Workers at the National Gallery have been on all-out strike for more than a month. The trade union movement now needs to throw its full weight behind the strike.
The strikers’ morale is high. Striking workers and their supporters protested in central London on Thursday of last week, as they handed in a petition to gallery bosses and Tory culture minister Ed Vaizey.
It calls for the National Gallery to remain a public service and for the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee to review the running of the gallery. Over 133,000 people signed it.
Some 100 people gathered outside the gallery in Trafalgar Square to hand bosses a copy of the petition.
They then marched down Whitehall to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to hand in another copy addressed to Vaizey.
The protest came on the gallery workers’ 80th strike day in their fight against privatisation.
Bosses outsourced 300 jobs to private security firm Securitas last month.
But the PCS union members responded with an indefinite walkout, which has closed at least half of the gallery’s rooms.
Workers are striking to maintain their terms and conditions before Securitas takes over in November.
Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn and left wing Labour MP John McDonnell both sent messages of support to Thursday’s protest.
And Guardian newspaper columnist Polly Toynbee joined the protest to hand the petition to gallery bosses.
The huge petition will help pile the pressure on new gallery director Gabriele Finaldi. Talks between Finaldi and the PCS are ongoing.
Bosses sacked PCS rep Candy Udwin on trumped up charges of “gross misconduct” in May.
Candy told the protest, “We are pleased that we have some talks progressing here at the gallery—that is a big step forward.
“If Dr Finaldi thought that it was all going to be over, I’m afraid he got it wrong. We’re still here—we’re still out.
“We’re still fighting against the privatisation but also for guarantees for the staff and for my reinstatement.”
She added, “The responsibility for the mess that is the National Gallery—the demoralisation of the staff and the anger at how it is run—lies with Ed Vaizey.
“The green light for the attacks on our union and victimisation of our reps comes from this government.”
“We’re sure that the privatisation was about attacking our union and our rights. But it hasn’t stopped us from fighting.
“We are going to stay out until we win.”
TUC leaders should launch a solidarity campaign
Strikers on the picket line on each day are joined by delegations of other workers.
For instance last Thursday members of the CWU union brought with them a £250 donation to the strike fund and promises to raise more.
Large donations also came from the Prospect union, the senior civil servants’ FDA union and South East region TUC.
Clara Paillard, PSC union culture sector president said, “We are still there after months of struggle and battle.
“It has inspired people.”
PCS national executive member Kevin McHugh told the protest, “PCS has a proud history of fighting privatisation.
“The national executive will continue to support the dispute at the National Gallery and I’m sure we’ll be able to raise it at this month’s TUC conference.”
The attack on the National Gallery workers is an attack on every trade unionist. Their victory would be a victory for every trade unionist.
Importantly the union leaders need to do their part.
As they gather at the TUC this weekend the least they should do is call a day of action in support of the National Gallery workers’ strike.
What you can do to back the strike
- Donate to the strike fund—Sort code 08 60 01, account no. 20169002. Cheques to PCS Culture Media and Sport Association, c/o PCS North West Region, Jack Jones House, 1 Islington, Liverpool L3 8EG
- Sign the online petition at bit.ly/1kELiGx
- Go to the picket lines at the gallery, every day 9am-11am