Reservists called to battle

4th June 2004 at 01:00
Paul Mackney calls on conference delegates to swell Natfhe's ranks. Steve Hook reports

The lecturers' union is being beefed up in preparation for a fresh war over funding as local learning and skills councils tell colleges their budgets are likely to be cut.

Paul Mackney, general secretary of Natfhe, called on delegates at its annual conference in Blackpool to go back to their branches and recruit an army of reps in preparation for the disputes ahead.

The union says it will continue to press for pay parity between lecturers and schoolteachers, despite the LSC's financial difficulties. Colleges'

budgets are likely to be squeezed as the numbers of 16 to 18 year-old students continues to rise.

Natfhe membership, at more than 67,000, including HE and FE, is at its highest in 15 years, but Mr Mackney says he wants to break through the 70,000 barrier, as well as increasing the number reps in the union's ranks.

He was joined on the platform by Sally Hunt, general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, to press for a merger of the two unions as the line between the two sectors becomes blurred.

He said; "We should, this weekend, be committing ourselves to building branch capacity. If every delegate to this conference went back determined to get two more reps, the resulting 25 per cent increase in the Natfhe cadre would lay the basis to re-invigorate our union.

"If your own branch doesn't need attention, go to the next place and encourage new people to take up office."

He said the union's organisation was patchy around the country and it was "futile" passing resolutions if there was not enough local support to ensure they were carried out.

He added: "They (Government and employers) can ignore us because we have insufficient members and are poorly organised in far too many institutions.

"We have to get across to those who stay out of our union that their non-involvement is a personal false-economy. It is keeping their wages down. They should respect themselves and join the union."

The conference decided extra income from larger membership should be spent on employing more officers rather than increasing the "sustentation fund" - which supports those who lose pay during strikes. It stands at pound;650,000.

He said the union will support branches fighting what he described as "macho management", which is rapidly becoming the biggest concern after pay.

Mr Mackney referred to the dispute at West Herts college, where staff have been forced to re-apply for jobs and where Tony Pitcher, the temporary principal, has suspended existing agreements with the union.

Mr Pitcher, who de-recognised unions while principal of South East Essex college, was brought in to West Herts after it received a damning Office for Standards in Education inspection. In a message to Alan Johnson, the minister for further and higher education, Mr Mackney said: "Get someone to sort out Tony Pitcher at West Herts because he shouldn't be running a whelk stall."

Barry Lovejoy, head of Nafthe's colleges department, said: "Mr Pitcher does not like demonstrations outside his college but they will continue.

"The message to Mr Pitcher is that Natfhe and the other trade unions will continue to be organised at West Herts College well beyond the time that he leaves.

"We will not put up with intimidation and macho management."

The conference also heard about the decision of Manchester College of Arts and Technology to close its trades union studies department, which will make redundant union activists.

The college has recently been accused by its Natfhe branch of bullying staff.

Mr Mackney said: "You can hardly call that redundancy. This is political spite."

Barbara Forshaw, MANCAT's deputy principal, said: "The decision has been taken because trades union studies is just not viable any more. We have had a problem for about two years and this is not a sudden decision."

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