Rank-and-file challenger to join race for new top job

April 14, 2006

The race to lead the forthcoming merged lecturers' super-union was thrown open this week as the first grassroots union member declared his intention to stand in the election for general secretary.

Last week, The Times Higher revealed that Roger Kline, the head of the universities department at lecturers' union Natfhe, plans to stand against Sally Hunt, the general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, in a bid to lead the new University and College Union, which will be formed in June.

But hopes that Mr Kline could persuade Natfhe's political factions to unite behind him and ensure that just one senior Natfhe candidate would stand against Ms Hunt now look scant. Peter Jones, an hourly paid lecturer at a small Welsh further education college, declared that he expected to become the official candidate of Natfhe's left-wing factions, the Left Caucus.

Mr Jones, a member of the Natfhe national executive, is the first working lecturer to declare his candidacy against Ms Hunt and Mr Kline, who are both professional trade unionists with backgrounds in other industries.

"There is talk about putting up a single candidate from Natfhe," Mr Jones told The Times Higher this week. "I'm sure those talks will continue. But the Left wing is pretty sure that its preferred candidate should be a lay member of the union - an actual lecturer, not a professional trade unionist. My name is the one that is emerging among the rank and file.

"The professional trade unionists do a very good job, but when it comes to choosing a general secretary, lay members should always have a choice from lay members. I've worked on the ground and have been a shop steward since I was 18."

The UCU does not expect to have its general secretary in place until spring 2007, following a transitional period from next June during which the two unions will run in parallel, under a joint transitional arrangements committee.

This committee, made up of 11 AUT and 11 Natfhe representatives, has yet to agree the rules or timetable for the election, so candidates are unlikely to have to formally declare for the top job for several months yet.

Mr Jones, who recently retired from a full-time post at Burnley College, in Lancashire, teaches a Trades Union Congress-supported programme on employment law at Deeside College in Wales.

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