The fight to save Lambeth libraries from south London Labour council’s cuts stepped up a notch last week.
Workers at the ten libraries struck for 48 hours against two library closures and cuts to the service. They were boosted by news that their council colleagues in the Unison union are prepared to back them up.
Over 85 percent voted for a council-wide strike in defence of libraries and against budget cuts in a consultative ballot. Activists now want a formal strike ballot as soon as possible.
Labour councillors are lashing out under pressure from widespread local resistance.
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 responded, “If defending libraries is political, then yes we are political.
“The council’s decision to close libraries is political with Labour trying to force through austerity.”
At the Carnegie Library picket line local resident Wimsome Martin said the cuts were “appalling”.
She said,“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 this week. “The library is a really important place to us,” Nicky said.
At a campaign meeting last Thursday night one resident, who described himself as normally “a moderate man”, argued that the library campaigners were not alone in resisting austerity.
Pointing to the junior doctors and teachers he said, “Now is not a time for moderation.”
Libraries are about much more than the books in them.
One Carnegie Library worker said, “We see elderly people spend the day here to keep warm because they can’t afford to heat their homes.
“But it can sometimes just be to meet with people. Libraries can break social isolation.”
Unison rep Caroline Mackie told Socialist Worker, “Every day people are in the library looking for help with accessing all kinds of public services.”
The Labour council has pressed ahead with its plan despite the opposition.
Lambeth resident Joe fears that there is a “bigger plan for more privatisation”.
Joe joined the Labour Party on 13 September last year, the day after Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader.
For him, Corbyn’s campaign was like a “light shining through the clouds”.
He said, “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.”
Library jobs cut by one quarter
Almost 8,000 library jobs in Britain, one quarter of the total, have gone in the past six years.
More than 340 libraries have been closed due to cuts.
A further 111 closures were expected this year, according to a BBC investigation.