Strikers at the National Gallery marked their 100th strike day with a day of action called by the TUC today, Thursday. PCS leader Mark Serwotka said pressure from the strike and the support mean ongoing talks could be “moving towards a settlement”.
More than 100 people gathered outside the gallery in Trafalgar Square, central London, for a rally this afternoon.
Victimised PCS union rep Candy Udwin told the rally, “Today we’re celebrating the fantastic solidarity we’ve had from people up and down the country who have kept the strike going.”
The strikers were joined by supporters from a number of different unions and campaigns, including the NUJ, Unison, UCU and NUT unions.
They were also joined by striking traffic wardens from Camden and the artist Peter Kennard.
NUT general secretary Christine Blower joined the rally. She said, “It is in solidarity that we celebrate what you’ve been doing today.
“It is in this country a proud thing that we can stand with each other on picket lines and at events like this.”
Supporters across the country also took action in solidarity with the gallery strikers today.
PCS members and other supporters in Leeds protested outside Leeds Art Gallery this afternoon.
And trade unionists have been organising to make donations to the workers’ strike fund.
The Unison union’s Transport for Greater Manchester branch donated £100. Meanwhile members of the UCU lecturers’ union in Dundee raised more than £90 with a collection at a union meeting.
Candy said the strike has only been able to last so long “because of the 130,000 people who’ve signed our petition, the fantastic support we’ve had from the trade unions, the TUC giving us backing and backing today’s action.”
She added, “We need a national movement not just against privatisation but because there are far too many discussions about bringing in charges for people to visit museums and galleries.
“York art gallery has already brought in charges. Southampton art gallery is talking about selling paintings because of the cuts in their funding.
“So we have a big task in this country not just to oppose the austerity measure that we’re facing but to celebrate and promote free art and culture for ordinary people, not just for the people who can afford them.”
The gallery workers have been fighting against privatisation at the gallery since January of this year. They have been on all out strike since the middle of August.
Their 100th strike day came yesterday, Wednesday.
Some 300 gallery jobs were outsourced to private security firm Securitas in a privatisation deal signed in August.
The strikers are now fighting to secure their terms and conditions before Securitas take over in November.
Speaking at today’s rally, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said, “This strike is the most important dispute currently taking place in Britain.
“If you think about what’s at stake, it is everything that we should hold dear and everything that we are prepared to fight for.”
The strikers they are also demanding Candy’s reinstatement.
She was suspended by gallery management before the first walkout in January then sacked in May.
Bosses had accused Candy of breaching confidentiality for drafting a question for a PCS official about the cost of hiring private security firm CIS.
CIS security guards had been brought in to run services in the gallery’s Sainsbury wing.
Serwotka said, “When management victimise union reps they do it for a reason. They want the workforce to know that they can do anything to them that they like.
“So when we stand up for Candy it’s not just because she should have her job back. It’s because of the signal it sends.
“Can they intimidate and weaken the unions? Or do we say, united we stand, divided we fall? In this dispute our members have said, united we stand.”
Talks between gallery bosses and PCS officials are still ongoing. But the strike has had a clear effect – forcing at least half of the rooms in the gallery to close.
Strikers and PCS officials are hopeful that an agreement will be reached soon.
Serwotka said, “I’m delighted to say to you that we have finally got a set of discussions with the new director that can allow us to be hopeful that we are now moving towards a settlement that all of us will find acceptable.
“But there can be no settlement without decent wages, without job security for the staff, without people being respected for what they do and without Candy being allowed to get her job back.”
And Candy added, “With the talks going on over the last few weeks we are hopeful that it will not take another 100 days before we resolve the dispute.
“We hope that we can win and we hope that will be soon. If we can win something real here by showing that strike action works that will be a victory not just for us but for everybody in this country who wants to see a movement.”