Real Lives: Union man Ronnie set to retire after 17 years at helm

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WEST Lothian teacher Ronnie Smith is set to retire after 17 years as General Secretary of Scotland’s largest education union.

The 60-year-old, originally from Shetland, will stand down in March 2012 – much to the dismay of his colleagues at the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS).

EIS President Alan Munro said: “I, and many other colleagues, will miss the wise counsel which he has generously given, with great professionalism and humanity. His experience and quiet personal style have been very much appreciated by all who have worked closely with him over the years.”

Mr Smith became a teacher of Latin and Modern Studies in 1973, working in West Lothian schools for 15 years.

A long-time supporter of trade unions, Mr Smith became a member of the EIS in 1973, joining the staff in 1988 as assistant secretary.

Taking his position as General Secretary in 1995 after seven years at the union, he immediately became vocal on issues felt to be unjust for both teachers and students.

He had two children with his wife Mae, who was also a teacher in the area.

Mr Munro added: “Ronnie Smith worked in senior positions within the EIS for 24 years and spent 17 years as General Secretary. He has made an immense contribution to the EIS, as well as to national and international education.

“He is greatly respected within the world of education and the wider trade union movement.”

Mr Smith was a key player in the formulation of an agreement following the McCrone Review in 2001, which guaranteed teachers in Scotland ten years of job security and high standards of professional benefits.

He is said to be delighted at the recent resurgence of trade union action, regarding it as even more important in modern times.

When he supported the recent teacher’s strike, the largest in 25 years, Mr Smith argued that “the patience of teachers and lecturers has been exhausted”.

“It is even more important that teachers and public sector workers support and join their trade unions at this time of government cut-backs and attacks from the right-wing press.”

Mr Smith’s activism is not confined to the EIS. He is also a member of the West Lothian Local Association and spent five years as president of Education International Europe, where he was able to influence international teacher trade unionism.

A Livingston fan, Mr Smith has said that he looks forward to visiting his farm in Shetland and spending more time with family, but insists he will retain strong ties with his current home of West Lothian by continuing to support his favourite football club.

Mr Munro added: “All at the EIS wish Ronnie a very long and happy retirement”.