Save Lambeth Libraries protest is a reality check for Labour councils

By KD Tait The campaign to defend Lambeth’s 10 public libraries from the Labour council’s closure and outsourcing plans saw more than 2,000 people march through Brixton in one of the biggest local demonstrations in years.

Residents, librarians and Friends of Lambeth libraries assembled at the Carnegie library to congratulate the occupiers who walked out with banners waving after a 10-day sit-in was brought to an end, once the council had secured a temporary possession order from the courts.

The local librarians’ union, Unison, which has taken four days of strike action, including a rare illegal walkout by local government workers, backed the occupation by the Friends group.

Messages of support flooded in – not just from Britain, but from around the world; hundreds of prominent authors signed an open letter calling on the council to reverse its plans. Local businesses provided food donations to the occupiers, who included young students preparing for their exams, parents with young children, and veteran campaigners who have been defending Lambeth libraries for 20 years.

As the occupiers, led by the young people who compose the biggest demographic of Lambeth’s library users, took their place leading the demonstration, the doors to Carnegie were chained shut to the community for the second – but hopefully not the last – time.

The march proceeded to Minet library, home of the Lambeth’s archives, where more local residents joined in. The library itself is closed, condemned to hosting a private gym; the council had also closed the archive room to prevent the building being occupied as well.

Marching on to a continuous accompaniment of car horns and chants of “no ifs, no buts, no Lambeth library cuts”, the demonstration assembled for a rally outside Brixton library on Windrush Square.

Rally

A series of speakers addressed the crowd, reflecting the depth and diversity of support and the strength of opposition that has saved two libraries from permanent closure and turned the council into a national embarrassment for the Labour Party.

Assembled supporters heard from the Chair of Friends of Lambeth libraries, who described how residents have exhausted every possible means of engaging with the obstinate council who have made decimating the borough’s library provision a warped point of honour.

A teacher announced the NUT conference’s vote to strike against the forced academisation of schools to loud applause. A Labour Party member described the local party’s struggle against the right wing councillors, who are members and supporters of the ironically named Progress faction.

But the biggest cheers of all were rightly reserved for local Labour councillor Rachel Heywood who announced her decision to oppose the council’s senseless policy and stand up for the local community that elected a Labour council to protect services, not destroy them. The rest of Lambeth’s Labour councillors should follow her example and break with the Cabinet’s plans.

Labour

Carnegie library is covered by the Herne Hill ward and Dulwich and West Norwood constituency Labour parties, both of which have passed policy opposing the council’s wanton vandalism of a cherished local service.

DaWN MP Helen Hayes called on the council not to close the library, but it’s clear that local councillors have as little respect for their MP and the party members who get them elected as they do for the Lambeth electorate at large.

For 20 years Lambeth council has been a Blairite test tube, incubating an ideology that lost Labour millions of voters and earned it the contempt of millions more. The vindictive attacks against the library campaigners are the rear-guard actions of an obsolete Progress clique raging against the dying of the light.

The actions of Lambeth’s Labour council have not only rightly wrecked the reputations of its leaders but, worse, they are bringing the national party into disrepute and sabotaging its chances in the forthcoming elections.

That may be what the most embittered of the Progress clique want – but it is also why thousands of members, new and old, are determined to oppose them, not only for the sake of Lambeth’s services, but to set an example for people everywhere that we can fight and win.

The 9 April demonstration puts the Lambeth council leaders on notice for early retirement. But more significant than the downfall of a few unloved Town Hall careerists is the example it sets for those who want to see the re-emergence of a determined labour movement, which can unite trade unionists, Labour Party members and community activists against cuts, and use our collective strength to struggle for a more equal and just society.

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