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More than 300 artists signed an open letter yesterday, September 16, in support of striking workers at Tate galleries in London. The workers have been on strike for almost 30 days after the Tate Enterprises (TEL) announced plans to cut 313 jobs in its shops, cafes, and restaurants.
The list of supporters includes last years’ four Truner Prize winners — Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Helen Cammock, Oscar Murillo, and Tai Shani — and artists like Ed Atkins, Liam Gillick, Hito Steyerl, Michael Rakowitz, and the group Forensic Architecture, among many others.
“We urge Tate to stop the TEL redundancies process immediately and to start exploring new imaginative ways to save jobs and avoid outsourcing staffing while there are 313 Tate workers threatened with job losses,” the open letter says.
The letter adds that the affected workers are among “the lowest paid and most diverse section of Tate’s workforce.”
“They are often working class creatives and they play an integral role in promoting art and culture within the organisation,” it says. “They are striking to defend both their workers’ rights and the right to have arts institutions somehow still open to low-income background workers.”
The striking workers belong to PCS Tate United, a branch of the Public and Commercial Services Union representing workers in the Tate galleries (Tate Modern & Tate Britain). Tate’s planned staff reductions will eliminate almost half of its 640-person commercial workforce.
The open letter reiterates the workers’ demands, which include suspending all layoffs “while senior staff earn more than £100,000 [∼$130,000] per year,” and using 10% of the £7 million (∼$9 million) government bailout that Tate received to save TEL jobs.
“If the money isn’t enough, then Tate must demand more funding,” the artists add.
In a statement to Hyperallergic, Tate said that it has allocated £5 million (∼$6.5 million) from its reserves to support Tate Enterprises Ltd. “This, alongside the savings from the restructure, have prevented the TEL business from closing with the loss of all jobs,” the museum said. “Money from any Government bailout will have to be used to offset the losses in income from other activities such as ticket sales.”
The museum says it has “modeled staffing numbers optimistically in the expectation that visitor numbers improve,” but “with drastically reduced visitor numbers, there is simply not enough work to employ the same number of people in our shops and catering outlets as before.”
The museum, which is facing a £50 million (∼$64.5 million) shortfall in income this year, noted that “Almost 50% [of TEL workers] have taken voluntary redundancy and the proportion of TEL employees who have informed us they identify as BAME has been unaffected by the redundancies.”
“We are halving all budgets, freezing all but essential recruitment, a voluntary 10% pay cut has been taken by the Executive Group,” Tate’s statement added, “and we continue to argue for more Government support.”