Strikers at the National Gallery in London celebrated 50 days of strikes against privatisation on Monday—and could be headed for all-out action in August.
The PCS union members were voting in a consultative ballot on escalating the action as Socialist Worker went to press. It was due to close on Thursday of this week.
Workers at the publicly-owned gallery are fighting plans to outsource 400 of its 600 staff to a private company.
They are also demanding the reinstatement of victimised PCS rep Candy Udwin. She was suspended ahead of the first strike in January and sacked in May.
Their 50th strike day on Monday was also the first of a three-day strike.
Speaking at the picket line, Candy said, “I want to say well done to everyone who has been out here striking. Striking for 50 days is not an easy thing to do.”
The three-day strike follows a 72-hour walkout last week. Strikers plan to walk out every week until mid August, when they will begin their indefinite action if the ballot returns a yes vote.
The strikes combine with protests and lobbies in a strategy of putting pressure on National Gallery trustees.
Strikers and their supporters planned to lobby Candy’s appeal hearing at the gallery from 8am on Wednesday of this week.
Gallery bosses accused Candy of breaching confidentiality when she drafted a question for the union that asked about the cost of hiring private security firm CIS.
CIS security guards have been brought in to take over services in the gallery’s Sainsbury Wing.
But a court ruling has said that Candy was acting legitimately as a trade union rep. And it said a full employment tribunal would likely rule that it was not reasonable for bosses to accuse Candy of gross misconduct. This shows the strength of her case.
Outgoing gallery director Nicholas Penny, was set to chair Candy’s appeal, but gallery trustees replaced him with an outsider not agreed by the union.
The strikers also lobbied a trustees’ meeting on Thursday of last week. They were joined by two victimised Sotheby’s workers (see page 19) and film director Ken Loach.
And around 20 of the strikers’ supporters held a flash mob protest inside the Sainsbury Wing last Friday.
They unfurled a banner that read “No privatisation, no victimisation—reinstate Candy” and they chanted “Privatisation, no way—National Gallery here to stay”.
The strikers have proved they have widespread support. They’ve collected more than £50,000 for the strike fund from trade unionists and supporters across Britain.
And the campaign has already had some success.
Bosses were forced to pay the gallery workers the London Living Wage in April.
And Nicholas Penny performed a spectacular U-turn earlier this month when he said in an interview, “I would very much prefer to keep all the gallery assistants as part of the gallery.”
As the gallery’s director he had been the one to approve the privatisation. Strikers plan to protest outside Penny’s leaving party in the Sainsbury wing this Thursday.
The plan is to keep up the pressure on incoming director Gabriele Finaldi—who takes over as director next month.
If strikers vote for it, the all-out strike will be timed to coincide with his appointment.
Speaking at the lobby last Thursday Candy said, “If the new director thinks he is going to avoid taking responsibility for the future of the gallery, he is wrong.
“PCS members are in the process of voting for all-out strike action to start in the middle of August. So far the vote has been to overwhelmingly support that.”
All-out action is the strongest card in the strikers’ hands. After hearing of the victory of the Glasgow homelessness caseworkers, Candy told pickets, “This shows that it is possible to win—that indefinite strikes are the way to go.”