An all-day strike yesterday saw operations at a number of UK museums stopped or decreased as nearly 250,000 members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union walked off the job over caps on pay and pensions, the Guardian reported. A related picket further targeted the National Gallery in London over the privatization of visitor services, Museums Journal reported.
The protest at the National Gallery was planned to coincide with the opening of Rembrandt: The Late Works, an exhibition that had also been targeted the day before, when activist group BP or not BP? interrupted its October 14 press preview. The group was formed to oppose the British Museum’s relationship with BP but objected in this case to the Rembrandt exhibition’s Shell sponsorship.
The National Gallery told Museums Journal that 16 of its 66 galleries, along with the Rembrandt exhibition, remained open despite the strike. Some of the British Museum’s galleries were affected, according to a message posted on Twitter by the institution. A minority of galleries at the Victoria and Albert Museum were shuttered, as were all National Museums in Liverpool and Wales (except for the National Roman Legion Museum). The National Galleries of Scotland and the National Museum of Scotland were also affected.
Statements on museum websites, including those of the British Museum and the Tate, claim that the strikes are a matter of central government policy unrelated to any direct disputes between museums and labor groups.
Shop workers at the British Museum belonging to PCS went on strike over privatization and living wage concerns earlier this year. Additional strikes took place in 2012, over labor outsourcing, and in 2002, when a strike over layoffs entirely shut down the British Museum, the first and only such complete stoppage in the institution’s 250-year history.