Friday, 22 July 2016

Library Workers of the World Strike and Fight!


There's a saying in libraryland that if library workers are on strike then things must be really bad, well things are really really really bad!
For the last 3 or so weeks library workers in Mississauga, Canada, have been striking for a better pay deal and terms and conditions. For the last two years they've been offered 0.5% and with 50% of the library workforce on part-time contracts with no holiday or sick allowances their union branch CUPE Local 1989 decided emough was enough and brought their members out. With wonderful support from their local community and library users they've managed to secure a better deal albeit a tentative one.

Their CUPE Local 4948 comrades in Toronto, lead by the wonderful Maureen O'Reilly, won a similar battle earlier in the year.

Library workers in Bromley started a weeks strike action on 16/7/16 against the mass privatisation and amateurisation of their service. With 87% YES vote in a ballot and a brilliantly organised community campaign they're taking the fight directly to the doors of the hard-right Bromley Council which seems more interested in investing money in commercial property than properly funding statutory services! The strike culminates in a March through Bromley on 23/7/16.
 Members outside Petts Wood library

Library workers in Lewisham also took strike action recently and held a magnificent march in which i was proud and honoured to be asked to speak at. They went on strike to try and stop the Council from making more cuts and handing their libraries over to volunteers, a disastrous policy which has resulted in drops in usage at the existing volunteer -led 'libraries' of 60-90%.

 Image result for lewisham libraries strike

And not forgetting my comrades at Barnet and Lambeth Unison who're still leading magnificent campaigns/strikes/marches/protests/occupations etc against cuts and privatisation.

Image result for barnet libraries strike
Image result for barnet libraries strike

The DCMS & Civil Society (and Ed!)

Recently an announcement was made by the government that could have a fundamental effect on the future of public libraries in the UK, responsibility for the government's 'Civil Society' (Charities, SocEnts, Mutuals etc) agenda has shifted from the Cabinet Office to the DCMS. The Minister involved is Rob Wilson who has also been given the DCMS libraries brief. This change takes place shortly after a ministerial re-shuffle that saw John Whittingdale being replaced by Karen Bradley and Ed Vaizey by Matt Hancock.
This move is seen by many as an attempt by the government to re-position and re-invigorate (or even demote) their 'Big Society' agenda;

"Under cover of darkness the Office for Civil Society, a shadow of its former self, slips, almost unnoticed, out of the Cabinet Office, shuffles across Whitehall and finds refuge in the cavernous DCMS." 

But why might all this be bad news for public libraries? Well although we've only got a handful of library mutuals we've definitely seen a push towards offloading library services to Social Enterprises, Charitable Trusts etc and with the Minister for Civil Society now holding the libraries brief within the DCMS I would be very surprised if their wasn't an escalation. Add to this the fact that the new 'Libraries Minister', Matt Hancock, is a Suffolk MP and that Suffolk Libraries are an Independent & Provident Society (IPS) then you can start to see why I'm getting twitchy.

And as for Ed Vaizey, his tenure as the longest serving 'Libraries Minister' was a complete and utter disaster for public library services, users and staff. During his reign we lost 8000 paid/trained library staff, 343-600+ libraries (figure depends on whether you count volunteer-led 'libraries' as closed); saw a 93% increase in volunteers, a huge decrease in budgets/opening hours and an escalation in privatisation/commercialisation. He also treated campaigners with contempt, blocking them on twitter and breaking his promise to debate with them in a public meeting.
Although he was very vocal about library cuts/closures in opposition he refused to intervene or speak out when in power, a total dereliction of his duties and leadership remit under the 1964 Act.