We’re balloting our members working across the four Tate galleries, in London, Liverpool, and St. Ives, for industrial action to resist job cuts. The ballot runs from 22 July to 3 August. A consultative ballot of members has already returned a 93% vote in favour of action on a 99% turnout.
The employer wants to cut 200 jobs, as part of a cuts package aimed at saving £1 million this financial year. That’s part of a wider picture in the culture sector, which has taken a significant financial hit in the pandemic, which bosses will be looking to recoup via cuts. Our reps and branches have done well in terms of winning agreements during the pandemic, ensuring the 20% top-up for furloughed workers’ pay, and so on; now we need to build the strongest possible resistance to job cuts.
The strategy is being led by our branches. We want to keep the discussions about strategy as close to the shop floor as possible. It will require some creativity, as strikes are not really an effective weapon when the workplace is closed, no money is coming in, and most staff are furloughed, which is the case in many culture sector workplaces. So we need to think creatively about what effective resistance looks like, and combine effective industrial action with public and political campaigning.
In the Department for Work and Pensions, there is something of a tense stand-off around the drive to reopen job centres. The union’s position remains that a generalised reopening is not safe, and at workplace level we’re fighting for workers’ control, led by elected union reps, of any reopening to ensure adequate safety measures are in place in advance. Following union complaints, Health and Safety Executive inspectors visited 10 offices, but this seemed like a token, going-through-the-motions exercise, as the places they visited seemed to be hand-picked by the employer.
Prime Minister Johnson has now signalled a wider back-to-work drive from 1 August. We have an emergency meeting with the Cabinet Office, the central civil service employer, coming up to discuss what that means. We’ll be putting forward our opposition to any generalised and mandatory return to the physical workplace. We acknowledge that there are some members who, due to their domestic or personal circumstances, may prefer to return to offices, and we also want to ensure measures are in place to allow that to happen safely and in a way that maintains safe distancing.
• John Moloney is assistant general secretary of the civil service workers’ union PCS, writing here in a personal capacity