THE LEFT dominated the annual conference of Natfhe, the university and college lecturers' union. Delegates felt lifted by the recent experience of the anti-war movement. This fed into overwhelming opposition to New Labour's policies on every front and larger than usual meetings for Rank and File, Stop the War Coalition and the Socialist Alliance.
These fringe meetings attracted over 60 people each. Michael Lavalette, newly elected Socialist Alliance councillor in Preston, spoke at the Socialist Alliance meeting, where there was huge debate. Most people agreed the alliance now had a real chance to grow. Peter Jones from Burnley College spoke of the despair in the town that had led to the Nazi BNP's election successes.
He contrasted that with the hope offered by the Socialist Alliance victory in Preston, which is also in Lancashire. During a conference debate speakers called for a massive trade union mobilisation to counter the BNP. Delegates also resolved to maintain the union's support for the Stop the War Coalition.
The conference also agreed a motion to end the occupation of Iraq. An amendment was successfully added which called for Tony Blair to be replaced as prime minister. In the debates on the war Natfhe president Gerard Kelly called Bush and Blair's stated reasons for occupying Iraq 'absolute crap'.
General secretary Paul Mackney attacked Gordon Brown for giving a 'blank cheque' for the war while restricting funds for education. Mackney added, 'If governments underinvest in education or health the service begins to suffer. Those holding everything together with sticking plaster are set impossible targets and then blamed for failure while the corporate vultures circle overhead.'
Delegates voted to send a delegation of ten members to the European Social Forum in November. Every Natfhe activist can use the energy of the anti-war movement to strengthen the union in their college in the other battles we face. The conference divided in two to discuss issues in the further education (FE) and university (HE) sectors.
There was a major debate among FE delegates over how to ensure we get a far better deal over pay than we got after strike action was called off this year. HE delegates voted to campaign against the government's white paper on universities. This will introduce top-up fees and pave the way for cuts and attacks in the name of modernisation.
Jeannie Robinson from the East Midlands spoke in practical terms about building campaigns now over these threats. There is also a major attack in the guise of job evaluation, which is being negotiated with employers over the summer.
The seemingly harmless scheme in fact opens the door to performance related pay. Branches will have to start preparing for industrial action over the pay package.
Geoff Brown and Roger Smith