Stop the killings in the Niger Delta! Solidarity with the tube cleaners!

Submitted by bobsutton on 2 June, 2009 - 11:31

The Nigerian military has launched a massive assault on the Niger Delta, perhaps 1,000 people have died in the past two weeks. The government has sent in the Joint Military Task Force (JTF) which has used helicopters and ground forces to conduct a massacre of civilians. This is the latest chapter in an ongoing use by successive regimes of naked state violence to protect the interest of western multinationals, particularly Shell.

The Nigeria Delta Solidarity Campaign, a small group based in the Nigerian community in London held an emergency protest outside Downing Street yesterday which I managed to get down to. The protest raised the slogans of ‘Stop the killing’, ‘Stop selling guns to Nigeria’, ‘No Blood for Oil’ and ‘Self-determination for the Niger Delta’.

People from AWL, Campaign Against Immigration Controls and Feminist Fightback have been amongst the activists involved in the struggle of cleaners on London Underground. Many tube cleaners, including the leading trade union reps are from the Delta Region. Clara Osagide, leading cleaner activist and Secratary of the cleaners' grade in the Rail Maritime and Transport Workers Union was in fact an activist in Nigeria who fought against the western-backed military regime in the early 1990s and was forced into hiding and exile. Clara and many other cleaners have consistently referred to this experience of struggle back in Nigeria during their struggle on the tube, that they are the same fight.

Despite this integrated understanding, Clara had not heard about the protests and as yet there has been no contact between the NDSC and the cleaners, coordination amongst such fledgling groups is difficult. We actually found out about the protests through the other activists in Climate Camp, a network of environmental activists. Reality was hammered home by the fact that Clara herself could not make the protest, she was at work, unable to express her outrage at the killing of her people.

It is urgent and neccassary to effectively link up the struggles of migrant workers with campaigns such as the NDSC. Examples of this are beginning to emerge; for example the Colombia Solidarity Campaign, which is increasingly active in supporting the struggle of latino and other migrant workers in London alongside its work highlighting the role of British and other multinationals in driving the conflict in Colombia. We need to show that there is a direct link between the conditions of migrant workers here and the imperialist-backed exploitation in their own countries that has driven them here.

However it should not just fall to migrant workers with a direct connection with the countries in question to oppose this kind of barbarism. It is a duty of the wider workers movement to fight, to be internationalist. Worker's Liberty publishes a rank and file bulletin tubeworker which we distribute to all grades on the Underground. Through this kind of patient and consistent work we have managed to gain a real voice amongst workers. We should raise slogans against the war in tubeworker and call on the RMT to raise them as well.

The RMT has called a demonstration for the cleaners on the 17th of June at City Hall to coincide with Mayor Boris Johnson's question time. The Mayor has just increased the London Living wage to £7.60 but as yet no tube cleaners have seen any corresponding raise. Some cleaners are still not receiving the £7.45 that strike action and protests forced him to promise last summer. Besides this, the other demands of sickness pay, pensions and an end to third party sackings seem to have been forgotten. Since last summer, the cleaners have faced a wholesale assault by the cleaning contractors with victimisations and paper checks used to smash their organisation by targeting key activists. (See

We need a workers’ movement that makes the defence of migrant workers a touchstone of its fight against the bosses, the crisis, climate change and against global capitalism. Not only do migrants make up some of the most vulnerable and exploited sections of our class; their role is absolutely central in how we form an internationalist working-class politics. Solidarity should be made on the basis that people who have been forced here by the horrors of war, exploitation and environmental damage across the world are the ones around which we should orientate our fight against these horrors. We will not win if we do not consider ourselves part of a global class and frame our fight in those terms.

So far the group who have been doing the most on this in Britain is radical NGO, Platform, who have run the Remember Saro-Wiwa campaign which is currently taking Shell to court over its collusion with the Nigerian state’s murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa and brutal military suppression of protests in the mid 1990s. This campaign has been pretty exemplary, prepared to take on a multinational like Shell, a far cry from the kind of class-collaboration that typifies the work of the major ‘respectable’ charities.

However it is telling that this kind of work falls upon the Non-governmental sector to do. Just as we have said about Sri Lanka, about Palestine, about Iraq, we need a workers movement that makes concrete solidarity along lines of working-class politics. And when there are people in struggle right now on our railways who were flung here by this very conflict, this solidarity begins at home.

Join the RMT protest to call for a living wage for cleaners on the underground, an end to victimisations, pensions rights, 28 days holiday a year, sickness pay and papers for all. Meet 9.30 Outside City Hall, nearest tube London Bridge on Wednesday June 17th. Email

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