Pragmatic politics

January 31, 1997

Your leader (THES, January 24) made comments both on Gordon Brown's latest speech and on the salaries dispute in universities. However, you have obscured some important issues.

First, by saying that "if AUT members hit admissions and exams in the run-up to the election period they would damage the prospects of the party many hope to see victorious" you imply a wholly inappropriate political motive for our action. Neither the election nor the dispute are of our making. I have been scrupulous to stress that AUT is not politically aligned. Our action is designed to produce a permanent solution to a chronic problem and politicians of any party who prefer the state of perpetual aggravation which exists now can expect a rough ride during the election. Fortunately, logic is driving most of them round to our point of view.

Second, you have failed to grasp the relative importance of the elements in our claim. Tinkering with the monetary or timing elements for this year are, indeed matters of "detail". The commitment to a pay review body is not. Given that whatever monetary sum emerges is likely to be less than the increase in average earnings, and that The THES last week reported that the average starting salary for new graduates was increasing faster than average earnings and was, in 1997, anticipated to be already higher than the first rung on the lecturer's salary scale, we are facing a deteriorating situation.

Unless one believes that academic salaries are now "fair" (in Gordon Brown's terms) one must accept that for many years the universities have been subsidised by their staff. Any offer which perpetuates this injustice will merely store up trouble for the future. Anyone who thinks that our salaries are fair has nothing to fear from a PRB.

If we don't get satisfactory assurances on pay reviews in this settlement, then we might as well plan for next year's industrial action now; and the next and the next. That is not something I wish to do, nor to bequeath to my successors.

That is why I am determined to prosecute this dispute until we get an offer that promises a fair and enduring resolution. Our ballots clearly show that AUT members share this view. In the coming election, any candidate who thinks differently will be asked to justify this. I have voted for industrial action to end an intolerable situation. I will not vote for any candidate who promises me a future of nothing but industrial action.

Philip Burgess, President Association of University Teachers

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