Union federation launches manifesto for cultural workers - Museums Association

Union federation launches manifesto for cultural workers

Call to action highlights disproportionate impacts of Covid and austerity on workers
Covid-19 Cuts Workforce
Francesca Collins
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Zita Holbourne, the manifesto's author, has been a trade union activist for over 20 years
Zita Holbourne, the manifesto's author, has been a trade union activist for over 20 years Courtesy of Elizabeth Dalziel/Women Activists of East London exhibition

Public Services International (PSI) has released a draft Manifesto for Cultural Workers addressing the impacts of the pandemic, public policy and systemic exploitation on workers in the arts and culture sector.

PSI is a union federation of more than 700 trade unions representing 30 million public services workers in 154 countries.

The manifesto, written by Zita Holbourne, establishes a series of 12 demands and strategic aims, covering topics such as working conditions, funding, access and decolonisation.

Holbourne, the national vice president at the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), is a trade union activist, writer and artist who has been involved in industrial relations for over 20 years.

Holbourne said of the manifesto: “The pandemic has devastated the culture sector with adverse, disproportionate impacts on equality groups. The treatment of workers in the sector wasn’t good before the pandemic hit, not least because of institutional discrimination, precarious work, outsourcing, low pay and exploitation, amplified by a decade of austerity.

“It is important to us as a trade union movement to set out our aims to address the impacts of the pandemic on our sector and workers within it but also to take us forward, to create a more positive, equal, inclusive and safe environment for cultural workers.

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“Arts and culture are crucial at this time for healing, documenting our experiences during this extraordinarily difficult year, and for recovery. Arts and culture are for everyone and should not be accessible only to the elite and wealthy. A great deal of huge art is borne out of struggle. We also have a responsibility to create a positive legacy for the future.

“We hope that affiliates globally will sign up to the manifesto, but that culture centres and employers more widely will find the manifesto a useful document for considering how they can contribute to its aims.”

The general secretary of PSI, Rosa Pavanelli, said: “Public sector workers have borne the brunt of the pandemic, across the world and in all sectors, whether health, transport, education, care or culture. Workers in the cultural sector, who already face many challenges, such as precarity and low pay, have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic as most cultural activities have been stopped for months and months.

“Nevertheless, many workers have been requested to continue working on digital platforms, online to bring cultural events to the millions of people isolated or confined because of the pandemic, and make them think positive and keep a smile in the sadness of the challenging days they have been through. 

“As we speak of recovery and project ourselves in the future, we need to value the role of cultural workers. Culture is part of our civilisation, contributes to forming responsible citizens and is essential to our mental health and wellbeing. And governments have to recognise that the sector contributes greatly to the economy.

“We need urgent action by governments to ensure the provision of the economic support needed for workers to survive the pandemic, as well as for the survival of this sector. The provision of cultural services is essential to humanity. Our demands, as laid down in our manifesto, call for dignified working conditions and the protection of the human rights of all cultural workers.”

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Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), the trade union for the UK’s public sector workers, has announced its support for the manifesto.

PCS is among a range of organisations and individuals in the cultural sector that have highlighted the risk of some working conditions for staff during Covid.

A PCS spokesman said: “Our members in the culture sector deserve recognition for their unique and vital contribution to society. They must be treated with dignity and respect in the workplace.

“This manifesto sets out what a modern, vibrant culture sector can and should look like.”

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