Museum workers strike to defend pay

Bank Holiday picket lines

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Welsh museums have greatly reduced exhibits over the bank holiday weekend as PCS members at all seven sites of the National Museum of Wales have taken action over management attempts to cut the pay of its front-line workers by as much as 15%.

On Good Friday workers at the Big Pit Mining museum came out; on Saturday National Wool Museum at Drefach were out and along with the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea where workers marched from their picket line to join the protest against the National Front White Pride event (bottom picture); on Sunday it was the turn of the National Slate Museum at Llanberis and the National History Museum (Museum of Welsh Life) at St Fagans (top picture). On Bank Holiday Monday the National Museum Cardiff will be out and Big Pit Mining Museum will strike again.

Museum management are attempting to remove the unsocial hours payments received by front house, mainly lower paid workers. Of course the top managers are not cutting their own wages. Workers also believe that the management have plans to casualise conditions further.

The museum's budget has been hit but the workers are asking why is it that the lowest paid workers are taking the cuts? Especially as a series of management foul ups have cost the museums hundreds of thousands of pounds. The high-handed and aggressive management style has not bothered to consult the workers on the ground which has led to costly mistakes.

However it will be harder for management to force through the cuts because several rounds of successive strike action has built the strongest union organisation around the PCS the museums have ever had.

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A report on management bullying in the museum commissioned by the museum trust has so far been kept under wraps and shelved.

Questions must be asked about how the museums in Wales are run. Despite being paid for out of the Welsh government's budget the museums are run by a board of trustees, the majority of whom are appointed by the Welsh government. A number of Welsh assembly members have expressed their support for the museum workers, but the government should make it clear that the anti-union attacks on workers' living standards are not acceptable and if that does not change either the museum trustees will be replaced or better still the charter will be changed so that there is an elected board with representatives of the workers on the board.

But a wider question is posed by this dispute. The history of Wales is presented in our museums and our modern history is dominated by the struggles of working people with anti-union employers against low pay and oppressive working conditions. Can we leave the telling of that story to a management that believes that is it fair enough to drive down the wages and working conditions of its own workers?

Dave Reid


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