Seasoned activist will lead the fight

Former hospital worker Barry Lovejoy is now expected to organise lecturers'

strike action. Ngaio Crequer reports

FORMER hospital porter, factory worker (building tube trains), teenage Millwall supporter, social scientist, lecturer in trades union studies - Barry Lovejoy represents the diversity of further education.

Mr Lovejoy has just taken over from Sue Berryman, who has retired, as the new head of the lecturers' union NATFHE's colleges department.

It will be he who organises this year's expected industrial action - and he has the pedigree for it. He has been NATFHE's national official for FE since February 2001, with responsibility for negotiations, employment law, and training. He has been a key figure in the conclusion of 17 new national agreements on lecturers' conditions.

"The most fundamental issue facing us is pay, centring on the ridiculous gap between schoolteachers and lecturers, which continues to dog the system," said Mr Lovejoy, 48.

"We need to retain the ethos of genuine FE, which allows people a second chance in life.

"FE is largely a working-class-based education. That is what lies behind its poor treatment. In the hierarchy, the further you get from Oxbridge, the less attention you get. Most people we deal with in education have genuinely no experience of FE."

Mr Lovejoy says there is likely to be a national stoppage of all unions over pay on November 5. There will be ballots of Unison, the GMB (Britain's General Union), the Transport and General Workers' Union, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. Only the Association for College Management has said it will not strike, but it has sympathy for the action.

"In the past year we have joined with the Association of Colleges to put pressure on the Government for more money.

"Now the focus is on the AOC itself. It is clear there are more resources, and I think we have an opportunity to resolve the dispute. I will write to the AOC to say 'return to the negotiating table'.

"To be a socialist you have to be optimistic and I remain optimistic."

Mr Lovejoy has been working in FE for the past 20 years. He left his grammar school in south-east London at the age of 18 with one A-level (economics) and a cluster of O-levels. "I would not say I shone at school."

He went to evening classes at college to do A-level sociology and got his first insight into FE. He worked full time for a couple of years as a hospital porter. It was here he experienced his first picket lines and demonstrations, when the first national strike of National Health Service workers took place. "I remember a full-time union official coming to speak to us on the picket line and I was in awe of him then."

He did clerical work for a while and then went to Birmingham Polytechnic, as was, to do a four-year sociology degree.

Then some factory work, and to Wolverhampton Polytechnic for a Cert Ed. "It was highly useful in terms of FE because many people tend to go in later."

He became a lecturer in social science at Handsworth College, and a TUC trades union studies lecturer at Solihull College. A NATFHE branch officer for 12 years, he has been a national negotiator since 1994, and sat on the National Executive Committee from 1995 to 2001.

He spent five years as a part-time lecturer and he feels passionately about the need to end casualisation.

A key moment in his life was the campaign he helped to lead in the early 1980s to prevent the deportation of Muhammad Idrish, a Bangladeshi social worker.

"It took nearly four years, but we won. The issue was the racist nature of the immigration rules, views I still have now, though now the centre of focus is on asylum seekers."

Mr Lovejoy says he is a socialist and proud of it. He left the Labour party about the time of the Gulf War, "and now I am not in anything, never have been in anything else, surprisingly enough". He says trades unions should not be ashamed of taking a political stance, so long as they represent their members. For him the incorporation of colleges was the worst thing that ever happened in FE, creating years of conflict, and industrial unrest.

The perceived class nature of the education system is something he rails against. His father left school at 13. He won a scholarship to the grammar school, but the place was given to the son of the headmaster, he says.

Mr Lovejoy lives in Oxford with his wife, a former FE teacher, and their 13-year-old daughter.

Now he looks forward to the new job, giving the office a lick of paint, increasing NATFHE's (rising) membership, and reading more thrillers on the train to work.

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