Lambeth community groups have begun preparations for occupying libraries threatened with closure or conversion to gyms, Unison, the union representing library staff, said today (22 January).
Warning Labour councillors that opposition to their plans for libraries was growing, union branch secretary Jon Rogers appealed to them to listen to members of their own party who were increasingly backing an alternative approach to making savings needed because of huge cuts in central government funding.
The council’s plans would see up to 25% of library staff lose their jobs.
Ward Labour parties in Herne Hill and Thurlow Park were this week joined by the Dulwich and West Norwood constituency Labour party in supporting a plan for a staff-community mutual organisation to run the borough’s libraries.
The mutual plan was drawn up by Susanna Barnes, the head of Lambeth libraries, after the council’s overview and scrutiny committee recommended in November last year that she be given funding to develop earlier proposals for a mutual.
Unison members have already voted in favour of strike action against the council’s plans. They will meet on Monday morning to set dates for action unless the plans are changed. They will be discussed at a full meeting of the council on Wednesday (27 January) night.
The union expressed “great regret” that the council was not changing course, even though it had in its hands the basis for keeping open its ten libraries.
“We therefore feel we have no alternative other than to stand with the community,” it said. “Our strike will close libraries in the short term – but will save them for generations to come.”
Unison said the council was also facing pressure from local residents, thousands of whom had signed petitions against the plans and community groups who had “begun preparations for occupying threatened libraries, if proposals go ahead”.
Lambeth Unison’s Labour link officer Simone Mckoy urged Labour councillors to “think of how many opportunities libraries have provided for families to learn and be included in our community and how much support workers have given to families who have not been able to obtain a nursery or school place for their child to learn.
“Please change your decision and don’t shut them down.”