Socialist Worker

All out for the National Gallery

by Nick Clark
Issue No. 2464

Some 2,000 protesters joined National Gallery workers for a protest in Trafalgar Square on 30?May this year

Some 2,000 protesters joined National Gallery workers for a protest in Trafalgar Square on 30?May this year (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Workers at the National Gallery have voted overwhelmingly to go on an all-out strike.

The members of the PCS union are set to begin their action on 17 August. The vote saw 99 workers back indefinite action with four against and four abstaining.

The decision marks a significant escalation in the battle against privatisation and victimisation.

Gallery workers have been striking since January against bosses’ plans to privatise 400 out of 600 jobs.

A 24-hour walkout which was set to go ahead on Wednesday of this week will mark their 53rd strike day.

Strikers are also demanding the reinstatement of union rep Candy Udwin. 

Bosses suspended Candy ahead of the workers’ first strike in January and sacked her in May.

They accused her of breaching confidentiality for drafting a question for the union regarding 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.

A court hearing in June granted Candy “interim relief”, which means that the gallery must continue to pay her until a full employment tribunal.

The judge ruled that a full tribunal would likely rule that Candy was acting legitimately as a trade union rep.

Unreasonable

She also said that it was unreasonable to accuse Candy of gross misconduct. 

Candy’s appeal hearing on Wednesday of last week was adjourned as the gallery had not given the union proper notice. It is set to restart early this month.

The vote to go all-out shows that strikers are fighting to win. It should put pressure on incoming gallery director Gabriele Finaldi.

The PCS is contacting Finaldi to ask him to intervene in attempts to bring gallery bosses back to negotiations.

The gallery had not responded to PCS requests for talks through conciliation service Acas as Socialist Worker went to press.

Strikers plan walkouts from Tuesday to Thursday of next week and again on 12 August.

And they were set to hold an “alternative leaving party” for outgoing director Nicholas Penny on Thursday of this week outside the gallery. Penny plans to have his own leaving do inside.

Strikers have won huge support—with thousands of pounds donated to the strike fund.

More than 45,000 people have signed a PCS online petition against the privatisation.

And supporters on National Gallery picket lines have come from a range of different trade unions. 

They have also been joined by two of the sacked Sotheby’s workers, film maker Ken Loach and MPs such as Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn and Green Party leader Natalie Bennett.

Speaking to supporters ahead of her appeal hearing last week, Candy said, “I’ve been overwhelmed by the support I’ve had from the people that I work with. 

“I want to thank all the people from outside the gallery who’ve supported us. 

“That’s what’s kept us going.”

She added, “It shows how people can stand together. When people stand up and fight, people want to support that.”

Strikers are set to hold a planning meeting for the all-out strike on Thursday evening of next week in central London.

Everyone who supports them should attend to discuss how to help them win.

Donate to the strike fund. Account number 20169002, sort code 08 60 01. Cheques to PCS Culture Media and Sport Association, c/o PCS North West Region, Jack Jones House, 1 Islington, Liverpool L3 8EG
Join Nicholas Penny’s alternative leaving party, 30 July, 6pm outside the Sainsbury Wing, National Gallery, central London
For info on how to invite a National Gallery striker to your union meeting, go to ngnotforsale.wordpress.com
Sign the petition against the privatisation at bit.ly/1kELiGx
Sign the petition to reinstate Candy at bit.ly/1CvsMh3 

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