Lambeth libraries: strong campaigns can save jobs

Submitted by Matthew on 4 August, 2011 - 1:08

Lambeth Council in south London agreed to a deal which will save all the jobs in the library service following the workers announcing strike action against libraries cuts.

Lambeth council wanted a staffing restructure in its libraries which would massacre frontline services and leave 40 people at risk of redundancy. By combining a high-profile public campaign with the threat of strike action, every job in the service has been saved; reading groups, storytimes and enquiry services will continue.

This is a tribute to the unity and determination of trade union members in the libraries, who were ready to strike to defend the library service and protect their jobs.

This is a lesson to every other worker — in Lambeth Council and elsewhere — that to look after your interests you have to be prepared to take industrial action.

Ruth Cashman, Libraries Shop Steward and Lambeth Unison Assistant Branch Secretary said:

“Lambeth Labour Party could learn a lot from these workers. When they faced the cuts they fought with every tool they had.

“They campaigned and they were willing to strike. They faced the cutters with their heads high and fought not just for their jobs or their colleagues’ jobs, but for the right of people of Lambeth to have a decent library service.

“This is not the end of our fight, next year the council will try and cut the library service again. They will disguise library closures by ‘handing the libraries over to the community’.

“We think councils should be providing services, like libraries, not looking to cut jobs, cut services and shift responsibility. So next year, we will fight again — but this was a great first step.”

Strike action due to begin on Friday 22 July was suspended following management’s offer which secured no compulsory redundancies in the section. There is still a live strike ballot in the section and every detail of the new structure will need to be agreed by a full members meeting before Unison will call off the action entirely.

Solidarity spoke to some of the workers involved in the campaign:

“When [Lambeth Council] announced the cuts, we knew we had two options —fight or lose.

Nearly all of us are in Unison [there is 90% union density in the sector], we know we’ve got the best union reps and we know more about libraries than the people who wrote that structure. We don’t pay our money every month to get cheap car insurance and then lose our jobs, we want a union that will fight. We won because of our union. I’ve seen it in other departments and other councils, people are losing their job and managers just get on with cutting. They had to listen to us because we won the strike vote and all the libraries were going to shut [on the strike day] unless every job was safe.”

Lambeth Librarian

“Management said they were concerned that rolling over when faced with strike action would set a precedent. Let’s hope so!”

Unison Shop Steward

“Solid trade union membership, dedicated shop stewards and a sustained public campaign have seen off an attempt by Lambeth council to make 20 librarians redundant.

So if you’re not in a trade union I’d go and get yourself a membership form. Up the workers!”

Librarian

“We had a vote of no confidence in our management and a vote of total confidence in our union reps.

The only question was whether we would win before or after the strike.”

Customer Service Assistant

“When a consultant on £500 a day tells you that the council can’t afford to staff its libraries, something has gone wrong.”

Librarian