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From The Socialist newspaper, 28 June 2007

Nigeria: Four-day general strike ends

Government makes partial retreat, but fundamental issues remain

THE LATEST general strike in Nigeria ended on 23 June when the trade union leaders accepted a government offer that granted most, but not all, of their demands.

Robert Bechert, Committee for a Workers' International (CWI)

The four day stoppage was the most widespread and complete of the eight general strikes or mass protests that Nigeria has seen in the last seven years. The entire country stopped; not just the organised workers but wide sections of the working population, including artisans and the self-employed, joined in the protest.

The strike's strength was not simply because of the huge popular anger that, just before his term of office ended, outgoing president Obasanjo increased the price of fuel by over 15% and doubled Value Added Tax to 10%.

It also was due to a realisation that nothing had changed as Yar'Adua, the new president, simply defended these increases. But many expected little from Yar'Adua. Last April's elections which he 'won' were blatantly rigged.

The strike's success was a marvellous demonstration of the power of working people. The government's isolation was clear, it had no significant forces supporting it, hence its retreat.

But, at the same time, this was another lost opportunity to fundamentally change Nigeria. This mighty mass movement posed the question of "who runs Nigeria?" The labour movement stopped the country; it demonstrated that the rotten elite can do nothing on their own except steal.

With a clear socialist programme and a concrete plan of action the way to breaking with capitalism could have been opened. But now, the government will return to the offensive.

This is because Nigeria's crisis is rooted in the capitalist system that, despite its oil wealth, cannot develop the country or even maintain existing living standards.

However the leaders of the workers' movement in Nigeria do not want to challenge the capitalist system. This strike was not called to lead to a "system change".

There will be disappointment that the rise in price of fuel, really the key issue in the strike, was not completely rolled back as the union leaders agreed to this increase being halved, still a 8% hike.

Before, and during, the strike the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM - CWI, Nigeria) played an important role nationally. In the regions where it has support the DSM worked to help make the strike a success by striving to organise local activities and action committees.

The experience of this latest general strike, and what happens next, will help more activists in Nigeria draw both socialist conclusions and a determination to build a movement that can end once and for all the misery in the midst of plenty that most Nigerians endure.

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