The leadership of the Educational Institute of Scotland appears to have accepted that national collective bargaining in further education is dead.
In his address to the union's annual conference in Dundee last week Ronnie Smith, the general secretary, said: "It may be that we cannot put the genie back in the bottle."
In what was nonetheless a plea for Government intervention to help both sides, Mr Smith said FE unions and management were forced by the funding crisis to engage in "a constant struggle for survival."
He added: "It is not the case that most FE lecturers have suddenly become belligerent militants any more than FE managements and boards have suddenly become collectively incompetent and unfit to run colleges. The problem is clearly bigger than that.
"College managements must recognise that they cannot go on forever screwing down the pay and conditions of their staffs in order to balance the books. An overloaded, underpaid and demoralised workforce is no basis upon which to construct a vibrant, modern vocational education service.
"Equally, we cannot go on forever trying to strike our way out of this crisis."
Brian Wilson, the education minister announced a pound;2 million staff restructuring fund last month to help colleges meet the costs of redundancies, early retirements and retraining. Some pound;700,000 of that will go to Clydebank College which is having to shed over 30 lecturing posts to stay afloat.
The EIS has conducted 17 ballots for industrial action in the past year, all of them connected with an FE college.
The prospects for further ballots have increased this week as EIS members of the College Lecturers' Association at Inverness College passed a vote of no confidence in Janet Price, the principal, over staff restructuring; and the union's members at Clydebank College have voted to be balloted on industrial action although this has not been endorsed by the EIS nationally.
* The union representing university lecturers has come out against further and higher education being funded by the same body.
The Association of University Teachers, in a paper on the organisation of HE under the Scottish parliament, said the "distinctive interests of FE need a special FE funding council".
The Government has already announced the setting up of a separate FE funding council from April next year. But its membership will overlap with the HE funding council and both will be served by the same chief executive.