National Gallery staff have ended their indefinite strike having won serious concessions after 100 days of action. Originally opposing moves to privatise the security and visitor services, PCS members also demanded the London Living Wage and later the reinstatement of Candy Udwin, a senior union rep who was sacked on trumped up charges early on in the dispute in an attempt to break the strike.
This heroic strike, which saw thousands collected for the PCS hardship fund and solidarity events organised across the country, did not overturn privatisation, but did win important guarantees.
Securitas agreed to pay the London Living Wage, and not to change terms and conditions without agreement from the union. New staff will be employed on broadly the same terms and conditions.
Some PCS members believe that they could have stopped privatisation altogether if strike action had escalated faster, and if they had held action before Securitas was announced as the “preferred bidder”.
But even this partial victory has been hugely inspiring, showing that employers can be forced to back down over victimisations. As Candy pointed out repeatedly at rallies and protests: “If you had asked us a year ago what kind of strike action would be most effective, we would have said five or six two-hour strikes. If you’d told us that we were going to take five or six weeks of strike action we wouldn’t have believed you.”
This shows that escalating action can force significant concessions. We need more strikes like this to defeat the austerity and privatisation being meted out by the Tory government.