Hackney library workers protest
Hackney library workers protest

Brian Debus, Chair of Hackney Unison, personal capacity

The new structure for libraries proposed by Hackney Labour council involves just 34 full-time frontline posts, a reduction of 20, to cover seven libraries open between 55 and 64 hours a week. 

As a result, at any given time there could be as little as two staff on duty. And this takes no account of holidays, sick leave, training or any emergency.

The council unions and staff view this as a slippery slope to temporary closures for short periods of time, and believe that it could ultimately lead to the closure of a library. It will inevitably mean less ability to assist members of the public, especially the more vulnerable who most depend on the free services that we provide. 

The total cut planned for the library service is now £445,000, up from the £300,000 reported previously in the Socialist. £145,000 has been added to the cuts from staffing, theoretically to put into service development in the future – which wouldn’t have enough staff! 

Hackney Unison’s consultative ballot has just concluded, with 72%, on a near 80% turnout, prepared to take strike action to prevent a massive cut to library jobs and the services we provide. 

We are holding a lobby of the council cabinet meeting on 24 October at 5pm, where the library strategy document is being presented. But the council has put the cart before the horse, in that the restructure proposals were presented seven weeks before this. 

Most councillors are unaware of the consequences that these cuts will have. Unison has invited all councillors to take part in a briefing from the unions – with approximately 15 councillors so far – to put our views across about what this will do to the service now and in the future. 

We launched a petition which was well on the way to 1,000 signatures in just ten days. An indication of the support on our side is that 80% of local shops and small businesses have put up our posters. 

We believe that if enough public pressure is brought to bear, backing up the workers preparing to taking action, these proposals could be stopped, to allow genuine consultation to take place on how to future-proof the service. 

In the interim, the council should pause the process and use some of its £300 million reserves to maintain the current level of service and jobs. It has already done this to boost the pay of the senior library management team by £50,000 – to manage less staff!

Where are the Labour politicians prepared to fight with us? Library workers face the fight of our lives, and for our communities. It is the most needy who use the libraries, because they don’t have the resources at home – books, internet, even a warm room.  

The background to this is a very weak Tory government that has imposed these cuts on public expenditure. If Hackney Labour council challenges the Tories’ cuts, along with other councils, it would be virtually impossible for this government to do anything about it.