THE GOVERNMENT made concessions over the issue of fuel prices, which the strike had focused on. This retreat shows they were scared of us.
But the strike leaders have allowed the regime to escape a much bigger and more important battle.
The strike was called after fuel prices rose by 23 percent in September, affecting transport but also cooking and heating, and the prices of other goods.
A four-day strike in October shut down many banks, industries, shops and services. But the strike due to start this week was much bigger, a real general strike—including oil workers. At the last moment the government offered to cut the price rise to 13 percent—and our leaders called off the action.
These union leaders are not men who shake at the first wind. They stood up to the strike being made illegal, they stood up to threats of police repression. But they crumbled when it became clear that this was a battle over the whole direction of Nigerian society.
There was immense enthusiasm for the strike. Across the country cheering crowds had gathered at preparatory rallies.
The feeling was so strong because, as Nigeria Labour Congress president Adams Oshiomhole said, “On November 16 we’re going to begin the fight against poverty, unemployment and dictatorship.”
Yes, indeed! The strike was to be an opening shot in a much bigger battle.
Chair of the Labour and Civil Society Coaltion Beko Ransome-Kuti had said, “The strike is about a system that has made dialogue impossible and impoverished Nigerian masses and workers.
“The time has come for us to fight for our rights and free ourselves from the shackles of slavery imposed by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, in collaboration with their Nigerian agents represented by the government.”
Those fine words should have been made into reality. There have been six general strikes since Olusegun Obasanjo came to office in 1999—three this year.
We cannot go on seeking small changes. Even if price rises are withdrawn, the world market may force them up again in a few months. It is the system we need to change, not just parts of it.
In a country of 128 million, the workers are the key force that can lead us to change—and give a lead to the whole of Africa.