Hackney libraries strike. Photo: Hackney Socialist Party
Hackney libraries strike. Photo: Hackney Socialist Party

James Ivens, London Socialist Party

“They are just like Tories.” That’s the judgement on Hackney’s Labour council from a striking library worker on 10 January.

Members of public service union Unison picketed CLR James and Hackney Central libraries, then held a vibrant rally outside Central library, opposite the chief executive’s office in the town hall.

The east London borough sent 99 library staff a letter in September kindly informing them their posts were deleted. The ‘restructure’ would mean only some of them can stay on in ‘new’ posts.

They all have to make the case for why they should be given the jobs they have done for years. One was up late into the night writing a 1,000-word essay.

That means the loss of quality jobs to the area. It means the loss of years of experience. In the end it will mean the further decline of a multifaceted service that many rely on.

The council talks it up as an upgrade in the jobs and service. You don’t upgrade a service by reducing staffing!

The real reason for the cuts? It will ‘save’ £250,000 – money that the Labour council would rather let the Tory government take out of our services than mount a fight to defend.

At least, it was £250,000 to begin with. Then the council decided top management needed more pay. Suddenly, they needed to find £300,000 of cuts from library staff!

Another £145,000 has also been taken out of the staffing budget for so-called development purposes. So nearly half a million has been slashed from the frontline staff budget. At the same time, around £800,000 will be paid out in redundancy, severance payments, and early retirement. All this from a Labour council!

But it’s workers who actually make the libraries function at all. They deal with all sorts. Not just books, and looking after young people who need advice and study spaces.

Austerity in other services means homelessness, domestic violence victims, substance abuse, and more are regular issues librarians must navigate. They are understaffed as it is, and security doesn’t even arrive at some sites till 3.15pm.

So this strike has been a long time coming. It follows strikes by other Hackney council staff in housing maintenance, refuse and SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) driving. The Labour council kindly put on “support” for “colleagues” who broke the strike – a ‘training day’ with free lunch. The Unison branch protested outside.

Unison branch chair and Socialist Party member Brian Debus pointed the finger at the town hall opposite. Senior managers there are on six figures, and paying strike-breakers over the odds, all while pleading poverty!

Instead, as National Shop Stewards Network chair Rob Williams and Unison national executive member Hugo Pierre pointed out, they could demand the money Hackney needs from the government, and work with the unions, not against them.

If they won’t, we need representatives like those striking library workers fighting politically too. The unions should launch a new party for the working class to fight Tory and Labour cutters.