Farewell to so many years of experience.

For the last decade or more, the Library has been running periodic Voluntary Exit programmes, in response or to restructures or to funding cuts. Some people have happily left with cheers to begin their retirement; others with great reluctance, feeling they had no choice.

Since 2010, these exercises have come thick and fast as the Library has implemented Spending Review settlements supplemented by the nips and tucks in funding that have come with every Budget and Autumn Statement. There has been an exit programme every year.

Somehow, the 2015 departures have been on a scale not seen before. For the last week or more, every member of staff has been saying farewell to multiple colleagues per day. Prospect has lost many valued members (though we are luckily able to recruit new members almost as fast), and I would like to post our own particular “Roll of Honour”: the reps who have left us this month.

They are: Geoff West (otherwise Head of Hispanic Collections), who had served as a rep for Prospect and its predecessor unions longer than any other person, and had a wealth of experience and expertise;

John Tiplady (Metadata Systems Analyst), who was a highly active Section Organizer and recruiter as well as a representative on negotiating Committees;

Isabelle Egan (Conservator), our Branch’s Minutes Secretary for the last two years; and

Robert Davies (Events Officer), who was Equal pay rep and newsletter editor in bygone days.

The Library is not an organization that has excessive numbers of reps to begin with, and some had left us in previous rounds, so the loss of these four friends and colleagues will leave a big hole.

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Heritage in a Cold Climate Summit

Despite the weather, on 26 January 2015, fifty Prospect members gathered in York to discuss problems in the heritage sector, including four from the British Library branch (Janet Ashton, Chris Martyn, John Tiplady and myself).

Prospect Vice-President, Denise Maguire described the heritage sector as “A massive success story for the UK”. She introduced Prospect’s Heritage in a Cold Climate survey: 82% respondents said cuts had damaged their organisations, yet the top 5 UK tourist attractions are all in the heritage sector and by 2025 tourism will account for 10% UK GDP.

Councillor Janet Looker from York City Council told us how they were making its rich past work for the future well-being of its citizens, despite the challenging financial environment. Later, after the open discussion, Councillor Looker announced that she would be joining Prospect!

Mathematician, Dr. Mick Taylor showed how austerity was increasing inequality, decreasing social mobility and causing public sector funding problems. Austerity, he added, is not inevitable, but a policy choice. GDP (Gross Domestic Product) only measures financial capital, he said, not social, environmental, human or spiritual capital. To count the real value of heritage we need a new economics.

The Chair, Alan Leighton, noted that two of Prospect’s motions to last year’s TUC conference were on heritage funding.

Open Session

Craig said his employer, English Heritage, was splitting into a public sector advisory body and a charitable body to run the historic sites. They were experiencing a lot of redundancies. Mick Taylor said heritage branches could campaign by trading off the reputations of the institutions they work for, as many are highly regarded.

I talked about how British Library branch was raising public awareness with leafleting events outside St. Pancras and how cuts to the Library were mostly out of public view, but people proved sympathetic when we talked to them.

A York Archaeological Trust worker said bodies were competing for money across the public sector. Mick said the scarcity we experience was contrived. There was only competition between the public sector and the private. Heritage branches needed to campaign together.

National Executive Committee member Neil Hope-Collins said that Prospect needed to organise better geographically. Delegations could visit MP’s surgeries ahead of the general election. Tim from the Valuation Office agreed; MPs, he said, may just not be aware of our problems.

A telecoms worker from South Yorkshire compared the UK with Germany; Germany is very debt-averse yet spends heavily on the arts.

Denise said Prospect headquarters would use ideas from tonight in a heritage impact statement and that Prospect members should visit museums, galleries, etc. to boost visitor numbers!

A Royal Armouries worker said cuts were damaging their museum’s reputation and staff were leaving. Alan agreed, noting that the Tate Gallery Branch had used staff turnover to argue for the resolution of long-term pay anomalies.

Conclusion

The day was very useful for Prospect – and allies – to exchange  ideas and to start organising as a heritage sector. Prospect takes these issues seriously, and British Library Branch is constantly pressing the heritage case.

We accept that Prospect needs to address the impact of government policy on all its members. Nonetheless, heritage is a vital focus if the UK is to retain its international reputation as a centre for heritage excellence, and if heritage workers are to continue adding disproportionate value to the economy for the amount invested in us.

LGBT History Month 2015

Prospect LGBT History Month Every February it’s LGBT History Month, and this year the theme is Coded Lives.

LGBT people have existed throughout history, but often in a not very visible way. After all, groups who are systematically oppressed by a heteronormative, gender-normative patriarchy rarely have sufficient voice to be heard in a point in time, let along enough voice for that voice to linger in records.

