Members of the PCS Union, working at the National Gallery have called an indefinite strike, in a dispute over privatisation. They first walked out in February over plans to privatise visitor and security services and have already taken a total of 55 days’ action. About 200 members of the Public and Commercial Services union began the action today. The National Gallery, one of the most popular museums in the world, stated; “As much of the venue as possible will stay open, but access to some areas would be limited”.
The Union said the action was against plans to privatise 400 visitor services roles and the dismissal of union rep Candy Udwin, who was accused of sharing information about the use of a private security firm. The action is being escalated because the gallery has brought forward the announcement of the appointment of private security firm Securitas to manage the visitor-facing and security services on a 5-year contract reportedly worth £40million. About 300 gallery assistants who guard paintings and help visitors will be affected. They will no longer be employed by the gallery and will instead work for Securitas.
PCS industrial officer Paul Bemrose said: “The mood on the picket line today was upbeat and members are feeling positive. There was a picket line of about 30 members and we have heard that more rooms inside the Gallery have been closed than on previous strike days.”
Lead rep Candy Udwin was suspended on the eve of the strike and then sacked. While her colleagues at the gallery were out in force today on the picket lines in Trafalgar Square, she was attending an appeal hearing with gallery management. Earlier an employment tribunal interim relief judgement ruled that it was likely she had been unfairly dismissed for trade union activities.
Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leadership contender, sent a message of support, saying: “National Gallery workers have been forced to take this action because of the intransigence of management. These low-paid workers are proud public servants and don’t want their jobs sold off. “The management of the National Gallery must reinstate Candy Udwin and call off plans to privatise the staff who look after our cultural assets. I urge the incoming director, Gabriele Finaldi, to meet with the union and resolve this dispute.”
Many solidarity messages were also sent on Twitter, including from other PCS branches but also from members and officials of other unions including BECTU, Unison and Unite.
PCS is paying strike pay of 50% to the striking members, but many are still facing hardship. You can help the campaign in a number of ways by:organising a collection at your workplace.