this. In South Africa, for example, the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (POPCRU) organises police officers and prison warders, is one of the leading trade unions and a member of COSATU, the main trade union centre.

 

Working class activists and the trade unions should defend the rights of poor rank and file men and women in the police, armed forces and prisons. We have a common interest, which is to emancipate ourselves from the clutches of the bosses, whether they wear uniforms or mufti.

 

 

Public transport reform in the FCT – issues, challenges and the way forward

By FCT, NLC Chair – Abdulahi Denja Yaya

 

Residents of the Federal Capital Territory woke up on January 14 to learn that the 18-seater green-painted buses, popularly called Araba buses, have been banned from entering the city centre. This action was part of the new transport policy of the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) aimed at decongesting the city. But the impact of this ban was very great and resistance by commuters and the Araba buses’ operators was swift.

 

For two days, there were massive protests on the streets, particularly along routes leading to working class quarters such as the Nyanya-Keffi highway. The FCTA then summoned a meeting with the trade unions and suspended the ban. It is however pertinent to look closely at the issues involved, the challenges they pose, and the way forward from a working class perspective.

 

The FCTA presented its view of the issues at stake at the meeting held between FCTA officials and the FCT leaderships of the: National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Self-Employed Commercial Drivers Association of Nigeria (SECDAN),Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC).

 

Speaking for the FCTA, the Transport Secretary said that the new transport policy was formulated in 2008 and both the NURTW and SECDAN had then been part of the process leading to its implementation. The two unions accepted this position, but argued that their views on how to make the policy work for working people were not taken into consideration.

 

The NLC and TUC however expressed concern that they had never been consulted on a policy that would affect workers drastically. They noted that the current policy would increase transport costs for workers as they would now have to take Araba buses for part of their journey and then also pay to take a city bus for the remainder of their journey.

 

It was generally agreed that not enough had been done to warrant the implementation of the new policy. The policy implementation was thus suspended. Six critical issues are to be considered by a committee comprising representatives of the FCTA, organised labour and civil society.

 

The six issues identified were:

  • formulating a more holistic policy for decongestion of the city centre;
  • supporting existing transport operators with adequate vehicles and funds;
  • ensuring that the entrance of bigger transport operators would not undermine the existing small-scale transport operators;
  • enlightening poor commuters on the long-term benefits of a new transport policy;
  • ensuring that the new policy would not result in extra transport costs for the working masses; and
  • the involvement of NLC, TUC, informal economy operators (such as artisans and market women/men) and the civil society in the formulation and implementation of a new transport policy.

 

The trade unions are strongly of the view that there is the need for a transport policy geared towards serving the working masses and the need to look beyond banning the Araba buses from the city centre. In recent times, the FCTA has introduced a number of measures relating to vehicular transport which affect residents. These include: “park and pay” for private vehicles, banning of car wash sites and the relocation of mechanic villages. All these need to be revisited and pursued in ways that do not harm workers’ interests.

 

Organised labour is also convinced that the aim of decongesting the city centre cannot be achieved by any transport policy alone, no matter how well conceived.  It also requires the proper planning of the satellite towns and villages. This would involve relocating several ministries, in line with the FCT Master Plan. For example the FCTA Ministry should be in Gwagwalada, while both the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Science & Technology are planned to be relocated to Sheda. It is strange that while the houses of poor working people have been demolished for not being part of the Master Plan, all these Ministries remain in the city centre, contrary to the same Abuja Master Plan.

 

The necessary relocation of ministries, departments and agencies must be complemented with massive infrastructural development that will include building schemes aimed at providing workers with affordable housing. Workers power is central to winning this new shape for Abuja as the elite are used to the present state of affairs which only favours them.

 

 

ATTACKS AGAINST FEMI ABORISADE: UNIONS AND RIGHTS GROUPS CALLED FOR INVESTIGATION

By Abiodun Olamosu

The Academic Staff Union of the Polytechnic, Ibadan, rights groups and other class fighters, including the Socialist Workers League, protested against armed attacks on Femi Aborisade, a teacher and socialist at the Polytechnic. In the communiqué issued by the Union at the end of an emergency meeting, the school authorities were given two weeks to investigate the remote and immediate causes of the attack and other general security lapses on the campus. Meanwhile, the Union set up a committee comprising of its members and other prominent rights activists (including Barrister Bamidele Aturu, Barrister Malachy Ugwumadu and Dr. Sola Olorunyomi, representing the Academic Staff Union of Univeristies) to unearth the issues surrounding such attacks and intimidation.

Aborisade and members of his family were attacked at the official quarters on 22 November and 29 December 2012. The attacks on Femi Aborisade are suspected to have emanated from those uncomfortable with his principled stance against imposition of handpicked student union leaders and opposition to corruption in high places. He made his views clear on these issues at his Union’s meetings and the school’s board of studies (equivalent of the senate of a university).  Femi expressed his opinions as freely as possible without an iota of ambiguity. The Chairman of ASUP had publicly informed the Congress of ASUP that a section of the institution’s Governing Council took N50m of Poly funds on a journey to Dubai in search of information to aid the establishment of the Technical University of Oyo State. The Congress was not pleased with this development because The Polytechnic, Ibadan and the Technical University of Oyo State are two different entities that a mix up of funds should not have been allowed. Aborisade argued, and the Congress supported, that the union should call for the dissolution of the Council.

