Is that a Trojan horse I spy in the CLA camp?

4th April 2003 at 01:00
YET again it seems that we are in for internecine strife at the Educational Institute of Scotland. Union constitutions may not usually be the stuff of high drama, but, dear reader, please bear with me. Not since the days of Hannibal has such a cunning plan of conquest been hatched.

Last year, after an absence of 2,000 years, I reported on the EIS Dundee conference. Plans to abolish the union's further education section, the College Lecturers' Association, were roundly defeated. Now the operation is to be repeated in an even more deadly form.

So here is an easy cut-out and keep guide to eliminating the CLA. Step one: isolate. The union is to be restructured to create an expanded executive council with a smaller committee effectively to run the show.

What happens to the CLA? It gets half the executive council places its 10 per cent share of EIS membership deserves. By contrast, its smaller cousin, the University Lecturers' Association, gets a proportional share.

In the same package, and far more serious, is the virtual elimination of FE participation in local associations. Lecturers will be barred from key positions and votes, retaining merely a token membership.

Step two: paralyse. By June there is to be a merger with the financially straitened Scottish Further and Higher Education Association. It clings on to some 900 members (700 or so in FE - but falling rapidly). No doubt CLA members would welcome greater union unity if it was not for the extraordinary way it is to be carried out; but the FE membership have been told nothing of the plans until now, have not been involved in drafting them and cannot discuss them at their annual conference.

Furthermore, the SFHEA's members, a seventh of the CLA membership, are guaranteed half of all key union positions for a period of four years: half the CLA executive, half the executive council, half the office-bearers.

Local branches do not escape. SFHEA members only need to have a fifth of the CLA membership to get half the office-bearers. That won't happen in many places because the SFHEA has dwindled in so many colleges. So where it has even fewer members, they are guaranteed at least one key post such as that of treasurer. These arrangements are to last for four years.

Step three: destroy. In the meantime the CLA will have a new constitution imposed which, if my informants are correct, will strip it of all autonomy.

All this adds up to smashing the CLA. There must be some explanation for this treatment. In 1993, the employers ended national bargaining and drove through cuts, redundancies, more cuts, more redundancies, casualisation, pay freezes and union victimisation. With their backs against a wall, CLA members have had to make demands on the EIS again and again, and have elected national executives to put these demands forward.

There is sympathy for FE members, but, and it's a shame to have to say this, it appears that union officials would prefer to have a quiet life.

Cosy deals ... la McCrone are more their style.

But FE lecturers lack the numbers or political clout to win such a deal.

So, like a parent troubled by an infant's incessant crying, initial sympathy turns into irritation, and finally abuse.

This year's EIS conference may be as interesting as last year's.

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