Marching to save our libraries

THOUSANDS of library workers and users from all over England marched through London last Saturday to protest at the growing tide of library closures. They included staff from dozens of local lending libraries as well as from national libraries, museums and art galleries.

The march was supported by the unions PCS, Unite and Unison. It began at the British Library near St Pancras Station and marched to Trafalgar Square for a rally.

Many of the delegations on the march had been involved in strikes and disputes against closures and against the outsourcing of these vital services to the private sector.

Fiona Barry, a library campaigner from Warrington where nine 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 per cent of staff and since 2012 the budget has been halved.”

A spokesperson from Barnet Unison said: “Volunteers are being used now to help push through brutal austerity policies and take the livelihoods of low paid library workers.”

Another contingent on the march comprised 50 campaigners from the battle to save libraries in Lambeth, south London.

Another group of library workers from Gateshead, Tyneside, are fighting redundancy. 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.”

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, who led a long battle to defend jobs, pay and conditions in the face of privatisation of services at the National Gallery a couple of years ago 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.”