Workers at the National Gallery in central London began an all-out strike on Tuesday of this week.
They are fighting to defend their terms and conditions after a privatisation deal saw as many as 300 gallery jobs outsourced to private security firm Securitas on Monday.
The members of the PCS union had been battling to stop the privatisation from going through since January. The start of the all-out strike on Tuesday marked their 57th strike day.
The fact that the deal has gone through is a setback. The strikers had originally expected the privatisation deal to be signed at the end of this month or the beginning of September.
But with some 30 people on the picket line this Tuesday, the strikers showed they are determined to fight on in the wake of the selloff.
The National Gallery has said that outsourced staff would keep the same terms and conditions as when they were directly employed.
But new workers taken on by Securitas could be hired on worse conditions.
The Securitas website points out that “private security companies are able to pay their staff at a lower rate” than public sector workers.
The private security company also requires its employees to train for a bouncer’s license.
And there is no guarantee that workers outsourced to Securitas won’t be transferred to another workplace outside the gallery.
The privatisation deal was also signed on the same day that sacked PCS union rep Candy Udwin’s appeal hearing resumed.
Candy’s appeal hearing began last month, but was adjourned when the chair agreed that the gallery had not given PCS the proper notice.
The appeal resumed on Monday of this week and was ongoing as Socialist Worker went to press.
Candy was suspended ahead of the gallery workers’ first walkout in January, then sacked in May.
Her reinstatement has been a key demand at the heart of the dispute.
Gallery bosses had hoped to put an end to the dispute by forcing the privatisation through as quickly as possible.
But the gallery workers responded by voting overwhelmingly to bring their all-out strike forward. The strike was initially set to begin on Monday of next week.
The fact that they forced gallery bosses to pay the London Living Wage in April proves that they have the power to win the demands they make of Securitas.
Speaking at the picket line on Tuesday, Michael Bradley from Unite the Resistance said, “It’s a big thing to go on all-out strike.
“It’s important to see that this is something that’s winnable.”
The strike will also keep up the pressure on new director Gabriele Finaldi, who will be in the gallery from next week, to intervene.
Finaldi has still not responded to PCS requests for talks through conciliation service Acas.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said, “We had asked the new director to step in to resolve this dispute before taking over but now his first week will be greeted by a continuous strike.”
The strikers have received widespread support from trade unions and campaigns.
Ronnie Draper, general secretary of the Bfawu union, and Rosa Pavanelli from the international public sector union group PSI both joined the picket line on Tuesday.
Labour MP John McDonnell also sent a message of solidarity. And Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn has visited pickets.
But the strikers are in urgent need of support if they are to carry on fighting—they cannot be left to fight alone.
They are calling on different trade unions to pick a day to organise solidarity around. This could mean visiting the picket line, collecting at work or sending messages of solidarity.
A victory for the gallery workers will prove that it is possible to resist the wider Tory attacks on workers and trade unions.
Ronnie Draper said, “The Tories economic miracle has always been based on privatisation and screwing workers. We’ve got to make sure that we win this.
“You can win this dispute—you will win this dispute”.
Visit the picket lines from 9-11am every day and 5-6.30pm on Fridays.
Contact strikers at [email protected]
Visit the facebook page No Privatisation at the National Gallery