Leader: Unity needs harmony

December 9, 2005

Academics' enthusiasm for a merged trade union made even the Tories'

support for David Cameron look positively lukewarm: the turnout may have been lower, but almost 90 per cent backing for the proposition represents the strongest possible mandate. Members were rightly determined to put divisions behind them and create an organisation that should have evolved years ago. The University and College Union should be a much-needed force for the improvement of pay and conditions throughout further and higher education.

The union's early years will be crucial in determining its character.

First, the election of a general secretary is bound to strain the remarkable unity that was a feature of the merger campaign. Sally Hunt and Paul Mackney have been inseparable thus far, but tribal loyalties may resurface among their supporters as the leadership choice approaches.

Second, there may be pressure to start off with a bang, particularly as universities prepare to spend their first income from top-up fees.

Academics naturally want their share and will expect their representatives to secure it for them. The belligerent noises that have predated even the start of negotiations are alarming, however. To assume that a major dispute is inevitable can only lead to allegations of bad faith at a time of maximum opportunity for a fresh start in industrial relations.

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