Museum workers strike to defend pay

Dave Reid

PCS members at all seven sites of the National Museum of Wales have taken strike action over management attempts to cut the pay of frontline workers by as much as 15%.

On Good Friday workers at the Big Pit Mining Museum came out. On Saturday National Wool Museum workers at Drefach were out, 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.

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.

On Bank Holiday Monday workers at the National Museum Cardiff were out as were PCS members at the Big Pit Mining Museum again.

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

Costly mistake

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.

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

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

Museums in Wales 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. It should say that if it 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 to drive down the wages and working conditions of its own workers?