 

However, there have been problems with the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, ASUP, at The Polytechnic, Ibadan.  The ASUP has failed to oppose the imposition of handpicked students as Student Union leaders. The Union also failed and/or refused to follow up the resolution for the dissolution of the Governing Council on the ground of diversion of N50million to the Technical University of Oyo State, a separate corporate entity. At another Congress of ASUP, the ASUP Chairman sought to explain the failure to follow up with the resolution on the basis that he gathered reliably that the N50m had been refunded back to the account of The Polytechnic, Ibadan. The failure of the union leadership to oppose imposition of student union leadership and fund diversion inevitably left Femi open to the various attacks he and his family have suffered.

 

From all indications, it now seems unlikely that the Union will provide a properly independent investigation as earlier proclaimed by its resolution. This is against the background of the recent official pressure on the Union that caused it to capitulate. The independent Fact-Finding-Committee set up by the Union’s Congress has been dissolved on the basis that ‘Management was not happy’ that the Fact-Finding Committee included ‘outsiders’, i.e. that is, non-staff members of the institution. The Committee is yet to be reconstituted after the original composition was dissolved. It may indeed never be reconstituted.

 

Despite this set back, conscious members of ASUP, The Polytechnic, Ibadan must work together to salvage the union from management control. The Union has a responsibility to protect its membership against official and unofficial violence.

 

It should be recalled that Femi was sacked in 2000 by the authorities of The Polytechnic, Ibadan under the guise of ‘restructuring’. But the truth was that the authorities were uncomfortable with his influence over the workers’ strike of that year. Femi was reinstated only five years after (in December 2005) through the intervention of the court, the persistent call for reinstatement by the then leadership of ASUP and a workers’ campaign group internationally. This might account for the present cowardly approach of sending ‘armed robbers’, ‘night marauders’ and assassins after him with the hope that, if they could eliminate him, it could easily be explained away as being a case of common burglary by ‘night marauders’. The methods of intimidation they adopted in the past ultimately failed and Femi came back to the school. The continuation of the methods of intimidation and threats of assassination could in future provoke mass action of youths and the working class beyond the imagination of the perpetrators of violence. The progressive forces of the world say: ‘Hands off Femi Aborisade!’

 

Four months after the flood, hard times for poor farmers

by Baba Aye

 

The floods last year were unprecedented in recent Nigerian history, devastating farmlands and homes of over two million people across two thirds of the states in the country. Poor farmers were particularly affected, more than three hundred and sixty people have been killed since July and left millions homeless, as over 40 million hectares of farmland were washed away and at least 1.2 million metric tonnes of crops and farm produce, destroyed, according to the Federal Government. Crops of staple foods such as cassava, yam, cocoa yam, plantain and maize were particularly affected.

 

The sheer impact of this disaster has left poor farmers dazed, in a country where two thirds of working people toil the land. At least two peasants committed suicide in Kogi state, probably the most affected state, last year. Till date, there are thousands that still live in internally displaced persons camps set up last year, while many more now live in cramped houses with relations or in the open fields, where they battle to replace their lost crops.

 

The Federal Government has spent several trillions of Naira on protecting the rich from the effects of their banking crisis since 2008.  In comparison, the humanitarian costs of the floods have been estimated at only N7 billion. Supposedly to address this problem, the Federal Government set up a flood relief committee, doling out sums of money that have thus far not been accounted for. It has also called on moneybags and corporations to join hands in raising more money to mitigate the hard times victims are going through. But all these “for show” concerns are being used as avenues to make the rich richer on the backs of the sufferings of poor people.

 

The bosses and multinational corporations that have “helped” have been given tax breaks and incentives that amount to much more than their real contributions.  Meanwhile, a lot of victims have been loud in complaining that they have yet receive anything from these relief efforts. The foodstuffs and seedlings for planting have not been distributed on the basis of the needs of the people. On the contrary, they have been cornered by officials and party stalwarts, and have been sold or distributed on the basis of favoritism.

 

It also appears that the Federal Ministry of Agriculture intends to make money out of this terrible situation despite “denials” from multinational corporations in the telecommunication sector. Plans are afoot to distribute 10,000 mobile phones for farmers, apparently to have a direct channel for sending early flood warnings through text messages. These phones will probably be purchased at inflated prices, again enriching the corrupt elite.

 

These people are never concerned about the plight of the poor. They turn any and every opportunity, no matter how tragic, into ways of making more money. While crocodile tears were shed over the waters of the flood, business continues as usual.  The pains of poor farmers are extended to the poor of  the cities. The prices of foodstuffs have increased by between 150% and 1,000% – again benefiting the rich traders.

