Late on Monday, 13 November, Nigeria’s two trade union federations, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), called for an indefinite general strike to start the next day as no agreement had been reached over their demands following the police assault on and arrest of the NLC President and many issues facing workers in Imo state in south-eastern Nigeria (see here).
The CWI in Nigeria, the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) rapidly published the statement below welcoming the strike but warned of the dangers that it had not been sufficiently prepared and that the trade union leaders were not prepared to struggle. Unfortunately this proved to be the case, support for the strike was patchy and within two days the strike was “suspended” without any of its demands being met, something which has been seen before in Nigeria. The DSM statement warned of these dangers while sketching out how the workers’ movement could lead a fight to end the deep crisis gripping Nigeria at the present time.
Use the strike to fight for all the long-suffering workers and poor masses of Nigeria, and not just Imo state workers
The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) wholeheartedly welcomes the decision of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) to escalate the strike they called last week over the anti-labour policies and state-sponsored act of terror of the Imo State government led by Governor Hope Uzodinma into a full-scale nationwide general strike starting on Tuesday 14 November 2023 in defiance of a fraudulent order of the National Industrial Court.
According to a statement by leadership of the NLC and TUC, the escalation became inevitable due to the continuous refusal of the Imo State Government and the Federal government to reverse the series of anti-worker policies and actions including the brutalization of the NLC president in a state sponsored act of terror on November 1st, withholding of workers outstanding salary arrears, unjust declaration of 11,000 workers as ghost workers, non-compliance with N30,000 minimum wage act and declaration of 10,000 pensioners as ghost retirees. We hereby urge workers, Socialists and activists to support the general strike enthusiastically by downing tools and engaging in agitation and debate online, at workplaces and in the communities to defend the general strike especially given the studious effort of the capitalist regime to discredit the action.
We call for the setting up of democratic action committees at workplaces to begin to enforce the strike and ensure more active participation and compliance. Evidence from the first day of the strike show that compliance was scanty obviously due to poor preparation. We also argue that the strike should not be a sit-at-home action. Rather, public activities like mass meetings, protests and demonstrations should be organized both to strengthen the strike and mobilise wider support. We also call on Labour to consider provision of emergency and skeletal services in hospitals and essential public services like electricity and water supply while the strike lasts in order to attract sustained public support.
We urge Nigerian workers to reject the attempt by the Tinubu capitalist administration and its hirelings to discredit the strike by painting it as a “personal matter” or a “ego tripping move” by the NLC President, Joe Ajaero. What is at stake in this strike goes beyond the person of Joe Ajaero – it is the dignity and integrity of the workers movement that is at stake. As we said in a previous statement, the November 1st brutal attack on Joe Ajaero by thugs linked to the Imo State government was a message sent on behalf of the capitalist state to the entirety of the workers’ movement that no one is beyond repression. Up till now, none of the perpetrators has been arrested!
END CLASS COLLABORATIONISM – FOR AN INDEPENDENT AND FIGHTING WORKERS MOVEMENT
We are therefore not surprised that the statement signed by the Special Adviser to the President on Information and Strategy, Bayo Onanuga, only stops short at publicly endorsing the brutalization of Joe Ajaero. In our opinion, the fact that a spokesperson of the Tinubu regime could issue such a statement in reaction to the brutalization of Comrade Joe Ajaero should serve as a wake-up call to the leadership of the NLC and TUC. But in its response to the Presidency, the NLC in a new statement dated Tuesday 14, November, 2023 said
“If Onanuga were not suffering from selective amnesia, he ought to have known that this government should remain grateful to the organised labour for its uncommon patience with a government that clearly was not prepared for the consequences of its fundamentalist market policies of massive currency devaluation and ‘subsidy’ removal which imposed on Nigerians social violence, upheaval, dislocation, displacement or punishment they never before experienced. Onanuga, similarly ought to have known that organised labour, by not opting for a strike as a first option, acted as a bulwark against the rage of Nigerians thereby saving this government from itself. Organised labour is not unaware of the misdirected anger of Nigerians for not going for the jugular of this government for justifiable reasons: inflation moved from 19% to 29%; exchange rate from N400 to N1, 300; and pump price of pms from N187 to N700, in the first five months of this government! In light of this, who is punishing “a whole country of over 200 million people”, NLC/TUC or Government of Bola Tinubu?”
