Nigerian May Day Report: Labour bureaucracy is losing its grip on rank and file

This year’s May Day rallies in Nigeria marked a sharp shift to the left among the rank and file workers. Trade union leaders that were admired and respected until very recently are now becoming discredited and the interest in Marxist ideas is growing.

This year’s May Day rally in Nigeria was highly educative for us Marxists; it revealed the fundamentals of building a genuine Marxist tendency. Not only this, it also glaringly exposed the power of having a correct Perspective. In all, we sold 266 copies of our paper; 25 more than what we sold last year despite the upward review of the price from 20 Naira to 30 Naira. A lot of questions contributed to this success.

As the debate for the elongation of the present regime of Obasanjo to go beyond 2007 is getting heated up, those on the right are getting more desperate and the lefts are becoming more daring, leaving no room for the on-the-fence-sitters. The desperation of the present regime to stay on another six years, after inflicting over seven years of pain, cries and woes merely reflects the hopelessness and rottenness of the capitalist system in an underdeveloped country like Nigeria. Like in any other backward countries under capitalism, the Nigeria ruling class is absolutely incapable of guaranteeing a minimum of bourgeois democratic rights. Anybody that expects to achieve or defend non-existing democratic right under capitalism in a backward country is like someone who thinks he can make a lion eat grass.

This debate found its way into all the rallies where Nigerian workers gathered. It dominated all the discussions in all the workers’ gatherings. As was expected, a section of the ruling class had already expressed their strong opposition to the agenda of tenure elongation dubbed “Third Term Agenda”. In fact, the Vice-President, who himself is interested in the seat, is the leading figure in the opposition camp, striking heavy blows and hurling abuse at the present president and also a all the Pro-Elongation supporters. The division within the ruling class in Nigeria is real and as Marxists, we can confidently say we are entering into what we can only describe as a Pre-Revolutionary situation. Without the Marxian method of analysis, the situation in Nigeria would be too complex to understand and read, and this is reflected in the way and manner other pseudo-“Marxist” organizations are relating to the unfolding scenario. All of them had formed an alliance with one section of the ruling class against the other. There then emerged the crisis of what would be the appropriate slogan to take boldly to the “Workers’ Rally”.

We Marxists spent hours debating the appropriate slogan to uniquely and sharply convey our message to the rank and file workers. It eventually paid off, as we never had a problem attracting the attention of the advanced layer of the workers and we never had a problem explaining our position on this interesting development.

Trotsky was very right indeed when he said that in the present epoch of monopoly capitalism, the trade unions in backward countries cannot be detached from state power. There is not much room for reformist trade unions; a trade union either becomes an instrument of revolution in the interest of the working class or a tool of counter-revolution in the interest of the ruling class,   a trade union cannot be either. This year’s May Day rally strikingly confirmed this brilliant perception of Trotsky. The Labour bureaucrats are finding it more and more difficult to disguise themselves as “friends of the people”. The rank and file workers are demanding more and more from their leaders to openly come out and take a position: are you for us or against us? This sharp shift of the rank and file to the left of their leaders even risked having a damaging effect on the sales of our paper. Some workers were not happy that we even put the picture of Oshiomole (President of the Nigerian Labour Congress) on the front page of our paper, the same picture that helped sell our paper just last year; things are really moving fast. There was a huge feeling of discontent and feeling of betrayal among the ranks. Who could have believed that a member of the ruling class could come to a workers’ rally and receive a thundering ovation while a member of the Labour bureaucracy was almost booed?

Another interesting development experienced during the rally was the way our paper was received by one of the biggest unions, NUCFRLAMPE. We had already built strong links with the workers in this union. We had earlier held a number of Workers’ Forums together with them, where a lot a trade union issues were analysed and resolved. It was in this interaction that we were able to get news of a very interesting story of a revolt among the rank file against their leadership, which eventually led to the suspension of the chairman and secretary. Carrying this story in our paper was all that was required for the whole union membership to offer a standing ovation to our paper. They felt honoured and recognized, they felt praised and highly encouraged.

A comrade reported one case of a gathering of workers he had entered to sell our paper. Initially the workers in attendance were very reluctant to buy the paper, but immediately the comrade mentioned the presence of an article on Venezuela in the paper, all the workers present rushed and immediately began to get their own copies. This boldly demonstrated that workers are instinctively internationalist in their thought and actions.

In the final analysis, we learnt that patient work in the factories, political education of the comrades and, most importantly, the regular publication of our paper are actually the basic necessities in building a genuine Marxist tendency. Effort needs to be redoubled and the excitement needs to be sustained as Nigeria is speedily marching towards a revolutionary situation.