Up to 2,000 people marched in central London today, Saturday, to defend libraries, museums and galleries under threat from cuts.
Trade unionists and campaigners from Gateshead to Warrington, Wales and all across London joined the march. It was backed by the PCS, Unite and Unison unions.
Fiona Barry, a library campaigner from Warrington where 9 out of 11 libraries are threatened by cuts said, “I've not seen a coming together of campaigns like this before. This is a crucial moment in time when we need to defend what we've got.
“Just last year Warrington libraries saw a loss of 20 percent of staff and since 2012 the budget has been halved.”
The march was peppered with homemade banners and local campaign groups, particularly around library cuts. Some 50 campaigners from the battle to save libraries in Lambeth, south London, joined one of the biggest delegations.
Several local government Unison banners also had good delegations around them. They included striking library workers in Barnet, north London and library workers from Gateshead, Tyneside, facing redundancies.
Gateshead library worker Katy said, “Cutting funding to culture services is terrible. People living in deprived areas have already lost so much. Lots of children rely on libraries too.
“Our libraries have lost later opening hours, as well as Saturday opening and we've got less staff now."
Katy hoped the march would achieve “an acknowledgement that public libraries are important and a vital resource for people”.
“You can't just scrap all culture,” she said.
Gateshead Labour council is proposing to slash another third of library staff.
Unison rep and library worker Deborah said, “They have just run a consultation, where they tried to pitch one library against another. Now they want us to provide the same service but with fewer staff.”
But she seemed resigned to the fact the cuts were going to happen. The union has a responsibility nationally to draw the local fights together into national action and not leave its branches to fight alone.
Today's march was a clear sign of the possibilities for that to be done—and the support such action could pull in behind it.
The march was also joined by workers in the PCS from National Museum Wales, who struck over pay earlier this year.
One of them said she and her colleagues had joined the march to return the solidarity they had received from trade unionists and campaigners.
She said, “The march was amazing. I hope that now people take notice that culture is important to save for the future and we stop the cuts.”
National Gallery PCS rep Candy Udwin said, “Today's march has been such an achievement for local campaigns to turn out this fantastic national demonstration. But we need the trade unions and the Labour Party to be taking this up.
“They should be putting more pressure on the Tories and using the political enthusiasm around the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader to construct a national movement against these cuts.
“We can't wait until 2020 to save services. Use the mood that's evident on this march to fight the cuts now.