So, instead of me writing about my hero (Alan Turing) I thought I’d be even more obscure and introduce some of the people of whom you might not immediately think. Many of these are featured by LGBT History Month

Anne Lister was a lesbian living in the early nineteenth century, at a time when the words “homosexual” and “lesbian” hadn’t even been coined. She was an inveterate diarist, and wrote about a sixth of her diaries in code, including about her relationships with other women. Her isolation as a gay woman was reflected in her phrase, “Alas, I am, as it were, neither man nor woman in society. How shall I manage?” (26 Jan 1830)

I’ve mentioned Polari – the language used mainly by gay men in the twentieth century – before on the blog, but it’s worth remembering two of its best recognised speakers, Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick, who became best known as Julian and Sandy on BBC’s Round the Horne in the sixties. Polari fell out of common use after the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967, but it remains significant as a way of gay men identifying themselves and communicating safely in a hostile world.

Frida Kahlo is one of Mexico’s best known artists, known for her iconic self-portraits in which she refused to comply with physical ideals, and painted herself with heavy eyebrows and moustache. She married and was romantically linked with other men and women, including Georgia O’Keefe and Leon Trotsky.

"Thomas Stewart – Chevalier d'Eon" by After Jean-Laurent Mosnier - Philip Mould. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Thomas_Stewart_%E2%80%93_Chevalier_d%27Eon.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Thomas_Stewart_%E2%80%93_Chevalier_d%27Eon.jpg

“Thomas Stewart – Chevalier d’Eon” by After Jean-Laurent Mosnier – Philip Mould. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

The Beaumont Society has provided help and support to the transgender community since 1966, but what’s less well-known is that it’s named after the snappily named Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d’Éon de Beaumont, better known as the Chevalier d’Eon. A notorious character of the eighteenth and early nineteeth centuries, the Chevalier d’Eon lived as a man until 1785, from when she lived until her death as a woman. With roles in the military, diplomatic corps and in espionage, Chevalier d’Eon has been one of the most colourful – and confusing – characters in trans history.

It’s important to remember that the LGBT communities are, themselves, diverse, and this is highlighted in this wonderful list of great black LGBT britons from 100 Great Black Britons. Their list reminds us of these often overlooked characters and their contributions to LGBT life in modern Britain, including Justin Fashanu, David McAlmont and Linda Bellos. Spanning sports, music and politics, people from black and minority ethnic groups have challenged stereotypes, opened people’s eyes and changed society.

Finally, a quick mention of Pride, which comes out on DVD in March. This award-winning deeply moving comedy follows the impact of LGBT activists on a Welsh mining community during the strike of 1983/84. Mike Jackson, one of the founders of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, reminds us that “prejudice cannot withstand proximity”.

And this, ultimately, is what LGBT History Month is about. The LGBT communities are still not part of every day life in Britain, and this has an impact on the health and well-being of young LGBT people growing up. Without visible, strong role models, both contemporary and historical, it’s easy to think that you’re the “only gay in the village”, and a society which is heteronormative – which privileges straight people, their love and their relationships – makes those of us who don’t conform feel pressured to fit into a mould we don’t fit.

LGBT people are disproportionately represented in mental health diagnoses, suicide attempts, homelessness, low educational attainment and in poor pay. As a union, Prospect joins with LGBT History Month to support the decoding of hidden lives to support better futures for LGBT people, both younger and older.


More information about events during LGBT History Month is available on the LGBT History Month website, and events being organised by the trade union movement are available on the TUC website.

If you’re a member of Prospect, and you’re concerned about any aspect of homophobia – or other forms of discrimination – in the workplace, please contact a rep.

Don’t delay – sign up today

This is just a quick reminder for Boston Spa Section staff – particularly those who live in York or nearby – that there are still places available on the “Heritage in a cold climate” event, to be held from 5.30 to 8pm at King’s Manor, York (just outside the walls, diagonally opposite Bootham Bar).

It’s a great chance to hear some interesting speakers from local and national government, as well as from the Union, and meet colleagues from other organisations – and there’s tea, coffee or wine to oil the wheels of conversation.

To bag your place, email louise.reed@prospect.org.uk as soon as you can.

Fame at last!

Members who watched part one of Jacques Peretti’s documentary, “The Super-Rich and Us” on BBC2 on January 8th may have spotted a familiar logo.

Peretti’s programme discussed the theory of trickle-down economics, and how these have led instead to widening disparities in wealth as Britain seeks to attract ever larger numbers of the international super-rich to its shores by effectively becoming a tax haven.

It turns out that he was present at the “Britain needs a pay rise” march in October, for at one stage there were lots of shots of marching trade unionists – including, very prominently, members of Prospect. Best of all, a Prospect banner inscribed “Heritage workers need a pay rise” was centre screen for a good chunk of time, bringing the Heritage Sector’s campaign to a bigger audience than ever.

If you happened to miss the show, it’s available for almost another month on BBC i-Player. Episode 2 will be shown on January 15th.