Labour’s shadow minister for Culture, Chris Bryant, visited Loughborough University on Monday to give a talk on his vision during the election campaign and to support the local Labour candidate. It would have been remiss of me not to ask him to support striking workers at the National Gallery facing an enormous attack on their livelihood’s through privatisation and the victimisation of one of their represenatives.
Unfortunately Bryant failed to offer any form of support or indeed leadership on the matters. He had clearly been briefed about my presence beforehand (perhaps following an incident a few weeks ago when I bumped into his Labour colleague Liam Byrne) and he tried desperaterly to avoid having me speak at all. I did manage to get the questions heard.
I asked him if he would publicly support the PCS led strike at the gallery to ensure that hundreds of staff don’t end up being employed by a security firm. I also asked him if he agreed with me that in scheduling the tendering process to begin 2 days before the general election, the gallery management were playing politics with peoples’ livelihoods. Finally I asked him to call on the gallery to reinstate PCS activist, Candy Udwin, with immediate effect.
Despite later emphatically stating that FIFA was wrong to award the World Cup to Qatar and joking about how he wouldn’t be giving any public money to jazz if he becomes Minister for Culture, he refused to say anything publicly about the dispute or Candy’s situation on the grounds that politicians should remain “at arm’s length” on the arts. He also stated that it would be hypocritical of government to try to prevent privatisation when most government departments already have private contracts for cleaning and security staff. Yes it would – so re-nationalise those posts! When the talk ended he rushed to get away but I was able to challenge him and pointed out that being ‘neutral’ on the issue of privatisation and the attacks on trade union activists actually places him on the side of management. His response: “Well, that’s your characterisation of the issue”.
Yes it is. But I will go further. Labour has nothing positive to say on workers’ rights. It will not fight privatisation alongside us because it stands for increasing the current trend of public assets being farmed out to private finance.
There is still chance for Bryant to play a positive role in matters at the National Gallery and I hope he does so. Everyone should support the dispute to prevent privatisation at the National Gallery. Equally we should ensure that Candy Udwin has the maximum support whilst she is attacked by the employer. She should be reinstated immediately. Please sign the petition to help.
Today marks a days of action on this issue across the country. Get involved where you can!