I don't think any of us are expecting to be shocked by whatever the survey reveals to be the average museum salary. It's probably going to be low, but above the minimum wage. Right? Well that really depends on who responded. If some of the attendants at the National Gallery in London took the survey their pay--which is 60 pence per hour below a living wage--would certainly have an effect on the data. Their insultingly low wages plus long hours (between 50-60 hours per week) prompted them to stage a two hour walk out on Tuesday. Management has refused to negotiate with the striking members of the Public and Commercial Services Union, claiming that the museum cannot afford to pay them any more.
Of course that's the excuse. That's always going to be the excuse. As I said in a previous entry, museums are always going to have to make difficult decisions about where to allocate funds. If Museos don't speak out and insist that their labor is a valuable resource that's worthy of investment, then museums are always going to allocate their funds elsewhere. They're always going to be unable to afford to pay a decent wage. Not only must employees be valuable, but they also have to be willing to stand up and advocate for how valuable they are.
With their actions the attendants at the National Gallery have made the statement that they are valuable. They've demonstrated that their services are required. When they weren't on duty the museum had to shut the majority of its galleries! Museums need Museos even more than they need collections.
We first became aware of this strike via this post, Culture and a Living Wage. J at the Attic muses:
It seems to me to be a variation on the old conflation between intangible cultural value and economic free-market value. The argument is not so much that these workers just deserve to be paid for what they do, but that what they do is somehow worth more... Isn't it sad that museum workers have to resort to these arguments? Is as if we don't believe that our labour is equal to the labour of other workers, but that we have to somehow wrap ourselves in the aura of the art in order to ennoble and promote our work? Kind of like stay-at-home mums: they are valued not because their work is work, but because their work is connected to the sacred mysteries of raising the next generation...We agree. Work is work. It should be fairly compensated regardless of its innate nobility or how much of a "dream job" it is.