National Gallery strike over

October 2 2015

Image of National Gallery strike over

Picture: Guardian

News just in that the strike is over. It seems to be a more or less complete defeat for the Union. 'We will not be slienced', they said last week when protesting about 'privatisation' at the Gallery. But now they've agreed unanimously to silence themselves. The Securitas contract will go ahead, as it always would. Here is the strikers' statement:

Our members at the National Gallery voted unanimously today to return to work after we reached an agreement to end the dispute.

The news comes shortly after we marked 100 days on strike since February.

We opposed the privatisation of the gallery's visitor services staff and regret we have been unable to prevent it going ahead.

We are however pleased to have reached an agreement with the gallery and contractor Securitas that would mean protection of terms and conditions and a return to work for our senior rep Candy Udwin. We thank the new director Gabriele Finaldi and the company for their commitment to genuine negotiations.

Strike action is being suspended pending ministerial approval and a ballot of our members over the deal, which also includes union recognition with the company and the London living wage.

Staff will meet outside the gallery at 9am on Monday 5 October to go back in to work together.

More information will be published as soon as it is available.

Our general secretary Mark Serwotka said: "We are pleased to have reached this agreement and on behalf of the union I would like to pay particular tribute to Candy, who is looking forward to returning to the job she loves, and to all our members at the gallery.

"We still do not believe privatisation was necessary but we will work with the new company and the gallery to ensure a smooth transition and, importantly, to ensure standards are maintained at this world-renowned institution."

The terms and conditions and London Living wage were agreed long ago, and are already part of the Securitas deal. The only 'victory' here for the strikers seems to be the reinstatement of Candy Udwin, something AHN predicted a few weeks ago as the only way out of the impasse.

However, the PCS union and the strikers had presented this battle as one against the Securitas deal in any form. 'No privatisation at the National Gallery' was their rallying cry. And so by their own terms they have failed to achieve anything meaningful. Over 100 days of continuous strikes, with no pay for striking staff, tens of thousands of visitors disappointed, numerous education trips cancelled, all for the reinstatement of one employee who was always likely to be re-instated anyway by an employment tribunal. Was it really worth it? What did all that social-mediary, rallying, shouting, petitioning, and protesting really achieve?

However, let us hope that lessons have been learnt at the National Gallery on how not to conduct negotiations like this in the future. With greater political deftness the whole affair might easily have been avoided. 

Update - there is some heroic spinning of the outcome over on Socialist Worker. It's worth looking at their coverage in full. First:

Gallery bosses have conceded to almost all of the strikers’ demands. 

Hmm. Not really, since the 'all out strike' was an attempt to stop the Securitas deal in its tracks, and was called in response to the Gallery signing the contract. By giving in now, before the Securitas regime has even taken over, the strikers have effectively signalled their acceptance of a 'privatisation' they said would be museum armageddon.

Next up:

[...] the strike has forced Securitas to agree to recognise PCS in the gallery.

Nothing unusual there. Even 'privatised' workers have the right to union membership. And should they wish to join a union other than PCS, they are perfectly able to.

And [Securitas] have guaranteed that terms and conditions will not be changed without the agreement of the union. They have also won guarantees on rosters and staffing levels.

By law, staff transferred from the public sector to the private sector are guaranteed the same terms and conditions. So the 'agreement of the union' is moot. As The Socialist Worker later concedes '[Securitas] had already agreed that conditions for existing staff would not change.'

Securitas have also agreed that new staff will be recruited on terms and conditions “broadly comparable” to those of existing staff. 

'Broadly comparable'. In other words, Securitas are not under any new obligation here at all. Window dressing.

Securitas will continue to pay workers the London Living Wage plus enhancements, which they won during the course of their dispute in April.

Yes - 'won... in April', long before the 'all out strike'.

Meanwhile gallery bosses have agreed to a review of the privatisation after 12 months.

An unconditional 'review'. More window-dressing.

And there will be an investigation run by the gallery into relations between bosses and workers broke down in the run up to the first strike in January.



But the reinstatement of Candy is one of the biggest victories of the strike. The fact that it was one of the strikers’ key demands is the reason she is getting her job back.

Good news for Candy, and from what little I can gather, deserved. But was the reinstatement of one worker really worth the wider disruption and campaign? Would a fairly run Employment Tribunal hearing not have come to her aid anyway? One would like to think so, but she has been reinstated before the hearing, which was due later this month.

The Socialist Worker calls these 'huge concessions' and argues that they are 'proof that strikes can win'. But these are not huge concessions. They are barely even minor ones. Instead, they are what diplomats call a 'pont d'or' - a carefully choreographed series of 'golden bridges' over which the PCS union could retreat without too much loss of face. 

The article ends with a warning of further action to come:

“We feel like we’ve come a long way,” one striker told Socialist Worker. “But there’s also a feeling we have to take it further—and we are going to take it further. We’re still opposed to the fact that a private company is going to be running the National Gallery.”

Update II - the PCS seem to be faring no better in Wales.

Update III - the Grumpy Art Historian, a supporter of the NG striker's cause, blasts PCS and the NG for handling the whole affair badly.

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