Jones the outsider

2nd June 2006 at 01:00
Wildcard for leader of UCU says he will fight for grassroots college staff amid fears universities will dominate new union, reports Joseph Lee

The wildcard candidate for leader of the new lecturers' union says he will fight to keep FE at the top of its agenda.

Natfhe's general secretary Paul Mackney may already have declared his support for Roger Kline, who has been head of universities at the union, but Peter Jones is undaunted and has announced his candidacy.

The lecturer at Deeside college in Wales said he wants to provide a voice for FE, for the grassroots of the union and for left-wingers.

Along with Mr Kline, he will challenge Sally Hunt, general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, to run the University and College Union, formed yesterday from the merger with Natfhe.

Mr Jones said: "The question is who would be best suited to promote the views, aspirations and desires of ordinary rank and file members, whether they are principal lecturer at some seat of learning or teaching dance on Thursday mornings in a church hall in Anglesey."

Having been a lecturer for 20 years, he said the union would benefit from a candidate rising through the ranks. "The two so-called official candidates are both careerist trade unionists, and they both represent higher education at the moment," he said. "There is a fear in Natfhe that the work of FE will no longer be a priority."

Supporters of other candidates privately questioned Mr Jones's track record, however, pointing out that he could only muster enough support to come fourth in the union's presidential elections.

The election for the general secretary of UCU is seen as crucial in influencing the power balance of the new union.

Natfhe is concerned not only to protect the interests of FE lecturers, but also to preserve their local democratic structure, which they say has no equivalent in the AUT.

A senior Natfhe source said: "The culture in Natfhe is quite different from the AUT in the sense that we are much more used to open and honest arguments about how to do things. It was run on a much more patrician basis."

FE Focus understands that Barry Lovejoy, who will remain as head of colleges in the new union, considered standing but was concerned that he would not be able to command enough support from the new union's predominantly HE membership.

It left the way open for Mr Kline to become the "official" Natfhe candidate, as was confirmed by the endorsement of the outgoing general secretary. Supporting him, Mr Mackney said: "There are three types of union: those that make things happen, those that watch things happen and those which wonder what happened.

"We have to be bold enough to be in the front rank. We don't need the bland leading the bland."

Mr Kline acknowledged that Mr Mackney would be a hard act to follow. "With me, there will be fewer one-liners," he admitted.

But the 58-year-old, who is now learning karate, said he would carry on the current general secretary's approach.

He said: "I think people regard me as about as tough as they come as a negotiator as well as being very open in the way that I work. You will never catch me doing deals behind people's backs."

A trade union official for 18 years, with less than two years' experience as a teacher, he claims unionising the budget airline EasyJet and winning the long-running dispute at London Metropolitan university as among his successes.

The father-of-two is also known in Natfhe for his jive-dancing, which he demonstrated to supporters at a campaign fundraiser on Saturday night.

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