Socialist Worker

The best way to defend union rights is to strike like Lambeth library workers

by Raymie Kiernan
Issue No. 2490

Pickets at Brixton Library in Lambeth, south London, on Monday

Pickets at Brixton Library in Lambeth, south London, on Monday (Pic: Guy Smallman)


The TUC’s week of action against the Trade Union Bill began on Monday with plans for workers to hold workplace meetings and protests against the new anti-union laws.

The Tories hope to ram through new laws to make it far harder for unions to hold national strikes.

Among a range of anti-worker measures, employers will be able to break strikes by bringing in agency workers to cover for strikers.

To have a legally protected strike, 50 percent of members must turn out to vote. But in “important public services” 40 percent of the entire membership must vote in favour. So, if there were a 50 percent turnout, 80 percent of these members would have to vote for the action.

The Tories want to weaken unions to make it easier to push through austerity.

The best way to beat the laws is to exercise the right to strike, and to prepare for defiance.

A leak to Socialist Worker released last Sunday night showed that the Tories are panicking over the bill’s passage through the House of Lords (see page 2).

Library workers in Lambeth, south London, started the week of action by striking against cuts and privatisation.

Unison union members shut down the borough’s ten libraries in a dispute over the Labour-run council’s plan to slash the library service. Strikes also took place in Greenwich and Bromley. 

Closing 

“We’re closing the libraries for a day to fight for the future of the service,” Lambeth Unison rep Tim O’Dell told Socialist Worker.

He added, “During the TUC week of action what better way of showing the importance of trade unions in the fight against austerity.”

In Lambeth, Labour councillors face fierce opposition from library workers and users. There is also sharp argument inside the Labour Party over the plans to close some libraries, turn others into gyms and cut the overall service.

None of the Labour councillors gave the “automatic” solidarity that shadow chancellor John McDonnell has called on Labour members to offer striking workers.

Library worker Martha said, “Councillors hoped they could push things through quietly but they’ve got a fight on their hands.

“Libraries are a valuable community resource providing all sort of services. What replaces that if you take it away? These gyms will have a few shelves of books—that’s not a library service.”

There is a growing belief that action can force the council to back down. Campaign groups around five of the libraries have voted to occupy against the plans. Some 250 people protested outside one of them last Saturday and blocked traffic.

One of the three constituency Labour Party (CLP) groups covered by the council area recently voted to oppose the library cuts.

“The combination of this internal opposition and campaigners’ backing for the strikes has the potential to roll back the council’s plans,” said Tim.

“But we can’t stop here. We have just nine weeks before they start removing books and padlocking doors. That means we should escalate our action.”

Please send messages of support to savelambethlibraries@gmail.com and J.Rogers@unison.co.uk

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