The fight to save Lambeth libraries from the cuts of the south London Labour council is hotting up. Workers at the ten libraries again shut them all down today, Wednesday, on day two of their 48-hour strike against two library closures and cuts to the whole service.
They were boosted by news their Unison union council colleagues are prepared to back them up.
Strikers protested outside the offices of the council’s Labour cabinet members this afternoon. Addressing a rally Lambeth Unison branch secretary Jon Rogers’ message to councillors was that “this fight isn’t going to end anytime soon”.
He said that over 85 percent had voted in a consultative ballot for a council-wide strike in defence of libraries and against budget cuts. “That’s what they are going to face here if they don’t get round the table and stop closing our libraries,” Jon said.
Under pressure from widespread local resistance to their unpopular cuts plan Labour councillors are desperately lashing out.
Councillor Robert Hill branded the library strikers a “disgrace”. Incredibly, a man who voted to close libraries forever denounced strikers for “denying services”.
Jane Edbrooke, cabinet member for neighbourhoods, criticised the union for engaging in a “political campaign alongside libraries groups rather than simply an industrial dispute”.
Brixton Library union rep Tim O’Dell said, “If defending libraries and public services is political, then yes we are political. The council’s decision to close libraries is political with the Progress group in Labour trying to force through austerity.”
After stopping to offer support to Carnegie Library strikers on the picket line this morning Wimsome Martin told Socialist Worker, “Taking away books and education from the children – it’s appalling.
“We don’t see Labour standing up for us so why are we voting for them?”
Local parent Nicky said her six year old child burst into tears when she broke the news to him about Carnegie’s closure, due on 1 April. “The library is a really important place to us,” Nicky said.
Around Carnegie locals are furious at close their library. Sandra Hill has been part of the Wednesday morning readers group for the last three years. “It’s a lovely place,” she said, “a social hub.”
“I’ve lived on the same street for 35 years but it was in the library that I really got to know my neighbours.”
One Carnegie Library worker said the buildings are about much more than books in them. She said, “We see elderly people come and spend the day simply to keep warm because they can’t afford to heat their homes. But it can sometimes just be to meet and have a chat with people.
“Libraries can break social isolation. We have up to 60 parents and children in every Friday morning for Wriggle and Rhyme Time, for the under-5s.”
Unison rep Caroline Mackie told Socialist Worker, “Every day people are in the library looking for help with accessing all kinds of public services.” She is angry that the council keeps saying there will still be a library at Carnegie after it is turned into a gym with a bookshelf.
“You can only call it a library if there is a staffed service,” she said.
Against all opposition the Labour council has pressed ahead with its plan.
Lambeth resident Joe fears that there is a “bigger plan for more privatisation”. He added, “To do that they need to smash the power of the union in Lambeth.”
Joe joined the Labour Party on 13 September last year because Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader. For him, Corbyn’s campaign was like “light shining through the clouds last summer”.
“Lambeth Labour clearly are not going to take a stand against central government but I think they need to take them on and not just manage the cuts.
“We need councils across the country to fight – and it needs to be a coordinated effort. If we don’t there will be nothing left by 2020.”