Strikes - National Gallery fights back

February 3 2015

Image of Strikes - National Gallery fights back

Picture: Museums Journal

A five day strike organised by the PCS union has begun at the National Gallery in London. Many rooms are closed, but the Gallery remains open. For the background on all this, see earlier AHN here (or type PCS union into the search box). 

For too long, the National Gallery has taken a passive view when it comes to arguing its case. The PCS union, always up for a bit of free publicity, has been able to lead the narrative with regular strikes, aided by the likes of Polly Toynbee in The Guardian.

But now the National Gallery has decided to fight back, and in response to the strike has issued this press release, which contains many unanswerable points:

The National Gallery is a public asset and we have a duty to ensure the collection and the Gallery itself is accessible as much as possible, to as many people as possible. We take this task seriously and therefore have an ongoing modernisation programme designed to encourage a broader audience to access the wealth of cultural inspiration the National Gallery has to offer – so far this has included initiatives such as introducing Wi-Fi, a Membership scheme and photography. We also have ambitious future plans to further extend our Education programme and public events.

However in order to allow these plans to be implemented we need to introduce a new roster for some visitor facing and security staff to enable the National Gallery to operate more flexibly. 

The PCS union leadership oppose these changes and, despite months of dialogue, we have not been able to reach any agreement with them.  During these discussions, we proposed not only to meet the London Living Wage, but also to pay a basic salary in excess of it. As a result, the National Gallery will now appoint an external partner to manage these services. There will be no job cuts and terms and conditions will be protected.

The National Gallery is one of the last major national UK museums to take this step.

We believe the proposed changes are essential to enable us to deliver an enhanced service to our 6 million annual visitors for many years to come, and to remain as one of the world’s leading art galleries. It is unfortunate the PCS union do not share this aspiration with us.


  • There are 604 staff employed at the National Gallery.
  • Approximately 300 members of staff are employed as Gallery Assistants.
  • 204 National Gallery staff are members of the PCS.
  • 153 PCS members are employed in the Visitor Services and Security Department (which includes Gallery Assistants).
  • 132 people voted in the strike ballot (60.8% of the National Gallery PCS membership). This is 22% of all staff employed by the National Gallery. 
  • The PCS has held a strike at the National Gallery on average every two months for the past nine years.

The last statistic is particularly damning for the PCS.

Update - a National Gallery employee* has written to say:

You claim that over the past nine years, PCS staff have on average gone on strike every two months. This is patent rubbish. I have worked at the National Gallery for four years and in that time there has only been one strike, over a related issue.

I would hope that you would correct your `notes to editors`, though perhaps this is the triumph of hope over experience. [...]

If you had bothered to check your facts, rather simply regurgitate propaganda from the very people, mostly ex G4S managers, attempting to gerrymander the situation, you may have some justification for your arrogant and dismissive attitude. [...]

Do your own research, as any self respecting journalist should. You claim to know about the art scene and art galleries, surely it is as plain as the nose on your face that your strike claims are to put it diplomatically, untrue. Who do you imagine tells the NG Press officer`s what to say? Shoddy journalism masquerading as documentary fact, disgraceful

Just to be clear, the bit in the green box above is information put out by the National Gallery in the form of a press release. It is not a claim by me, and they are not my facts. I am merely reporting what the National Gallery has said. As I am now reporting what the employee has said. I have asked the National Gallery for more information on their 'every two months' claim.

After a couple of minutes Googling, I can see that, in addition to this week's strike, there was one in October last year, in May 2012, in January 2012, and in August 2012. So the employee's 'one strike' in four years claim cannot be true. 

Update II - the employee writes back:

Most respectable journals would at least make some reference to the other side of the argument, you make not even a passing mention of the reasons why a majority of staff in the areas to be privatized, feel aggrieved. You may not have the professional integrity to do your own research, rather than swallow unquestioningly the claims of one side, whilst attempting to muddy and confuse the argument. I am telling you that in my period at the Gallery there has only been one strike, which suggests that for the proceeding five years there must, according to your quoted claim, have been a strike every month. Patently absurd, on a par with` Freddie Starr ate my Hamster'. 

Evidently, this employee refuses to accept that there has been more than one strike at the National Gallery in the last four years. They also must have missed my post on the Polly Toynbee article, which gave extensive coverage to the PCS union's claims.

Update III - The employee is fast becoming AHN's number 1 troll. He writes again:

Having been shown up for a charlatan you compound the issue with obfuscation and avoidance of the point. I`m sure Vladimir Putin has a position for a press spokesperson, he`d appreciate someone who plays fast and loose with the truth and doesn`t ask too many questions.

This last email was in response to me pointing out that he was wrong about the number of strikes. Apparently, news outlets like the Guardian and the Museums Journal are 'biased', and reported strikes that never actually happened. Is it all a vast conspiracy?

Update IV - and so it continues:

[this blog is] blatantly biased propaganda which you are happy to regurgitate, liar.

Update V - and another one this morning:

Definitely a fake rather than a fortune, must be aristocratic inbreeding.

Update VI - and more!

[...] your claims are demonstrably wrong and your comments blatantly biased. Either you are a liar or you believe your own bull excrement. Perhaps you just need help


* at least, he claims to be an employee, but he won't say which part of the gallery he works in, and his website makes no mention of it either. Out of pity, I have decided not to name him.

Notice to "Internet Explorer" Users

You are seeing this notice because you are using Internet Explorer 6.0 (or older version). IE6 is now a deprecated browser which this website no longer supports. To view the Art History News website, you can easily do so by downloading one of the following, freely available browsers:

Once you have upgraded your browser, you can return to this page using the new application, whereupon this notice will have been replaced by the full website and its content.