We find it unbelievable that the labour leadership still think and argue in the above manner despite all what has happened since November 1st. To put things bluntly, the brutalization of Comrade Joe Ajaero is the gratitude of the Nigeria’s capitalist ruling elite to the labour leadership for saving them and their rotten system from the justified anger of the working masses. As we of the DSM have warned several times, the penchant of labour leaders to always act as gatekeepers of capitalism by impeding the development of mass anger against the capitalist state over their anti-poor and anti-worker policies – something which the Joe Ajaero and Festus Osifo NLC and TUC leadership have been guilty of since the aborted general strike of June 7, 2023 – is akin to riding on the back of a tiger. In this sense, the brutal assault of comrade Joe Ajaero and the disgusting and insulting statement from the Presidency which is clearly celebrating this assault only goes to show that the labour leaderships have sold themselves cheap by their class collaborationism and their work “saving this government from itself”.
BROADEN THE DEMANDS – USE THE STRIKE TO LAUNCH A NATIONWIDE RESISTANCE AGAINST THE ANTI-POOR POLICIES OF THE TINUBU REGIME
The only way for the labour leaderships to restore their dignity and that of the entirety of the labour movement is for them to change course and end the slavish class collaborationism of the past. As the NLC itself noted in its statement, “inflation moved from 19% to 29%; exchange rate from N400 to N1, 300; and pump price of pms from N187 to N700, in the first five months of this government!” This means the NLC and TUC leadership knows a huge proportion of their members are suffering. But sadly they deliberately chose to turn a blind eye in order to save the blushes of the Tinubu government.
In fact, all of the anti-worker issues for which comrade Joe Ajaero went to Imo state to lead workers on a fight-back exist in almost all states across the federation. There is hardly any state where workers and retirees are not being owed several months of backlog of salaries and pensions. There is hardly any state where check-off dues and cooperative deductions are not being withheld and there are many states, apart from Imo state, where the N30,000 minimum wage remain unimplemented. Besides, virtually all the states have not implemented the agreement on wage award. For instance, over the past few months, Oyo state workers have been organizing and protesting over similar issues. This is aside the fact that the neo-liberal and anti-poor policies of the Tinubu administration since May 29, 2023 have plunged the working and toiling people into new levels of poverty and destitution. Due to increase in fuel price and transport fares as a result of fuel subsidy removal, many workers now trek to work while many only come to work a few days in a week.
In this condition of nationwide mass misery, the labour leadership would continue to miss an opportunity to win real improvement for their members by limiting the demands of the general to the issue of Imo state workers alone. This is why we in the DSM call on the NLC and TUC to broaden the demands of the general strike to include the following:
- Reversal of pump price of petrol to N195 per litre.
- Arrest and speedy trial of all subsidy thieves and seizure of their ill-gotten wealth
- N200,000 national minimum wage to be regularly increased in accordance to the rate of inflation
- Immediate crash programme to repair old refineries and build new ones
- Petrol from Dangote refinery, when it starts operating, to conform to a price cap of N195 per litre otherwise it should be nationalized under workers control and management.
- Reversal of all hiked school fees. No to student loan. For adequate funding of public education and healthcare
- No hike in electricity tariff
- Rejection of neo-liberal capitalist policies – deregulation, devaluation, privatization, commercialization of social services, etc
- Immediate meeting of the demands of academic staff, non-academic staff, doctors and all medical personnel.
- Release of all political prisoners including #ENDSARS protesters and end to attacks on democratic rights.
- Reduction in the salaries of political office holders and their placement on the minimum wage.
- Cancelation of security vote and reduction of the Presidential fleet.
We would like to conclude with what we said in an earlier statement issued to welcome the general strike called by the NLC and TUC to start on October 3 but which was suspended at the last minute apparently in order to “save the Tinubu government from itself”.
“However, as the DSM has always argued, the experience of working masses themselves amply demonstrates that no real or long-lasting relief can be won for the working people under capitalism. This is why for struggle to win real victory, labour and workers need to adopt clear and bold pro-working people philosophy and programme that synchronize with the genuine aspirations of the working people and the objective basis of their existence and struggle. This in our view is no other than a scientific Socialist programme which links demands on the day to day issues facing the working people with a programme for the nationalization of the key sectors of the Nigerian economy such as oil and gas sector, banks, big industries and mines under workers democratic control and management in order to ensure that society’s wealth trapped in the hands of a few are made available to make life better for the mass majority.
“This also underscores the need for the labour movement to initiate the building of a genuine mass working people’s party with a revolutionary programme and method to wrest power from the thieving, backward capitalist ruling and form a workers and poor people’s government with a socialist programme. Such a government will ensure the human and material resources of the country are used on the basis of socialist planning for the benefit of the vast majority and genuine development of the society”.