Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Such treatment of staff is a National Disgrace

NATIONAL GALLERY, January 19Two thirds of staff told jobs will be privatised.

FINE art can be a profitable business, hoarded as private wealth, or patronised for prestige by big business, but when the care and appreciation of art treasures comes up against the quest for short-term profit, what comes first?

Four years ago the famous art dealers Sotheby, at their New York branch, tried to dispense with professional art handlers and entrust valuable works of art to untrained casual delivery staff. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), Professional Art Handlers' Local 14, resisted, even sending a team to London for support, and with other trade unionists I was proud to join the US brothers - and sisters - picketing Sotheby's one evening in Bond Street.  I'm pleased to say that after a ten month lock out, the management signed an agreement with the union and members got their jobs back.

TRANS-ATLANTIC SOLIDARITY on Bond Street.  Guests arriving for white-tied evening do at Sotheby's greeted by union pickets from New York and London.

 Staff at major art galleries have a double responsibility,  looking after the pictures and the public. Both can require sensitive handling.  The staff at London's prestigious National Gallery are used to that.  They are not highly paid, but they might have expected some respect.

 But last year, for a special exhibition of Rembrandt's later works, sponsored by Shell, which opened in October, the Gallery contracted a private security firm to do the work. And by January 18, when the exhibition ended, the workers had been told privatisation was here to stay. Organised in the same Public and Commercial Services (PCS) that covers other civil servants, they are fighting to defend their jobs and the service they provide.  Earlier this month the staff walked out on strike, and they are planning further strike action starting on Sunday.  

"The National Gallery has told 400 of its 600 staff 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 the millions of visitors.

The National Gallery is the only major museum that does not pay the London Living Wage.


Over 40,000 people have signed our petition and supported our campaign to halt the privatisation.

The Gallery has brought in a private company CIS to “temporarily” take over services in a third of the gallery at the additional cost of hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money.
So privatisation raises public costs, and the private company's profits, not the workers' pay and conditions, nor the standards of service. 

PCS recently received an email from a gentleman complaining that staff in the National Gallery Rembrandt exhibition were rude and aggressive, and that there is no reason why visitors should have to put up with staff shouting at them.
"We don't have to be nice to you" is a phrase he recalled being used by one or the staff.
We explained that the Rembrandt exhibition was staffed by the private security company CIS not by National Gallery staff.
He replied “Clearly these CIS staff are a not up to the job – their hectoring manner is that of prison guards. Please feel free to use this information in support of your campaign. Good Luck!”
We are including here some other bad experiences, mostly taken from the comments on Polly Toynbee’s article in the Guardian.
Can you help us? Did you have a bad visitor experience at the Rembrandt exhibition? Would you tell us about it in the comments below or send us a personal message?
We are campaigning against the Gallery’s privatisation plans. We don’t like the idea of a private company damaging our reputation and that of the Gallery, and would like to try and establish whether these are just a few isolated incidents, or if they’re more widespread. Thank you!
...Also, we're out on strike 22nd-26th February. Details on how you can support us here:

Just to show how eager they are to impress the Con Dem government and London's Tory Mayor perhaps, and how uninterested in reaching agreement with their workers, the National Gallery bosses have suspended a senior PCS union representative, Candy Udwin. Candy's 'offence' it seems was  drafting a question for the PCS Negotiation Officer about the cost of CIS.  Supporters have collected over 8500 signatures for a statement condemning this victimisation and calling for her reinstatement.

Appeal for help:
Make a donation to our strike fund – Thanks to those who already donated over £6000!
Most strikers do not even earn the London Living Wage so any donations will help.
Donate to Sort code 086001 Account no 20169002 or cheques to Culture Sector Hardship Fund, c/o PCS North West Region, Jack Jones House,1 Islington, Liverpool L3 8EG.
Write to the Gallery Trustees
Email the chair 

A Commons Early Day Motion, 300, on staffing and security at the National Gallery, has attracted 59 signatures.
Ask your MP to support the campaign and back Early Day Motion 300.  Email your MP here:

Sign and share the no privatisation petition – make it 50,000!

Email  or %E2%80%99s

On US teamsters' dispute at Sotheby's, see:

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