British Museum Closes Amid Labor Strikes

February 6, 2023

The British Museum in London closed its doors on Wednesday, February 1, 2023. The closure is heavily speculated as a response to “walkout Wednesday” strikes being staged across the U.K., protesting labor conditions, inflation spikes and poor pay. 

What Provoked the Closure? 

The closure comes just days after more than 100 members of the institution’s security and visitor services staff — who belong to the culture group of Britain’s Public and Commercial Service (PCS) union — announced that they would strike for a week starting February 13th. 

Shared on a post through social media, the museum addressed the strikes stating, “While the strike is out of the control of the Museum, it does affect our ability to open safely to both our visitors and staff, so we have taken the decision to close the museum today.”

“This is not a decision taken lightly, and we apologize for any inconvenience this may cause,” the statement concluded. 

Who are Public and Commercial Service Workers? 

The Public and Commercial Service (PCS) union is one of the U.K.’s largest trade unions. PCS alone represents over 200,000 civil servants and other government workers. 

The union was founded in 1998 by merging the Public Services, Tax and Commerce Union, and the Civil and Public Services Association. 

PCS workers have partaken in strikes similar to those issued against the British Museum and other institutions. The most recent, in 2021, highlighted the lack of adequate health and safety protection during the restructuring due to COVID-19. 

This current campaign demands a 10% pay rise, pension justice, job security and no cuts in redundancy terms. These are pivotal to PCS workers facing inflation and higher cost of living, something security and front-of-house museum workers are feeling with minimum wage salaries and high turnover. 

What Other Institutions Closed As Well? 

Picket lines continue to sprout around the country at various other employers of the PCS. 

Also among the museums to close is the Museum of Liverpool, which said Wednesday morning that it would reopen Thursday, February 2nd.

The Walker Art Gallery, Lady Lever Art Gallery and Sudley House, also part of National Museums Liverpool, have also closed.

A picket line was pictured outside the Maritime Museum the same morning at Royal Albert Dock, which is also home to the International Slavery Museum.

National Museums Scotland has also seen disruption caused by strikes. It announced Wednesday morning that the National War Museum and the Doctor Who Worlds of Wonder exhibition would be closed in response to the PCS strikes, but the National Museum of Scotland remains open.

Is This Protest Beneficial or Hurtful? 

The strikes are part of what the trade union called a “significant escalation of industrial action after a month of strikes over pay, pensions, redundancy terms, and job security.”

“The past decade of austerity has eroded the pay of museum workers across the U.K.,” Gareth Spencer, president of the PCS Culture Group, told the Art Newspaper this week upon announcing the union’s strike plans. “Security guards and front-of-house workers at the British Museum have had enough of low or below inflation pay rises.”

“The government would rather use the museum’s sector for confected culture war talking points,” the PCS president went on. “We want a fair deal for all our members across the U.K.’s museums, galleries, libraries, and for cultural workers in the civil service.”

The strikes shine a direct spotlight on an issue not exclusive to the UK, or just the museum and culture sector. Rising inflation costs are an issue across the global economy. 

That said, the Museum and Culture sector of Great Britain provides a significant portion of tourism revenue for the U.K. economy. Although these closures are important for raising the worker’s issues, they do negatively impact the economy. 

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