Nigerian general strike called off - Workers win by simply flexing their muscles

Yesterday's announced general strike was called off as the Obasanjo regime was forced to give in to the demands of the trade unions. The mere threat of a strike has been enough to gain victory. This now poses a dilemma before the ruling elite in Nigeria: how to govern the country in the face of such a militant and organised working class?

The indefinite general strike that was to start yesterday in Nigeria was called at the last minute. The oil marketers that had provoked the strike call in the first place agreed to return to the price of 34 naira per litre. Thus the workers of Nigeria have achieved victory without even having to go out on strike!

The militant move that was developing could be seen in the posters that the NLC had pasted all over Nigeria. On one of them we could read the following: "We say to the Obasanjo regime that enough is enough! We reject further sufferings being imposed on us! We do not and will not accept the new prices for petrol, diesel and kerosene. This is a battle we must wage and win, no retreat, no surrender."

Nobody could have any doubts about the determination of the workers. Last June's general strike was testimony to this. And yesterday, in spite of the announced calling off of the strike, some workers came out anyway. Yesterday parts of Lagos and Ogun states were at a standstill. In Ogun state, government workers and teachers did not urn up for work. They claimed this was because the announcement of the suspension of the strike had come late. In any case it shows that the support for the strike was there.

Faced with such seething anger on the part of the workers the regime preferred to back off. This reveals the immense power of the organised working class in Nigeria. The ruling class is now faced with a huge dilemma. How are they now going to govern the country and impose their anti-working class policies, with such a militant and angry working class watching their every move?

We pointed out in our article on Wednesday that the impending general strike would be a colossal confrontation between the classes in Nigeria. If it had taken place it could have gone well beyond the limits that the trade union leaders had envisaged. It is because of this that the oil marketers (and the government) backed down and agreed to revert to the previous price levels. Therefore even without going on strike the question has been posed as to who governs the country. The bosses have the power but they cannot wield it as they please.

How tense the situation has become was revealed in Wednesday night's Presidential TV broadcast. Obasanjo went on television to accuse the Nigerian Labour Congress of plotting to bring "down a democratically elected government". He went on to say that, "The leadership of the NLC has engaged in a series of subversive activities… The NLC leadership is conducting itself as a parallel government in Nigeria…"

Obasanjo was immediately condemned by many opposition politicians and by the unions themselves. For example, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, a leader of Afinefere, a Yoruba socio-cultural group, pointed out that Obasanjo could have set the country on fire with his actions and especially with his televised speech. Others have also condemned him, reminding people of his military past. He may be wearing civilian clothes, but his mind is that of a military man who see any act of protest as subversive.

The irony of the situation is that there is much truth in what Obasanjo said about the NLC. It was not just the working class that had lined up behind the NLC. It was the overwhelming majority of ordinary Nigerians who were looking to the NLC and it leader Oshiomole for a lead. An example of the mood towards the union leaders was seen yesterday at Lagos airport. Oshiomole had just landed on a flight back from the capital Abuja. Some passengers and aviation workers raised him onto their shoulders, chanting slogans such as, "Oshiomole the People's Saviour" and "Adams Our Man". This shows that Adams Oshiomole, the president of the Nigerian Labour Congress, now enjoys mass support. He could easily challenge Obasanjo. He could mobilise the whole of Nigerian society (bar the small privileged layer at the top) in a mass movement to overthrow this rotten regime. He could even get the support of the ordinary police and the bulk of the soldiers. In the past period we have had a police strike (which had the support of the masses!) and there have been rumours of a mutinous mood among the ranks of ordinary rank and file soldiers.

The power is there for the taking. But the trade union leaders do not want to take it. Oshiomole in answering Obasanjo's accusations replied by saying, "We are not in contest for power and we don't need power…" And he went on to reassure Obasanjo that no one was after his job. He pointed out that if the NLC had wanted power they would have contested the April 2003 elections. He said all this at the same airport where the workers were raising him onto their shoulders!

This is the tragedy of the Nigerian situation. If the NLC were to offer the masses a party of the working class, if they mobilised all their forces to get the workers to join and fight for such a party it would undoubtedly get the support of the overwhelming majority of the workers and the people in general. Instead at the last elections Oshiomole supported Obasanjo! A small party had been launched by some in the NLC but it did not get real backing from the leadership and therefore was unable to have the impact it could have had.

As if that were not enough we have the farce of trade union leaders reassuring the government and the bosses that back it, that they are not against the deregulation of the price of fuel. The leader of PENGASSAN, one of the oil workers unions, together with the NLC have made it clear they are not opposed to liberalisation. Of course, they add that what is necessary is for investment to take place in developing Nigeria's oil refineries so that refined oil does not have to be imported.

Some bourgeois politicians are singing the same song. For instance the governor of Lagos state, Bola Tinubu, one of the few governors that does not belong to Obasanjo's party, has stated that the problem is not liberalisation of the oil industry (i.e. its privatisation). He clearly supports this. What he is worried about is the effect it would have on the mass of ordinary working Nigerians. He wants some measures to cushion the effect for the poor. Now there is talk of gradually deregulating the price over a period.

Thus the divisions among the bourgeois are not about whether to increase the price of fuel or not. The divisions are about how and how fast to implement this measure. Tinubu is reported as saying that Obasanjo's inability to amicably resolve labour conflicts is creating an environment that is not conducive to investment.

From this we can deduce that any bourgeois politician that may challenge Obasanjo will do so on the basis of duping the masses. They will pretend to be against Obasanjo's harsher policies, only to buy time for the bosses and impose the very same policies in a different way. The end result will be the same.

Therefore we can be sure that the bosses will come back again with more attacks. At the moment we have the on-going 8th All-African Games being held in the capital Abuja. The regime may wish to delay another attack until these are over. But it will inevitably come back with more increases and more attacks on the workers. If it proves incapable of doing this the bosses themselves may wish to remove Obasanjo as he has now become more of a liability than a useful tool in governing against the people. If that happens whoever replaces him will merely present the same policies in a disguised form.

Instead of warning the workers of Nigeria that this will be the case, we have Oshiomole making the incredible statement that, "I honestly pray we don't have to go on strike again, but I also hope that God will guide them [referring to the government]."

Unfortunately for comrade Adams, he is going to have to call many strikes, and he will find that God will not guide the likes of Obasanjo as he would like him to. Obasanjo represents the interests of the Nigerian elite and its imperialist backers. they will be asking for more and more. The onslaught will be relentless.

It is time to put an end to this game. Now is the time to launch an independent party of the working class based on the NLC. The NLC is already seen as a "political" force. The media often refer to it as "Labour". It is already a party in the making. It merely has to be formalised. Once such a party is launched the masses would flood into it. That must be the next step that the giant of Nigerian labour must take.