Some 2,000 people joined a march today, Saturday, in support of the occupation of Carnegie Library in Lambeth, south London. It was one of the biggest local marches since protests against the poll tax.
The incredible turnout was fuelled by anger at austerity and electrified by the action of the occupiers.
There was also a feeling throughout that the Labour-run council is not just out of step with the mood of hope inside Labour, generated by leader Jeremy Corbyn’s election, but utterly out of touch with people in Lambeth.
Occupier Michaela Loebner said, “We occupied Carnegie Library to say to Labour’s councillors in Lambeth, ‘You might be spineless, and not willing to stand up to the Tories’ cuts, but we’re not’. Our occupation has shown that it’s possible for ordinary people to stand up and challenge them.”
On the tenth day of occupation, and after the council used the courts to evict them, rather than allow bailiffs to kick children out of the building they came out, unified and with a message of defiance.
Michaela said, “The Carnegie occupation may have ended today but this is not over, the fantastic turnout on today’s demonstration is living proof of that. Our fight goes on.”
Winsome is a local resident and has been supporting the campaign and then the occupation since she found out about it during a strike by Lambeth library staff last month. She told Socialist Worker, “The last two weeks have been awesome.
“We ain’t giving up. Labour is doing the Tories’ dirty work and not standing up for us. I used to be for Lambeth Labour, but they need to go.”
The campaign has changed people. Greta Thompson, an 18 year old “aspiring scientist”, was one of a group of school students in the occupation. She said the experience had “opened her mind up”.
“People protesting for what they believe in is powerful. We’ve proved that those who you may not class as revolutionary can fight back.”
One occupier, Helen, has also made a big change in her life. On the first night of the occupation the Labour Party member of 20 years resigned her membership. “I don’t want to be in a party that cuts libraries,” she explained to Socialist Worker.
“This campaign stands for everything that Labour should.” Helen drew parallels with the collapse in support north of the border that has seen people go over to the Scottish National Party in recent years. She warned, “We lost Scotland because of Labour acting like this, if we’re not careful the same thing is going to happen here.”
By not supporting the occupation and the fight against the cuts, Corbyn missed an opportunity to bolster his fight inside the party against the right. And Labour campaigners were disappointed with that.
The libraries’ fight is having an impact on the doorstep in the campaign for the upcoming London elections.
James joined Labour after Corbyn was elected last year. He told Socialist Worker, “We need Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell to chip in here. We’re haemorrhaging supporters here as long as they keep going with these ridiculous cuts.
“It’s very hard to get Sadiq Khan votes for London mayor, even from those who have voted Labour all their lives, when they are so angry about this stuff.”
By the end of the march the sense that the Lambeth Labour cabinet’s plans for libraries was unravelling was driven home by one Labour councillor who broke ranks and joined the demonstration. Rachel Heywood told the rally, “I am a Labour councillor today but I don’t know if I’ll have a job tomorrow.”
It spoke volumes about the nature of the regime at Lambeth council. She added, “I think this can be the beginning of something extraordinary, when politicians listen to the people. We need to make sure our libraries survive and grow.”
The right wing Progress Labour group running Lambeth is isolated. Its bunker mentality could well be its undoing.
The crucial task is for everyone who joined today’s march to not rest on their laurels but press home the advantage that has been gained by the campaign that has united library workers, users and people from the local area.
As occupier Greta said, “We can win this.”
The right wing Progress Labour group running Lambeth is isolated.
The government is to investigate Lambeth’s disastrous library plans.
The crucial task is to press home the advantage that has been gained by a campaign that has united library workers, users and local people.
There is huge support for the library workers.
Their council colleagues voted overwhelmingly for a ballot for council-wide strikes. London Unison union officials are wrong to not call more strikes.
Unofficial action by library workers last year helped to step up the fight for libraries—it can do so again.
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