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South London: library workers strike to save services
A Unite member
Library workers in Greenwich and Bromley have taken strike action against the proposed swingeing cuts to their respective libraries, despite the fact that Greenwich council has £320 million in reserves and Bromley council more than £400 million in its coffers.
Strikers joined the campaign group 'Speak up for libraries' in a lobby of parliament on 9 February where campaigners and Unite the union made the point that councils could actually be breaking the law by not providing a "comprehensive and efficient" library service.
Bromley Unite walked out from 6 to 13 February in a long-running dispute over the council's privatisation programme, including at the 14 libraries where there are plans to replace professional staff with volunteers.
Meanwhile in Greenwich, Unite members have taken strike action from 9 to 12 February in protest against the proposed withdrawal of the mobile library service.
We have a huge democratic mandate with a 90% yes vote after a turnout near 80%, in a library workforce where Unite density is 95%.
If not challenged, other closures will follow. That is why we are taking action. We cannot wait until it is too late.
In the same week Unison members in Lambeth took strike action as part of their continued campaign against plans to close five of the ten libraries and sell them off to become private gyms.
No hush, no quiet, these librarians want to riot!
Unite the Union campaign update, 10.2.16
The industrial action has certainly focussed attention on our campaign. In order to keep libraries open, the employer has drafted in managers and sessional staff on zero hour contracts who are not paid the London Living Wage.
The first point is that nobody can say that the action has not had an impact - the measures that the employer has taken speaks for itself.
But secondly, the employer can no longer hide behind the cloak of being a social enterprise, that somehow this makes it 'better' than a private company.
We have uncovered appalling levels of bullying being employed to force non library and/or sessional staff to break the strike.
The strike action has also focussed the attention of campaigners across the country on what is happening in Greenwich. We took the opportunity to use the lobby of parliament as part of the Speak Up For Libraries week to promote our campaign - the result is increased interest from across the country. Our strike even got mentioned in the Northern Echo!
On the picket lines, we have been able to build increased public support by making full use of the opportunity to leaflet and petition. We also linked up with campaigners in Bromley, Lewisham and Lambeth during the week and are building for a joint borough campaign committee.
We now need to keep the pressure on and keep up the momentum. We have two events that we are asking people to attend.
We have again asked for permission to address the Council Cabinet Committee. In addition, a meeting of the full council is taking place the week after. Details of both the events are below.
This is a campaign we can win. Everybody can see we are right - that is why 15 new members have joined the union over the last couple of weeks. We are determined to save the Mobile and in doing so send a clear message to GLL and the council - No library closures!
Lobby of council cabinet
17th February, 6pm, at the town hall
Lobby of full council meeting
24th February, 6pm, at the town hall
In The Socialist 10 February 2016:
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party feature
What we think
Momentum, Labour and the Socialist Party
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party reports and campaigns
International socialist news and analysis