THE ANNUAL conference last weekend of the lecturers' union Natfhe clearly demonstrated widespread anger over Labour's policies. Natfhe has conspicuously supported the Stop the War Coalition. This was reflected in a series of motions which condemned the brutal treatment of Iraqi prisoners and civilians as well as the obscene levels of war funding.
Respect candidates Janet Alder and Michael Lavalette spoke to over 60 delegates at a fringe meeting. Both described why a massive vote for Respect on 10 June is so important if pressure on Blair's warmongering government is to be maintained. Janet was given a standing ovation at the further education (FE) sector conference after speaking about how her brother Christopher had died in police custody in Hull and how a six-year cover-up had been organised.
A motion calling on Natfhe to welcome Respect attracted 40 percent of all delegates voting. Respect members and supporters were able to demonstrate how it is the best prospect for years for trade unionists and that it will be on branch agendas in the future.
Conference was dominated by the issues of democracy and the use of the political fund. Direct elections of delegates from branches, rather than regions, is to be discussed over the year ahead.
This started from a leadership attempt to marginalise regional activists after they voted down pay deals at the FE and higher education (HE) pay conferences last autumn. This has backfired. It now looks as though a less bureaucratic and more democratic structure will emerge.
Natfhe's decision on the political fund is a breakthrough opportunity to discuss political engagement by the union. The union is to investigate and develop much stronger relationships with political organisations rather than just using the political fund money for campaigns.
On industrial matters conference overwhelmingly approved increasing the level of the strike fund by removing the £500,000 cap, thus making long term strike support more likely. In the FE sector conference delegates toughened the stance on performance-related pay, closing off the avenue of backdoor agreements.
Conference also demanded that college bosses are no longer able to opt out of national pay deals. Delegates voted for the union to refuse to ratify any future deals unless they are applied to all FE colleges.
In HE, delegates passed a motion against the national leadership's attempts to sideline elected negotiators in deciding pay offers.
Angry NATFHE members, students and teachers from other colleges gathered outside West Herts college on Wednesday of last week. They were protesting against the refusal of the principal, Tony Pitcher, to negotiate with the union over threatened redundancies.
Paul Mackney, general secretary of Natfhe, explained how the college had now agreed to 'consult' the union because of their protest action. Union members talk about a 'climate of fear' in the college. Staff are being forced to apply for their own jobs. The college nursery faces closure.