St Matthew’s Brixton and the Living Wage Campaign

Author: Andy Walton

Date: 03 June 2010

A spin off from the Obama presidential campaign of 2009 has been to give Citizen Organizing a higher profile in the British political scene. The Revd Stephen Sichel was keen on Citizen Organizing from experience in the West Midlands when he arrived in Southwark. With its long tradition of involvement in social justice issues it wasn’t difficult to persuade members of St Matthew’s Brixton to join South London Citizens in 2003.

Membership reinvigorated their engagement and sense of connectedness with their neighbours. Training provided by SLC was hands on, practical and easily accessible. This in turn boosted some peoples’ confidence to take on new roles within the church.

It was a SLC meeting in the Hyderi Mosque, Streatham, in 2006 that decided how locally to mark the forthcoming bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade (2007). It was agreed to target The Tate galleries to implement a Living Wage. Initial meetings with Management were hardnosed. The Tate family seeks to distance itself from links with the slave trade on the grounds that its real fortune was made post slavery. On 25th March 2007 campaigners visited Tate Modern depositing sachets of Tate & Lyle sugar in the collecting boxes. En route to the gallery they found a piper who agreed to join them and play Amazing Grace. Not surprisingly this attracted questions from visitors and campaign information spread. Management requested a further meeting resulting in promises to research Living Wage at other institutions.

During the exhibition of Doris Salcedo’s ‘Crack’ activists arrived in small groups but at a given signal began singing Once in Royal David’s City and assembling along both sides, joining hands across the divide. Subsequent meetings went more smoothly. Tate management not only agreed to pay cleaning staff more, training and general attitudes have improved morale. By spring 2009 the objectives had been achieved and Tate could rest easy that no more sugar sachets would appear in collecting boxes.