Occupy Nigeria leads to general strike

January 21, 2012

Despite its obvious inspiration in the Arab Spring, the global Occupy Movement is most prominent in relatively wealthy countries. This does not mean the movement has not appealed to those in the global south- often Occupy protests have not taken place in these countries because social movements with their own identities were already in progress when people in New York started camping out on Wall Street. Rather than being sneered at however the Occupy Movement has been welcomed as a showing of solidarity. Indian activist Arundati Roy  told an audience in New York;

“The Occupy movement has joined thousands of other resistance movements all over the world in which the poorest of people are standing up and stopping the richest corporations in their tracks. Few of us dreamed that we would see you, the people of the United States on our side, trying to do this in the heart of Empire. I don’t know how to communicate the enormity of what this means.”

The show of solidarity with activists in the developing and under developed world could be why socialists and labour activists in Nigeria decided to adopt the name ‘Occupy Nigeria’ for the protests they began in January this year.

Background

There are many reasons for Nigerians to protest. Despite being one of the worlds biggest oil exporters (the largest in Africa) much of the population lives on less than US$2 a day. Corruption is rife in the government, infrastructure is badly maintained and food prices are on the rise. Despite all this, mass protests were not expected by many commentators. “even though Nigeria is just a few hours flight from Egypt or Libya, no one believed for a moment that the winds of change would reach Africa’s most populous nation.” wrote Michael Bociurkiw, a Canadian journalists who was in Nigeria during the Arab Spring.

That all changed when the Nigerian government announced on January 1st that it was ending a fuel subsidy resulting in a doubling of fuel and transport prices. The result of this was that many Nigerians could not afford to get to work, or power the generators that are relied on because of a blackout prone electricity system, The ending of subsidized fuel was the spark that set things aflame .

Protests and general strike

Following the announcement protesters shut down petrol stations and blockaded highways. Nigerias union movement called for an indefinite general strike on January 9th. Chris Uyot of the Nigeria Labour Congress told the BBC “We have the total backing of all Nigerian workers on this strike and mass protest”. Thousands gathered daily in Gani Fawehinmi Park in Lagos. The gathering in the park featured speeches by labour leaders and civil society activists, as well as, artists’ performances.

After a week the general strike achieved a partial victory, with president President Goodluck Jonathan announcing a cut in fuel prices, although it fell short of the previous subsidy.

The role of imperialism

The reason behind the ending of fuel subsidies was repaying public debt. Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, visited Nigeria in December and around the same time the World Bank sent its executive director Nguzi Okonjko-Iwela to take over as the country’s  finance minister. She was also made co-ordinating minister of the economy, a portfolio created especially for her.

Nigeria has borrowed vast amounts of money to fund the infrastructure required to obtain and export its oil reserves, yet it sees very little of the wealth the stems from the oil industry. Much of the media converge has pointed out the cost the general strike has had to the economy- estimates range in the billions- but rarely is it noted that the average Nigerian hasn’t missed out on any of this money, instead the ones missing out are Shell, Chevron, Agip and Total.

Further reading: Occupy Nigeria Takes On Nigeria’s Occupiers


Mana: We Support the Wharfies

January 21, 2012

“MANA supports wholeheartedly the rights of the wharfies who work for the Port of Auckland,” states MANA leader Hone Harawira. Harawira says “Workers across the country need to wake up and smell the coffee - if the wharfies lose this fight then the casualisation of working hours will become a permanent feature of employment in this country. Everybody who earns a low to middle income job will have to wait by their phones for their boss to call to see if they are working or not, not knowing how many hours they will work and be paid for each week.”

“As a country we should be doing our utmost to back our wharfies. Despite the efforts of National and the country’s media to make this dispute about money, this is all about having reliable and stable employment. The workers want to know that they have a set number of hours per week. If it was about the money why would they only want to settle for a 2.5% pay rise when they are being offered 10%? What I don’t understand is why the workers are being held responsible for risks to the business. Tony Gibson will get his huge salary each week no matter what and the Council wants a 12% return on capital no matter what. It is the wharfies who are expected to pay the price each week if business is down. Under any other business regime, the owner is the one who takes the risk, not the workers!

“As for politicians saying that we should not get involved, what a load of crap. This dispute became political when Rodney Hide set up the appointments of the Board of Directors for the port…

“In 1951 there was a watershed strike involving wharfies. Today we are faced with another defining moment regarding employment rights in this country. Rest assured that if the wharfies lose then this right wing Government will see it as an endorsement to go ahead with the casualisation of hours and it will be another blow to the union movement, a movement that has for so long protected blue collar workers.”


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