….and the challenge of rebuilding a virile Left

By Baba Aye

NLC.GuestLecture.CostGovernance

When the current leadership of the NLC emerged in March, it was with a commitment to redeem the trade union movement with a return to its founding principles of solidarity and struggle. The 11th National Delegates Conference of February-March was however fractious and a splinter NLC also came up. With reconciliation in sight after a series of meetings steered by the Hassan Summonu-led committee set up for this purpose, it does appear that the winds of revival can now blow at full sails.

The signs of this were evident before the reconciliation in the trade union federations. Rebuilding the labour movement is however not a task for only unions. The labour movement encompasses the working classes and social movements committed to the liberation of the immense majority of the population. Traditionally, the trade union movement has occupied a pride of place within this movement as the body for the defence of workers’ interests within the workplace and society.

In the last fifteen years, NLC & TUC have played leading roles in galvanizing mass protests against anti-poor people policies such as fuel price hikes. But with a dearth of ideological commitment to social transformation, this have not been linked to fighting for an alternative social-economic and political system. Further, while socialists realise that compromises could be forced on us by circumstances of the balance of forces, the manner of calling off the general strikes and mass protests the trade unions led, led to cracks in their relations with allies in the broader labour movement.

To address some of these questions on the way forward to reclaiming our history as working class-people, the NLC organised a national leadership retreat in August. The key issues deliberated upon included: trade union values and ethics; the national action plan on employment creation; the working class and political consciousness; rebuilding labour-civil society collaboration; the contributory pension scheme; the socio-economic situation in Nigeria and its challenges for the working class, and; implementation of the NLC’s leadership’s covenant of returning the movement to its principles, and the resolutions of the 11th National Delegates Conference.

Sequel to this, several demonstrations have been organised by both the NLC and the TUC. These include one against corruption and the picketing of a firm reputed for casualization (in conjunction with the splinter NLC at the time), to mark the October 7 International Decent Work Day. Efforts have also been made towards rebuilding the Labour Party, arguable enough as that could be at this moment. But concrete steps have been taken in that direction unlike in the past when “reclaiming” LP was mainly limited to press statements and seasonal interviews.

The importance of education for raising the class consciousness of workers cannot be overemphasized. The education policy and programmes of NLC are thus being reviewed currently, with a view to sharpen their working class contents. The short-lived guest lecture series at Labour House also resumed on November 12 as a bi-monthly series, with a presentation on the cost of governance, where 27 copies of Socialist Worker were sold. That same day, NLC and TUC had an extensive meeting with civil society groups towards building collaboration.

These are all healthy and necessary developments for rebuilding the labour movement. But they are not sufficient. The socialist movement is unfortunately, to a great extent, in disarray. Except for a few groups like the SWL most left formations have collapsed or become reduced to rumps of a few individuals. Some of these still describe themselves as “movements” or “parties” though they comprise a mere handful of middle class persons disconnected from the working masses.

The unfolding period requires a reinvigoration of the socialist movement. The need for comradely debates, theorization of the current situation, concrete interventions within the working class movement, and building non-sectarian organisations of cadres cannot be overemphasized at this point in time. These would require consistent generation and circulation of revolutionary literature, organising educational activities such as symposiums regularly, mass meetings, and creating an atmosphere in which, while we might disagree, we could still work together.

It is not unusual to find activists raining abuses on the trade unions for all the failures of the labour movement. Definitely a great deal of condemnation could correctly be made against the trade union bureaucracy. But, if most of these activists and groups are half as self-critical as they are critical, it would be quite clear that they deserve as much if not more condemnation.

Socialist Worker will continue to boldly point out ideological and political shortcomings of the trade unions’ leaderships, to working class-people at each point in time, without losing sight of the need to work with the unions as the primary organisations of workers.

Within this broad picture of the revival of the labour movement and the revitalisation of the Left, re-founding a party of the working people is of the essence. It is quite doubtful that LP can be reclaimed now, without major compromises that will defeat the aim of making it a party of workers in truth and in deed. It is pertinent in our view, for the NLC and TUC to rather consider the establishment of a new and genuinely working class party, built from below, on the shoulders and in the minds of working class-people.

The recent resolution of the NLC organs to revive its national political commission with political committees in the states is a step in the right direction. We must however avoid a major pitfall of the recent past where both NLC and TUC each had its own political commission. At both national and state levels, the labour political committees must encompass NLC, TUC, and radical civil society with the socialist movement at its core not as a right, but as responsibility won with consistent work within the mass of toiling people and their organisations.

As the honeymoon period which APC appears to enjoy with a sizeable number of the “electorate” begins to lose steam, the future of Nigeria rests on the extent to which we urgently address the challenge of returning back to the founding principles of our movement which are struggle, solidarity and socialism!