 

There is every reason to expect more severe floods by the middle of this year, based on metrological analysis. The time to start planning how to reduce the impact on poor working people is NOW. The bosses and the Federal Government have yet to announce any plans.  The floods are probably part of the process of global warming, but the government is still to ban gas flaring in the Niger Delta.  This is one of the largest sources of carbon dioxide, the cause of global warming, in Africa.

 

Working class organisations must ally with the collective bodies of poor farmers and demand open accounting for monies released thus far; insist on a post-flood impact assessments; be adamant that working people’s organisations and not the bosses play the central role in addressing the issues of averting, mitigating and organising relief from flood disasters; call for price control of foodstuffs and, if necessary subsidies paid by the government. It is the working people and not the elite who bear the brunt of this avoidable disaster, and require being bailed out.

 

 

‘The Floods’ by Niyi Fasanmi 

‘The Floods’ is a published (2010) and literary book covering 28 pages that is out to tell the story of the season of floods, environmental pollution and degradation in short, Climate Change. The book is serialized, starting from this edition.

1

They squatted in a semi-circle. A feeling of helplessness hung in the air. They wore a forlorn look. Not a word was uttered. The landlord in their midst is inconsolable. He kept to himself, throughout the week. The teacher, the motor-cyclist, the Man-of-God, the journalist, Mama-market and the bureaucrat, all kept quiet. From time to time there were whispering sounds from afar and they looked beyond the horizon, at nothing in particular.

 

They were not the only group in the camp. Another group was separated from theirs, by a muddy pool of water. They found a dry patch of land to stand or squatted like the others. Kawo looked askance and watched the clouds. He could see an open space and a cloudy sky. He watched as the clouds moved beyond the horizon. . . into nothingness. Nothingness was not the exact word . . . he thought of infinity. He thought about it and he tried to understand a life of nothingness. He sighed loudly, and others looked in his direction. Dokita, as cynical as ever, wondered why Kawo would not leave the world alone, and engage himself with the bread and butter issue of the rains and the floods. “Think first of bread and butter, and every other thing will be added . . .,” he remarked. Others chuckled. Around them, there was a putrid smell; dirt and decaying corpses of men, women, children and animals, could be seen in the moving floods.

 

Within a week, the camp had become a settlement of men, women, children and a few of their domestic animals. The local authority, headed by the bureaucrat had regrouped them there; until more permanent solutions were found. The floods had turned igodo town into a conglomeration of resettlement camps. Seven different camps were spread across the town.

 

Rains, rains and rains . . . the winds swept past and carried in their debris and the leaves of trees; the floods came and the town was taken over by water. All social and economic activities came to an abrupt end. As the floods swept furiously past a gulley, very close to the camp, we saw a baby buoyed in the flood, as it was smashed into the wall of the debris; its lifeless body returned to the flood, and was carried away. An impenetrable silence enveloped the camp. Momentarily, everything stood still! At that moment, there was a large black hole and we disappeared into it. It was nightmare.

 

I worked as a correspondent for a national Daily in Igodo. Igodo, a provincial town, was situated some kilometers away from the Atlantic Ocean. My years of reporting had taken me to all the nooks and crannies of the town. A large number of the native inhabitants had travelled elsewhere, in the republic. Visitors were welcomed. It was a commercial town. The people were boisterous and party-loving. They cherished their traditions.

 

In the past, I had filed several reports on the events in the town that related to the socio-economic, political and the cultural lives of the people. The network of roads in the town had remained poorly constructed and rarely maintained. Effective and adequate drainage did not exist. Refuse dumps dotted everything. The populace dreaded the outset of the rainy season. It was a season filled with forebodings. When it rained, the day-to-day activities came to a standstill!

 

The people of Igodo, sometimes referred to their town as a city. It was privileged to be situated close to one of the major metropolitan cities in the Republic. Life was mostly dominated by commerce and a quest for a constant celebration of life. There was a joie vivre outlook that pervaded the town. Different groups of people in the Republic were represented in the town.

 

 

Social change and the limits of trade unionism

by Segun Ogun

 

In the wake of the revolts that swept through Nigeria early last year, “civil society” and youth activists have lamented over the trade unions “betrayal” of the struggle. Indeed, before the protests led by a general strike of historic proportions, many had warned against the likelihood of “betrayal” by the trade union leadership, based on similar “betrayals” over the years. But as activists committed to bringing about a better society, it is not enough for us to laugh or to cry, we have to understand the dynamics of the revolutionary struggle.

 

Trade unions are the primary form of workers’ organisation, with the aim of winning concessions from the bosses. The labour movement is a broader concept, which encompasses the collective organisations of working people (workers, poor farmers, urban artisans, etc), committed to achieving improvements in their working conditions and living standards.  This is achieved by mobilising their combined strength against the established power of the bosses, including governments with their armies, police, hired thugs, law courts and prisons.

 

Revolutionary socialists support the struggle for reforms by the labouring masses. But we point out the fact that, without overthrowing the exploitative system of capitalism, what is given with one hand will sooner or later be taken back a thousand fold with the other. As part of the labour movement, we point out how our different struggles are intertwined with the overall aim of fundamentally changing society.

