The National Gallery staff were spending their 74th day picketing in Trafalgar Square this morning in protest against privatisation and the sacking of an active shop steward, Candy Udwin, when I visited them to hear about their struggle.
It is yet another story in the long saga of the way that by outsourcing and privatising, employment conditions are being undermined and lives disrupted. The National Gallery wrongly argue that outsourcing is basically the way that museums are operating these days and it will be far more efficient.
Even if there were an economic case – and academic studies suggest not – that kind of thinking undermines the stability of the workforce and disempowers them.
I will let Dave one of the museum guards, who has worked there for 17 years, do the talking:
"I love this job. I have learnt so much from listening to the lectures and looking at the art. I even go to art galleries on my days off. People ask me questions about the art and I can often answer because I have been here so long and listened to all kinds of lectures. I feel part of this place"
"I want to be an employee of the Gallery, not Securitas. They even want to make me take training to be a bouncer [he is about 5 7 and pretty skinny] which is just daft. We are not bouncers, and it is important that I work for the Gallery, not for a security company, so that I can discuss issues with my line management"
Ms Udwin was sacked just before privatisation plans were announced for allegedly leaking commercial information when, in fact, she claims that this was only an email sent to all staff – and therefore open. She has been temporarily reinstated pending a full industrial tribunal.
The staff, who have a picket every day from 9 to 11 am, want to see the privatisation process stopped – though a contract has been signed – or, if it goes ahead, a guarantee of terms and conditions for the full five or seven years of the contract. It is amazing that they have held out this long, effectively shutting down much of the Gallery for the key summer months. There has been a change of director and negotiations have restarted after a break down earlier in the summer.
There have been some concessions and workers will now all get the London Living wage, rather than the minimum wage, meaning the minimum will be over £19,000 rather than £15,000.
However, the Gallery could have done that without privatisation and outsourcing. What has been lost in terms of quality of life and sense of belonging to people like Dave is immeasurable. As Mayor, I will work tirelessly to prevent further privatisations and outsourcing, and bring work in house where I can.