Obituary: Peter Dawson

Eloquent head of the teaching union Natfhe

PETER DAWSON became head of a teaching union just as the Thatcher years began, and millions of pounds of cuts in education were announced. His tenure as General Secretary of the university and college lecturers' union Natfhe was to coincide with the Iron Lady's reign. He was always exceptionally proud that, while Margaret Thatcher put unprecedented pressure on trade unions, Natfhe maintained its principles and managed to increase its members while other unions saw their numbers drop.

Born in 1940 in Swansea, Peter Dawson went to grammar school there before moving on to University College, Swansea, to do a degree in science and a diploma in education. Aged 22, he landed his first teaching job at Chiswick Grammar School but in 1965 left the classroom to take up his first role in the education union movement.

He started as a field officer for the NUT and quickly progressed to senior level. In 1969, he moved to the Association of Teachers in Technical Institutions (ATTI) to be its assistant secretary. It was a milestone year for the association as it held its first mass lobby of Parliament.

Also that year, ATTI hit the headlines because it was embroiled in a battle that attracted high-profile supporters including John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Several full-time lecturers from Guildford School of Art were sacked for "professional misconduct" after they raised concerns about a proposed amalgamation with another college. After a three-year campaign, which saw 11,000 people sign a petition, in 1971 Surrey Local Education Authority agreed to re-employ the lecturers.

Before he could catch his breath, Dawson was embroiled in another high- profile and sensational case. Birmingham Education Authority tried to sack a college lecturer after discovering she had featured naked carrying out a sex act in an educational film. When the film, Growing Up, was broadcast in 1971, Jennifer Muscutt was a member of staff at Garretts Green Technical College. Even though she had taken part in the film two years before, she was suspended from her post and the city's further education (FE) sub-committee decided to dismiss her.

Dawson argued the case was one of civil liberties and deserved a "complete and proper defence". He emphasised that the film was legal and had no connection with Muscutt's work in FE. His eloquent defence worked and the education committee finally agreed to re-employ her. In May that year, ATTI insisted its members should be allowed to "express and act upon their social, moral, religious and political views without restraint, provided this is done within the framework of legality".

By 1972, ATTI was the fastest-growing union in Britain as the FE sector expanded beyond its traditional subjects of engineering, technology and construction, to include social sciences and general studies. Through the early 1970s, ATTI supported NUT strikes, as well as having its own industrial action over an allowance for London lecturers.

In 1974, Dawson became negotiating secretary at ATTI and had the satisfaction of seeing his hard work pay off when the Houghton Committee delivered its biggest ever hike to teachers' salaries: 26 per cent. He also played a key role in the negotiations and backroom work that culminated in the first national agreement on conditions of service.

Dawson was appointed in 1979 to the position of General Secretary at Natfhe (the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education) which had been created four years earlier out of a merger of ATTI and ATCDE - the Association of Teachers in Colleges and Departments of Education. In May, the Thatcher government was elected and made immediate budget cuts of pounds 55m in education, threatening 15,000 jobs in FE. It was through this difficult era of attacks on public spending, cuts in public services and curbs on trade-union rights that Dawson steered the union. He played his part in leading the union into a different, more collective leadership, engaging both the lay activists and the growing cadre of full-time officials.

In 1989, Conservative legislation imposed regular membership elections for general secretaries on unions and Dawson lost office to Geoff Woolf. When a kindly member observed that, as the first professional national trade-union official to lose office under the new rules, he would now be guaranteed a footnote in the history books, Dawson drily responded that was not quite how he wished to be immortalised.

He continued at Natfhe as Assistant Secretary, with responsibility for pensions, and was later seconded half-time to Brussels as General Secretary of the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE) - the leading voice of post-school teachers in Europe. In 1991, Dawson, a natural communicator with a fantastic memory for names, faces and facts, and a genuine internationalist, became General Secretary of ETUCE and then went on to work for the newly founded global union federation Education International, which was in its fledgling years. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, he worked on the growth of EI in Eastern European countries and raised its membership from 30 to upwards of 45 states.

Since 1998, Dawson had acted as the London-based consultant to the EI General Secretary. Back at home, he couldn't resist the lure of UK politics and so became a Labour Party councillor at Lewisham, south-east London, where he lived.

Joseph Peter Dawson, trade unionist: born Swansea 18 March 1940; Vice- President, National Union of Students 1962-64, Senior Treasurer 1965-68; Field Officer, NUT 1965, Senior Field Officer 1966; Assistant Secretary, ATTI 1969, Negotiating Secretary 1974; Negotiating Secretary, Natfhe 1976, General Secretary 1979-89, Assistant Secretary (Pensions and Membership Services) and International Representative 1989-93; Chairman, Higher Education Working Group, ETUCE 1989-93, General Secretary 1991-93; Co-ordinator for Europe, Education International 1993-98, Consultant 1998-2005; married 1964 Yvonne Smith (one son, one daughter); died London 19 January 2005.

Arts and Entertainment
books
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
people
Voices
Nigel Farage arrives for a hustings event at The Oddfellows Hall in Ramsgate on Tuesday
voicesA defection that shows who has the most to fear from the rise of Ukip
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Life and Style
Brave step: A live collection from Alexander McQueen whose internet show crashed because of high demand
fashionAs the collections start, Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Graduate C#.NET Developer (TDD, ASP.NET, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Graduate C#.NET Developer (TDD, ASP.NET, SQL) Su...

Junior SQL DBA (SQL Server 2012, T-SQL, SSIS) London - Finance

£30000 - £33000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior SQL DBA...

C# Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, MVC-4, HTML5) London

£35000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Web Develop...

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution