THE College Lecturers' Association, principal professional union in the sector, is caught between a rock and a hard place, and the pressure showed at its conference last weekend (page 23). Across the country relations with college managements have been difficult as institutions wrestled with change and with financial settlements that put many into deficit. Less than subtle management tactics have given succour to militant elements in the workforce at a time when moderate leadership is the hallmark of unionism in the school sector.
The different climate in FE and schools is the other source of difficulty for the college association. Activist lecturers claim that the school-dominated leadership of the Educational Institute of Scotland is supine. A no-confidence vote in the general secretary was carried overwhelmingly. It was a verdict not so much on Ronnie Smith personally as on the stranglehold that inhibits lecturers from taking unilateral industrial action.
But FE colleges are autonomous and flare-ups are prompted by local problems. In the view of lecturers, the EIS has paid little regard to redundancies or imposed changes of practice. So frustration is vented as much against union leaders as against the employers. While some principals may read of the EIS's discomfiture with a smirk, others will realise that good union relations are a prerequisite to involving staff in necessary change.