Women's Library occupied!

Submitted by on 8 March, 2013 - 11:01

Occupiers went in to the Women's Library in Old Castle Street, East London on International Women's Day and declared their intention to stay there and try to prevent the break up of the unique collection depicting women's history, which goes back to the suffragettes and the Match Strike, through the 1970's Women's Movement to today.

London Met University, in order to solve part of its debt problem, have resolved to move the collection, including archive and original documents, papers, banners depicting women's struggle for socialism and equality for 150 year, from the purpose made building in which it is housed. To do this they would have to repay a £10m donation from the Heritage Lottery Fund which was made to build the specialised rooms in which the collections are held. London Met consider this a good plan as they reckon they will make more than enough from the sale of the building to do this and resolve some of their debts.

The occupation was large, well-organised and determined to ensure that, in an area noted for the landmark historical events which have shaped the women's liberation movement as well as that of the working class, the library will stay and be accessible for future generations.

After an initial confrontation with police, two bus loads of them turned up, the occupiers settled in, holding democratic meetings to organise eating, sleeping and security arrangement, as well as organising workshops, discussions, art, film and musical events. They are all ethnicities, genders and ages.

Oona, one of the first to go in explained, "The archives in this building are held in strict conditions which guarantee their continuing existance; air, heat and dust control. Nowhere else would this be true. They want to move it to the LSE, but that would not have the same facilities and would be nowhere near as accessible to ordinary people. Children, for example, would not be able to visit. There is no way that children should be deprived of access to this history".

Another said, "The LSE is a patriarchal organisation who would not care for this exhibition as the Womens Library has. The building is purpose-built and must remain. This is an attack on our history by patriarchy and capital. We are determined to defend it".

The occupation was organised by feminist organisations with the support of individuals and anti-capitalist/anarchist groups. It is important that the labour movement gets behind this campaign. What the women's library represents is the voice of the working class which is being silenced by the borgeois establishment. It must not be allowed to happen.

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At 3.30pm on 9 March occupiers were evicted. Defiant to the end, women had to be dragged from the soon-to-be-closed building by High Court Bailiffs and Police. Outside they were met with cheers from a one hundred-strong crowd of supporters.

Occupier Josie Foreman, a University History Lecturer said: "Holding onto the history of women’s struggle for equality becomes even more important in a moment like this, when the government is closing women’s refuges and shutting down children’s centres. The Women’s Library reminds us that these are hard-won gains for which women have fought for centuries. We will not allow them to be taken away from us so easily. Acting in the tradition of the suffragettes, we are willing to take direct action for what we believe in. In this time of savage austerity, we do indeed need ‘Deeds, not Words’."