Unheard voice of the STUC

19th April 1996 at 01:00
As secretary to the standing orders committee responsible for organising the business of the Scottish Trades Union Congress this week in Edinburgh, Grahame Smith has been even busier than usual.

But mindful of the other areas in a wide remit - as the STUC's assistant secretary, he is responsible for developing policy on education, training, health, youth and pensioners - Mr Smith takes time to muse over Scottish Labour's draft education policy, not least because it appears to pull in an opposite direction.

Mr Smith rues the lack of consultation with the party's trade union allies. "I didn't know the party was producing a policy until I saw it in the press, " he says.

More diplomatically, he adds: "We would have welcomed an input at an earlier stage." A meeting has now been convened with Helen Liddell, Labour's education spokesman.

Out have gone any significant moves to boost teaching resources: the very meat of this week's motion on education funding and of a call to reduce class sizes. Mr Smith says: "Labour is scared of being tagged as a high spending party. "

Instead there are plans for raising standards through devices such as snap school inspections and mechanisms for weeding out "bad" teachers. "There is an unfortunate tendency in the Labour Party to focus on bad teaching," Mr Smith claims.

His patience ends, however, with proposals to use private finance to fund school buildings. "This fills me with horror. If you bring in private finance then you begin to undermine the whole concept of school education."

Mr Smith, who became the STUC's spokesman on education eight years ago at the age of 29, concludes that the draft policy is open, on a number of counts, to the criticism of "being badly thought out".

Born in Greenock and brought up by union activist parents who were both Health Service employees, Mr Smith graduated with a joint honours degree in economics and industrial relations from Strathclyde University. His first job was as a van driver and this being the late seventies there was a strike on his first day. He went on to drive ambulances, and knows, like his parents, what it is like to be unemployed. By the mid-eighties he was involved with the Scottish Health Service Campaign, combating spending cuts.

This experience led to his appointment with the STUC. "I was happy with the health service. I knew the officials and my experience was based on going through the system. Education was a field I was not familiar with," he says.

He quickly learnt about the dominance of the Educational Institute of Scotland and about the back seat the STUC was to take in arguing with the Government. "I let the EIS get on with that. There was no point the STUC duplicating its efforts."

The congress had its own role in bringing together through its education and training committee a wide range of unions. It can take credit too, he says, for steering the EIS towards finding allies, especially parents, in its campaigns against policies generated south of the border.

Mr Smith also maintains an STUC presence in the post-school sector. As well as spearheading campaigns on training issues, he sits on the board of the Scottish Vocational Education Council and of Clydebank College. As a trade unionist he makes his stance clear in all discussions on education and training. "I have a vested interest," he says.

Kay Smith

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