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Andrew Price

NATFHE conference:

Defend Education – Fight New Labour’s Attacks

(May 2003)

From The Socialist, No. 301, 24 May 2003.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

NATFHE, THE trade union organising lecturing staff in further education (FE) colleges and new universities in England and Wales has its conference this weekend.

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 decentpay 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.

Andrew Price was a national executive council (NEC) member of NATFHE, representing FE Wales

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