National Sections of the L5I:

Nigerian president hit by general strike

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“The deal can be seen as a victory for the unions but not a total one,” said the BBC’s correspondent in Lagos about the recent general strike that rocked two month old Umaru Yar’Adua’s presidency. The four-day general strike started on 20 June and won widespread support throughout the country.

The unions were protesting against a rise in the price of fuel from 65 naira (about 25p) to 75 naira a litre, the privatisation of two refineries, a doubling of VAT from 5 per cent, and in favour of a demand for a 15 per cent wage increase for government employees. The measures provoking the protests were passed a couple of months ago by outgoing president Olusegun Obasanjo as a goodbye gift and it was left to his protégé Yar’Adua to carry them out.

The mainly blue-collar Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) called the strike and was joined by the other trade union centre the Trade Union Congress (mainly white-collar unions).

The whole country was brought to a standstill – all commercial and industrial activity in Lagos was closed and the sea and air ports were badly hit; the strike in the south west, home of president Obasanjo, was solid; in the federal capital Abuja most of the government offices were closed; and in the delta region much of the oil production was stopped. The vice president saw his own state, Bayelsa, come to a standstill as the NLC organised demonstrations denouncing his policies. Bob Onuchukwu, head of the Nigerian Importers Association, said the strike had stopped all economic and business activities.

The labour and civil society organisations (Lascos) supported the workrers. The Lascos played a role in organising the strikes by pulling together union activists, NGOs, civil and ethnic organisations. They closed down towns and cities, picketed petrol stations, sent out scouts against the police and army, and organised demonstrations throughout Nigeria. In the space of four days the unions won everything with the exception of the fuel price rise, which now stands at 70 naira a litre.

They achieved this in the face of intimidation: police arrested 50 strikers in Enugu state and the government threatened to send in the army and police to smash up strikers’ barricades nationally. Meanwhile, the head of the country’s public services, Yayale Ahmed, threatened to withhold pay from workers who didn’t turn up for work on Monday.

But despite the bravery and militancy of millions of workers, the eighth general strike in seven years could, like its predecessors, have achieved much more.

The union leaders again failed to carry out a fight to finish with Yar’Adua. NLC President, Abdulwaheed Omar, said on Saturday 23 May that he was worried about the hardship and that “there is a good possibility that we may reconsider our position – if the government decides to come down to a reasonable level.” He went on to say that the unions did not want to be seen to be too rigid but the “government has to act in a positive manner too.”

But it is the bosses that cause hardship, not the workers. The workers have opposed every oil price rise but the hardship continues because western multinationals and Nigerian capitalists need prices to rise to make their operations more profitable.

Meanwhile, the bourgeois politicians who promised mass action over Yar’Adua’s stolen election were nowhere to be seen. All their noises about bringing society onto the streets for a Ukrainian style revolution have amounted to just that – noise.

The real opposition is the working class and its supporters among the masses. During the general strike, activists should have argued for strike committees in every work place to organise pickets, etc. They could have formed a rank and file movement in the unions to wrest control of the strike out of the hands of the bureaucracy. The strike committees could have joined up with the Lascos and become embryonic organs of power for the workers and masses. They already organised picketing and should have gone further to organise the defence of demonstrations and pickets against state attacks. Activists should have argued for the Lascos and strike committees to set up a national network of activists to control and defend the strike until all of its demands were met in full – but also to go further and challenge the rule of the fraudently elected president.

Now that the strike is over, activists must fight for the creation of a workers’ party to fight for the interests of the workers and poor, counter the influence of the compromisers and reformists, and ensure that in the coming years that a general strike can become an opportunity for the workers and poor to take power.

A campaign for a workers’ party must be launched among the unions and in the Lascos. Such a party must involve the widest possible layers of workers, youth and poor in a discussion of strategy, in which revolutionaries must advance a programme that can link the demands around the stolen elections and poverty and transference of wealth to those of a workers’ state, won through revolution.

We believe a workers’ party should fight for:
• A living wage, jobs for all. Free education and health care;
• Give the land to the peasants. Expropriate the big landowners without compensation;
• For democratic rights for national minorities and ethnic groups – for a constituent assembly, a new constitution and the right of minorities to secede if they choose;
• Against communal violence; separation of church and state;
• Against corruption - open the books to workers investigation;
• For nationalisation of the oil industry and big companies without compensation. Put under workers control
• For a workers militia to defend the masses against the army, police and ‘private security’ of the oil firms and bg companies
• Repudiate Nigeria’s foreign debt
• For a democratic plan to organise the economy for need not greed
• For a workers and poor farmers government.

If you agree join us in the fight.