No privatisation at the National Gallery!

by New Worker correspondent

STAFF at London’s National Gallery last Thursday staged a Day of Action and a seven-day strike in the last week of March in their long-running battle against privatisation.

The National Gallery has told 400 of its 600 staff that they are to be taken over by a private company. They are responsible for the security of the paintings and the public and look after millions of visitors.

The National Gallery is the only major museum that does not pay the London living wage.

More than 40,000 people have signed a petition in support of the campaign, run by civil service union PCS, to stop the privatisation.

The workers have already taken strike action on several occasions and in February they were on strike for five days.

The dispute escalated when union representative Candy Udwin, who was involved in talks at the conciliation service Acas, was suspended on the eve of the strike.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “With this privatisation plan, the National Gallery is putting its well-earned worldwide reputation at risk.

“Its decision to suspend one of our senior reps is a disproportionate and unfathomable act of bad faith and not only should she be reinstated immediately, gallery officials must commit to reopening full and proper negotiations.”

More than 8,500 people have signed a petition demanding her reinstatement.

A National Gallery spokesperson said all planned education events had been cancelled or rescheduled due to the action.

Last week the union launched a People’s Inquiry into the running of the gallery in Parliament. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka was joined by Green Party spokesperson for culture, media and sport, Martin Dobson and employment rights lawyer John Hendy QC, to call on the gallery to halt its privatisation plans.

A message of support was sent by shadow culture minister Chris Bryant on behalf of Labour who raised concern over the ongoing dispute which they acknowledged is “damaging the reputation of the gallery, is undermining the morale among staff and is inconveniencing the public.” They also called for staff to be paid equitably, on at least the Living Wage.

Lunchtime protests took place across the country on the Day of Action outside cultural institutions in solidarity with National Gallery. The protest in London was followed by the handing in of a letter at Downing Street urging the current Prime Minister to intervene to ensure the plans are delayed at least until the next government and the incoming director have had a chance to review them.