Youth in Action

The Truth about Shell Oil

By MARK OSTAPIAK

In September 2001, Northland College in Ashland, Wis., sponsored a forum on “sustainability” featuring a representative from Shell Oil. In response, the Youth for Socialist Action on campus distributed a leaflet describing Shell’s atrocious record in Nigeria. This article is adapted from the leaflet.

Beneath the ground of the fragile rain forests and mangroves of the Niger Delta and Nigerian coastal wetlands is a rich supply of oil. Since 1958 Shell’s subsidiary, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) has been involved in a joint venture with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corp (NNPC) to extract up to one million barrels of oil a day. This is close to 14 percent of Shell’s total oil production, amounting to its largest production outside the United States.

Shell’s drive for profits has not only meant low wages for Nigerian oil workers, but has resulted in environmental degradation that has worsened the quality of life for all Nigerians.

Between 1982 and 1992, over 1,626,000 gallons of oil were spilt from the company’s Nigerian operations in 27 separate incidents. In 1993, for 40 days between July and August, a Shell flowline spilled oil onto Ogoni farm land. In addition, the Ogoni people claimed that Shell operated gas flares close to villages at some sites for 24 hours a day and for more than 30 years.

A local report states: “Apart from physical destruction to plants around the flaring area, thick soots are being deposited on building roofs of neighboring villages. Whenever it rains the soots are washed off and the black-ink-like water running down the roofs is believed to contain chemicals which adversely affect the fertility of the soil.”

Agricultural land that had previously been used for subsistence farming by indigenous people has been left fallow because the above-ground oil pipelines criss-cross over the fields. Shell has since left the Ogoni region, but still operates throughout other parts of Nigeria.

For at least 30 years farmers and fishermen have been dislocated as a result of Shell’s expansion onto their land, and they are incensed when they observe the extremely wide gap between the lifestyles and incomes of oil-industry workers and themselves, who have been economically disabled by the same oil industry.

Between 1970 and 1988 Shell extracted over $30 billion of oil. While Shell maintains that for the past 25 years it has returned part of its profits back to the exploited communities in the form of a community assistance program, the actual amount is estimated to be a paltry $200,000, just 0.000007 percent of the value of the oil extracted between 1970 and 1988.

On Aug. 2, 1994, a successful general strike of the petroleum workers was called by Pachal Bafyau of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC). But a day later the NLC was pressured to withdraw its endorsement of the strike. By law, without the NLCs backing, a strike cannot continue.

Later, on Aug. 17, the Nigerian government struck an even greater blow to Nigerian organized labor when they dismissed the leadership of the NLC and two petroleum sector unions and arrested several prominent labor leaders.

The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) was sent to Nigeria to meet the government to urge them to repeal repressive labor policies and to release the jailed labor leaders, but the government refused. However, they promised to run elections for new executives at the three union bodies and hand over power to them. Not surprisingly, they later reneged on their promise, and in 1995 they dismissed the civilian cabinet, including Labor Minister Samuel Ogbemudia.

On July 28, 1996, Cameron Duodu reported that Shell had admitted to importing weapons to Nigeria help arm the police. The company revealed that the weapons are to protect its oil installations.

Many of the weapons have been used to arm Nigeria’s Mobile Police Force, who in 1990 in Umuechem destroyed 495 homes and killed 80 people participating in a peaceful protest against Shell. Since August 1993, 20 Ogoni villages have been attacked resulting in more than 1000 deaths and the 1996 execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa, the leader of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP).

The Nigerian people for too long have felt the scourges of capitalistic exploitation resulting in environmental degradation, human rights violations, and massacres. We demand that the right of self-determination be given to the Nigerians and all other oppressed African peoples, while we solidarize with them as they struggle also against the pro-imperialist ruling class in their own countries.

At the same time, a mass workers’ movement must be constructed, which can fight to abolish the capitalist system and replace it by a system that puts people and the environment before profits.

 


 

Homophobia reinforced in high schools

By ANDY OLSON

 

Each day as students walk through the halls of their respective schools, they hear an average of 25.5 anti-gay remarks. This ongoing bashing of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons sets into every student’s mind as they go throughout their education.

Homophobia, if not introduced to a child at school, is at least reinforced.

According to a study by the University of South Carolina, the average student realizes his or her sexual orientation at age 13. For a heterosexual student, many avenues of support, including family, friends, school, and the community, exist to help with any difficulties that may then arise.

By contrast, gay students rarely feel able to ask their families, friends, schools, or communities for help, fearing the possible response they might get.

The essential difference between gay youth and youth from other minorities is that gay and lesbian youth do not grow up with people like themselves. The products of heterosexual families in the vast majority of cases, gay youth usually come from communities where few gay adults are visible, attend schools with no openly gay staff, and belong to friendship groups where anti-gay rhetoric is commonplace.

Often feeling completely isolated, these youth must make a perilous journey to adulthood through a society that provides them with a mostly negative stance regarding homosexuality.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, “Homosexuals are probably the most frequent victims” of hate crimes. A National Gay and Lesbian Task Force survey found that 45 percent of gay men and 20 percent of lesbians reported being harassed or attacked in high school because they were perceived to be lesbian or gay.

It comes as no surprise to any teenager or high school teacher that gay students are often subjected to verbal abuse. Comments like “fag,” “dyke,” and “that’s gay” are used so regularly in high schools that few even notice such hateful language as being anything out of the ordinary.

According to a survey at one suburban high school, 97 percent of the students had heard homophobic language used in school. Also, 53 percent of those surveyed said they had heard teachers use such language. It’s sad that the place youth spend such a great deal of their adolescence, is also a place where they learn to hate.

Many families react badly when they find out one of their children is lesbian or gay. A University of Minnesota study found that 26 percent of young gay men reported being forced to leave home because of conflict resulting from their “coming out.”

Under such stress, many gay and lesbian youth turn to alcohol or other drugs to escape from their problems. The Minnesota study found that 58 percent of the young gay men surveyed could be classified as having a substance abuse disorder.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 28 percent of gay youth drop out of high school, usually to escape the harassment, violence, and alienation they face at school.

Often, gay youth feel so hopeless that ending their lives feels like the only solution to their problems. Up to 30 percent of completed teen suicides each year are by gay teens. That equals 1500 gay youth dying every year of suicide alone.

This means that a gay youth tries to kill him or her self every 35 minutes in the United States, and that a gay youth succeeds in doing so every six hours. Overall, LGBT youth simply aren’t given the opportunity to feel secure and supported as every child should.

 

Andy Olson is a member of Youth for Socialist Action in Duluth, Minn.