The long-running dispute over outsourcing at the National Gallery in London has escalated, with workers taking indefinite strike action.
The bosses claim that pay and conditions will not be affected by this change, but workers are deeply sceptical. As one PCS member argued: “if privatisation will keep the same pay and conditions (at presumably the same cost as the Gallery is paying) then where is their profit going to come from?” Tellingly, outgoing Gallery director Nicholas Penny rounded off a letter to the Guardian with the hope that privatisation might see an end to the “frustration” of “many years of strike action”. The implication is clear — Gallery management thinks outsourcing to a private firm will be an effective way of breaking the union and attacking conditions.
The campaign for sacked rep Candy Udwin’s reinstatement has won a small victory, with a court ordering the gallery to pay full pay while she fights the decision. Other workers fear victimisation, saying they have faced bullying and refusal to negotiate. The Gallery has brought in a number of managers with experience in privatisation from Government in a bid to defeat the strikes.
The strike has been effective. Bosses have had to hire external security to keep the entrances open. Many rooms, including the most popular ones featuring works like Van Gogh’s The Sunflowers have been forced to close due to the strikes.
Staff say that many visitors are sympathetic with the industrial action, despite disappointment about not seeing all the paintings. One striker told Solidarity that “people appreciate Gallery staff knowing something about the art. A skeleton staff of private security guards just isn’t the same.”
Protests at Pizza Express
Unite Community has stepped up this year’s activity with a focus on zero-hour contracts and tip-pinching by Pizza Express.
Zero-hour contracts are prevalent in retail, and Sports Direct is an egregious example, employing 1 in 5 of all zero-hour retail workers, despite boss and majority shareholder Mike Ashley (also owner of Newcastle United) being worth over £3.8 billion, and earning £100 million in the 2014-15 fiscal year.
As an example, the Sussex Coast branch of Unite Community – based in Hastings – is holding regular monthly pickets and leafleting of the local store. By some miracle fat cat Ashley has enough personal wealth to pay all his staff the proper living wage for the next 13 years, even if he and Sports Direct never made another penny.
Also in the works is a campaign to stop Pizza Express deducting an 8% admin fee from tips given by credit or debit card. Unite estimates that these deductions total £1 million a year. Many other restaurant chains have stopped the practice after public pressure, but “Pincher’s Express” is one of the last hold-outs to still use the practice. It’s recommended that you only ever leave tips in cash, wherever you are.
Kelly Tomlinson, a regional organiser for Unite based in Portsmouth, said “I'm so excited that the Sussex Coast branch has so many dedicated active members in Hastings – there are lots of events and campaigns being planned. Hastings is affected deeply by austerity, and Unite Community is a great place for locals to meet and organise with other likeminded people who oppose this Government’s austerity agenda.”
Unite is continuing to organise protests outside Pizza Express. Find out more here.
Fight against privatisation continues
Over 100 workers at outsourced refuse collection service in the London borough of Bromley will strike on 24 August and on 3 and 4 September in a dispute over pay.
Workers employed by Veolia have suffered years of below inflation pay awards. Unite, the union organising the workers, put in a claim for a 4% pay rise to make up for below inflation pay rises, but the company has only offered 1.5%.
Unite is also fighting to prevent more privatisation across the council. On 1 June council parks were transferred to the Landscape Group, who announced redundancies a day later. Workers and campaigners are still trying to prevent the privatisation of 14 libraries and other services.
In response to the campaign Bromley council has sacked Unite rep Alan Brown. Trade unionists and local campaigners organised a lobby of Alan's hearing on 16 August. In response the council tried to change the time of the hearing to avoid the protest.
The fight against privatisation also continues in Barnet. On 12 September campaigners will stage a “children’s march for libraries” marching from East Finchley Library, through Finchley Church End Library and onto North Finchley Library.