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Baba Aye, Lai Browne & Val Udeh, the School Coordinator

The NLC 14th annual rain school commenced on the 29th of August, 2016, at the Workers Solidarity Centre, NLC state secretariat, Uyo, Akwa Ibom state. The school with its theme as: ‘the Labour Movement and Alternative Developmental Strategy’, had in attendance over 80 participants from affiliates and state councils of the NLC. 66 of these arrived before the opening session on Monday August 29, where speeches were delivered by the Congress president Comrade Ayuba Wabba,  the secretary to the state government of Akwa Ibom, Mr Etekamba Imogen representing the state governor, and the NLC Akwa Ibom state council chairperson Comrade. Etim Ukpong.

There were two main sessions on the opening day of the school. These were the welcome/ introduction ceremony and the first plenary session. The Congress president, Com. Ayuba Wabba gave the keynote address of the school. In his speech Com. Ayuba Wabba stressed the importance of education for rank and file workers. He stated that events like the Rain School are essential to raise class consciousness within the working class as a whole. He addressed the killings of workers by the state in Nassarawa and the deaths of several workers and pensioners due to the failure of the capitalist system and called for a 1 minute silence for comrades that died in struggle.

He expressed anger at the non-payment of salaries, in some cases for upwards of a year, in two thirds of the federation and informed that the NLC National Executive Council had directed any state where salaries have not been paid for three months or more to go on strike. While this is a step in the right direction though, it might not be enough. The need for an all out, thorough going nationwide General Strike in demand of the payment of all outstanding workers’ salaries is quite pertinent. Left alone to their devices, as shown with strikes in a number of states, without a generalised and collective national action, such isolated strikes will peter out, with different state councils isolated and workers’ power weakened even before it swings into action in such piecemeal manner.

Comrade Ayuba however also made it clear that Congress would not submit to the blackmail by states that they do not have money to pay workers, stressing that, an upward review of the minimum wage is long overdue. And with the economy in a recession which means more hardship for the working class, the current minimum wage of N18,000 is definitely inadequate for workers to live on. Com. Ayuba Wabba pointed out and assured that NLC is ready more than ever to fight for an upward increase in the minimum wage. He also commended the Akwa Ibom state government for its assistance in providing a permanent structure for the rain school, promising that NLC would follow this up by building a structure for accommodation on the site as well. The Rain School complex could then be utilised for workers’ education all through the year.

The state SSG delivered the governor’s speech to the participants, he stated that the state has being enjoying a cordial relationship between the state government and the state workers because the government has been supportive of the workers and also accepted that sometime there is face off between the state government and workers’ union, which he described as ‘normal’. He however said that the state government will not want the cordial relationship to stop. The council chair delivered the state council’s welcome speech, after that, the NLC National Treasurer and NULGE president, Comrade Ibrahim Khaleel Abdulkadir gave the vote of thanks, bringing the opening session to an end.

Immediately after a short break during which group photographs were taken, the second session which was the first plenary session of the rain school began. The guest speaker for the session was Prof. Dung Pam Sha of the Political Science department, University of Jos.  Prof. Dipo Fashina from the Ahmadu Bello University’s Philosophy department and Com. Chris Uyot, Deputy Secretary General of the NLC served as discussants. Prof Pam Sha in his lecture gave presented a political-economy framework for a workers alternative. In his lecture he explained that the ruling class in Nigeria, as with capitalists rulers all over the world, have submitted to the neoliberal paradigm of development over the last forty years or so. This model of development prioritises individualism and corporate enrichment at the expense of poor workers, peasants and other oppressed strata in society.

He drew copiously from the alternative national development agenda documents the NLC formulated in 2009-2010 but which till date has not seen the light of the day. With Nigeria in recession, he lamented, the working class and the Left have been on the margins in speaking out for an alternative model of development. This, he further argued, has to change. There is the need, in his view, for the trade unions to lead the struggle for building a developmetalist state which will intervene more decisively in the production process to industrialise the country and improve the living conditions of the working masses.

In discussing the presentation, Prof. Dipo Fashina argued that, without workers seizing power, there can be no real alternative development in the country. He thus stressed the need for workers to organize under a workers party to win power from the elites, Prof. Dipo Fashina quoted one of Kwame Nkrumah sayings “seek ye first the political kingdom and all things shall be added unto you”. He reiterated that the elites cannot fight for the interest of the workers because they represent two opposing classes ; capitalist class and the working class. He explained that the neoliberal programs of the capitalist cannot work and it is more obvious there’s no fundamental difference between the PDP and the APP APC regime.

Questions were asked and comments made by several participants after the lectures. Among the contributors was Baba Aye, editor of the Socialist Worker and Deputy Secretary General of the Medical and Health Workers’ Union. He added that only revolution and not reforms can bring the much desired social change for working class people. But he pointed out that this does not mean we are against any form of reform, here and now. It is essential to fight for and defend progressive reforms without being sucked into in the illusion that gradually with reforms workers can change the system and bring about the transformation of their lives. He further stated that the bosses will not even concede fundamental reforms if they don’t fear we could win something greater… revolution.

The session and the day’s events ended with participants going for a late lunch. 30 copies of the Socialist Worker were sold in the course of the day.

by Lai Browne