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The must-have diary debate threatens delegate harmony

The lecturers' union Natfhe was fighting fit and proud of it at its annual conference in Blackpool. Steve Hook reports

A KEY benefit of union membership was jealously guarded by rebellious Natfhe delegates in a debate which almost split the union down the middle.

But it was not the right to strike or the right to picket which got temperatures rising in the otherwise decidedly chilly conference hall at the windswept Norbreck Castle Hotel on the Blackpool seafront.

The cause of discontent was the crucial issue of the personal diary - distributed each year to Natfhe members, and seen by some as being as essential an accessory as a pigeon fancier's flat cap.

Natfhe had previously decided to replace the diary, due to be sent out to its 67,000 members in July, with a smaller information booklet to save itself pound;23,000.

But conference heard a motion from the northern and south-east branches calling for the diary to be reinstated next year and to agree that "any future proposal to remove the diary should only be agreed by an annual conference motion".

When delegates raised their hands to vote on the issue, it appeared to many that most were in favour of keeping the diary, although Gerard Kelly, the outgoing president, announced the motion was defeated.

After much mumbling from the floor, voting cards were held aloft - and counted by an army of scrutineers.

The diary was saved by the votes of 75 delegates - against 68 who wanted it scrapped.

One Natfhe officer, moved to slip outside for a cigarette after the vote, commented that the money could have been more wisely used to boost the union's under-performing pensions scheme.

The retirement age for union staff has had to be increased from 60 to 65 as part of a package of measures aimed at protecting the final-salary pension.

And judging by the frenzy of activity on the conference disco dance floor when the Motown numbers started playing, many members were hoping to benefit from retirement at 60 in the not-too-distant future.

"I thought I was coming up for retirement," said the Natfhe officer, casting an eye over the Norbreck's internal decor. "Now I've got to be coming here for another 10 bloody years."

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