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NATFHE conference: Defend Education Fight New Labour's Attacks
NATFHE, THE trade union organising lecturing staff in further education (FE) colleges and new universities in England and Wales has its conference this weekend.
Andrew Price, national executive council (NEC) member, FE Wales
The war with Iraq has had a huge impact on consciousness and social relationships. From the outset the union played an important and very principled role, affiliating to the Stop the War Coalition, with union members prominent in the mass anti-war demonstrations.
Prior to the outbreak of war, general secretary Paul Mackney, along with Mick Rix of ASLEF, argued on the TUC general council that the TUC should co-ordinate strike action against war. The day after war broke out, the Equality Committee of the NEC accepted my proposal calling for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Iraq; supporting NATFHE members and other trade unionists for walking out of their workplaces in protest and congratulating all students who had walked out of schools and colleges.
Contrary to the arguments of sections of NATFHE's right wing, the issue of war is a crucial question for all trade unionists. The general secretary and the NEC's position accurately reflected members' views, particularly the active membership.
Conference must ensure that there is no doubt on this question by passing the emergency motion from Wales, which endorses the above position and condemns the TUC for failing to mobilise strike action.
On members' pay and conditions, big issues will be debated. In higher education our members struggle in a severely underfunded sector. The university sector has been badly let down by New Labour.
Tuition fees and top-up fees obstruct working-class students' entry to university. But they also fail abysmally to provide the funding for decent pay and working conditions for our members and to provide quality education.
Charles Clarke, Margaret Hodge and the rest are being outflanked by the Tories, with the hypocritical call by Duncan-Smith to abolish tuition fees.
The problem will not be resolved, as the Tories claim, by reducing the number of students going to university. Nor will it be resolved within a tax system defended by capitalist parties such as the Tories and New Labour, which treats the very rich more leniently than almost anywhere in the capitalist world.
In further education, for the first time pay negotiations are being conducted separately in England and Wales. Despite a pay deal rewarding lower-paid members more than others in Wales, members in both England and Wales are off target for pay parity with school teachers by next year.
The employers are evidently opposed to this moderate demand. If we are to achieve parity it will not be through 'partnership' with either the employers or New Labour. Past experience shows that strike action is the only language that such people understand.
This conference must be prepared to put this to our members, accepting that if we go up this road NATFHE must give adequate financial support to our members on strike.
College bosses attack pay and conditions
AS NATFHE gears up its campaign for pay equality with school teachers, Further Education (FE) college management are stepping up their attacks on local pay and conditions.
Nick Chaffey spoke to NATFHE activists at Southampton City College
Nowhere can this be seen more than at Southampton City College which has been in dispute with NATFHE members over the last two years. It is an urgent task for NATFHE to link these local disputes and build effective national action as part of the national campaign on pay.
Like many FE colleges, Southampton faces a budget crisis bought on by the failure of central government to provide adequate funding. To balance the books this has meant putting the educational needs of students second and making the workforce, both lecturers and support staff, foot the bill.
This has meant a failure to implement the 2001/2 pay award and a refusal to pay the 3.5% award for 2002/3. In addition, many part-time lecturers suffered a 30% pay cut last year and management are attempting to push a group of IT lecturers onto non-lecturing contracts in order to cut their hourly rate even further.
The union has taken a determined stance on these issues, organising local strikes as part of the campaign. Membership has grown and management find it increasingly difficult to get their own way.
This has led to increasingly sour relations between staff and management and a wave of grievance and disciplinary procedures have followed. The union has more than demonstrated its role as the only force in the college capable of defending the interests of staff and the educational needs of the students.
However, senior management have continued to reward themselves with outrageous salaries. During the strike last year the college Principal claimed she was only on £75k!
Meanwhile, the governing body has now taken the ludicrous decision to sell part of the college site, after arguing for years that it needed to expand, once again a decision driven by short-term financial need.
NATFHE members and activists at colleges such as Southampton City have led the way in building the union and campaigning for better pay.
This year's conference needs to take decisive steps to support these activists and build for national strike action to achieve pay parity with school teachers and reverse the years of decline following incorporation in 1992.
In The Socialist 24 May 2003: