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Nigeria: Leaders End Mighty General Strike
THE EIGHT-DAY Nigerian general strike, which ended on 8 July, was a marvellous demonstration of the strength of the working class and the weakness of the political class.
Robert Bechert, Committee for a Workers' International (CWI)
The entire country came to a complete halt in protest at the massive increase in fuel prices suddenly decreed last month by the newly re-elected President Obasanjo.
Significantly there was no serious opposition to the strike. Obasanjo claims to have received nearly 24.5 million votes in April's heavily rigged election, but on the streets he had no supporters whatsoever.
Despite the difficulties of daily life being increased by the strike with food shortages developing in the cities, day labourers not being able to work and other problems, the strike retained its massive support.
The leaders of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) showed that the working class could be the real opposition not just to Obasanjo, but also to the entire rotten elite. In contrast to other African countries like the Congo, this struggle illustrated how the labour movement in action can unify the population in struggle and act as a barrier to social disintegration.
In Nigeria, like in other countries, ethnic and religious clashes tend to develop when the working class is not showing a way out of the social crisis.
THE STRUGGLE over fuel prices reveals the true character of Nigeria today. Nigeria is one of the world's largest oil exporters but the mass of the population have hardly gained from the estimated $280 billion that oil has earned in the last 30 years.
The rotten, corrupt elite has looted the vast bulk of this income. The repeated shortages of fuel are the result of speculators ensuring that Nigeria's four oil refineries work way below capacity, forcing the government to import refined oil which they buy cheaply and then re-export.
The mass of Nigerians see cheap fuel as the only real help they get in life. Hence the enormous anger when Obasanjo suddenly ordered the price hike. Furthermore, no-one believed that the money the government "saved" by this increase would really be used to benefit the working masses.
The entire price rise could have been rolled back but the NLC leaders were scared of the power that they had mobilised. Rapidly these eight days showed that the NLC, as leaders of the working class, were the real opposition and potentially had more popular power than the elite.
But the NLC leaders did not want to challenge the elite or their system. The strike stopped the entire country, posing the question that if the working class and poor could halt economic life then they could also run the economy and society as a whole.
Stepping back from a decisive showdown with the government, the NLC leaders finally agreed to a compromise deal, accepting an increase in the petrol price from 26 Naira (20 US cents) to N34 (26 US cents) a litre, an increase of over a third.
For a time some Nigerians may see a success in the fact that the government had to back down from the N40 (31 US cents) Obasanjo originally ordered. The price rise is still substantial but often it was impossible to buy fuel at the official price; shortages meant that the price people had to pay was up to N40.
But there will be many activists who will feel that more could have been won and that, given this limited victory, new struggles need to be waged on, for instance, Obasanjo's refusal to implement previously agreed increases in the minimum wage.
Role of DSM
THE DEMOCRATIC Socialist Movement (DSM - CWI in Nigeria) played an important role in mobilising for this strike, calling for the building of local, democratic Action Committees to deepen the strike's support and arguing that Nigerian labour needed to adopt a political platform that challenged the elite and fought for the socialist transformation of Nigeria.
In this sense the strike was a missed opportunity. The continuation of capitalism means that there will be continual attacks on the Nigerian working masses and no real hope of breaking out of poverty until the system is overthrown.
The strike's strength shows the potential power of the Nigerian labour movement to change society and the DSM will continue to campaign for that power to be deployed to end capitalism and open the way to a socialist Nigeria.
For regular information visit the DSM's website:
GEORGE BUSH'S whistlestop tour of five African countries while masquerading as promoting peace and prosperity to the war-torn and impoverished continent is, in reality, a cynical exercise in cementing US imperialism's dominance.
The governments of Nigeria, Senegal, Uganda, Botswana and South Africa will all welcome the US president in the expectation of increased inward investment, trade and aid. Yet, for all the talk of billions of US dollars to fight AIDS and promote 'market economy-based democracy', the world's largest corporations will continue to exploit the continent's mineral wealth and labour resources.
Some one-third of Bush's $15 billion pledge to tackle the HIV/AIDS pandemic will fund campaigns to promote sexual abstinence, rather than family planning, in accordance with his Republican Party's Christian fundamentalist backers.
Moreover the Bush administration supports the highly profitable drugs companies, whose pricing structures mean that Africa's 291 million people who live on less than $1 a day cannot get access to retroviral drugs.
Governments in Africa who attempt to use cheaper generic versions of these anti-AIDS drugs must first take their case for waiving a multinational's patent to the US-dominated World Trade Organisation.
MUCH OF aid and 'debt relief' is inextricably linked to allowing US and Western companies to expand their trade into previously restricted local markets.
Even the IMF admit that the Clinton/Bush Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, instead of providing African countries preferential trade, actually costs Africa more than $500 million a year.
External debt in sub-Saharan Africa has increased 400% since the IMF/World Bank introduced 'External Debt Programmes'. African countries spend $14.5 billion each year repaying debt.
The US government has allocated $40 billion for the 'war on terror' but has only spent $1 billion on a Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative.
And while preaching the virtues of free market capitalism Bush has ensured that US farmers receive huge subsidies, thus undermining local farming production. Annual subsidies to Western farmers amounts to $350 billion compared to an annual aid budget to Africa from the G8 countries of $13 billion.
THE TOP 200 corporations (41% US-based) account for 27.5% of world economic activity (but employ only 0.78% of the world's workforce).
Of the 100 largest economies in the world, 51 are corporations; only 49 are countries (based on a comparison of corporate sales and country GDPs).
By controlling much of production and trade these giant corporations can push down the value of raw materials and products produced in poorer countries, destroying local manufacturing and markets.
Africa now accounts for just 1% of world economic output and 2% of world trade. Many African countries have economies smaller than a town in Britain of 60,000 people.
In The Socialist 12 July 2003: