A POLITICAL CHARTER OF THE WORKING CLASS TO WIN WORKERS’ POWER NOT A ‘CHARTER OF DEMAND’ TO WIN POWER FOR CAPITALIST POLITICIANS.
By Lateef Adams
It is unbelievable that the Nigerian Labour Congress is “presenting” a set of demands known as the “Charter of Demands” to political office holders to implement else they would mobilise members to vote against politicians that failed to implement the demands. The NLC in a statement by its President Ayuba Wabba as quoted from the Vanguard newspaper said “We would demand from politicians and the political class the dividends of the investment of our hopes for a stronger, inclusive and resilient economy; a Nigeria that is secured, stable, sustainable, peaceful and united; … a Nigeria where workers and pensioners reap the fruits of their reward on earth, especially through prompt payment of decent wages cum pension benefits…”
This statement from the NLC president is mind-boggling and is not expected from the leadership of a union that has gone on strike severally over the same issues without the political ruling class showing any concern. It should be obvious to the Nigerian workers that since 1999, the ruling elites have not cared to develop any section of the economy. They have always patronised foreign goods and services such as importation of refined oil, foreign hospital, education for their wards etc. leaving our economy to crumble.
Quotations from the preamble of the charter of demands by the Nigerian Tribune of February 8, 2022, stated the NLC pledge to forge a partnership with the Trade Union Congress TUC and civil society organisations to campaign for the implementation of the charter of demands. According to the newspaper “To the government of Nigeria, Congress assures that through best endeavour, Labour will partner with the government in achieving the demands. To this effect, the Nigeria Labour Congress presents this Charter of Demands to the government of Nigeria, all persons in authority and managers of public institutions for implementation.”
For the NLC to have any slight belief that the same ruling elites that have over the years failed in their constitutional responsibilities to now agree to implement the charter of demands is like waiting forever. These same political elites have sworn to the constitution to provide security and welfare to the people as their primary aim in government but it’s obvious they have all failed to keep to the constitution’s demands. The current insecurity situation in the country is alarming. Daily, people are been killed in all parts of the country and the elites feel unconcern.
The Kaduna train attack in March resulted in the death of 8 persons and kidnapping of about a hundred people, the gruesome killing of over 40 bus passengers at Gidan Bawa village in Sokoto state, the killing of an INEC officer in Imo state are among the recent insecurity issues that the government is yet to tackle. Yet they are all jumping from one state to the other endorsing each other for the coming elections in 2023.
At this time the Labour Union should be working to build and strengthen its political party (the Labour Party) as a working people’s party aiming to contest elections in order to have the opportunity to implement working people and poor farmers’ policies. Policies that will see workers and pensioners reap the fruits of their reward through decent pay, policies that will invest our commonwealth for a “stronger, inclusive and resilient economy”. That policy is to nationalize the commanding sector (the oil and gas, agriculture etc.) of the economy and place it under the management and democratic control of the working people to guide against profligacy.
Some Labour leaders are now fun of jumping to bourgeois political parties such as the PDP and APC to seek political office. This is not for the aim of implementing workers’ friendly policies but for several selfish interests. A good example is the former NLC President Adams Oshiomhole who rises to become the National Chairman of the corrupt ruling party the APC and was a two-term governor of Edo state with no significant improvement in the lot.
LABOUR AND THE STRUGGLE FOR POWER
The Labour union aims to promote, defend and advance the economic, political and social rights and well-being of the Nigerian workers and pensioners. So if the union decide to engage in politics and struggle for political power to implement pro workers’ policies is a welcome development. Nigerian workers at this material time need a pan working people party that will struggle to dislodge corrupt political parties in government and put in place socialist programs and policies that will improve the living standards, invest in housing for its rank and file workers, provide a decent environment for the masses.
Unfortunately, most union leaders have ignored building its party and some have resulted in joining the ruling party for political office. Adams Oshiomhole’s case is an unpalatable scenario to workers generally. His involvement in politics and as a two-time governor of Edo state has not contributed to the advancement of the working masses of the state. Workers’ welfare is not as prioritised as their continuous hold on political power. In 2016, the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) Edo state chapter embarked on a protest to register their displeasure over the non-payment of their salary arrears. The protest was led by the then national president of NULGE Ibrahim Khaleel.
According to The Guardian of August 5, 2016 “Khaleel expressed disappointment at the way and manner the Edo state Governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole had subjected the workers to untold hardship, describing the plight of the local government workers in the state over the years, as pitiable.” Comrade Oshiomhole who became governor in 2008 under the Action Congress party now APC, seems he did not disappoint its capitalist party by giving more precedence to the elites than the working masses of the state. Not surprising he was rewarded with the Chairmanship position of the party.
Another union leader who joined the APC to seek political office is the former TUC President Comrade Peter Isele. He was not lucky enough to succeed Oshiomhole as governor of Edo state as the comrade governor’s favourite was Godwin Obaseki. Few other labour leaders like that have always prepared the ground to join these bourgeois parties only for their interest. This attitude has also contributed to the weakening of the trade unions and the leadership to struggle against anti-workers policies. The NLC leadership have several times issued threats for strikes or protests against this government’s attacks on the working people only to always back out at the last minute. The latest one is the January 27 planned protest against the government’s planned increase in fuel price from N165 to N340. The protest was suspended hours before the protest action.
LABOUR LEADERSHIP AND CONTINUOUS THREATS WITHOUT ACTION
Workers’ confidence in the Labour leadership is now questionable as little or nothing is done to challenge the plight faced by workers. The NLC and the TUC had issued threats for strike action on Monday 28 September 2020, over the government’s refusal to reverse the hike in electricity tariff and fuel pump price. The strike was suspended just a few hours before the kick-off as a result of the government suspending the hike for just only two weeks.
While still nursing the shock of the strike suspension, workers’ hope for a working-class fight against imperialist policies of fuel hikes was ignited when the NLC called for a nationwide protest. The planned protest was slated for January 27th in all states and February 2nd 2022 in the nation’s capital Abuja against the government’s plan to hike fuel prices in the guise of “subsidy removal”. Sadly, the protest was suspended about 24 hours before the day of action. Many Nigerians were not only surprised by the manner the Labour leaders withdrew from the protest but were also enraged by the manner of the incessant calling off of planned actions. This is despite the numerous challenges of non-functional refineries, high cost of living and other challenges being faced in the country.
The Buhari government had earlier in 2021 through the Minister for Finance announced that the government can “no longer sustain” the petrol subsidy and that the federal government will end the fuel subsidy by 2022. This is the usual method by the government to hike the price of petrol and further cause more hardship to the ordinary working-class masses. Mallam Mele Kyari the Group Managing Director of the Nigeria National Petroleum Company (NNPC) had told Nigerians that a litre of fuel from February 2022 will be sold at 340 nairas, which will represent more than a 100 per cent increase from the current price. This government had in 2016 just a year in the office increases the fuel price from 87 nairas to 145 nairas on the argument of subsidy removal. The government had claimed then that the money saved from the subsidy removal will be for the execution of development projects for the well-being of society. Sadly, with more than five years down the lane, the country is in a sorry state of infrastructural decay, underdevelopment and high debt profile and over 30 per cent unemployment rate.
FOR A POLITICAL CHARTER OF THE WORKING CLASS TO TAKE POWER
The idea of a political summit by the labour unions remains a welcome initiative given that it places the question of politics on the agenda, but as pointed out already the NLC on its part in restricting this to a political charter of demand to be presented to capitalist politicians remains unacceptable. The MSA on its part calls for a political charter/ Manifesto of the working class that seeks to not only canvass the right to vote for workers but the right to be voted for on the basis of a working-class charter to bring the working class to power on a Socialist Alternative programme.
However, we also acknowledge all of the discussion around the state of the Labour Party, and the possibility of reclaiming it. We, however, posit that is not a position that the current leadership will take seriously since such a step does not in any form meet with the interest of their principal in the person of Adams Oshiomole and his continued loyalty to the APC and Tinubu Machinery.
On the part of the TUC, even if it were willing, it cannot singularly carry out all of the actions that will result in reclaiming the LP for the working people, but the MSA will applaud all efforts in this direction. And such welcomes the inauguration of the political education Committee and tasked with the responsibility among others to take up the political education of the working class at large.
“Philosophers have only interpreted the world, the point, however, is to change it,” says Karl Marx, while we applaud the political summits held on the 2nd and 10th in March 2022 by the NLC and the TUC respectively, fact that awaits to be counted is the necessary action that would birth a political platform for the working masses; this is the only path to making history for the Labour leaders and the unions. An independent political party of the working class that will represent the interest of the working people. with a socialist program where the ordinary worker can contest without obstruction from money bag politicians.
The current LP as currently organized is not such a party. A working people party so envisioned must be devoid of bureaucratic control, it must aim at having rank and file workers as its members and employ working-class democracy to administer its affairs. Such a party can challenge and defeat the current corrupt capitalist parties that have made life miserable for workers. These parties such as the PDP and APC at all levels continued to attack the living conditions of the people creating an army of unemployment, poverty and collapsing the infrastructure in the education and health sector.
TUC under Quadri Olaleye must therefore continue with its approach to reach out to all forces both inside of it and in the NLC alongside outside other organisations of the working class to set up the process leading to another summit to put up a political charter of the working class to win political power in the country.