National Gallery workers were celebrating today, Friday, after voting to suspend their all-out strike.
Gallery bosses have conceded to almost all of the strikers’ demands. The gallery has also agreed to reinstate Candy Udwin, who will return to her existing job.
The strike will be suspended pending ministerial approval and a ballot of PCS members over the deal.
One striker told Socialist Worker, “We’ve set a precedent—and shown other people that they can stand up too.”
Today marked the 109th strike day in the PCS union members’ fight against privatisation.
Although the strike did not stop the privatisation, it has secured a number of vital concessions that protect workers’ conditions and their union rights.
Gallery bosses signed a deal with security firm Securitas in August. It means that around two thirds of gallery staff will be outsourced to Securitas when it takes over gallery services in November.
This threatened to erode gallery workers’ terms and conditions as well as their union organisation.
A document on the Securitas website boasts that “private security companies are able to pay their staff at a lower rate” than public sector workers.
But the strike has forced Securitas to agree to recognise PCS in the gallery.
And they have guaranteed that terms and conditions will not be changed without the agreement of the union. They have also won guarantees on rosters and staffing levels.
Securitas have also agreed that new staff will be recruited on terms and conditions “broadly comparable” to those of existing staff. They had already agreed that conditions for existing staff would not change.
Securitas will continue to pay workers the London Living Wage plus enhancements, which they won during the course of their dispute in April.
Strikers were also worried that they would be forced to take training for an SIA security guard’s license. But the agreement means that workers can choose which level of the license they apply for. And there will be support for anyone who cannot complete the training for whatever reason.
Meanwhile gallery bosses have agreed to a review of the privatisation after 12 months.
And there will be an investigation run by the gallery into relations between bosses and workers broke down in the run up to the first strike in January.
But the reinstatement of Candy is one of the biggest victories of the strike. The fact that it was one of the strikers’ key demands is the reason she is getting her job back.
A striker said, “It was very emotional. To have Candy come back was fundamental to the whole campaign.”
The whole agreement is proof that strikes can win.
Some workers feel there is a chance that if they had gone on all-out strike earlier they could have stopped the privatisation entirely.
Strikers had voted to escalate to indefinite strike in August. Gallery bosses headed them off by announcing the deal with Securitas earlier than expected.
But such huge concessions would not have been won without the strikers’ determination to stay out.
And the solidarity they received from supporters across Britain was vital in helping them do that. Now the strikers hope that their example will inspire others to fight and win as they have done.
“We feel like we’ve come a long way,” one striker told Socialist Worker. “But there’s also a feeling we have to take it further—and we are going to take it further. We’re still opposed to the fact that a private company is going to be running the National Gallery.”
The strikers plan to use the support they received to launch a national campaign in defence of museums and galleries. They invite supporters to join them when they walk back into work at the gallery at 9am on Monday.