Saving jobs at Dulwich Picture Gallery

Olivia Mansfield, describes the joys of a collective victory against redundancies

Supporters show their solidarity with the Dulwich Picture Gallery staff (Photo: Bettina Trabant)
Supporters show their solidarity with the Dulwich Picture Gallery staff (Photo: Bettina Trabant)

Being told by your employer, most likely a person who earns substantially more than you, who has weight and seniority, who has their own job security and power, someone that you may have trusted to have your best interests at heart, who may be a friend too, being told by them coldly and abruptly with no forewarning that your position, your livelihood, your income, your bread and butter is at risk of redundancy is like a sharp quick punch in the chest. An air of disbelief, shock and fear falls upon the whole workforce. Threat of redundancy is by far one of the most stressful things a person can go through in their lives. This is exactly what happened to the gallery assistants of the Front of House team at Dulwich Picture Gallery in the beginning of 2015.

Acting fast

Organising and allocating the right reps to consult with management was crucial and decisions were more or less immediate. Of course unionising was our next step, union members were minimal but within one week we had everyone signed up and ready to fight. We were forced onto the back foot from the very start and had to act fast, above all else building awareness up of how the law works and what we as workers were entitled to was key. We went from a workforce who had little to no affiliation with unions to a ballot which came back with a 100% yes for strike action! Unite had our backs, and knowing we would have the force of such a large union behind us spurred on our intent to win. Supporters of our cause voiced their concerns and rallied together with us in our fight to save our jobs and to better our proposed working conditions at DPG.

Winning together

Throughout the whole ordeal what struck me most was how our group stood together. Galvanised, as a workforce our team bonded and fought arm in arm for the justice and fairness we believed everyone involved deserved. You have to power through awkward silences over tea breaks in the staff room when people over hear discussions of whether or not you will be able to pay rent and live if management get their way, you have to hold strong to you principles and ethics when the pressure sets in and the oppressive atmosphere becomes so dark , it chokes you. There is no better feeling than when you are establishing and making real change for yourself and your colleagues. The Save Our Jobs at DPG campaign is something I am truly proud to have been a part of, and when we signed an agreement the evening before a seven day strike was to commence our whole team were literally jumping for joy!

This article originally appeared in the Autumn 2015 issue of the rs21 magazine



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