Members of the PCS Culture Group, a branch of the UK’s Public and Commercial Services union (PCS), will strike in February to protest low wages after the government offered workers raises of just 2 percent, compared with the national inflation rate of 9.2 percent as of December 2022. PCS members voted on the action November 7, 2022, with 86.2 percent of balloters in favor.
Chief among the arts institutions whose workers are involved in the action are London’s British Museum, whose staff will stage a weeklong strike beginning February 13. That date marks a half-term school holiday, during which the museum would typically see an influx of young visitors. The museum has said through a spokesperson that it has a plan in place to allow it to remain operational during the action. Also striking in February will be staff at the UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), who will take to the streets February 1, as well as workers at London’s Wallace Collection; Historic England, National Museums Scotland, and the National Museum of Liverpool, among other arts institutions.
“The past decade of austerity has eroded the pay of museum workers across the UK. Security guards and front of house workers at the British Museum have had enough of low or below inflation pay rises, PCS Culture Group president Gareth Spencer told The Art Newspaper. “The government would rather use the museums sector for confected culture war talking points,” he continued. “We want a fair deal for all our members across the UK’s museums, galleries, libraries and for culture workers in the civil service.”
At a January 26 hearing held by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, former shadow chancellor John McDonnell, Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington, noted that low wages have driven 9 percent of the UK’s civil servants to claim benefits owing and 8 percent to use food banks.