 

As long as there have been workers there have been trade unions and strikes.  Some of the earliest recorded strikes were by the Egyptian pyramid builders. Until relatively recently, trade unions were illegal and trade unionists faced utmost persecution. But, first in Britain and subsequently in countries around the world, including in Nigeria by 1938, the bosses realised that it was more costly for them if trade unions were outside the control of the law.

 

With trade unions as legal entities, the ideology of collective bargaining became central to the activities with a deference to negotiations.  Implicit in this approach is a “give and take” and a understanding of compromise. Gradually, trade unions took on a contradictory nature. On one hand, they represent workers, in constant struggle with their bosses. On the other hand, to win concessions from these same bosses, they have to reach agreements.  This is extended with the idea of  “social dialogue” between trade unions, employers and governments. Trade union leaders, while representing workers, equally become social partners with the bosses and governments.

 

This is not to suggest that all trade union leaders are, as individuals, corrupt. Many of these men and women are genuinely committed to improving the lot of workers. But the structural dynamics of trade union organisation as a collective bargaining platform forces them into compromises and “betrayals”. These structural pressures increase, the higher leaders progress in the trade union organisation.

 

The tendency for “partnership” between union leaders, the bosses and governments conflicts with the deprivation of rank and file trade union members.  Their pressure from below pushes the union organisation into confrontation with bosses in the workplace and governments in broader society. This is what leads to strikes. But sooner or later, such “disputes” have to be “resolved”, in one way or an other to allow for subsequent collaboration.

 

So how should socialists and other activists committed to social change relate to the trade unions? Are we to simply accept their reformist nature without criticism or continue ranting over the leopard’s spots not washing away even under thunderous rainfall of revolts?

 

Neither of these two approaches advances the cause of revolutionary struggle in any significant way. We have to orient our politics more towards rank and file workers and criticise both the objective and subjective shortcomings of the trade unions leaderships. But such criticisms should not be blind, or expressed in counterproductive ways that could lead to breakdown of relations with the unions.

 

We must not lose sight of the fact that the emancipation of the working class is a task that the working class alone can win. But for it to do this, socialist ideas must be rooted in the minds of workers. Relations with the trade union leaderships, which despite their limitations still represent and are often respected by the mass of workers, cannot be wished away in this direction. In practical terms, this calls for building the Joint Action Front (JAF), and the Labour Civil Society Coalition (LASCO) on a surer footing, across the length and breadth of Nigeria NOW.

 

 

OOU STUDENTS RISE AGAINST ANTI-STUDENT POLICIES OF THE SCHOOL

By Ogunjimi James Taiwo

 

Last year (2012), the then Vice Chancellor of Olabisi Onabanjo University was asked to proceed on compulsory leave after several allegations had been levelled against him. The students and staff waited anxiously for the arrival of a new Vice Chancellor.

 

A new Acting Vice chancellor was eventually appointed, in the person of Prof. Saburi Adeyemi, the Deputy Vice Chancellor of Obafemi Awolowo University, Osun state.  He made a wonderful impression on the students and staff as he didn’t waste time at all to outline his plans for the university. He met with the Student Union government executives and related well with all and sundry.

 

Within months of his appointment however, students have abandoned classes and have come together to protest against some of the policies that the Vice Chancellor is bent on implementing. These include:

i) That the students who have not paid all their fees will lose their studentships.

ii) Students will no longer be given grades, but will only be informed they have passed or failed.

iii) While the issue of transportation continues to weigh OOUites down, several buses, donated by Governor Amosun last year, have been parked in the school compound without being used,

iv) The issue of mobilisation of the recent graduates; the news filtering out was that they would not be going for national service by March, but

v) the office of the Dean of Students’ Affairs allegedly collected money from the students, but the DSA later claimed he wasn’t aware of the money and that the students had to repay the money.

 

In response to the cry of students and in accordance with the OOUSUG constitution, a General Assembly was summoned by the union president in early February. The students demanded that the union president lead them on a peaceful protest to the Vice chancellor’s office. The Union president, Omojola Ayokunle, however refused, and for close to two hours, comrades and other student leaders tried to appeal with him to heed the cry of the students.

 

He refused and tried to leave the hall, the enraged students however refused to let him enter the union building and forced him to lead the protest. Whilst going, he tried to divert the students to the office of the Dean of Students’ Affairs, but the students refused and chanted, “VC”, “VC”, “VC”, until he was forced to lead students to the VC’s office. The VC however was not around, and the DVC had to address students. Instead of addressing the genuine issues he tried to sell the same lies that the students had been told. At that point, comrades from the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights (CDHR) had to intervene in the protest and announce that students should meet the next morning to continue the protest.

 

The following morning, students got to school only to discover that the Student Union Government, in connivance with the school management had militarised the school. There were police at the gate, inside the school and around halls. The students however were determined to hold their protest, gathered in front of the union building and locked it up.

