Don's Diary

August 25, 1995

Monday. First day as London regional official for the Association of University Teachers: new job, new home, new city. As you would expect, I feel totally at ease with this situation. There is a labyrinth of jargon in the academic world - very different from the codes in my previous role as assistant general secretary in a union representing building society staff.

Want someone to say FIMBRA or LAUTRO to me, FSSF, or FSU. Instead I hear UCEA proposals 1, 2, 3, or 4, HEFCE, "THEZZ" . . . Don's Diary (Don's what?), ". . . thought you should write it". Am I being drawn into something I would say "no" to in a few weeks' time? It is the naivety of the novice.

Tuesday. Break resolution not to have a McDonald's. I need comfort. I feel like a new girl at school. It is disquieting as I am used to being absolutely au fait with my remit.

Have met a lot of "very intelligent people", some "quite intelligent people" but no one in the least bit below average academically. Does anyone have a sense of humour, is anyone hardworking, gloomy, serious, innovative, creative, lazy . . . or are they all just . . . intelligent?

Wednesday. Am steadily more impressed by my new colleagues. They know their job and they know who pay their salaries - members. Pleased to feel this; it implies ethics. Get a sense that the dual purpose is to protect terms and conditions and also to protect the profession in terms of quality. There should not be any distinction, in my view.

Each guarantees the other. I think of the lean mean machine ethic of the financial sector with its painful and not always justified impact on employees and service to customers, and speculate how far in higher education they have swallowed this ethos. Already the dreaded words Hay Job Evaluation have crossed my desk; limitation and waiver clauses for redundancy rights, unpaid extra hours, fixed-term contracts, and "voluntary redundancy" follow. This is jargon I understand. How depressing and short-sighted.

Discover that the AUT general secretary is a Tottenham supporter (this is an understatement). The lunatic fringe is alive and well.

Thursday. Bring in Arsenal calendar. Meetings. I have been to a lot of meetings. I anticipate many more but I am gaining a small toehold on the rockface. Meet with AUT solicitors. I am saddened by how they are increasingly used. This implies bad employment practice.

Meet some elected officers. Engaging people, again very committed. Think to myself that what we must do is dovetail their knowledge and energy with the very solid support they can expect from the regional and head offices. More meetings on training courses, recruitment, educational and publicity materials. I want to organise these in the London region. Tomorrow will talk to some individual members who are in need of advice regarding health and safety regulations and employer responsibility. Next an officer supporting a member who has major problems in relation to her line manager and her performance in her role. Will this end as constructive dismissal?

Arrange to meet friend outside Goodge Street tube. Friend does not arrive but I meet Joe who thinks I am stealing his pitch. Quickly explain that I am not, and find myself accepting his much pressed invitation to sit down on the pavement and share his grapes. Joe tells me he is HIV positive. He found out two days ago. We talk about how he can tell his mum, whether he should go home, if she knows he is gay or not. Tears. I go home. Do not know where he goes.

Friday. Take stock a little. As first weeks go it has not been too bad. I have absorbed more than I thought possible and am now interested to know more. Getting a grip on all the different types of employment contract floating round universities is a priority.

Reflect on my first involvement with "trade" (as opposed to student) unions as branch steward with what was then Nalgo. Think that experience will help me understand some inter-staff tensions on campus and enhance my ability to develop dialogue and cooperation to our mutual benefit.

Jargon, I've decided, is simply necessary shorthand, not a mystery to lose sleep over. We all do different jobs but have very similar problems.

Go for much needed drink.

Saturday. Why can you never sleep when you have the time? Pulverise garden instead.

Sunday. Watch the cricket from the armchair. Watch TV interview with Bill Morris (T&G), Doug McAvoy (NUT) and Alan Johnson (CWU). I am committed to the principles these people represent and the work they do and I am bored rigid by this programme. How do they make themselves seem so remote and unimaginative - perhaps too much public relations training. From the people I have met this week I know that unions are still needed and the people involved are as committed in terms of their own free time and support for colleagues as ever they were. The problems are all still there too. We must be careful that, in the headlong rush to the new Labour dawn, style is not perceived as dominating over substance.

How are you doing Joe?

Sally Hunt

London regional official for the Association of University Teachers.

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