Editor's comment

26th May 2006 at 01:00
The merging of the lecturers' union Natfhe and the Association of University Teachers is a done deal. For those who reject the marriage, there is no going back.Only time will tell whether lecturers in universities, whose high profile has always accorded them a share of middle-class public sympathy disproportionate to their importance to the economy, will overshadow the world of FE at future conferences.

No doubt Natfhe's final conference this weekend will be the last great opportunity for members to cry into their beer or draw comfort from the theory that bigger is better.

One thing which is certain is that this year's conference will see the departure of one of the finest people ever to hold the title general secretary. Paul Mackney, who recently suffered a heart attack, has made it clear he will not be standing for the top job in the merged union. The timing is unfortunate. If he had been elected as the head of the new union, his continued presence in the top job would have been an enormous selling point to FE lecturers who may be nervous about power-sharing with their university colleagues.

His performance from the conference platform, his intellectual integrity and his unbullying but persistent approach to defending the principles he believes in have marked him out as the trades unionist's trades unionist.

His politically-charged speeches at Natfhe's annual conference will not appeal to every lecturer in every college. His views on the Middle East may seem far from the concerns of the ordinary lecturer. Some New Labour enthusiasts may consider his Old Labour rhetoric difficult to swallow in a political world which increasingly runs on reflecting the prejudices of the public to gain cheap popularity rather than speaking with honest conviction.

But honest conviction is what Natfhe has enjoyed from Mr Mackney.

John Monks, former general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, once commented that the difference between the trades union movement and the Labour government is that unions represent the interests of working people.

For many, this sentiment still holds true. It is a view which has not been lost on Paul Mackney, who has been open with his scepticism about today's Labour government.

Under Mr Mackney, Natfhe has a leader who has contributed his career unselfishly to the interests of ordinary lecturers.

He is wise to take his doctor's advice to slow down instead of standing for the new general secretary's job. The new union will be equally wise to take advantage of his wise counsel in the future.

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