Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Nigerian general strike posted by Richard SeymourIn addition to the huge political crisis in South Africa resulting from the almost million-strong strike, there is a solid general strike in Nigeria over fuel price increases, low pay for civil servants and high VAT. The increases in fuel prices both boost government revenues and allow the offshore refineries to make a handsome fortune, (whereas I think you can guess what it, along with doubled VAT, does to the poor). The strike is indefinite, and the Nigerian government is calling it a 'political' strike, which would obviously be scandalous if true. It's as well the strike is indefinite, because it will take a while for it to seriously impact the oil revenues, which is what needs to happen for it to be effective, but go ahead and check those links: the incoming government is a fraction worried. The House of Representatives has apparently declared the government's VAT increases illegal, and the Federal Government are furiously seeking a deal, with some concessions - which the unions have rightly dismissed as 'too little, too late'.
In fact, the Federal Government's claim that the strike is 'political' is probably partially accurate. Obasanjo's neoliberal 'People's Democratic Party' won yet another rigged election in April this year, awarding itself almost 25 million votes, compared with 6.6m for the nearest rival, the right-wing Islamist 'All Nigeria People's Party'. The labour unions responded to these results with a two-day general strike last month. Is it important that the US was 'deeply troubled' by the 'flawed' eclections? Well, that was a Bush administration official who said that. However, bear in mind how crucial Nigeria is to the United States. Together with Angola it produces nearly half of Africa's oil output, and is the fifth biggest supplier of oil to the US. It produces low-sulphur, or "sweet", crude oil, which American refiners adore for the proportion of high-value gasoline it yields. The PDP carries on a tradition established by successive dictatorships and Republics since 1980: gutting the state, privatising, SAPing, selling on up. Among the results of this process is the 'Planet of the Slums' phenomenon. As Michael Watts wrote last year, urban poverty in Nigeria exploded during the 1980s and 1990s. The population of Lagos "grew from 300,000 to 13 million in over fifty years, and is expected to become part of a vast Gulf of Guinea slum of 60 million poor along a littoral corridor 600 kilometers stretching from Benin City to Accra by 2020. Black Africa will contain 332 million slum dwellers by 2015, a figure expected to double every fifteen years." As Mike Davis writes in Planet of Slums, a total of 79.2% of Nigeria's urban population, over 41 million, lives in slums. A fifth of all of Nigeria's children die before the age of five, and the immiseration is such that GNP per capita is actually lower than it was on the achievement of Independence in 1960. On top of the SAPs, there is a crippling debt, which takes up more of government expenditure than health and education combined. As you might have guessed, that is all because 'independence' has a strictly limited meaning, and the last thing the American Empire wants is a genuine democracy in Nigeria.
The organised working class is key to democratising Nigeria, which is why the government has been so eager to smash the National Labour Congress, and why its security services have targeted labour activists for arrest, while the cops are given to shooting at strikers. A victory here would make a huge impact, and it is as well that no one is listening to the government's pleas of good faith.