National Sections of the L5I:

General strike against Obasanjo

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On 9 June, workers in Nigeria launched a three day general strike in protest against the governments 20 per cent hike in the price of oil to the equivalent of more than 20 pence a litre. The average income the equivalent of about 50p a day. Nigeria is the eighth biggest oil producer in the world and cheap fuel and kerosene for heating is the only benefit the mass of ordinary Nigerians receive from their natural wealth.

The strike saw a courageous display of militancy by the workers of Nigeria, led by the union federation Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC). All the major industrial and commercial centres were closed including banks, central and local government, markets, schools and colleges. The commercial centre, Lagos, and the capital Abuja both ground to a halt.
The workers on strike showed bravery against Government and police intimidation and used a variety of ingenious tactics to enforce the strike.
The strike took place despite the federal High Court asking the NLC not to strike while directing the Government to revert to the old price. This time however, unlike in January this year, the strike leaders said they would not wait for any court action.
Strikers rejected government attempts at intimidation such as the “no work, no pay” order put out to frighten civil servants back to their offices.
Members of the Commercial Motorcyclists Association were used to travel around to inspect petrol stations to ensure that they were adhering to the strike.
Convoys of cars and vans filled with strikers were used as flying pickets to descend on stations that was breaking the strike.
Strikers also defended the NLC headquarters from 100 police who attacked killing two strikers and arresting six union leaders.
The widespread support for and compliance with the strike among the workers even led to the oil sellers’ organisation and the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation calling on the Government not to go ahead with the price rise.
The strike was called off after just 3 days by the NLC leadership, and other organisations, which argued that the price had lowered sufficiently.
Union leaders sell out
Throughout the strike the union leaders of the NLC did their best to get the workers to return to work.
On day one of the dispute, leader of the NLC, Adams Oshiomhole, said that unless the price went back to the old level there would be no deal and no return to work. By the second day of the strike he said that although the price was falling in places the decrease was not widespread enough, “We went round Abuja area today and yesterday and we saw some evidence of compliance. But in other parts of the country the evidence is still not there. And so given the fact that we all started the strike at the same time, while we have all noticed a substantial attempt in Abuja to comply, unfortunately this is not the case in most parts, the overwhelming parts. That compliance goes round the whole nation."
And by the third day, the NLC met the other striking organisations and ordered the return to work because, in the words of Oshiomhole, “We’ve seen substantial evidence that many petrol stations have adjusted their prices to reflect the court order. Therefore, the labour unions and the civil society groups have agreed that we hereby suspend the strike.”
But the price in some areas had not fallen to that Oshiomhole was holding out for on the first day.
Some groups who supported the strike criticised the NLC for calling it off. Citizens Rights Watch attacked the NLC and called for the strike to continue until the full demands were met, called for the resignation of President Obansanjo and called for a sovereign national conference to decide on the government of the country. The National Democratic Movement also attacked the ending of the strike saying that it could have pushed the government into wider social reforms.
The price of oil is now, in law,.. supposed to be back to where it was. NLC unions in Delta and Akwa Iborn states have already threatened to picket stations selling fuel at higher prices.
What next
The widespread support for the strike, its strength and its ability to shutdown the economy show the power of the working class. It also put the NLC, despite its leadership, at the head of the movement against the government. The industrial workers pulled in behind them a range of other unions and other ethnic and cultural organisations some of which such as the Ijaw have fought terrible and vicious battles with the government.
However, the Nigerian workers have been let down by their leaders yet again. The strike could have achieved so much more than a partial climbdown by the government. That there are organisations now criticising the NLC for refusing to continue the strike indicates that there are forces aware that the workers and their allies must offer and struggle for an alternative to the current pro-IMF government.
Since his re-election Obansanjo has set himself the goal of reducing the $2 billion of subsidies that keep fuel prices low and privatising wide sections of the economy to please his IMF backers. There is every indication that the government will try to raise the price again.
The next attack must be faced with a leadership far more resolute than the existing one and for that the workers need their own revolutionary workers party.