Letter: Why I am prepared to step down (1)

August 24, 2001

While there are obvious problems debating relations between the Association of University Teachers and Natfhe when many members are on holiday, your editorial was most welcome (Leader, THES , August 17). But I do have a few comments.

Nobody is desperate to merge. Both unions can survive and even thrive separately. The main question is whether and how they could be more effective in unity.

Natfhe supports a single union with two independent wings for higher education and further education to prevent domination in a new organisation by former Natfhe members and to protect the minority further education members in any new union. Natfhe has since 1997 ensured the independence of its further and higher education sectors by quasi-federal arrangements.

Natfhe has academic-related members in higher education. By rule, anyone "in full, part-time or self-employment whose work is primarily concerned with those above statutory school age in providing academic or related service" is eligible to join. In the new machinery there is a single bargaining committee for academic and academic-related staff.

It would, however, be a total diversion for a new organisation to expend energy trying to poach new university staff who are Unison members. Our energies should be directed elsewhere - to attracting to any new organisation the tens of thousands of staff who are in no union.

So how do we do it? First, we should wait until the AUT has a chosen a new general secretary. Candidates will adopt different positions on closer unity, but talks are unlikely to open until after the election.

The AUT could then take up Natfhe's offer to reopen the question of a unified organisational structure and take a decision in principle before getting bogged down in the detail.

Nobody should underestimate the practical difficulties, and they were one reason for both unions agreeing to "park" the McCall report in early 1999. But the discussions facilitated by Bill McCall have not been wasted and our experience of working together since then has been positive.

What is required in any bringing together of organisations is a generosity of spirit, a recognition of each other's traditions and cultures, but also a willingness to compromise so we can raise our eyes to a higher prize.

With this in mind I reiterate that I would step down as general secretary, even though Natfhe is the larger union, if this helped unification.

Paul Mackney
General secretary, Natfhe.

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