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The action is being escalated because the gallery has brought forward the announcement of the appointment of private security firm Securitas to manage the visitor-facing and security services on a 5-year contract reportedly worth £40million expected to be signed on Monday 10 August.
We view this announcement, which the gallery has brought forward, as a deliberately inflammatory move by management.
About 300 gallery assistants who guard paintings and answer visitors' questions will be affected. They will no longer be employed by the gallery and instead work for Securitas.
The long-running strike at London's National Gallery, against guest services privatisation and union rep victimisation, is about to make a step change. Members of public service union PCS were due to begin all-out action on 17 August - but this could be brought forward.
PCS members at the gallery have taken over 50 days of action since February. Now they have voted by an overwhelming margin to strike for a further four days - ahead of indefinite action. Under management's disputed plans, up to 300 gallery assistants and security staff face outsourcing.
17 August is the day new director Gabriele Finaldi takes up his post from the outgoing Nicholas Penny. Finaldi has said he plans to avoid official business until the end of September - fat chance with the strike happening!
Workers and supporters held a 'farewell party' outside Penny's official leaving function on 30 July. In a step that can only be seen as provocative, one of Penny's last decisions was to announce private company Securitas as winner of the contract - worth £40 million over five years. So much for genuine negotiations!
Staff have also had to deal with one of their reps, Candy Udwin, being suspended at the very beginning of the dispute. Candy was later sacked and is awaiting the outcome of her appeal. This is despite winning 'interim relief' from an employment tribunal judge, indicating she is likely to win any subsequent tribunal.
Management talks about 'value for money' to justify outsourcing jobs. But it has no qualms about wasting cash if it means trying to break the union. None of this gives staff any confidence that jobs, terms and conditions will be protected after sell-off.
The National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) and the Socialist Party have been consistent in backing the dispute over the last six months. Candy spoke at NSSN conference on 4 July, and saluted the network's solidarity work. The NSSN gave a donation from conference's bucket collection to the strikers.
There has been tremendous support for the strike. Gallery visitors and the arts world have been disgusted at the treatment of workers at a 'national treasure'.
There is an increasing number of disputes in the sector, from last year's victory at the Ritzy Picturehouse to the recent strike at the National Museum of Wales. Brutal management methods are becoming the norm.
All trade unionists should visit the picket lines, and step up fundraising to ensure strikers have the best possible financial support. The workers and their union need every assistance in this bold fight against National Gallery privatisers and union-busters.
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National Education Union (96)
National Shop Stewards Network (454)
New Education Union (1)
Society of Radiographers (1)
Wales Shop Stewards Network (1)
Wales TUC (8)
Article dated 5 August 2015
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