In an unexpected move, the British Museum in London closed its doors today amid the “Walkout Wednesday” strikes being staged across the U.K. in protest of labor conditions, inflation spikes, and poor pay.
The surprise closure comes just days after more than 100 members of the institution’s security and visitor services staff—who belong to the Culture Group of Britain’s Public and Commercial Service (PCS) union—announced that they would strike for a week starting February 13.
“Members of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) are on strike today as part of a nationwide dispute across the public sector,” the museum explained in a statement shared on its website and through social media. “While [the strike] is outside the control of the Museum, it does affect our ability to open safely to both our visitors and staff, so we have taken the decision to close the Museum today.”
“This is not a decision taken lightly and we apologize for any inconvenience this may cause,” the statement concluded.
When asked for more information about the decision to shut down or whether any institutional employees or members of the security staff are participating in the strike, representatives from the British Museum declined to comment further. A spokesperson did confirm that the museum plans to reopen tomorrow, February 2, “as normal.”
🏛 THE GATES ARE SHUT AT THE BRITISH MUSEUM 🏛 No one is getting in today @pcs_union #PCSonstrike pic.twitter.com/vrHNskXQOQ
— PCS Culture Group (@PCSCultureGroup) February 1, 2023
One of the U.K.’s largest trade unions, PCS represents over 200,000 civil servants and other government workers. At least 100,000 were expected to participate in today’s organized strikes.
Among the PCS Culture Group’s members are employees at organizations such as Historic England, the Wallace Collection, National Museums Scotland, and the National Museum of Liverpool. National Museums Scotland closed some of its venues today, including the National War Museum and sections of the National Museum of Scotland. Historic England, the Wallace Collection, and the National Museum of Liverpool remained open.
PCS Culture Group members began picketing outside the British Museum at 8 a.m. this morning, while others organized near the offices of the U.K.’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport.
“The past decade of austerity has eroded the pay of museum workers across the U.K.,” Gareth Spencer, president of the PCS Culture Group, told the this week upon the announcement of the union’s strike plans. “Security guards and front-of-house workers at the British Museum have had enough of low or below inflation pay rises.”
“The government would rather use the museums sector for confected culture war talking points,” the PCS president went on. “We want a fair deal for all our members across the U.K.’s museums, galleries, libraries and for culture workers in the civil service.”