Campaigner calls for NEU and UCU merger

Union campaigner Hank Roberts says a single super-union would prevent 'competitive recruitment' between the NEU and UCU, following tensions between the unions

Will Martin

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Creating one education union to represent all staff in FE and schools would be a "logical" option for the trade union movement, according to campaigner Hank Roberts.

Mr Roberts, organising secretary of the Unify campaign for a single education union, told Tes that that having one union would help to prevent rivals from engaging in "competitive recruitment", and would represent an “Everest” moment for the education sector.

“We’re not allowed to directly and competitively recruit to nick members from the other unions, but [recruitment leads to the unions] spending money on handing out all these leaflets and all the rest of it,” he said. “Forming one union is like climbing Everest. It wasn’t done in one fell swoop – people got closer and closer, and eventually it was done.”

The merger between the NUT and ATL teaching unions to form the National Education Union (NEU) last month means that educational professionals are now represented by the fourth largest trade union in the UK – and the biggest education union in Europe. Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, said that the merger gives a “louder voice to education professionals when speaking out against poor government policy and bad employment practices”.

Greater collaboration

But while the NEU was intended to unify education professionals, it appears to have had the opposite effect in the further education sector. Historically, the UCU had enjoyed a close relationship with the NUT. But a longstanding agreement between the unions – which formally acknowledged that the UCU would represent staff in FE and HE, with the NUT working in schools and sixth-forms, in order to “avoid competitive trade unionism across sectors” – has now been dropped.

The NEU has also launched a campaign called “EfFEctive Education”, which aims to encourage MPs to visit their local colleges to raise the profile of the sector, and has described itself as “the professional and persuasive voice for post-16 education”.

Jo McNeill, who stood as a candidate for UCU general secretary earlier this year with the backing of the UCU Left faction, told Tes that she believes that collaboration between the two unions would be a “positive” step.

“As far as unions merging and whether there would be space for UCU to join the NEU at some point, I think that for me, as a grassroots organiser, potentially it would be an ideal situation," she said.

A UCU spokesperson said that the union was looking forward to “enjoying a positive relationship with the NEU, given that their overwhelmingly school- and sixth-form-based membership so neatly complements our own”.

This is an edited version of an article in the 6 October edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full article here. To subscribe, click here. This week's Tes magazine is available at all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here.

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Will Martin

Will is a junior reporter at TES

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