Fears of a merger

February 27, 1998

I WAS elected general secretary of the lecturers' union Natfhe by a 60:40 vote on a platform of one union for all lecturers, researchers and academic-related staff. Such a union would be able to attract into membership some of the 100,000 unorganised further and higher education academic staff.

On taking up the post, I proposed that Natfhe and the Association of University Teachers should merge. I offered to give the general secretary of the AUT a clear run for the job in a new union, which would have two politically and financially independent wings.

That historic opportunity remains. But if the AUT does not wish to merge, then obviously Natfhe will explore other ways of securing organisational unity in universities. I have been astonished by the vituperative letters in response to this proposal. If people do not want a merger, all they have to do is to say no. Letters referring to a previous general secretary and past failures on agreement are not the point. There is a Natfhe general secretary committed to modernising, reorganising staff and ensuring financial stability and autonomy for different wings.

Even more significantly, there is a new government. If there are to be 500,000 new students by 2000, this can only be achieved by close partnerships between further and higher education. Given that Natfhe organises some 18,000 lecturers in new universities and higher education colleges and 46,000 in further and adult education, it would seem inopportune to disunite our union. Natfhe will be exploring with the AUT other ways by which members can combine to secure their common interests. We are agreed on a Council of Post-School unions. We need to build a partnership of mutual respect.

Paul Mackney. Natfhe general secretary

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