National Gallery workers take action for living wage

Submitted by Matthew on 27 May, 2010 - 12:02 Author: A PCS activist and Gallery Worker

A joint two-hour walkout was staged by PCS members working in the National Gallery and the National Gallery Company (a “front” retail company at the Gallery) in a protest over poverty pay on Thursday 13 May.

Gallery warders had previously voted overwhelmingly to reject a 2009 pay offer which does not even guarantee the London Living Wage (currently £7.60). Most workers are earning just below £15k, and this current action marks the continuation of an effective series of short walkouts which have temporarily closed most of the galleries in recent months.

PCS members in the fledgling NG Company section had also unanimously rejected their 2010 pay offer which, whilst conceding the London Living wage level, meant no rise for supervisors and only an uplift of £156.38 a year for the retail workforce.

The picket line and rally were notable for the presence of a smattering of PCS Executive members and full-time officers, but more remarkable still for the lively, carnival-like atmosphere generated by the 50 or so striking rank and file members. A combined force of the two sections (gallery warders and retail workers) waved flags and placards, sang songs and chanted their disapproval of the insulting pay offers and bullying antics of their shop management, even going so far as to name and shame them, as the mobile picket line marched from the main steps to the Sainsbury Wing entrance, and back again.

Gallery workers swapped stories, informed curious bystanders as to the reasons for their protest and compared notes with reps from Tate Britain, who were in attendance to show solidarity with fellow “culture” workers. The overwhelming feeling from the assembled strikers was that there were more disputes and actions to come, not just over local pay and conditions, but over the £6 billion worth of public sector cuts due to start in the coming weeks.

The most surreal point of the afternoon arrived toward the close of the action when a red, Chanel-suited Tory Baroness type, replete with brushed-back, blonde barnet, mounted the steps of the main entrance; hushed the strikers’ songs and chants; and then — just as everyone expected a vicious tirade against the unions holding the country to ransom and restricting her access to her favourite Titian — proceeded to praise the walk-out and wish the workers “every success in your fight for fair pay. You must carry on until you win. Good luck to you all!”

When asked who this blue-blooded sympathiser was, a striking Gallery warder responded: “She’s one of the guides, and she definitely doesn’t have to worry about the London Living Wage!”

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