By Isabel Ringrose
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Liverpool museum strikers fight historic pay injustice

Bosses haven’t coughed up a payment they agreed to give workers
Issue 2894
Big picket line of PCS union members on strike at Liverpool museum

Museum workers exhibit power on the picket line in Liverpool (Picture: Isabel Ringrose)

National Museums of Liverpool (NML) strikers are exhibiting a show of strength against bosses who are refusing to hand over a Covid payment.

The 230 strikers, members of the PCS union, began a lively eight-week strike last Saturday, shutting all but one of NML’s seven museums and galleries.

On their sixth day of action on Thursday, despite the pouring rain, over 50 stood strong outside the Museum of Liverpool.

When its doors opened the strikers, armed with whistles, chants and flags, loudly let management know what they thought of their scabbing. And as museum-goers entered, they were met with cries of, “Don’t do it” and, “Never cross a picket line.” 

PCS rep and branch officer Matt told Socialist Worker that the strikers “are fighting for something we’ve already won”. “We went on strike for three days in January, February and March last year,” he said. “The government offered us a £1,500 one-off payment to acknowledge the struggles we’d been through.

“That was agreed last June—it’s now February and NML has not paid up. We’re standing here with our solid picket lines, fun games, chants and songs to show NML that we’re the ones that make people’s visits.

“We look after priceless objects but the most priceless thing NML has is its staff. It’s time it valued us and treated us with the respect we deserve.”

On the picket line strikers entertain themselves with music, face painting, dressing up and picket games. But despite the fun, they’re angry—and determined to win.

Matt says NML’s refusal to pay is “absolutely disgusting”. “NML is crying about unaffordability,” he said. “But there’s money for podcast series, £40,000 on seasonal parties, to cater for internal meetings and pay an executive team thousands of pounds every month. 

“When we have to stay late, we get an extra payment of £5 for food. Management gets £25. In line with inflation I should have £10,000 more a year than I did four years ago—instead I’m poorer than I ever have been.”

Another striker, who works in site management, gets just £26,000 a year. “It’s tough, especially with inflation,” they told Socialist Worker.  “I can’t afford a holiday even in Britain. We have a lot of responsibility for that much pay—we’re the ones who deal with bomb threats and major incidents.

“I’ve seen it all in this job. We get a lot of people trying to jump into the Mersey River and we deal with this.”

According to NML’s website, director Laura Pye grabbed a salary between £105-110,000 for 2021/22. None of the strikers earn more than £30,000.

“Pye says we get fair pay. She thinks we deserve poverty wages. I’ve got members crumbling Weetabix into Cup-a-Soup at the end of the month because that’s all they can afford at the end of the month. Some are up to their eyes in credit card debt,” Matt added.

“It’s not about affordability, it’s an ideological decision to keep us poor. We survive and they get to thrive—we’ve had enough. We deserve more than that.”

Matt says it’s been months of excuses from management. “We’re more than happy to get round the negotiating table if they offer something other than excuses.

“We all realised during lockdown how important culture was to build morale and keep people going. We kept the show on the road despite Covid and a cost of living crisis on the back of over a decade of Tory austerity and cuts.

“There’s been a constant slashing and lack of respect for culture and heritage.”

But he said the support from across the city has been “phenomenal” from people passing by, other trade unionists and MPs. PCS nationally has also sent national officers and union leaders to the picket lines and is giving strike pay from its communal chest.

“People on the picket line are meeting for the first time too—we’re becoming more of a unit and have a joint WhatsApp group,” Matt explained. “Cleaners or education support workers at different sites wouldn’t usually meet—now we’re fighting together.

“More people joined the union as we were balloting, at least 60. There’s next to no one working.”

As the weeks go on, the strikers will ramp up their action, from targeting director and museum bosses, to exposing management’s failures and finances until they win what’s theirs.

  • Visit pickets outside Museum of Liverpool 8-11am Pier Head, Mann Island, Liverpool L3 1DG
  • Send messages of solidarity to [email protected] and tweet them at @PCSLiverpoolMus

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