Image from The Queen, My Lord, is Much, Much Better

On May 18th tour guides at the Globe Theatre in London went on their first ever strike in a dispute that has been simmering since last year. Some of the guides wore Jacobean and Elizabethan costumes while appealing for public support in their campaign for improved pay and conditions. The strike received encouragement from members of the public but failed to budge the management so another strike took place yesterday to reinforce the points the workers were making.

The modern Globe was begun by actor/director Sam Wannamaker back in the 1970’s. It has made steady progress over time in terms of visitors and profits. In 2014 they received over 350,000 visitors, an increase of 16% over the previous year with the institution itself gaining a healthy financial surplus of 800,000 pounds as a result.

Despite contributing to the profits, the tour guides are being seriously undervalued. The guides are asking for 13.50 an hour, which is the price of a single adult ticket for a tour. The guides conduct an average of 50 people per tour, so the maths makes it clear they are not only not a burden to the Globe, but are clearly adding value to the place and that the institution is able to cover the wage demand. The guides require a significant degree of knowledge about the theatre itself and the Shakespearean world. They have to take people through a noisy and often hectic environment while retaining their composure. Despite this, management are denying the high level of expertise involved in the job. They are trying to argue the guides do not deserve anything beyond the minimum for guiding at places with few responsibilities, rather than see them as deserving pay parity with workers at other high profile organisations such as the BBC, the Royal Opera House or Parliament. Another issue concerns a series of unpaid ancillary tasks they are assigned such as providing extra security at the gate.

The actions of the workers in this case are defensive and not being carried out by a traditionally militant sector of workers. As a representative of the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU) whose members are undertaking the strikes noted, the guides “…are simply fighting for a fairer deal in recognition of their contribution to the Globe’s success”. However, given the nature of post-industrial capitalism, service workers deserve support and success. Whether this success is to be or not to be, that is the question. Hopefully the answer will be a positive one.