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General Strike Stops Nigeria But Union Leaders Have No Answers
FOR THREE days, 9-11 June, Nigeria came to an almost complete halt in the fourth general strike in four years as workers and poor once again moved into action. Enraged by the latest rise in fuel prices and alienated from the increasingly authoritarian regime of ex-general Olusegun Obasanjo, the vast majority of Nigerians heeded the trade unions' call to stop work.
Millions of Nigerians, repelled by the ruling elite's continuing corruption and seeing themselves disenfranchised by repeated electoral fraud, saw the strike as the only way of making their voices heard.
It is under a year since an eight-day general strike completely stopped Nigeria when Obasanjo's government tried to raise the petrol price from 26Niara (US19 cents) a litre to 40N (US30 cents). That struggle ended in a deal with the NLC (Nigerian Labour Congress, the main trade union federation) accepting a compromise price of 34N.
But since then the price has relentlessly gone up. Late last month prices had reached 50N-55N a litre for petrol, while kerosene used for cooking had jumped from 39N-75N.
In both last October and January, the NLC called off general strikes at the last minute after agreeing new compromises with the government that included accepting a further increase in the fuel price to 38N a litre for petrol. But this compromise did not last.
Now the NLC has "suspended" the strike and accepted a new compromise with the government of the price returning to between "N40-N41" for petrol in Lagos, something that did not mention either kerosene or petrol prices outside Lagos. But even this deal was immediately under attack with fuel shortages gripping Lagos as the oil marketers went "on strike", saying they'd refuse to sell fuel at this price.
The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM, the Nigerian section of the CWI) has warned of the dangers posed by the NLC leaders' policies. It argues for a thorough mobilisation of working people with the formation of democratic bodies to run the struggle and for a socialist alternative.
Nigeria is facing an increasingly turbulent period. If the rising mass anger is not directed towards the real cause of the country's crisis, the capitalist system, there is the danger of a further growth of ethnic and religious clashes.
In The Socialist 19 June 2004:
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