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Theologians join university strikes over pensions, casual work, and pay-cuts

29 November 2019


Part of the strike outside the University of Glasgow, on Monday

Part of the strike outside the University of Glasgow, on Monday

THEOLOGY lecturers are among tens of thousands of university staff who have gone on strike over pensions, an increase in casual work and low-hour contracts, and pay cuts.

The strike began on Monday and will continue into next week. There is also the threat of a second strike in the new year.

Speaking on Tuesday, the St Hilda Associate Professor of Catholic Social Thought and Practice at Durham University Dr Anna Rowlands, said that she was striking because she was “concerned about the growth of a neoliberal market model in universities which is creating and entrenching structural inequalities in our sector”.

The University and College Union (UCU) said that strikes were under way at 60 universities across the country.

The Shadow Education Secretary, Angela Rayner, said on Monday that the Labour Party would “end the scandal of chancellors’ getting extortionate pay while people at the other end of the pay-scale have to use foodbanks, which is absolutely disgusting and disgraceful”.

Dr Rowlands said: “Junior academics face long periods on hourly contracts, zero-hours contracts, and bear the brunt of growing casualisation. Our pensions are also in a perilous state.

“There remain identified gender and ethnic pay gaps that universities need to address, too. I hold one of the most privileged posts in academia: I have an endowed permanent post, so although my pension will be affected, my principal reason for striking is in solidarity with my junior colleagues negotiating casualisation.

“Universities are places for thinking with excellence, and no one gains when the whole sector experiences chronic pressure. These are not the conditions for good thought, and so we undermine our core project as we undermine the human beings who make it work.”

There were solidarity demonstrations by students at universities including Manchester and Bristol on Monday. Some academics on low-hour contracts have been threatened that they will not be paid if they do not work their contracted hours during the strike.

Dr Rowlands said: “My students have accepted the strike action and some have actively supported us, knowing that the market place we operate in as academics is also the market place they are about to enter themselves.”

She said that more theologians would be on strike this week, after they returned from the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature, in San Diego.

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