IWC Newsletter 214: Nigeria – Ecuador – Tunisia – Belgium
International Workers Committee Against War and Exploitation, For a Workers International (IWC)
• Issue No. 214
• June 24, 2022
IN THIS ISSUE:
• Nigeria: “May the organizations come together for socialism, for an egalitarian society” – Interview with singer Africana
• On All Continents, in the Face of Soaring Prices: Workers’ Mobilize for Their Demands (Ecuador, Tunisia, Belgium)
• ALSO France – Editorial of Workers Tribune No. 345
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Interview with the singer Africana, endorser of the call to the World Conference against War and Exploitation, for a Workers’ International (Paris, October 29-30)
Africana, you are a Nigerian singer. Can you tell us more about yourself and your songs? What are they about? What do your songs stand for?
My name is Jibril Adewunmi, but my stage name is Africana. I am 32 years old. I was born and raised in Bariga, a working-class neighborhood in Lagos. My parents, now deceased, were civil servants. I have a degree in animal breeding. But I chose to be an artist. My songs are inspired by my immediate environment, by what I see around me. They speak about the political and social context of my country. For example, one of my songs, Stand Up, says, “Fight for your rights / For a better future / So many lies / So much corruption from our leaders / While the masses starve.”
You participated in the #EndSARS movement in 2020. What can you tell us about this movement, and more generally about the current situation of youth and artists in Nigeria?
Before the #EndSARS movement, all Nigerians, especially the young people, were being harassed by the police, and in particular by the SARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad). The SARS was created in 1992 (during the military dictatorship) to combat robberies and kidnappings. But it got to the point where, as a young person, if you were well-dressed or looked good, they would harass you to extort money from you. Young people mobilized against that. It was a massive mobilization. The aim was to fight for a country of our own. But that led to the Lekki Toll Booth Massacre in Lagos in October 2020. They told us to leave and suddenly the army came and opened fire on the crowd. Many lost their lives.
The current situation of the Nigerian young people is marked by unemployment and lack of education. Because of this, some of the young people are involved in criminal activities, especially cybercrime. But if the government would do something for the people, for example by creating jobs, all this would decrease. The government is not on our side. The problem comes from the top. The #EndSARS movement was born in response to this.
The #EndSARS movement wasn’t just against police harassment; it went beyond that, right?
Yes, it was more than that. The situation is constantly getting worse. There are no jobs. No stable lighting! For example, as an artist, if you have a studio and you need to work, you have to get gasoline (to run the generator and make up for the lack of electricity).
Speaking of gasoline, what do you think about the fact that Nigeria, which is one of the biggest oil exporters, is facing a fuel shortage?
Colonialism and imperialism have affected Nigeria and Africa in general. They have affected our economy, our politics, our culture. They have damaged many things. Today, we are experiencing a “new colonialism”, that is, a situation where our own people – we ourselves! – dominate and oppress the people.
But there are still foreign companies (such as oil companies) that take advantage of the current situation, aren’t there?
There is a saying in the Yoruba language that says, “If the world didn’t crack, the lizard that wants the coconut wouldn’t get in.” The situation is related to the fact that our own politicians are taking advantage of it. The ideology behind imperialism and the new colonialism is capitalism! A few people have everything they want at the expense of others. If Nigeria does not exit capitalism, we will never be able to exit this situation. We will never be able to make things right.
Is there an organization in Nigeria that is currently advocating this view?
There are some organizations that are trying to fight against this situation, but so far it has not worked. I am impatient for organizations to come together for socialism, for an egalitarian society, where everyone is treated equally.
Are you yourself part of an organization, trade union or group?
I have only been involved in the #EndSARS movement. But the situation in Nigeria requires a joint effort. That’s why I signed the call for the International Workers Conference against War, Exploitation and Precarious Labour. I did it because I want change. I want to be heard.
Interview by Jeanne Sauvage, June 11
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Background on Nigeria
Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, with 219 million people, 40% of whom are under 15 years of age. A British colony until 1960, the country has substantial oil reserves that are exploited by major foreign multinationals, where a large and organized working class is employed.
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ON ALL CONTINENTS:
In the Face of Soaring Prices, Workers’ Mobilize for Their Demands
On all continents, workers are suffering from soaring food and fuel prices, caused by the speculation of capitalist markets. Everywhere, they are seeking to assert their demands: wage increases, freezing of prices and an end to austerity measures. Under one and the same red banner, the banner of labor organizations from Ecuador to Tunisia, to Belgium and elsewhere, workers have mobilized this past week.
ECUADOR: “Long Live the Strike!”
In Ecuador, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), which brings together indigenous workers and peasants – who represent the most exploited and oppressed segment of the Ecuadorian population – called for a general strike starting June 14. Throughout the country, demonstrations and roadblocks have sprouted, with the cry of “Long live the strike!” against the increase in fuel prices that affect the cost of living for the poor masses.
The government refuses to give in to CONAIE’s main demands: the freezing of gasoline and diesel fuel prices, price controls on agricultural products, job creation and a halt to mining concessions in indigenous territories.
The Ecuadorian government, which claimed on June 14 that “the situation remains completely under control,” was led on June 17 to declare a state of emergency in three provinces, including the capital, Quito. This is not the first time that President Guillermo Lasso has faced mass mobilization: in October 2021, he declared a state of emergency for sixty days in the face of worker and popular mobilization. Has Lasso – a former banker, a member of Opus Dei and a fierce opponent of abortion rights, faithful executor of the International Monetary Fund’s privatization plans – forgotten that, from 1997 to 2005, the popular mobilizations launched by the CONAIE cost three of his predecessors their posts?
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TUNISIA: Massive Strike on June 16 in State-Owned Companies
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is demanding that the Tunisian government introduce a series of austerity measures. The IMF protests that, for years now, “the wage bill of the civil service (in Tunisia) has been one of the highest in the world.”
Against this backdrop, on June 16, the historic trade union center, the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT), called a general strike of workers in public sector establishments (state-owned industrial, agricultural and service companies). The strike was massively attended, with about 96% of strikers: airports, trains, ports were paralyzed as well as industrial production – especially chemical.
The strikers demanded, in particular, the cancellation of government Bill No. 20, which prohibits the directors of state-owned enterprises from entering into negotiations with trade unions without government approval. The strikers also demanded higher wages and pensions and the preservation of the public sector in the face of threats of privatization.
Despite the establishment of an increasingly authoritarian presidential regime and the bureaucratic maneuvering at the top that marked the last UGTT congress, the resistance of the Tunisian working class poses a major problem to imperialist institutions. The infamous Fitch ratings agency considers it “very difficult” to pass “political and economic reforms without the support of the UGTT”.
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BELGIUM: A Rising Red Tide for Wages and Union Freedoms
In Brussels on June 20, “in French and in Dutch (the two main languages of Belgium), there was a lot of red and a lot of green,” according to a journalist (respectively, the colors of the socialist General Federation of Workers of Belgium, FGTB, and the Christian trade union CSC). “Never seen in ten years”, with 80,000 demonstrators, say the trade unions, which had called this day of strike “for purchasing power”.
The banners and placards brandished by the demonstrators were much more precise, indicating the reasons for the strike: “Repeal of Law 96” (which blocks salary increases), “Money for wages, not for war”, “Not one euro for war, billions for wages”, as well as “Striking is a right”, “Trade unionists, not criminals”, “You touch our delegates: you touch our freedom of negotiation”. This was in reference to the suspended prison sentence of seventeen FGTB officials, including its president, for union activities dating from 2015. The sentence is all the more scandalous because it was handed down while “socialist” ministers sit in the federal government.
As the activists of the Unity-Eenheidscomittee point out in a bilingual leaflet massively distributed on June 20 in Brussels: “The upcoming major discussion within the government to respond to the blackmail of the European Union (which demands lower taxes for employers – editor’s note) takes place at the same time as the Belgian government is committed to a scandalous increase in military spending, in obedience to NATO. Everything shows that this government constitutes a mortal danger for the workers and the social beneficiaries (…). It is indispensable that these socialist parties* break with the parties representing the bosses and the gun merchants. For a workers’ unity government PS-Vooruit-PTB*!”
* In Belgium, there are two socialist parties: the French-speaking PS and the Dutch-speaking Vooruit. The Labor Party of Belgium (PTB) is a parliamentary left-wing party of Maoist origin.
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FRANCE: Democracy’s Revenge
La Tribune des Travailleurs (Workers’ Tribune) Issue No. 345 – 22 June 2022 – Editorial
By Daniel Gluckstein
“It must be acknowledged that no-one has the solution to what is undoubtedly the most serious political and institutional crisis that the Fifth Republic has known.” In saying this, the columnist of [daily newspaper] Le Figaro is stating a half-truth. Because in order to find the solution, it would be necessary to start by identifying the cause.
The cause? Abstention, by the workers, working class and youth; abstention on a massive scale that resisted all the moralising and guilt-inducing speeches from the right and the left. The abstentionist, “this scabby, mangy wretch” as La Fontaine might have put it (1), the abstentionist, to whom some wrote open letters to convince them to go to the polls, while others badgered them right up to the eve of the election, saying: vote, otherwise you can’t complain afterwards about your fate!
This unprecedented abstention saw the main presidential candidates lose half their votes between 10 April and 12 June. The result was that National Assembly members were elected where they were not expected to be, some by a few hundred votes, with voters and abstainers agreeing on one point: Macron had to be beaten! Macron was beaten, that is indisputable. The [far-right] National Rally made a spectacular breakthrough without – fortunately! – winning a majority. And although the NUPES (2) won a number of seats, it did not manage to impose a cohabitation government nor Melenchon as Prime Minister, which was its objective.
A major crisis has opened up. A crisis of the regime, a crisis of the Fifth Republic. But don’t tell us that this is a crisis of democracy, the opposite is the case: on 19 June, democracy took its revenge.
For what is democracy, if not the rule of the majority? What is the Fifth Republic? The regime of the minority. In its 64 years of existence, the Fifth Republic has continuously attacked the Social Security system and the public pension schemes, wages and employment and public services, privatising, dismantling and breaking up everything that is useful and necessary to working people and to young people. And this has happened under all governments, of the right and the “left”, while year after year the dividends paid to shareholders have continued to grow. Under Macron’s first five-year term, we even saw a unanimous National Assembly make available to the capitalists 343 billion euros, which they used to cut jobs, lay people off and speculate on the stock markets.
Whole neighbourhoods, towns and regions where jobs are disappearing and public services are being dismantled are gripped by a feeling of abandonment and despair. Some have then been tempted by the illusion of the far right, which demagogically argues that it has never participated in government. But for a large majority of the worker, working-class and young electorate, abstention is increasingly becoming a deliberate political act. It is, in its own way, the revenge of trampled democracy.
The situation is of such concern to the columnist of Le Figaro – a newspaper that, if anything, is committed to preserving the existing social order – that his article is entitled: “A new institutional revolution needs to be defined”. An institutional revolution? That is urgent, for sure. But to be effective, it must meet two conditions. The first is that we move from minority government to majority government. It is not a question of patching over the current moribund institutions, but of sweeping them away. In a word: the convening of a sovereign Constituent Assembly through which the people’s mandated and revocable delegates will lay the foundations of a genuinely democratic Republic in which power belongs to the people.
This condition is inseparable from the second: that we also move from government by the minority to government by the majority as regards the social content of such a democracy. Since Sunday, all the commentators have agreed that measures should be taken: some mention increasing wages, others lowering VAT or freezing prices… A wind of panic is blowing through the institutional meeting-rooms and the corridors of the National Assembly, from which it emerges that in order to save the regime, it will no doubt be necessary to leave some crumbs here or there.
But 26 million abstainers, like millions of NUPES voters, are demanding more than crumbs. Strikes are multiplying, they are demanding – or seeking to demand – pay rises, the defence of jobs and working conditions, and the abandoning of the implementation of the Dussopt Law (3). They herald the powerful movements that any attempt to attack the public pension schemes, schools, healthcare, etc. would inevitably provoke.
Democracy’s revenge is making its way in and through the class struggle. Its aim is not to save Macron and the Fifth Republic – as some people are trying to do at the moment – but, on the contrary, to get rid of Macron, his policies and the Fifth Republic. It is concentrated in one demand: now, right now, break with what has gone before!
Whether Le Figaro likes it or not, there will only be an “institutional revolution” if it is social, in other words, working-class!
(1) Translator’s note: In his poem “The Animals Stricken with The Plague” (Fables, Book VII, No.1), inspired by one of Aesop’s fables, Jean de la Fontaine (1621-95) satirised the legal system of his time. The poem presents the deliberations of various animals regarding the plague that is affecting them all. A lawyerly wolf describes the ass as a “scabby, mangy wretch, the cause of all their ill”, which must therefore be killed.
(2) Translator’s note: The New Popular, Ecological and Social Union (NUPES) was the electoral coalition headed by Jean-Luc Melenchon, leader of France Unbowed. Launched on May Day 2022, the coalition included France Unbowed, the Socialist Party, the Communist Party and Europe Ecology-The Greens.
(3) Translator’s note: The Dussopt Law, introduced by the Macron government, increases annual working hours while eliminating up to 25 days annual leave without salary compensation.