After LASCO protest rallies: Labour leaders put a break on the struggle again

LASCO is an umbrella body that has emerged in Nigeria which purports to have a wider representation than the unions themselves. In reality it is a body with no powers and the top union bureaucrats simply hide behind it to defuse the movement whenever it erupts and then they put it to one side once this job is done. It is time to build action committees in all the workplaces, elected by the workers and recallable.

The resolutions of the October 11, 2005 LASCO meeting came as a major disappointment to the teeming masses that had faith in the labour leadership. The contents of the communiqué did not receive widespread public circulation; this is deliberate. The reason for this cannot be far-fetched from the fact that labour leaders have backed down from the struggle and they want to hide this fact.

The eleven-paragraph communiqué said nothing concrete about the next line of action. Rather, it “…commended the unprecedented turn out of Nigerians…” for the protest rallies and that LASCO is “…disappointed that notwithstanding the anger and demonstrated opposition of Nigerians…” the Obasanjo regime did not reverse the price of fuel.

The labour leaders say that price reversal is still desirable and the current price is unsustainable, and would worsen the poverty situation. But nothing was said about what the masses should do if the regime did not reverse.

Finally, they declared, “Arising from the intensified crisis imposed on the Nigerian economy, polity and society through the sustenance of the current price level, the Labour and Civil Society Coalition, LASCO, resolve to intensify the struggle against the neo-liberal reforms. Accordingly, LASCO will in due course come up with additional programme to engage the federal government in furtherance of our concerns for public welfare and good governance”. There is no information as regards how and when this would be done.

In addition, it is more than three weeks since this communiqué was issued and nothing has been done. This line of action is rather unfortunate considering the enormous support Nigerians in the millions gave to the protest rallies that was organized in ten cities across the country. The decision of the labour leadership goes contrary to the desires of the masses.

It is very important to state that the resolutions of October 11 were actually an imposition of a minority clique of highly privileged and mostly unelected career labour leaders. The majority of the activists at the meeting supported a more progressive line.

Again a review of October 11 meeting

It was agreed at the September 5 LASCO meeting that LASCO would meet again on October 3 to review the protest rallies and consider the next line of action in furtherance of the struggle against the various mispolicies of the regime. For reasons best known to the labour leaderships, the meeting was postponed until October 11.

The number of people that attended was much lower than that of the September 5 meeting; poor mobilization tops the reason why this was the case. In addition, the composition was mainly made up of top labour leaders or their representatives who were not empowered to take any major decision, NGO officials who have no base and left radicals. Rank and file workers were totally absent.

In spite of these, the debate on the review of the protest marches showed that the mass majority of those present had a view that corresponded with that of the masses on the streets.

The general opinion was for LASCO to work towards presenting comprehensive demands of the working masses to the regime backed with an ultimatum for a day to three days warning general strike, which should be a prelude to a major struggle with the regime.

Secondly, for LASCO to commence work on the process of developing a major political alternative for the working masses and youth of this country. Most people at the meeting spoke in support of these two lines, which really represented the feelings of the working people.

However, a handful of labour officials felt it was time to call off the entire process and focus on the Obasanjo Independence Day speech. They were of the opinion that LASCO should set up a committee to go and study the speech and then report back to the house for further discussion. They were of the opinion that labour should look for other means of struggling other than strike action, which they believe is too problematic. They are yet to present any other workable alternative.

The NLC president, Adams Oshiomhole shared this view, in spite of his sometimes-radical statements. This accounts for why this position became the line of the day since there is no voting in LASCO. In LASCO, after every debate no matter what is involved, a few decide.

It took a while before the resolutions could be drafted to cover up the labour leaders’ real intentions.

Lack of clear lead from Labour

The main reason for the lack of direction and results in the struggle against Obasanjo-IMF tyranny in Nigeria is the inability of the labour leadership to give a clear and sincere lead to the working masses. This major shortcoming always frustrates the mass majority and always allows the regime to get away with numerous crimes against humanity.

Currently, the regime has gotten away with the recent increment in fuel prices. It is also retrenching thousands of workers, rendering thousands homeless, increasing school fees, killing hospitals, selling the collective wealth of the nation, etc. There is no end to continued suffering.

Millions of Nigerians stormed the streets of ten cities in Nigeria to show their anger against the regime and its policies of death. They were looking hungrily for a way out but labour leaders just as they did in the past failed to provide an alternative. When the heat is on them, they are always working towards cooling the heat down and when the heat is down, they abandon the struggle.

Workers’ committees not ‘LASCO’

LASCO is a very weak and loose platform that allows labour leaders to do as they please with the working class movement since there are no checks and balances. It does not have rank and file workers participation. Pro-labour “civil society” organizations do not really have a social force; many of them are just one-man organizations or NGOs.

In addition, they cannot oppose whatever the few controlling labour leaders say since they do not have a force. On most occasions, radical elements in the LASCO are opposed to the lines put forward by the labour leaders but they cannot do anything, since the labour bureaucrats call the shots and workers are not present as a counterforce.

Of course, the idea of all labour unions and pro-labour organizations coming together is most desirable but without real workers’ control and representation, it comes to nothing. This is the lesson of LASCO.

LASCO really meets only when fuel prices are increased and the workers are calling for action. Labour leaders then hide under the banner of LASCO to put a hold on the struggle and when things have cooled down, LASCO goes back into the cooler!

Labour leaders do not want to set up committees of action in all work places and they fear workers’ initiatives. Had it been that LASCO were made up of elected representative of workers direct from the work places and representative of other poor strata of the society, it would be very difficult for a handful of privileged labour bureaucrats to mislead the mass movement.

Forward to committees of action and a Labour Party

The IMF inspired programmes will continue unless the working people in alliance with other poor strata of the society put a stop to them. Unfortunately, our labour leaders are not ready to give us a clear lead.

The setting up of committees of action with full powers would definitely be a bold step towards really ending the current catastrophe. Nigerian workers must seize the initiative of setting up these committees in the coming periods to give a proper guide to their struggle. This process is bound to happen at some point in time, as the masses learn from their experience.

It is also clear that Nigerian workers need a real political platform that can take them to power. The problems of society can only be solved when the ruling elites are removed from power and socialist policies are implemented by a workers regime.