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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test