JAF Symposium on the Labour Movement & Quest for a Political Alternative

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Joe Ajaero, new NLC President speaking at the JAF symposium

The Joint Action Front (JAF) organised a symposium on 11 February at the Textile Labour House, Lagos with the theme “the state of the nation and the labour movement: the necessity for a political alternative.” Speakers at the programme, which was moderated by Chude Achike, the JAF deputy national chair of JAF included Lanre Arogundade democratic socialist and director of the International Press Centre, Femi Falana, radical lawyer and chair of A-scab, and Comrade Segun who represented Festus Osifo, president-general of the Trade Union Congress (TUC).

But the cynosure of all eyes was clearly Joe Ajaero, who had emerged as the new president of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), just three days earlier. Ajaero, who had been a fiery journalist and later General Secretary of the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE), will be the first president of the NLC from the left, since Hassan Summonu’s pioneering tenure in 1979-1983. And he emerged at a time the country is neck-deep in crisis, with broad sections of the largely weakened left seeking a political alternative, at the very least. 

It is within this context that discussions at the symposium dwelt on how to revitalise relations between the NLC and the left civil society movement, towards breathing back life into radical politics informed by this sort of relationship in years gone by. 

Kicking off the discussions, Abiodun “Arymson” Aremu, national secretary of JAF pointed out that the symposium represents efforts at reawakening the spirit of resistance which JAF was a central part of a dozen years ago. He argued that suffering alone does not lead people to revolt. In his view, there is always a need to organise the masses’ discontent.

When Falana took the floor, he started by saying “without any doubt, we have a new leadership in town, and the difference will soon be clear.” He then charged the new NLC leadership with the task of prioritising educational programmes.

Addressing the symposium, Joe Ajaero said that he was at the meeting to have a frank discussion with JAF, towards re-establishing “practical partnership”. He pointed out that JAF and its affiliates “are no longer strong partners” to the trade unions, because they have failed to grow, challenging them to grow in numbers and independent influence, for them to be able to hold the trade unions to account.

He informed that radical training is one of the key things he intends to bring back to the trade union movement. But he urged comrades outside the trade union movement not to think that throwing stones is the only way to gain the attention of leftwing trade union bureaucrats. 

In his view, that is how the left lost Paschal Bafyau, who lived a frugal life, despite being castigated as being corrupt by socialists. 

However, this argument should be questioned. It is not only material corruption on the part of trade union leaders that is injurious to the working class movement. Ideological misdirection could even be more dangerous. While the changing global situation in the wake of the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union was at the heart of an ideological swing of the movement from the left, Paschal Bafyau led this slide into the sugar coated poison of social democracy. 

Ajaero gave an insight into the direction we can expect the LP to continue walking; electoralist social democracy. But neither electoralism nor social democracy can lead to the total liberation of working people. We need to build a revolutionary party with which to fight for our self-emancipation.

Intervening at the meeting, Kunle “Wizman” Ajayi, a member of the SWL and former Lagos state chair of the African Action Congress pointed out that the AAC gives a concrete view of the political alternative being sought in flesh and blood. This entails a combination of electoral politics with extra-parliamentary struggle, which in fact is primary to defeating the bosses, and winning system change.

by Segun OGUN

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