Fuel Subsidy Removal and the Called-off Strike: a Sign of What is to Come?

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The Nigerian Labour Congress called off a general strike it had committed to commence on 8 June, two days before the strike ultimatum expired. The reason given for this was a court injunction got by the government. But for someone who has paid keen attention to the recent histories of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), the suspension of the strike was more expected than its commencement was anticipated. The leadership of the labour centres have taken positions that contradict the interests of working people in recent years. Even with the change of leadership in the NLC, nothing significant has changed, and is not likely to change, judging from the decisions taken so far by the new leaders on the recent general elections in the country, and in calling off the strike.

NLC openly declared their support for Peter Obi’s presidential candidacy on the platform of the Labour Party. Despite his history of workers’ suppression and victimisation as Anambra State Governor, Obi’s acceptance into the Labour Party is a sad truth. What transpired was the unveiling of this same person as the presidential standard-bearer of the party for the February 2023 recently concluded election. Obi promised to remove fuel subsidy and privatise the NNPC during the Nigerian election.

Supporting Peter Obi and fighting the Tinubu government over fuel subsidy removal would be ironic. Obi promised to do the same thing and would have fulfilled his promise if he had been elected. As if this were not enough, like their immediate predecessors, Comrade Joe Ajaero of NLC and Festus Osifo of TUC have followed suit by calling off a strike even before it began without winning any concession for Nigerian workers at the ‘black market’ negotiation they had with the Federal Government representatives last Tuesday night.

Trust in trade unions has been further diminished. The Nigerian left must unite and spur relentless struggle against the Bretton Woods Institutions policies. And we must conscientise rank-and-file workers on the need for this fight. The removal of subsidy has not in any way translated to positive development for Nigerian working people and would never be. As the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) was sold with full privatisation of electricity has yielded more darkness at higher cost for Nigerians, so would the full privatisation of the NNPC and subsidy removal be. Workers should be actively involved with their union at all levels to bring the power of the working class to bear in resistance to these neoliberal attacks.

The power to start a workers’ strike traditionally rests with labour leadership. The left should educate, mobilise, and work with rank-and-file workers to demand their unions’ action against anti-poor policies like the fuel price hike. The primary role of trade unions is to defend workers. Union leadership is obligated to vigorously defend the rights and interests of workers.

We are entering a period of intense attacks by the bosses. Tinubu’s new government has begun with attacks on poor working people and would be encouraged to continue if we do not stand up against it. We must not make this era one of the surrender of our class at a time when we need to fight back more than ever.

Lekan Abdul-Azeez SONEYE

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