THE ANGER of further education lecturers at unrelenting job losses boiled over into furious exchanges at the College Lecturers' Association annual conference in Edinburgh this week.
Association members, who are part of the Educational Institute of Scotland, rounded on the Institute leadership for agreeing a package of measures at the troubled Clydebank College. These could see up to 80 academic jobs disappear - a third of the total.
The deal scraped through in a ballot of lecturers by only 69 votes to 64, with 50 abstentions.
Alan Ferguson, the former CLA branch secretary at Clydebank, had denounced EIS president Ian McCalman as "a disgrace to trade unionism".
Mr McCalman hit back, saying Mr Ferguson had been deposed as a union negotiator at the college "because his colleagues had no confidence in him".
In a bitterly worded letter to EIS general secretary Ronnie Smith, released to The TESS, CLA president John Cassidy says the issue is now wider than Clydebank. He demands to know: "When is the institute going to spearhead a major campaign to highlight the way in which successive cuts in funding have put so many colleges in dire straits? We must start the campaign now, before it is too late; there are far too many lecturing posts at risk."
Mr Smith wrote in January to Brian Wilson, the Education Minister, calling for "urgent intervention by the Government" to sort out further education funding and management problems.
Mr Wilson has publicly expressed his own frustration at the turmoil in the colleges, which he recognises are crucial to a number of Government initiatives such as welfare-to-work.
The EIS president acknowledged that "getting our hands dirty" by agreeing to enter talks with Clydebank management to save what was effectively a bankrupt college had been "my worst experience in 30 years as a trade unionist". But the union faced "the classic problem that we were between a rock and a hard place," Mr McCalman said. He claimed management told him the college would be shut down and staff re-employed on individual contracts if union members did not back a package of job cuts.
The Scottish Office was forced to hand over pound;934,000 in February to bail out Clydebank for the second time in eight months. The college had cash flow problems and failed to reach an agreement with its bankers on a pound;1.9 million overdraft. The loan had to be repaid from this year's Government grant.
The Education Minister sent consultants into the strike-bound college with the remit to bring its costs into line with those in the rest of the further education sector. The EIS negotiators say they had no choice but to agree the package. It increased the teaching week from 21 to 24 hours with the loss of 19 jobs. A reduction in the number of departments from 13 to eight involved another 14 redundancies.
Mr McCalman warned that this was a two-year deal which the Scottish Office has not yet said it will accept. If it insists on recovering its money within a year, between 40 and 80 jobs could go.
The union leadership's failure to fight "mass redundancies" was condemned as collusion by several activists at the weekend. But Mr McCalman said no union member from Clydebank had put forward any alternatives, and all had the opportunity to consider the deal.
Kate Lonergan of Anniesland College said she sympathised with the position in which Mr McCalman found himself. "But he is not a member of the management at Clydebank College : he is the president of my union."
Jim McKinlay, chair of the branch at Falkirk College, where management has refused to recognise the CLA, said: "How many more compromises are we going to be asked to make - and when is the EIS going to support us?"