At the University and College Union special higher education conference, motions that were severely critical of the manner in which industrial action had been ended were carried by about 60 per cent majorities or more. Delegates did not divide along the constituencies of the former Association of University Teachers and the old lecturers' union Natfhe, but according to individuals' judgment. There was no naming and shaming. It was not about personal recrimination but learning from mistakes. It was about what kind of union the UCU was to become - was it to be member-led and democratic, or manipulated by elected or appointed officials?
In 2006, the leaderships of the AUT and Natfhe suspended the action without consulting members in local associations and branches or holding a recall conference. The AUT leadership took its decision, and announced it to the press, without consulting Natfhe. The conference determined that this should not be the practice of the UCU.
It is interesting then to see one of the joint general secretaries declining to comment on the grounds that the motions, being from old Natfhe branches, were critical only of the ex-Natfhe leadership ("UCU 'surrender'
over pay deal", December 1). Sally Hunt is quoted as saying that it is not for her "to comment on how (ex-Natfhe branches) felt about the way Natfhe handled the dispute from their end".
Thus the old division of the amalgamation process, already transcended as evidenced at the conference, is now being reinscribed for the purpose of self-interest and personal exculpation, in anticipation of the forthcoming UCU elections. This is to be regretted. Thomas Moore once wrote about the perverse and preposterous shame whereby men hazard their country rather than endanger their own reputations. He was writing about war and rhetoric, not about trade union careers, but his warning is salutary. This is not a good way to rebuild confidence inside the UCU or to win the election for general secretary.
Tom Hickey, Carlo Morelli, Cliff Snaith, Jenny Toomey, Elizabeth Lawrence, Greg Abbott, Adrian Budd and Norman Sansom
University and College Union officers and delegates from pre and post-92 universities