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Socialist Democracy, fuel hike special edition, January 2012


8 January 2012

Print | Text only print | Facebook  Twitter

INDEFINITE STRIKE: Struggle until Victory

Form Action Committees In Workplaces, Communities And Campuses

Demand The Public Ownership Of The Oil Sector Under Democratic Control And Management Of Workers And Consumers

End The Rule Of The Thieving Elite

For A Workers' And Poor Peoples' Government

The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) welcomes the decision of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) to call an indefinite general strike and mass action against government criminal policy of fuel subsidy removal/fuel price hike. We salute the courage and resilience displayed by the poor masses and youths who have been hitting the streets daily and in several states across the country since this latest anti-poor policy was announced.

This strike represents a crucial step forward in the struggle to defeat fuel subsidy removal and all other anti-poor policies. This is because it brings out in struggle the mighty working class– the producers of goods and services and the only class that can offer a way out for society. The implication of even a one day general strike in terms of shutdown of the whole economy and loss of profits by the capitalists is huge. So also is the strength and organization that this strike will add to the general movement by providing a bold national leadership for all Nigerians deeply embittered by this neo-liberal attack and wanting to fight back.

The DSM therefore urge all Nigerian workers to down tools in line with the directives of the labour centers and join the oppressed masses and youths on the streets in protests and demonstrations. We equally urge the working masses, youth and poor brace up for a protracted struggle until all the demands are won. To ensure the strike is successful, we urge the trade unions to form enforcement committees composed of union leaders and rank and file activists to move round workplaces to enforce the strike as well as to openly picket private companies some of which are renowned for breaking strikes.

BUILD THE STRIKE FROM BELOW

However, the only guarantee for a popular and fully successful strike and mass protest is to build the momentum from below. This will require forming democratic action committees in every community, street and neighborhood as well as on campuses that are not affected by the ongoing ASUU strike. This should be in addition to strike committee comprised of trade union and pro-labour activities that must be formed nationally and in every state by LASCO. Such committees will organize and mobilize for mass activities like rallies, symposia and protest marches during the strike.

The democratic action committees composed of youths and community people will be the organ of communication, mobilization and enforcement in communities. The committees will also act as a platform through which more and more people can take active part in the debates over the tactics and directions of the struggle as well as when to call or call off the struggle unlike the experience in the recent past of Labour leaders calling off strikes without consulting workers and protesting masses.

For instance, it will be almost impossible to effect the shutting down of filling stations selling fuel above N65 per litre without organizing such action committees that can take initiative and mobilize to enforce every directives of the movement.

INDEFINITE STRIKE: HOW TO FIGHT TO WIN

By declaring strike action, the NLC and TUC are responding to the huge mood of explosive anger of thousands of youths and working masses who have been coming out on protests (some spontaneous), in about 10 states across the country since fuel prices was hiked.

In its joint communiqué, the NLC and TUC declared that "From Monday January 9th, 2012 date, all offices, oil production centres, air and sea ports, fuel stations, markets, banks, amongst others will be shut down. We advise Nigerians to stockpile basic needs especially food and water ...The primary objective of this patriotic call and movement is to revert PMS Price to N65, restore normalcy and reclaim Nigeria for Nigerians".

This immediately raises questions about strategies and tactics to achieve a fully successful indefinite/protracted strike. To ensure that fatigue does not set in among the masses during the course of the strike, the DSM urges Labour and its civil society allies in LASCO to pursue a strategy that will ensure the control of flow of essentials like food, water, transportation, hospitals and other basic essentials. The action committees should be mandated to organize in communities, neighborhoods and streets so that these basic essentials can get to the people and also to control prices and prevent hoarding and black marketeering of essential goods by profit-hunting traders. A time can be fixed in the evening for shops selling basic essentials and wares to be opened for the public. This tactics is very important given the fact that it will be extremely difficult for many working class people who have not yet received salaries and the poor masses "to stockpile basic needs especially food and water" adequate for the entire period of the strike.

However, there is a great doubt in the minds of many of the sincerity of Labour. Many before now, especially during so-called consultations between Labour and the Federal government, have been questioning the ability of the Labour leadership to give a bold fight. Even more are still questioning the sincerity of the Labour leadership in leading this strike. We have seen many well supported general strikes and protests since 1980 but they have been called off by the Labour leaders without any significant calls being made and today the question on most people's lips is: "will this not also be like other strikes in the past?"

This is why the DSM is urging the leadership of the NLC and TUC in collaboration with JAF organized under Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO) to pursue this strike vigorously in order to achieve full and satisfactory victory. The past few days of mass actions across the country have shown how the masses of workers, poor and youth inflamed by government's neo-liberal attacks can mobilize themselves out to the streets to take their destiny into their own hands. However without a clear leadership, program and organization, such spontaneous mass actions can also degenerate into violence and riots.

It is this bold, clear and focused leadership that the masses of angry youths and workers need from the leadership of the NLC and TUC now. Unlike the past indefinite strikes against fuel price hikes when Labour leaders call off actions after a measly reduction in hiked prices and without recourse to the rank and file workers and its civil society allies, the NLC and TUC leaders must recognize the full significance of government policy of removal of fuel subsidy and the need to struggle to permanently defeat this and all other capitalist neo-liberal attacks on the working and toiling people.

This attack is not just about fuel price increase. The significance of the policy of fuel subsidy removal is to hand over collective oil wealth to oil cartels and multinational oil companies under the guise of deregulation. The government has been claiming that cabals are the ones benefitting from the oil subsidy, therefore to deny them this opportunity, the oil subsidy, which helps most Nigerians to buy fuel at prices lower than international rates must be removed. To start with, who are these cabals? It is remarkable that while government spokespersons paint lucidly the criminal activities of this cabal, it has not taken steps to arrest and prosecute them.

