Local writers Jay Rayner and Will Self joined library workers, local readers and residents marching on 5 March against Lambeth Council’s plans to close half the borough’s libraries.
Campaigners at the “Don’t Steal Our Libraries” march, vowed to fight on with speakers mentioning plans for legal challenges, occupations of library buildings, and escalating strike action. On the eve of the protest, Lambeth Council announced a partial U-turn, agreeing to save one of the five threatened libraries, South Lambeth. The Friends of Tate South Lambeth Library announced at a rally following the march that they were proud their campaign had forced the Council to step back, but promised to fight on alongside other Friends Groups to defend all of Lambeth’s ten libraries.
Eleven year old Ella from Brixton and writer Will Self both spoke of the connection between the library closures and the broader social cleansing of Lambeth, an ethnically mixed working class community which has been at the centre of London’s gentrification with spiralling house prices and the demolition of housing estates. The assembled crowd cheered as Self declared; “[Libraries] are not a gift to well-toned banker wankers”
Two library buildings are to be leased to Greenwich Leisure Limited for up to 25 years on peppercorn rents and will be replaced by pay-for gyms. Another will be sold and later relocated into a Christian school, and a fourth given away to a community trust with no expectation on them to run a library service.
A library worker and Unison activist said: “With only weeks left we don’t plan to back down, and we cannot simply carry on the fight at the same level. We know we must step up what we’re doing to save the library service.
“Our strike action will escalate, the community campaigns will occupy, we will do all we can. We know it won’t be easy and honestly we are scared because we know we might lose our libraries. But we also know that if communities and workforces like our don’t stand up and fight then we are guaranteed to lose services like these up and down the country.”
Tube unions accept night tube deal
RMT and ASLEF members on London Underground have voted by a big majority in referenda to accept a four-year pay deal and revised proposals for how Night Tube is to run. TSSA members are likely to follow. While Unite has rejected the offer, it has few members on the Underground and is expected to accept the position once all the other unions do.
The company’s offer is much better than its original, hamfisted attempt to impose Night Tube under arrangements that would have seriously damaged staff’s work-life balance. These improvements were achieved by effective strike action last year by all four unions together. However, the four-year pay offer is barely above official inflation figures and, in the context of National Insurance hikes, will leave Tube workers struggling to keep up with rising London living costs.
It also prevents the union pursuing further battles over pay for the four-year term of the deal, thus clearing management’s desks to devise renewed attacks on jobs and conditions. With the unions’ leaderships recommending a Yes vote in the referenda, the acceptance of the deal was expected. But the No vote of around 15% was around double the level of previous comparable votes, suggesting that a significant minority of members recognised the problems with the deal and voted to reject it. Less than half of RMT’s members voted in its referendum: if supporters of the Trade Union Bill were consistent, they would argue that the result is invalid and that the company must now make an improved offer!
Meanwhile, RMT members employed by Tube Lines — the company owned by Transport for London which maintains one third of London Underground’s infrastructure — are voting in a ballot for industrial action over pay and Night Tube. It is unfortunate that this ballot is only happening as the union concludes its dispute on the same issue with the London Underground staff who work alongside Tube Lines staff. Had the union run the two disputes in parallel last year, it might have won a better outcome.
Academy struggle faces more attacks
Teachers at John Roan school in Greenwich, south London, have voted for strikes against threats of academisation.
National Union of Teachers (NUT) members voted 95% in favour of strikes against academisation. However since the first ballot the school has announced huge cuts, the NUT group at the school will pursue a further dispute over the cuts. Teachers have declared that they will strike in coming weeks if management does not agree to three demands: that school management make an unequivocal statement that they do not intend to convert to academy status, that the school will conduct a parental ballot over any academy proposals, and that consultation over any academy proposals is given six months in order to be meaningful.
The school has proposed to cut 15 teacher posts, two assistant heads, and five support staff. Due to unfilled vacancies, this would amount to 11.2 posts being made redundent, including two Modern Foreign Languages posts, two PE posts, 1.2 Psychology posts, two Sociology posts, one Science post and one Technology post. The restructure will also heavily attack teaching in certain subject areas, with Religious Education being cut to nine “focus days” rather than regular lessons, and Sociology and Psychology GCSE, Film Studies A-level, Government and Politics A-level and BTEC sport Level Three courses being cut.
It is clear that management are sidelining arts and humanities subjects. NUT members also fear that union activists are being targetted by the job cuts. The attacks will also involve increasing teaching periods from five one hour lessons to six 50 minute lessons, increasing teachers’ planning load. Teachers’ teaching hours will also increase to 22.5 hours a week.
The school NUT group has repeatedly asked to see the full budget and accounts of the school and to be involved in planning a fair budget which does not involve job losses. Teachers argue that they don’t believe that a school with a surplus of £308,000 in April 2015 could have developed what they are told is a projected overspend of £747,000. Teachers at the school struck in November last year over draconian lesson observation and workload. The campaign left them in a strong position to fight the cuts that are now proposed. There is a vibrant parents campaign. Parents, teachers and students held a lobby of Greenwich council on 24 February. A lobby of the board of governors will take place on the 21 March. Teachers campaigning against the cuts have faced intimidation by school management. Those who have even discussed “academisation” generally with students have faced disciplinary action.
Teachers at the school deserve the support of the whole union, and the wider labour movement.
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