Beware the bite of the thousand-legged insect

13th June 2003 at 01:00
"AS Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed into a gigantic insect. His numerous legs waved helplessly before his eyes. 'What has happened to me?' he thought."

So begins Kafka's Metamorphosis. Substitute the College Lecturers'

Association for Samsa and FELA (Further Education Lecturers' Association) for insect and you have the transformation of the CLA. But we have one advantage over Gregor - ours is explicable.

The secret lies in a brilliant tactical manoeuvre of which a chess grand master would be proud. But first, what exactly is this metamorphosis? As reported last week, the Scottish Further and Higher Education Association, with one seventh the CLA's membership, is invited to join the CLA and is automatically granted half the executive seats, half the national officials, a third of council places and a half share of branch officials.

How could such a thing happen?

It was said the SFHEA needs inducements. In reality, most of its remaining members would have joined the many hundreds who came over voluntarily. Why? Because the SFHEA was finished, as its "strictly private and confidential" newsletter of April 10 makes clear: "Members have been made aware over recent months of the serious difficulties the union is experiencing with regard to a reducing membership combined with lack of participation of current members to the point where it is becoming difficult, if not impossible, for the union to function."

Last year the EIS bureaucrats were beaten on abolition of the CLA in a full and open debate at the annual meeting. This year the abolition was achieved by blocking debate. In effect, we are in a situation where the Government has lost patience with the voters, and so decided to pick a new electorate.

The decision appeared in an obscure minute of an executive council report presented for approval. No amendment or alternative suggestions were possible.

The CLA was stymied. The other constitutional changes which discriminated against the CLA were narrowly passed (160 votes to 132).

But it is not yet time to write the obituary for trade unionism among Scottish FE lecturers. Gregor Samsa was outnumbered and easily victimised by his family. Lest any principals should mistake this merger as a moment of weakness, the FE membership of the EIS has very numerous legs - some 9,301 (that's roughly two per member).

These are far from helpless, since they have regularly walked, making Scottish FE one of the most strike-prone industries around. And the pound;44,000 employment tribunal award to the victimised Motherwell College member should be a warning against trying to pick off individual (or even pairs) of legs.

Indeed managements should start worrying. The situation that has occurred in Barony College, where the SFHEA has an overwhelming majority and where more than a third of lecturing is performed by instructors on the cheap, will not be tolerated by this new FELA. Now the national union cannot claim that it is too busy with internal issues to back lecturers' demands for a serious campaign over the lack of democracy in the running of FE colleges or a campaign to return to national bargaining which prevents conditions being worsened by playing one college off against another.

FE lecturers have no choice but to resist the marketisation, managerialism and degradation of their profession. Let's hope that, with the constitutional navel-gazing behind us, this resistance will grow.

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