Bettina Trabant joined gallery staff and supporters braving the wind and cold for a demonstration against privatisation at the National Gallery.
A group of around 200 angry gallery staff, trade unionists and regular gallery visitors marched from Trafalgar Square to the Department for Culture Media and Sport in Whitehall to hand in a petition containing more than 40000 signatures.
Songs, chanting and speeches accompanied the demo against handing over 400 of the gallery’s 600 staff to private security firm CIS.
Managers and trustees at the gallery are planning to privatise their entire front-of-house operation, gallery assistants, bookings and information services.
Last year managers already brought in private firm CIS to run front-of-house at the gallery’s Sainsbury Wing, “to give the union members a fright” – as they later admitted. There was no consultation or open tendering for this contract, which cost £492,000 of public money.
Today’s rally was part of a five-day strike by PCS members at the gallery against the privatisation of the front-line operation, where knowledgeable, trained art-lovers are to be replaced by security guards.
While CIS ran the Sainsbury Wing last year their staff were told not to talk about any of the art work to visitors. One of the museum workers I spoke to told me that he was proud to work there and tried to read up and learn about the objects.
“I have worked at the gallery for 3 years and hope to retire as a gallery assistant and not a security guard. I read up and learn about the objects.”
Staff were also demonstrating against the suspension of their union rep Candy Udwin. Candy, who has worked at the gallery for a number of years, was suspended the day after attending negotiations at Acas to offer a workable solution to management on how to run services in-house.
The strike at the National Gallery is about far more than purely terms and conditions for its staff: it is a strike against the privatisation of our cultural institutions across the country. If managers at the National Gallery get away with this, managers at other museum and galleries will follow suit.
The Museum’s Association, the umbrella body for UK museums, states that: ‘museums are public institutions for the benefit of the nation.’ Let’s make sure it stays that way. Museums for everyone, not for profit.
The strike is still on until Saturday 7 February and you can visit the pickets each day from 9am to 11am and 5pm to 7pm on Friday.
If you can’t make it down to the gallery but want to show your support you can:
– Make a donation to the strike fund: Sort code 086001, account 20169002
– Write to the trustees: firstname.lastname@example.org
– Send solidarity messages: noprivatisationNG@gmail.com
– Sign their petition against privatisation:
– Sign the petition to reinstate Candy Udwin