Union politics impaired pay battle, paper says

February 2, 2007

Ordinary members of the academic unions were let down by poor tactics and bad planning in last year's pay dispute because senior union officials were too focused on the manoeuvring for power in the merger between lecturers'

union Natfhe and the Association of University Teachers, an explosive new paper claims.

The paper claims that top officials at the AUT strove to exclude Natfhe officials from discussions about union tactics in the dispute and made serious misjudgments because they were more concerned with "gaining or maintaining organisational advantage in the post-merger union". The AUT and Natfhe merged in June 2006 to form the University and College Union.

Ballot papers for the UCU general secretary elections were being sent out this week as the paper, by Bob Carter, reader in work and employment at the School of Management, Leicester University, was published by the Union Ideas Network, a think-tank backed by the Trades Union Congress.

Dr Carter's paper criticises the management of the AUT, claiming that its officials largely exclude elected members who work in universities.

It provides clear backing for Roger Kline, the former Natfhe head of universities, in his campaign to lead the UCU, against his key rival Sally Hunt, former head of the AUT.

Dr Carter argues that for most UCU members, the competition to lead the new union appears to be between two individuals, but "far more rests upon the result, however, than two careers".

"What is at stake are traditions of accountability, participation and the integration of activists, on the one hand; and those of informality, centralisation and exclusion, on the other," he says.

"Whatever the direction of collective bargaining in the future... the conduct of the 2006 dispute demonstrated that it is unlikely that members will be able to leave officials to secure improvements in salaries and working conditions." Among a litany of tactical mistakes, Dr Carter cites the AUT's decision to declare a dispute before its first meeting with employers, its failure to put clear figures on its original single-page official pay claim and its failure to prepare properly for potential pay docking for their industrial action.

The document quotes a former Natfhe senior official saying: "The deal (13.1 per cent over three years) was the most embarrassing one I've ever been associated with... I think if lay members had known how flaky the discussion on strategy and tactics were, they'd have been shocked... Maybe with hindsight we should have forced these problems into the open, but... until we have the discussion we'll struggle to mobilise members again."

Ms Hunt said: "I helped create the UCU to overcome tensions between the AUT and Natfhe, which had been exploited by the employers over many decades.

"Members voted for the new union and constitution in large numbers. Now my focus is on our shared future, not our divided past. The UCU has the opportunity to establish itself as the independent voice of our profession, but we have to stop rerunning age-old arguments."

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