This confirms what Socialists have often argued. Capitalism is fundamentally a nest of profit-hunting cabals whose primary agenda is to corner society's resources for their own self-serving motives. This explains why government rather than investing society's resources to rehabilitate the PHCN as well as other public enterprises like NITEL etc., so that they can work efficiently prefers to sell them off to elements who are mostly fronts for political office holders, their friends and cronies. The ruling elite, in order to sell the bogey that selling off public enterprises is the best way to make them work, ran all the public enterprises aground through corruption of the government appointees in charge of them.

The whole question of subsidy removal revolves around this same self-seeking character of the capitalist system. The real reason why money spent on subsidy has reached such monstrous proportions as N1.3 trillion annually (claimed by Federal government spokespersons) is because the capitalist ruling elite equally refused to invest resources in making the refineries work and building more. The huge amount is also as a result of the well-entrenched corrupt practices in the supervision and disbursement of the fuel subsidy to the importers, most of whom are friends and fronts of top functionaries of the government. The ability to refine locally, even in strict economics, is the best way to maximize the full value of Nigeria's oil resources.

But capitalism and capitalists only cares for profit and not what is best for society. It is more profitable for the Nigerian ruling elite and their friends from multinational oil cartels to export crude oil and import refined products. Hence, Nigerians are forced into a pathetic situation where even as a 6th largest crude oil exporting country, the domestic prices of fuel is astronomical. Perhaps what sharply captures the Nigerian tragedy is that we pay more for fuel, even at N65, than most of the OPEC countries!

THE WAY FORWARD

In this struggle, rather than making demands on a deeply corrupt capitalist ruling elite to make refineries work and rehabilitate roads, railways etc before it removes fuel subsidy, Labour must maintain total and unconditional opposition to the policy as well as other neo-liberal policies of deregulation and privatization.

Labour must equally demand the public ownership of the oil sector and its placement under the control and management of democratic committees of workers and consumers. This is the best way to rid the oil sector of the profit-hunting cabals who make huge profits from lifting and exporting crude oil and importing refined fuel products at the expense of society.

The first days of January have shown again the immense potential power of working people. The stay at home as workers could either not afford to or were spontaneously protesting at Jonathan's cynical New Year's "gift" brought many cities to a virtual standstill. The indefinite general strike, like the previous ones, will bring the country to a halt. This begs the key question: if Labour can stop the country why can't it take control of the country out of the hands of the thieving ruling class and begin to run it in the interests of working people? In this way an indefinite general strike poses the question of who runs the country?

The NLC and TUC statement listed "reclaim Nigeria for Nigerians" as one of the strike's objectives. But how can this really be done? We in the DSM argue that this can only be achieved by breaking the power of the ruling class and for the working people to begin to run the country.

An indefinite general strike poses the question of whether working people can act to rid the whole society of the capitalist parasites holding society to ransom. The 2012 budget proposal reveals how the ruling class parasitic elites suck society dry. The total allocation for feeding in the presidential villa is about N1billion while fuelling of official cars will cost N1.7billion. Equally N200 million was budgeted to water the gardens of the presidential villa in 2011 alone. The Senate President David mark earns about N600 million annually apart from other perks and privileges of his office. These are just bits of the extravagance, opulent life-style and official corruption of the capitalist ruling elites. Placed side by side with the extreme poverty and destitution of over 80% of the population and the over 25 million (42%) unemployed youths, this represents a colossal income inequality in society.

There is the urgent need for Labour to lead the process of providing a political alternative to all capitalists' anti-poor policies of privatization, deregulation, education commercialization etc. Without fighting to defeat all these neo-liberal policies, it will never be possible to liberate the working and toiling masses from excruciating poverty in the midst of stupendous oil wealth.

The developing mass struggle against fuel subsidy removal shows the potential for a political party that offers clear pro-poor alternative policies to the neo-liberal and anti-poor nostrums of the Peoples Democratic Party (PPP), All Nigeria People's Party (ANPP) or the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). Despite attempts by some to distance themselves because of the mass struggle taking place, all the political parties support the policy of fuel subsidy removal. Indeed through the Governors Forum, ACN Governor like Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State openly canvassed for the removal as a precondition for payment of N18, 000 minimum wage! This is why the DSM is again calling on the NLC and TUC to build a genuine mass workers' political party that can be a vehicle to take political power.

Such a political party, if built side by side with the ongoing mass movements, can easily acquire a mass character and offer a way forward for angry workers, poor and youths seeking complete liberation. This can also pave the way for the takeover of political power by the working and toiling masses and the enthronement of a working and poor people's government that can democratically plan society's resources for the purpose of meeting the needs of millions and not the interest of millionaires.

Against the above background, Labour's statements that "The primary objective of this patriotic call and movement is to revert PMS Price to N65" falls short of the mood and expectations of angry workers, poor masses and youths who wants a determined struggle against all anti-poor policies. It is not just fuel subsidy removal that is responsible for this massive explosion of anger, equally responsible are the government policies of education commercialization best epitomized by the astronomical hike of Lagos State University (LASU) school fees, privatization, mass unemployment especially among young graduates, tremendous loss of jobs as private companies fold up due to harsh business environment, massive corruption and the outrageous cost of subsidizing super-rich political office holders, lack of electricity, shelter, poor and dilapidating public infrastructures like roads etc. Uptill now, the N18, 000 National Minimum Wage has not yet been paid by many state governments across the country! Therefore labour cannot just limit the struggle to reversal of pump price of petrol to N65. Labour must lead a fight back against all neo-liberal and anti-poor policies with the aim of winning the best concession for working class and impoverished masses while, at the same time, striving to carry through a socialist revolution in working peoples' interest.