Trade unions call for overhaul of ‘disastrous’ cultural policies

PCS and unions in France and Italy denounce years of funding cuts and privatisation
Covid-19 Workforce
Jonathan Knott
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A protest in September against cultural sector redundancies
A protest in September against cultural sector redundancies @PCS_Southbank on Twitter

Three European trade unions are calling for a new model of cultural development in response to the crisis gripping the sector.

A joint declaration from CGT Culture in France, Funzione Pubblica Cgil in Italy, and the UK’s Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) Culture Group says “the Covid pandemic and its parade of human, economic and social tragedies demand us to join forces in order to enforce profound changes”.

The unions say that decades of budget cuts and increasing privatisation have led to the erosion of workers’ rights, low pay and precarious employment. They argue that politicians have favoured “cultural consumerism to the detriment of a real cultural public service offer”.

They believe the current crisis presents an “extraordinary opportunity” to build a democratic and sustainable alternative.

Their demands include secure working conditions, adequate budget resources, a more participatory model of cultural development, and an end to “shameless exploitation” through outsourced contracts.

PCS represents about 4,000 museum and heritage workers in the UK, including those at institutions that have recently made large-scale redundancies such as Tate and Southbank Centre.

Clara Paillard, the president of the PCS Culture Group, said: “Thousands of cultural workers have already lost their jobs and venues have closed across the UK. And this is brewing in other countries across Europe.”

She argued that a fundamental change of approach was needed as well as more financial support, saying: “End art for profit – let’s act on the principle of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and ensure culture is for the many, not for the few.”

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Zita Holbourne, PCS vice president and co-chair of Artists’ Union England, said the pandemic was destroying livelihoods across Europe with “huge impacts on equality, access to the arts and culture” and disproportionate effects on some groups such as women and black and minority ethnic workers.

She said it was crucial to protect the cultural sector, which plays “an important role in healing and responding to the trauma, mental health and isolation impacts of the pandemic”.

The trade unions hope to enlist other European trade unions in support of their campaign and will present the declaration to the European Public Services Union this week.

According to the Museums Association’s Redundancy Tracker, there have been more than 3,600 redundancies in the sector since March this year.

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