A crowd of trade unionists from the US, UK and even Australia protested outside Sotheby’s in London’s New Bond Street on Thursday night. As their customers blew nearly £40 million on modern and contemporary art – including £3.2m ($5m) for a Lucien Freud picture – trade unionists protested about the way Sotheby’s New York headquarters has locked out 42 skilled art handlers who have refused to accept a new contract with worse terms and conditions and less secure employment. This despite record profits last year, and a $6m pay cheque for CEO William Ruprecht.
But the whistles, chants and speeches from the protesters drowned out a slightly hollow ring at the Sotheby’s till, suggesting that customers were maybe a bit embarrassed at the conspicuous consumption that fuels Sotheby’s scrooge-like management style. The prestigious evening sale conducted during the protest recording considerably lower sales than the afternoon event. Reuters reported that “Of the 47 lots on offer, 11 failed to find a buyer, most notably Peter Doig’s snowscape ‘Bellevarde’ which had been valued at £1.5-2.0m ($2.4-$3.2m).”
Protesters included locked out Sotheby’s art handler Dorian Malloy Jr. and Teamsters Local 814 President Jason Ide (a former Sotheby’s employee), visiting trade unionists from the New York branch of the TWU and the Canberra/New South Wales branch of the ASU, as well as Unite’s Assistant General Secretary Tony Burke and ITF General Secretary David Cockcroft.
The campaign for justice continues, and you can make your protest heard by sending Sotheby’s UK management an email.