THE sense of oppression and paranoia that is the hallmark of a College Lecturers' Association conference was once more in evidence at this year's annual gathering of the union in Edinburgh.
The strongest criticisms are usually reserved for the parent body, the Educational Institute of Scotland, and this year's were even fiercer than normal. Marian Healy, the EIS's further and higher education officer, was accused by left-wingers of leaving lecturers feeling "cheated" by continuing to support a partnership agreement among five Glasgow colleges, which is brokered by the STUC.
The dissidents claim this is being used as a negotiating forum by the colleges and is weakening the union's bargaining position.
The low point was reached when attempts to bring a motion criticising Ms Healy were ruled out of order. This gave rise to several objections which were only brought to an end after Ronnie Smith, the EIS general secretary, was forced to intervene to say it would be "inappropriate" for a conference to indulge in public criticism of a member of staff.
The root of the disputes continues to be the degree of autonomy the CLA should have from the EIS. Several speakers, including one college branch secretary, accused the main ody of blocking CLA policies.
No news, it seems, is good news for CLA activists. Even the 12.5 per cent funding increase for the next academic year was attacked because it included only 1.5 per cent more for salary rises.
But bad news can also be good news. Stevenson College in Edinburgh, struggling to recover its financial health, has seen its CLA membership grow as a result of threatened redundancies and industrial action, Martin Todd of the college branch says.
The CLA's main preoccupations, however, continue to be a review of salaries and conditions and a return to national bargaining. Concerned at the knock-on effects from the post-McCrone settlement for teachers, the conference agreed as a starting point to aim for a minimum salary of pound;27,000 for the highest paid lecturers. Plant bargaining has led to growing differentials across the country, and members in the best-paid colleges will have to be assured that national negotiations will not erode their gains.
The EIS executive council, meeting last Friday, backed the call for an inquiry into the pay and conditions of further and higher education lecturers. This was done the day before the CLA met, so delegates were unable to scour that particular silver lining for any clouds with which to shower contempt on the EIS leadership.