 

As the president was nowhere to be found, the Vice President of the Union distanced herself from the hypocrisy of the union and agreed to lead the protest, . The procession continued to the VC’s office. On the way, the union president’s vehicle was stopped and he was asked to lead the students, he again refused and tried to cajole students. The students booed him and left him there.

 

On getting to the VC’s office, he was not around and the DVC was not available. Students sang Solidarity songs and the VP told students the state of things. The students then agreed to go back to the Union building, make their stand there and return to the VC’s office on the following Monday.

 

Meanwhile, due to the stress regarding the payment of fees, a 200-level law student of the university lost his life in the early hours of Thursday.

 

International

 

MALI: ANOTHER IMPERIALIST INSPIRED WAR FOR AFRICAN NATURAL RESOURCES

By Abiodun Olamosu


France wants people to believe that they invaded Mali to defend the people against the Islamic fundamentalists of al-Qaeda. But in reality, the cause of the war can be traced to the high level of deprivation and poverty that Malians and other African people have suffered since Structural Adjustment of the 1980’s inspired by the IMF and World Bank, in collaboration with the imperialist countries. Specifically, the people of northern Mali suffered from declining cotton prices, reduced rainfall, resulting from global warming, and regional neglect made worse by irrational colonial boarders that split the Tuareg peoples between at least three countries.

 

In the past, French governments were known to have propped up dictators in the region and there is no evidence to show that it has departed from this path. Its present role is therefore nothing but a defence of its economic interest in Africa generally.

 

Tuareg Rebellions 

 

The opposition in Northern Mali are split into two broad groups, the nationalist group of the Tuareg people who want independence for Azaward and the Islamists who want the introduction of Sharia. The Tuareg were brutally subdued by colonial France early in the 20th century. Following the independence of Mali and neighbouring countries in 1960, they continued to suffer discrimination and have launched at least four rebellions. Many Tuareg that returned from Libya with their guns after Gaddafi  was overthrown and joined the National Movement for the Liberation of Azaward (AMNLA). After the Malian army was weakened by military coup last March, the MNLA were able to gain control of most of the north of Mali.

 

However, they were in turn defeated by the Islamist groups. It was their move towards the capital that led to the sudden invasion by French forces. Three months earlier, the French president had stated, “we cannot intervene in Mali in place of Africans”.

Mali may not exhibit quantum natural resources like other countries in the region but the country has been attractive for other factor to the imperialist in pursuing its interest. For instance, its geopolitical location between the Arab African north and the Black African south, the US found this strategic to play its military role in the region. Besides, the country also is the third largest producer of gold in Africa and has been speculated to have vast oil and gas deposits.

 

US intervention in the region

U.S. armed forces, based in Mali, under the umbrella of its African Command, or AFRICOM, that is to carry out its programme – Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Partnership, for the purpose of peace support operation, regional military cooperation and training of military personnel for ECOWAS member states; has been best positioned to fulfil its imperialist interest in the region and in the recent period to counter the growing Chinese presence in Africa.  Chinese presence is becoming a source of nightmare to others as it is presently the largest export trading partner to Mali and many other African countries. So, the old imperialist countries are out to use the opportunity of the Mali war to repositioned themselves not only in Mali but also in Africa as a whole having lost out in many north African countries during the recent revolts in Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Morocco, etc

Meanwhile, the war has produced further casualties and death. The UN estimates that the latest crisis has displaced nearly 230,000 Malians internally. An additional 144,500 Malians were already refugees in neighbouring countries. Resources that could have been spent on welfare programmes have been diverted to this war. The Nigerian government for instance, has expended $45million on the war and provided 900 military personnel out of 2,000 to be provided by West African governments.

 

Whatever the short-term gains of the French invasion of Mali, the result will be further divisions between the Tuareg and southern Africans of Mali, greater poverty for the mass of the population and further imperialist interventions as France, the US, China and other powers seek to secure their access to oil and other natural resources. While we call on the French and Nigerian troops out of Mali and self-determination for the Tuareg of Mali, Algeria, Niger and neighbouring countries, at the same time we warned that the best way to self-determination would be one whereby the resources of society and its politics are under the democratic control and management of the working people themselves, as the surest way to meet the needs of the people.

 

Update on the Arab Spring

By Drew Povey

 

Revolutions  can continue for many years with their ups and downs.  The Russian revolution could be said to have started in 1905, but was only eventually successful 12 years later, in 1917.  So as we enter the third year of the Arab Spring we could be still in its early days.

 

At a recent meeting in London, Wassim Wagdy of Egypt’s Revolutionary Socialists, said that the growing social and economic crisis in Egypt is leading many who had previously supported the Muslim Brotherhood to call for the end of the President Mursi’s regime.

“The number of independent trade unions has risen from the low hundreds last year to over a thousand today,” he said. “They are increasingly prepared to fight for both economic and political demands.”

 

Another participant at the meeting argued that the task for the left was to lead these struggles, and in the process to deepen the growing splits inside the Brotherhood.

“The revolution is not over. It is an on-going process which can completely transform Egypt and whose influence can reach every part of the globe.”

