AUT and Natfhe are no more

June 2, 2006

Super-union arrives with power more evenly spread between officials following a 'turf war', reports Phil Baty.

The new lecturers' super-union, the University and College Union, came into being this week after the long-awaited merger of the Association of University Teachers and Natfhe.

The formal "vesting" of the 120,000-strong union came as internal documents revealed that Natfhe had gained some ground in a behind-the-scenes power struggle with the AUT over influence in the new union.

The Times Higher reported in February that there were concerns that the AUT appeared to have staged a "power grab" and, during early negotiations, had secured the most prominent management positions and the most influential areas of responsibility for the UCU's transitional year, which began this week.

Natfhe sources said a particular concern was that senior AUT officials were taking the lead role in all areas of higher education employment and policy and in all campaigning, organising and recruitment. Roger Kline, head of universities and Natfhe's most senior higher education official, was left with control of only health and safety issues.

It was feared that the transitional year before full amalgamation in spring 2007 could be used to "cement" former AUT officials in top positions in the new union.

There were also concerns that the AUT's dominance during the transition would give its general secretary, Sally Hunt, unfair prominence in the year in which she will also be campaigning to become UCU general secretary.

But a new staffing structure for the transitional year, seen by The Times Higher , shows that Mr Kline has been given a much more prominent role in the transitional year, after what one senior source described as a "turf war".

Mr Kline, who will stand against Ms Hunt for the top job at the UCU, will take responsibility for "employment rights and legal services to members" as well as equality and health and safety.

Although Mr Kline pledged not to allow his "candidature to distort the priorities of (his) work in (his) senior role within the UCU", these enhanced responsibilities would enable him to take a much higher profile in the new union, boosting his election hopes.

According to the document, which is subject to consultation, Paula Lanning, Natfhe's director of communications, takes charge of UCU public affairs, communications and parliamentary business. Barry Lovejoy, former head of Natfhe's further education section, takes control of further education policy for the new union.

Former AUT staff are still well represented. Malcolm Keight, former deputy general secretary, takes responsibility for higher education and employment policy and the higher education regional office teams.

Paul Cotrell, the AUT's former assistant general secretary, controls education and professional policy in higher and further education, information technology and constitutional issues.

Matt Waddup, another former AUT assistant general secretary who is seen as increasingly influential, controls "campaigns organising and recruitment", as well as the membership database.

The UCU will be run by a transitional arrangement committee made up of members and officials from both unions, which will fully amalgamate next spring.

Ms Hunt and Paul Mackney, the former Natfhe general secretary, will be joint general secretaries for the transitional year. A single new general secretary and elected officials should be in place in time for the first UCU annual conference, also in spring 2007.

Enjoying his last conference as Natfhe general secretary, Mr Mackney, who is not standing to lead the UCU on health grounds, said: "Like others I have concerns about the new union, but there is less to worry about than meets the eye. We need to be less Eeyore-ish and more Tigger-ish."

Both Natfhe and the AUT merge from positions of strength. Mr Mackney told The Times Higher that Natfhe's total membership was 153 members short of 70,000, with an all-time high of 21,000 higher education members. The AUT had nearly 50,000 members in higher education only.

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