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Monday, 17 June, 2002, 16:12 GMT 17:12 UK
Strike closes British Museum
Picket line strikers numbered more than 100
Would-be visitors to the British Museum in London were turned away from closed doors on Monday thanks to a strike by 750 staff over government funding cuts.

It was the first time the museum has been closed by industrial action in its 250-year history.

Some 100 strikers picketed the museum, handing out leaflets to members of the public.


This is not just about protecting people's jobs but also protecting the future of the museum

Allan Leighton, Prospect union
Demonstrators estimated between five and 10 staff had crossed the picket line. Emergency security cover had been agreed between the parties to protect the valuable collections.

"We apologise for those who are disappointed at not being able to visit the museum today but if we do not do this there there will be fewer exhibitions and galleries open to the public in the future," said Alan Leighton, national officer of union Prospect.

"In real terms there has been a 30% decrease in the museum's budget over the past 10 years when the museum is being asked to do more in terms of education and exhibitions, and it cannot carry on.

"This is not just about protecting people's jobs but also protecting the future of the museum."

The museum, which attracts up to 20,000 visitors a day, is planning to axe 150 jobs from the 1,000-strong workforce to cut costs after a reduction in government grants.

Staff were proud of the museum and had been reluctant to strike, said TUC general secretary John Monks, who visited the picket line outside the museum on Monday.

Reputation

"It shows just how angry they are at the job cuts and consequent cuts in museum services. The management must think again."

Union leaders claim the cutbacks will lead to the museum losing its world-class reputation.

But management said the cuts were necessary to prevent loses of 5m.

Members of the Public Commercial Services union (PCS) and Prospect union are staging the one-day strike.

Management said the museum faced a deficit of 5m by 2005 unless the reductions were made.

The exibit in the Queen of Sheba exhibition at the British Museum
International displays may be threatened
According to both sides, government funding for the museum has been cut by a third over the last 10 years.

Terry Adams, of PCS, said the cuts would mean fewer exhibitions and the closure of galleries.

"You can't expect to get world-class museums on the cheap and this will lower the quality of the museum," he told BBC News Online.

"We want to raise public awareness and put pressure on government to increase funding.

"Closing the museum is the last thing we want to do but what is threatened will do a lot more damage."

A museum spokesman told BBC News Online: "The museum understands the concerns of staff who all feel passionately about the work of the museum.

"But we cannot condone the strike because it will have an effect on the work we do.

"If the museum takes no action there will be a deficit of 5m by 2004/5, which is not survivable.

"The action is being taken to ensure the museum is placed in a sure financial footing."

Union representatives will meet with management on Tuesday to discuss the next move in the ongoing dispute.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Lainy Malkani
"It's hoped this closure is a one off, and not a sign of things to come"

In DepthIN DEPTH
BBC News Online looks at how the arts are funded in the UKArts funding
How the UK's cash for the arts is spent
See also:

17 Jun 02 | Entertainment
30 Apr 02 | Entertainment
30 Apr 02 | Entertainment
12 Jun 02 | Entertainment
29 May 02 | Entertainment
28 May 02 | Entertainment
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