 

In Tunisia, where the revolts originally began, the recent assassination of a popular opposition and trade union leader has led to widespread protests and a general strike.

 

In Syria the widespread civil war continues despite an estimated 60,000 deaths.  Some claim splits and loss of support for the opposition, but the struggles continue.  In December and January several government army bases were over-run providing further arms for the revolt.

 

Similarly the revolt continues in smaller ways in other Arabic countries including Saudi Arabia.  The Arab Spring was and continues to be an inspiration to the world.  In turn the Arab masses gain confidence from the struggles in other countries.

 

 

South African workers show strikes can win

By Drew Povey

 

Most people have heard of the horrific massacre of 34 mineworkers at Marikana, in August last year, by the South African police.  But they may not realise that this part of a wider and successful strike wave with hundreds of thousands of workers going on strike and winning good pay increases. Strikes are, and have been an effective weapon – but the bosses do not give up without a fight.

 

The gunning down of the platinum miners was probably aimed at terrifying the workers back to work, but a decision to continue the strike for R12,500 (N225,000) a month was agreed by acclaim two days later.  A month later they went back to work after winning a 22% pay increase.  As Peter Alexander says (in Marikana: A View from the Mountain and a Case to Answer):

 

“Somehow, despite 34 colleagues being killed and with many more injured or detained, workers found the strength to pull themselves together and determine that the strike would continue. This was one of the most remarkable acts of courage in labour history, anywhere and at any time.”

 

Since 2005 South Africa has probably experienced more strike days per capita than any other country.  There has also been major urban unrest, for example, against water and electricity cut offs. However, last year saw a significant increase in the level of strikes.

 

South African miners

After the successful strike at Marikana and other platinum mines the unrest spread to gold and other mines and then to the lorry drivers. The 43,000-strong truckers’ 3-week strike ended in mid-October after disrupting transport across southern Africa.  The drivers won a 27 percent pay increases over three years.

 

Around the same time a series of strikes by hundreds of thousands of farm workers in the Western Cape started and gradually spread. Most workers are not employed on a permanent basis – despite working on the farms for many years. They work seasonally to pick and pack grapes and probably less than 10% are unionised.

 

Striking farm workers in South Africa
In January workers on most of the farms won a daily wage increase of more than 50% to R105 (nearly N2,000) and a commitment to no discipline and victimisation for involvement in the strike.

At the end of the year COSATU, the main trade union centre reported that:

 

“2012 was also the year of explosive strikes – by truck drivers, Post Office casuals, mine workers at, among others, Impala, Lonmin, Angloplats, Goldfields and Xstrata, and finally Western Cape farm workers. The exceptional feature of all these strikes has been their spontaneity and ferocity, which has confronted the trade union movement, and society as a whole, with huge challenges.”

 

Strikes have continued into this year with workers at South African Airways and the trains around Johannesburg on strike for several weeks.  The trade union leader Zwelinzima Vavi recently said: “The mother of all battles is coming this year against the [road] tolls, the banning of labour brokers and corruption.”  In addition, the government is threatening to ban strikes by teachers.

 

Later in the year public sector workers will be negotiating for pay increases after their three-year deal comes to an end.  In 2007 and 2010 there were major four week strikes by public sector workers.  Recent successes by other groups of workers in South Africa show that effective strike action can win significant pay increases.  This is a lesson which the trade unions in Nigeria should study carefully.

 

African Socialists

 

This is the first of an occasional series of articles about the politics of African socialists and Marxists.

 

Thomas Sankara – Burkina Faso

By Drew Povey

 

A popular coup d’état led by Captain Thomas Sankara made him President of, what was then called Upper Volta on August 4, 1983. He was only 33 years old. Four years later he was assassinated.

 

Sankara saw himself as a revolutionary and defined the ideology of the Revolution in his Political Orientation Speech in October, 1983 (see http://www.scribd.com/doc/96585260).

 

Domestic policies were focused on preventing famine with agrarian self-sufficiency and land reform, prioritizing education with a nation-wide literacy campaign and promoting public health by vaccinating 2.5 million children against meningitis, yellow fever and measles.

 

Foreign policies were centred around anti-imperialism, with the government refusing all foreign aid, pushing for odious debt reduction, nationalizing all land and mineral wealth.  Burkina Faso was one of the few African countries to reject structural adjustment programmes and so avoid the power and influence of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank.

 

Sankara’s revolutionary program for African self-reliance was a defiant alternative to the neo-liberal development strategies imposed on Africa by the West, both then and today.  But despite its many significant achievements, this was socialism from above, not the self-emancipation of the working and popular masses.  This approach was to lead to the regime coming into conflict with sections of the working class. This contributed to Sankara’s downfall.

 

Thomas Sankara, defined his aims shortly before he was assassinated in 1987 : “Our revolution will be of value only if, looking back… we are able to say that the Burkinabe people are a little happier because of it. Because they have clean drinking water, because they have plenty to eat, because they are in good health, because they have access to education, because they have decent housing, because they have better clothing, because they have the right to leisure, because they have greater freedom, more democracy and greater dignity… Revolution means happiness. Without happiness we cannot speak of success.”

 

Women’s rights

Sankara’s government included a large number of women. Female genital cutting was banned, polygamy condemned and contraception promoted. Women were appointed to high government positions and actively recruited to the military.  They were encouraged to work outside the home and girls were encouraged to stay at school even if pregnant. The Burkinabé government was also the first African government to publicly recognize AIDS as a major threat.

 

Opposition to trade unions

In spite of this, the trade unions and independent organisations were considerably weakened as a result of repression (including dismissal of civil servants, arrests and torture, etc).  By 1986 the Sankara’s rapid, and sometimes authoritarian approach, had begun to alienate sections of the Burkinabe population, leaving Sankara and his allies isolated.  Sankara were committed to achieving his ideals, but these were being imposed rather than being won through collective action by the workers and mass of the poor people.

 

Trade unions and the free press were banned as they were seen as coming in the way of Sankara’ reforms. To counter opposition in towns and workplaces around the country, corrupt officials, counter-revolutionaries and “lazy workers” were tried in peoples’ revolutionary tribunals.  The public trials of former senior government officials was a positive development, but these trails were also be used against genuine critics of the regime.  When the school teachers went on strike, they were all dismissed.

 

Sankara found himself in a situation where there was an absence of dialogue over both his objectives and the means to achieve them.  In the name of wanting to make a revolution for the mass of poor people, he did it without them or even against them. Sankara recognised this in a self-critical speech two weeks before his death. But he and his allies did not have time to restore the links with the mass independent working class organisations.

 

Sankara was assassinated with twelve of his comrades by the Blaise Compaoré, the current president of Burkina Faso, on October 15, 1987. A week before his execution, he declared: “While revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas”.

 

Sankara is commonly referred to as “Africa’s Che Guevara”.  He remains an inspiration for many young people across the region and proof that another world is possible for Africa.  But this will be built through the collective action of the trade unions, the working class and other poor people rather than military coups and saviours, no matter how charismatic.

 

 

Hugo Chavez 1954-2013

Venezuela’s president Hugo Chavez Frias has died in hospital after a long fight with cancer. Mike Gonzalez looks back at Chavez’s life and ideas—and the Venezuela he leaves behind

If revolution is the moment when the masses take to the stage of history, then Hugo Chavez’s Bolivarian Revolution began on 11 April 2002.

 

A right wing coup kidnapped him and proclaimed a new government. It lasted barely 48 hours.

Tens of thousands of Chavez supporters surrounded the presidential palace demanding his return.

Later that year, the right launched a bosses’ strike with the intention of paralysing the oil industry on which the country depended. This too was defeated by the mass mobilisation of Chavez’s supporters.

 

His victory in the presidential elections in 1998 hadn’t had much resonance outside Venezuela at the time. But within the country the effect was dramatic. Chavez’s election manifesto was anti-imperialist, specifically hostile to the US which had dominated Venezuela throughout the 20th century.

 

It was nationalist, under the banner of Simon Bolivar, leader of Latin America’s 19th century independence movement. And it promised a reform of the corrupt state machine and the system of patronage it concealed. The new constitution, passed by a delegate assembly in 1999, provided guarantees of social justice, human rights and the accountability of politicians.

 

But it was equally true that Chavez was still relying on his military supporters (see below).

He enjoyed mass support among the poor, but that relationship had no organised political expression. And his party, the Fifth Republic Movement, proved to be unaccountable and susceptible to the corruptions of power.

 

In 2000 Chavez presented himself for new elections under the rewritten constitution.

And between 2002 and 2005 the Bolivarian process took a new and more radical direction. The state oil company was placed under direct state control. Until then it had operated autonomously, like any other multinational. Its profits then funded programmes of social reforms—in health, education and housing in particular—driven by rank and file organizations called missions.

 

In 2005, speaking at the World Social Forum, Chavez announced that Venezuela was constructing “21st century socialism”. While it was received joyfully, it remained unclear what it meant.

It was clearly different from Stalinism, emphasising democracy and popular participation, and it was radically anti-imperialist.

 

Chavez scourged Bush and the US invasion of Iraq at the UN, and began to build organisations of Latin American unity linking other “new left” governments in Bolivia and Ecuador.  And in a series of electoral tests it became clear that Chavez’s support was growing. In 2006 he won the presidency again with over 60 percent of the national vote. Some weeks later he announced the formation of a new party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).

 

Had the revolutionary nationalist become a revolutionary socialist? Chavez and others frequently referred to Leon Trotsky, Rosa Luxemburg and Antonio Gramsci—as well as Simon Bolivar, and God.

If the transformation was real, then the PSUV would be an expression of power passing directly into the hands of the mass organisations, which was the brief expectation of many on the left.

Nearly six million joined the new party, a testimony to Chavez’s enormous popularity.

 

But the model of the party adopted by the PSUV appeared to be the Cuban Communist Party, not noted for its democratic character.  The irony of the Bolivarian revolution is that its undoubted social advances were made possible by the rising price of oil. This funded the social programmes and oil remains the country’s main export earner.

