Socialist Worker

Strikers at National Gallery take on the union-busters

by Annette Mackin
Issue No. 2440

workers mount a picket line in front of the National Gallery last Tuesday

Workers mount a picket line in front of the National Gallery last Tuesday (Pic: Guy Smallman)


National Gallery workers in London completed a five-day strike last Saturday.

Gallery bosses want to privatise 400 out of 600 jobs. They have also backed off from promises to pay the London Living Wage, meaning that the National Gallery is the only London gallery that doesn’t pay it.

On the eve of the strike, bosses suspended PCS union rep Candy Udwin in an attempt to undermine the walkout.

But it backfired, as more than 8,000 people have now signed a statement calling for her immediate reinstatement. And it has made gallery workers more determined to resist privatisation. 

Bosses have tried to gag workers from speaking out. But one worker said, “We talked to management to try and get the best possible settlement, but they will not negotiate with us. 

“They want to tell us what they want and for us to agree with it. They are trying to destabilise the union and want to cut out the union completely. 

“This is the first step in us saying we’re not going to accept it. We’re going to fight it and carry on fighting it.”

The gallery’s board of trustees include former Bank of England governor Mervyn King and billionaire hedge fund manager Sir Michael Hintze.

Candy (left) with PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka

Candy (left) with PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Candy was suspended pending investigation for allegedly supplying information about the costs of using CIS to a PCS full time official.

Those who have signed the petition for her reinstatement include left wing Labour MPs Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, journalist Polly Toynbee, NUT deputy general secretary Kevin Courtney and Prospect union national secretary Alan Leighton.

Solid

The strike was solid, with most of the gallery shut down throughout the walkout. 

On Thursday some 150 strikers and supporters marched down Whitehall to confront gallery boss Sir Mark Getty with a petition against privatisation signed by 40,000 people. 

His security chief Andy Baxter took it instead.

Thousands of donations have poured in from PCS branches and other unions for the strike fund. 

V&A Museum workers, Homerton Hospital Unison, Unison housing stewards and King’s College Unison have all made donations.

And on the last day of the present round of strikes, 

strikers went to Dulwich Picture Gallery to support workers whose jobs are under threat.

Talks at the Acas conciliation service are timetabled for this week. But no date was confirmed as Socialist Worker went to press.

Workers are clear that the fight against privatisation and the fight to reinstate Candy are interlinked—and that further action is necessary to win.

A branch meeting is set for this week, and more strikes are likely if bosses refuse to back down on either.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka came to the picket lines last Saturday and told them there could be no just settlement without Candy’s reinstatement.


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