26 Nov, 2009

Pompidou strike moves towards fifth day

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

Staff at France’s leading modern art gallery angry over government policy to cut number of jobs at public cultural bodies

Art lovers in Paris hoping for a glimpse of Surrealist erotica or Pierre Soulages’ polyptychs were left disappointed today as staff at the Pompidou Centre, France’s leading modern art gallery, downed tools for a fourth day of strike action.

Denouncing a “brutal” government policy they say will see the Pompidou’s workforce slashed by 20% over the next decade, angry employees voted to walk out on Monday morning and showed no sign today of returning to work without gaining concessions.

In a reform due to affect all public cultural bodies from next year, including the Louvre and the National Library, France’s rightwing government is to embark on a belt-tightening policy that will limit the number of retiring staff members who are replaced.

Of all the museums, libraries, theatres and galleries, the flagship Pompidou Centre is likely to be the hardest hit because of the high average age of its employees, almost half of whom are over 50. Unions leading the strike claim that, over the next 10 years, 220 jobs will be lost from the 1,100-strong workforce.

“The office of the culture minister … is adopting a brutal position,” said the CGT union in a statement, chastising low levels of state funding as well as the proposed job cuts. “This aggressive policy desired by [President Nicolas Sarkozy] and his government … is unacceptable for the staff, the institutions and the public,” it added.

Observers warned that industrial action at the Pompidou, known locally as the Beaubourg, could soon spread to other public bodies. Union leaders, who claim the next three years could see as many as 1,000 jobs disappear across the 80 institutions concerned, were last night preparing to call on all of them to go on strike.

“We hope the Pompidou Centre will be an example to others,” said Franck Guillaumet of the CGT. “It cannot win everything on its own.”

If the strike were to spread, Sarkozy would be faced with an unwelcome winter of artistic discontent before regional elections in the spring. He insists the French cultural sector needs to be trimmed to make it more efficient.

But he will have a fight on his hands. Anger over pay and working conditions has already led staff at another Parisian gallery, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, to down tools briefly this week. Meanwhile, the popular library in the Beaubourg has announced it will close on Monday.

Staff at the Pompidou, which with 5.5 million visitors last year was the fifth biggest attraction in the French capital, will decide tomorrow whether to take the strike into a fifth day.

Visitors were being told to call ahead to see if the gallery would be open. On its website, the Pompidou apologised for the disturbance and said pre-booked tickets could be used on another occasion.

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