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Workers Must Fight Anti-Union Law
ON 9 September the Nigerian Senate passed, at record speed, a draft law proposed by President Obasanjo. If implemented, it would severely weaken Nigeria's trade unions.
This undemocratic and anti-labour law outlaws picketing and makes it illegal for workers in so-called essential services - education, health, electricity, air traffic control, communication and water services - to strike. If the bill is passed by the House of Representatives, it prescribes a six-month jail term or N10,000 (£43) fine or both for the violators.
Although the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC - the main trade union federation) has held protests and rallies in some areas, most of which faced police brutality and repression, the labour leadership has not done much to educate rank and file workers and mobilise them for action. Really the NLC leaders are relying on the goodwill of Senate and House members to defeat this assault on workers' rights.
Obasanjo launched this attack just after the general strike and protest led by NLC against last June's fuel price hike - the fourth general strike in four years. Government leaders complained that the trade unions were making its neo-liberal policies difficult to implement.
This draft law tries to break up the NLC and individual trade unions and make protests legally more difficult. However it is one thing to pass a law and completely different to implement it. Significantly every one of the general strikes has won the support of the vast majority of Nigerians - a change in the law cannot stop the mass of workers, poor and youth when they decide to take action.
Protests against this draft law have already forced the Senate to delete some of the most provocative and anti-democratic features of Obasanjo's original draft. A determined campaign could stop this whole attack. A national day of protest action should be the next step.
However both imperialism and the Nigerian ruling class will return to the attack. Nigeria's rulers rightly see the workers' movement as a key obstacle to their policies. Incapable of developing the country, they repeatedly have to rely on repression to continue their rule.
The labour movement has to both defend democratic rights and wage a serious socialist struggle to break with capitalism.
In The Socialist 18 September 2004:
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