NIGERIA AT 54; WHICH WAY FORWARD?
WE NEED TO BUILD A LABOUR PARTY WITH A SOCIALIST PROGRAMME TO BUILD A NEW NIGERIA!
On October 1, 1960, ordinary Nigerians were filled with hope and high expectations. Independence was to bring about improvement in the lives of the people as a whole. But this has not been the case for the poor working people.
The poverty rate then was 15%, today it is 70%. Unemployment rate was just 1.5%, it is officially now over 25% with youth unemployment being more than 50%. But this is not because the country has gotten poorer, rather, with the oil boom the national wealth has ballooned. However, only a few persons –members of the ruling class- benefit from this, the gap between the rich and poor continues to widen.
The most fundamental reason for this disturbing situation is not corruption or simply bad policies, as we are often made to believe. It is the nature of capitalist development in Nigeria in particular and internationally, in general.
In 1960, the world economy was still experiencing the post-World War II boom. The bosses could afford to set aside sizeable crumbs of the social wealth for pacifying the working class. The World Bank and IMF also then appeared keen on promoting development that was meant to modernize new states like Nigeria.
But the logic of capitalism which rests on the exploitation of the working class is such that booms never last forever. By the 1970s when the profit rates of the bosses’ tumbled, they passed on the burden to poor working people across the world through austerity measures, structural adjustment programmes and World Bank/IMF conditionalities.
The sufferings of the working people in Nigeria over the last few decades are part and parcel of the attacks on the workers, peasants and the urban poor across the world under what is often called “globalisation”.
But in Nigeria and globally, the working people are not taking these attacks without a fight. The waves of revolutions and revolts over the last few years, including the January 2012 anti-fuel price hike General Strike show that we can fight and we can win. They also show that there is the need for us to understand the international dimensions of our reality and how to change it -which is by smashing the capitalist system that thrives on our exploitation- even as we struggle for power in our different countries.
To win ultimate victory and thus emancipate ourselves, we as class conscious workers need to organise as a political party, armed with socialist perspectives. This is why the need to reclaim the Labour Party or indeed build a genuine working people’s party is central to any strategy that will move our struggle forward.
BEYOND RECLAIMING THE LABOUR PARTY
Labour Party is at the crossroads. After Dr Olusegun Mimiko, crossed carpeted from the party to the Peoples Democratic Party on October 2, the LP leadership still intends to go ahead with its National Convention fixed for October 11, at Akure. Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress have taken a principled stand that this is quite immoral to say the least. Consequently, the trade unions have summoned a stakeholders’ meeting for October 9, to chart a new course for the party.
But moving forward requires our understanding where we got it wrong. At the heart of the problem are critical ideological, political and organizational issues. Some of these have been raised and resolutions passed on them in the past with no actions taken. This is a major reason why the party and the labour movement had drifted apart over the past dozen years of the former’s existence.
Before the formation of LP, NLC had resolved that a workers’ party had to be based on a socialist programme to really promote the struggle of the working class for self-emancipation. This resolution was reaffirmed by the 2003 NLC Delegates Conference.
But curiously, the Labour Party that Congress formed chose an ideology of “social democracy” at a time that social democracy was being discredited worldwide. Labour Parties that professed this ideology have been at the forefront of pushing austerity measures in Europe for example.
Politically, the trade union leaders seemed less concerned about building an independent party of the working class. Most ex-unionists elected into legislative or executive arms of the state have contested on the platforms of PDP or APC. And even NLC campaigned the APC in Edo and Ekiti states.
More importantly, politics has not been pursued as something beyond electoralism. The needed type of workers’ party must constantly mobilize working people in struggle against all forms of oppression, for us to liberate ourselves from the tyranny and exploitation of the bosses.
This requires close ties with the trade unions not just at national or federation levels. Membership mobilization must be rooted in the workplaces and communities. Social movements including radical “civil society organizations” and socialist groups like the SWL have critical roles to play in the dynamics of such organizing.
It is in this sense that SWL very much welcomes the forthcoming stakeholders’ meeting as a first (and long overdue) step at initiating a broader involvement of revolutionary and radical forces in labour’s partisan politics.
There is however a clear need for foresight over astonishment. It is very unlikely that the Labour Party can at this stage be reclaimed, as steps in that direction at this time amount to too little and too late.
Lessons have been learnt from the trade union bureaucracy’s mistakes on the Labour Party. But the die is already cast between the LP leadership that will definitely go ahead with its convention at Akure and the NLC/TUC that appear to have gotten their political groove back.
The most important lesson at this juncture might simply be this: the way forward is to build a new mass workers’ party on a path of struggle for the working class’ self-emancipation.
SWL has been active in the LP precisely because of its ties, tenuous as they were to the unions. We would welcome with vigour, this new opening of struggle for us all and call on Nigerian workers to dare to build a socialist workers party and dare to bring to birth a new world based on solidarity and cooperation.
INFORMAL WORKERS, STRIVING TO HAVE A VOICE
The past thirty five years have been marked by attacks on the working class in so many ways that have resulted in the expansion of the informal economy. Structural adjustment programmes and “economic empowerment and development” strategies that promote privatization, deregulation and other neoliberal policies have thrown many workers into the informal sector.
The Federation of Informal Workers of Nigeria (FIWON) came into existence in 2010 as an umbrella platform for the defense of workers’ rights in this sector of the economy. On September 29-30, FIWON organized a workshop for members at the Dayspring hotel Abuja. Its aim was to better organize workers in the informal economy in their struggle for social protection legislation that include financial inclusion.
As Comrade Gbenga Komolafe, the FIWON General Secretary said at the programme “there can be no real growth in the Nigerian economy unless informal working people are properly organized”. He further stressed the group’s objective to transform FIWON into a genuine democratic platform for the working people of Nigeria. Such a platform would ensure that the people use their collective power to determine who rules the country and states.
Such use of collective power, he emphasized has been demonstrated in Ghana where StreetNet which represents working people in the informal economy organizing body commands prominence in the political space. The focus of the workshop, in line with its aim was how to win benefits through struggle of FIWON members, such as: visibility for members and their businesses; access to variety of financial services including; pension, health insurance, life assurance, thrift and credit, savings, cash transfers and convenient secured and flexible means of payments for services
For FIWON, these would help ensure; verifiable e-records of members, improved FIWON operations, quality service management for all members of affiliates and certification. All local and state leaders were charged to take the message back home to affiliates’ members that with collective power the conditions of work and life for workers in the informal economy could be improved.
As socialists, the Socialist Workers League stands for the unity and struggle of working people across all sectors of the economy. It is only through this unity of struggle that we can defeat the bosses and emancipate ourselves.
While we can win some concessions through our unions in the formal or informal sectors of the economy, the ultimate aim is to change society. Our labour creates the wealth which the bosses feed fat on. We must fight to defeat the power of the bosses and become the rulers of society ourselves.
24 copies of Abuja Socialist Bulletin and the Socialist Worker were sold at the workshop. Several members of FIWON expressed their interest to join the SWL. Several FIWON activists have already been active in branches of SWL in different states and Abuja.