Members of Prospect union in the Science Museum group have been on strike over wages, with minimum hourly rates falling significantly below the real living wage whilst director's salaries have grown substantially. Socialist Appeal pledges solidarity!

Members of Prospect union in the Science Museum group have been on strike over wages, with minimum hourly rates falling significantly below the real living wage whilst directors’ salaries have grown substantially. Socialist Appeal pledges solidarity!

Prospect union members in the Science Museum group have taken industrial action during August after they received a pay offer below the rate of inflation earlier this year. Since 2010, the staff have suffered a 13% pay cut in real terms. 

The minimum hourly rate currently received is significantly below the real living wage. The lowest paid workers outside London earn £8.70 per hour. In London, the lowest paid earn £10.17. The real living wage in these areas are £9.00 and £10.55 respectively. 

Compounded by increasing pressures on working conditions, this has triggered a strike ballot in which a massive 95% voted for industrial action short of a strike. 79% voted in favour of strike action. The dispute involves science museums in Manchester, London, Bradford, York and Wiltshire.

Manchester Socialist Appeal activists attended the picket at the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) in solidarity, and spoke to an organising member of staff, who said:

“The reason we are picketing today is to send a message to SMG that it does need to pay us a real salary, that allows us to continue the job that we love to do. Everyone I work with absolutely adores their job. But if things keep going like they are, they are going to be unable to continue to do so, and therefore the quality of the service that we provide, in terms of education and taking care of these fantastic buildings, over time is going to decrease, simply because we are going to be unable to do the jobs we love.” 

“There has been a decrease in staff welfare and facilities. Jobs are unfilled for a long time, which has meant that other members of staff have had to take on other responsibilities and extra roles, and therefore have been stretched thinner than ever. As a result, the quality of the service we provide, not just to the public but to teachers and all the people that come in and engage with the museum, is decreasing over time.” 

Gap widens

Members of staff told us that management had placed enormous pressure on them, for example to work through their allotted lunch break, and that they are some of the lowest paid workers in the museum sector. Meanwhile, senior management salary growth has vastly outstripped that of ordinary staff. 

Between 2014-2018, the average full-time salary at SMG grew by just 1.6% per year. In the same time period the director’s salary grew by 5.5%, with additional annual bonuses worth more than many workers earn in a year. Eight senior managers now earn over £100,000, compared to four in 2014.

The staff, who carry out the vital work of the museum, enjoy no such luxury.

“To be able to continue to do the job we love, we need to be paid fairly, and that means being paid in line with inflation. To match inflation, realistically we are asking for another 1%, which isn’t very much.”

SMG operates as a charity, and the MOSI provides an important public service to the people of Manchester, yet that doesn’t protect it from economic slump, austerity, and attacks on workers.

Workers’ unity

Alongside Prospect, other staff at SMG are part of Unison. We were told that “there is strong support from all members of staff here”. They aim to work together. 

“If one union is able to do something the other is not, see how one union can support the other. We have support from Unison here. This is a peaceful protest as we understand that many members of staff would like to protest but potentially can’t.” 

The important thing for all workers facing such attacks is unity. “Make sure you have a strong union that is able to fight for what you want and your welfare,” the strike organiser said. “The larger presence you have, the easier things get.”

If further negotiation with management “doesn’t get the result we are hoping for,”' they stated this “would then mean further strike action in future.” 

Socialist Appeal pledges solidarity to the museum staff in their ongoing struggle! As workers feel the screws of capitalist crisis tightening and industrial action continues to gather pace, we say: Power to the workers! Fight for socialism!