 

Chavez diversified Venezuela’s international dependencies. China, Russia and Iran came to play an increasingly central role.

 

Yet, despite the hysteria of the anti-Chavez camp, there was no policy of redistribution.

Some firms were nationalised and compensated at market rates, but for the most part only when they were abandoned or guilty of the most barefaced manipulations.

 

The year 2006 was in many ways a crossroads. The creation of Latin American blocs such as ALBA and CELAC were expressions of Chavez’s Bolivarianism, his Panamerican vision. Yet this was not the 21st century socialism, the democratic revolution, that had been promised.

 

In Venezuela a new elite was emerging, a dominant bureaucracy in red caps and T-shirts. At the same time inefficiencies, the failure to complete major projects, and the incorporation of mass leaders slowly undermined the mass organisations whose struggles had carried Chavez to power.

 

Every vote confirmed Chavez’s immense popularity. But conversations at street corners testified to an increasing frustration with a new political machine that appeared to function at Chavez’s whim.  There was no open process of decision-making. Instead policies were announced—often without prior notice—on Chavez’s entertaining Sunday morning TV specials. The impression was of a regime without a strategic vision that created policy on the hoof.

 

Political discussion was increasingly polarised. Public denunciations replaced debate. And power was becoming concentrated on Chavez and his immediate circle. But it was not the idea of creating an alternative capitalist bloc that had brought Latin America’s mass movements on to the streets. It was the promise of “people’s power” that made Chavez such a potent symbol of resistance and of a different, socialist future.

 

On the eve of his last journey to Havana for medical treatment, Chavez assured his television audience that he was leaving a strong collective leadership behind him.

 

In fact the power of the Chavista state was concentrated in Chavez himself. Without him the sectional interests and power hunger of individual members of his government are almost bound to emerge and conflict. No one has the charisma that Chavez undoubtedly possessed.

The alternative that faces Venezuela after Chavez is either the growing use of a state that claims his name but cannot claim his influence, or the re-emergence of a powerful mass movement still ready to struggle for “people’s power”.

 

He left behind a language of liberation and solidarity, but the structures to turn them into a new and different kind of society have yet to be built.

 

Culled from: http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=30797 accessed 10 March 2013.

 

 

Socialist Worker is the newspaper of the Socialist Workers League.

 

Where We Stand

 

INDEPENDENT WORKING CLASS ACTION

In a capitalist society like Nigeria, workers create all the riches yet very few workers benefit from their toil. Only a tiny minority of capitalists control and enjoy this wealth while the majority suffer exploitation and poverty.

This is a consequence of capitalism, an economic system that puts profits before people’s needs. We want a completely new society in which the workers collectively seize control and democratically plan production and distribution for the benefit of all – not just for an elite few.

REVOLUTION NOT REFORM

The parliamentary way to socialism has historically proved futile and so has reformism. The only viable road to socialism is the revolutionary overthrow of the present system led by the mass of workers. The state machinery in the form of the parliament, the army, the police and judiciary are designed to defend the interests of the ruling class. Through mass collective action, workers can smash the state machinery and replace it with true workers’ democracy. This will be based on workers councils with delegates accountable to workers themselves, not parliament.

INTERNATIONALISM

The key to a successful revolution lies in international solidarity with other workers around the world. There is only one international working class exploited by international capital. To emphasize national unity instead of class unity holds back working class struggles. The experience of Russia demonstrates that  socialism cannot survive in one country. In Russia it led to state capitalism and Stalinism. In Eastern Europe and China similar systems were later established by Stalinist parties.

AGAINST OPPRESSION

We oppose all tendencies, which turn workers against workers. We are against sexism and the oppression of women, tribalism, religious sectarianism, homophobia and all other forms of discrimination. These misdirect workers from the real roots of exploitation and imperialism and weaken their collective strength. We advocate ethnic equality and support the rights of minorities to organize and defend their rights. We support all genuine national liberation movements.

THE REVOLUTIONARY WORKERS MOVEMENT

A revolutionary movement is a spear in the hands of workers. It brings together the most class conscious workers to spread socialist ideas and collective action. Through patient arguments and practical organization in the daily class struggle, we can win workers to our politics and the fight for a socialist society. Activity to build such a movement has to be based on the mass organisations of the working class. We have to build a rank and file movement within the trade unions.

 

WE STAND FOR SOCIALISM FROM BELOW.

JOIN THE SOCIALISTS!

TOGETHER WE HAVE A WORLD TO WIN!

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!

Discussion

2 thoughts on “Socialist Worker Issue 04

  1. Let’s keep up the struggle Comrades– Solidarity greetings

    Posted by Yomi Aluko | April 12, 2013, 5:05 am
  2. Thanks for any other great post. Where else could anybody get that type of information in such a
    perfect method of writing? I have a presentation next week, and I am at the search for
    such info.

    Posted by Seo Singapore | April 27, 2013, 5:06 am

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