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Fuel price rises provoke general strike in Nigeria
NIGERIA CAME to a halt on 30 June as millions supported the general strike called by the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) in protest at a massive 54% fuel price rise. Despite police repression, including killing at least four protesters and arresting dozens, including journalists, the strike was solid in most parts of the country.
This is the third time the regime has increased these prices since it came to power in May 1999 at the end of military rule. The increase was decreed 23 days into the second term of President Obasanjo who was supposedly re-elected in a presidential election in April characterised by massive rigging.
It is a foretaste of the suffering awaiting the working masses in the remaining years of the Obasanjo presidency. This price hike met widespread condemnation from every part of the country, particularly from working people. Against this background the NLC called an indefinite nationwide general strike from 30 June, unless the government reverted to the old prices.
However, because of the half-hearted way the NLC leadership fought past increases (in June 2000 and January 2002) and its lack of serious fightback against other attacks on working people, there is some scepticism about their determination to fight this latest increase decisively.
In 2000, they called off a strike at its peak when more concessions could have been won. There was very poor mobilisation for the 2002 "indefinite" strike. After just two days, the NLC leadership used a court order against the strike as a face-saving measure to suspend action.
The strike could have collapsed, despite massive support on its first day, because of poor preparation and lack of serious determination to fight on the part of the labour leaders. No concessions were won by that strike.
While demanding the NLC organises decisive resistance, the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM - the Socialist Party's sister organisation in Nigeria) used its influence in Lagos State chapter of the National Conscience Party (NCP), to initiate a united platform of the DSM, NCP, National Association of Nigerian Students, human rights and pro-democracy groups to organise mass resistance alongside the trade unions.
This body - called Joint Action Council Against Hike In Fuel Price (JACAHFP) - has produced posters and leaflets, funded by the NLC, to mobilise working people. On the first day of the strike it held a mass rally in Lagos.
The strike's future, at the time of writing, hangs in the balance. The government is sitting back, waiting for shortages of food and water to drive people back to work.
The DSM is urging the trade unions to take further initiatives, immediately organising mass anti-government protests and encouraging the formation of democratic action committees to ensure fresh food and water is supplied to communities, to prevent profiteering from shortages and to stop hoodlum elements disrupting the strike. Only by being prepared to challenge the government can this attack be beaten.
In The Socialist 5 July 2003: