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Cablegate: Nigeria: Strike Plans Fizzle

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

080654Z Sep 05

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 LAGOS 001397

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED - HANDLE ACCORDINGLY

DOE FOR DAS JBRODMAN AND CGAYE
TREASURY FOR ASEVERENS AND SRENANDER
DOC FOR KBURRESS
STATE PASS TRANSPORTATION MARAD
STATE PASS USAID FOR GWEYNAND AND SLAWAETZ
STATE PASS EX-IM FOR JRICHTER AND KVRANICH
STATE PASS OPIC FOR ZHAN AND JEDWARDS
STATE PASS TDA FOR NCABOT AND BTERNET

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ELAB EPET KDEM PGOV NI
SUBJECT: NIGERIA: STRIKE PLANS FIZZLE

REF: A) LAGOS 1377 B) LAGOS 1376 C) LAGOS 1350

Summary
-------

1. (U) The Nigerian Labor Congress (NLC) cancelled plans to
initiate a nation-wide strike on September 7 in response to
the recent fuel price increase (see ref A). Apparently, the
NLC encountered resistance or foot-dragging within organized
labor. Instead, the NLC now will organize a series of
non-violent protest rallies in major state capitals,
beginning September 14 in Lagos and continuing throughout the
month. The NLC will meet in early October to reassess the
situation and decide on future activities. This strategy
shift demonstrates NLC's frustrations in mobilizing consensus
among labor organizations and indicates that Nigerian labor
and civil society groups are progressively losing their
enthusiasm with fuel-price-related strikes. End Summary.

Informational and Inspirational
Rallies to Replace Strike
-------------------------------

2. (U) After marathon meetings September 5 with 35 separate
civil society organizations and trade unions, the NLC
cancelled the strike planned for September 7. The new plan
calls for a nine-city schedule of mass rallies intended to
fix government attention on the widespread, popular
dissatisfaction with the fuel price increase and government
decision-making in general. The Lagos rally will take place
September 14, with additional rallies planned in Kano (Sept
16), Maiduguri (Sept 20), Benin City (Sept 22), Asaba (Sept
23), Umuahia (Sept 26), Ibadan (Sept 28), and Jos (Sept 30).
There are no rallies planned in the two states that have seen
violence related to the fuel price increase.

NLC No Longer Leader of the Labor Union Pack
--------------------------------------------

3. (SBU) The Trade Union Congress (TUC), the umbrella
organization for senior staff workers, is likely to gain
government recognition within the next two days as a parallel
central labor organization and a peer to the NLC, whose
membership are the rank-and-file laborers. The TUC is
treading very carefully at this time so as not to endanger
its imminent recognition. Instead of advocating strikes, the
TUC is therefore writing communiques protesting the
government's economic policy but also implorng government to
implement palliatives to price increases, like increased
wages and increased refinery capacity. John Odah, NLC
General Secretary, reflecting NLC's frustration at the TUC
nudging in on what had been the former's exclusive domain,
vociferated that the TUC was "not completely competent" to
make a strike happen and doubted their "ability to
follow-through."

4. (SBU) Representatives of both the senior oil workers'
union, PENGASSAN, and the rank-and-file version, NUPENG,
endorsed the TUC's more incremental position. For a strike
to succeed, the cooperation of the petroleum workers' unions
to close ports, airports, and major production centers is
needed, but right now the level of cooperation between the
unions is ebbing. PENGASSAN, for instance, does not believe
any of the previous strikes called by the NLC have been
effective in arresting price increases or in ameliorating the
work environment.

Industry Argues for Higher Price;
GON Holds Firm at 65 Naira/Liter
--------------------------------

5. (U) Petroleum marketers believe the current fuel price of
65 naira/liter is still too far below international market
prices. They see a 72 naira/liter price as more realistic.
They believe fuel will still be scarce at the 65 naira level
and result in fuel scarcities in parts of Nigeria. Numerous
marketers walked out on discussions conducted by the Mantu
Committee (the special Senate committee responsible for
recommending palliatives to buffer the dislocations caused by
fuel price increases), frustrated their advice on pricing had
gone unheeded.

6. (U) In a September 1 letter to the NLC-led Labor and
Civil Society Coalition (LASCO), the GON incorporated many of
the arguments used by marketers and employer groups to defend
the price increase. It appears the government will play
hardball with regard to compromise on the new 65 naira/liter
price.

Comment
-------

7. (SBU) Organized labor is finding it harder to organize a
strike. The public appetite for a strike has waned and rifts
between labor organizations are evident. None of the major
labor organizations involved were completely happy with the
results of Monday's meetings, with NLC representatives
arguing the rallies would not to lead to the GON changing its
position. The TUC hopes to buy time to continue efforts to
persuade the Presidency to reverse its pricing decision and
cause as little economic pain as possible for the average
worker and family. NLC's current acceptance of the Mantu
Committee can be seen as a conciliatory position; NLC leaders
had previously boycotted Mantu deliberations, asserting the
committee had not gone far enough to protect workers.
Conversely, it can be viewed as a signal of labor weakness in
being able to muster a political alleviation to GON designs.
In any event, the more labor delays the strike date, the less
likely a strike will be. With each passing day, people will
tend to see the increase as a fait accomplis and will see
strike action as futile. The latest round, thus far, has
shown that government has gotten the upper hand over labor on
price increases and possible strike action. End Comment.
BROWNE

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