Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/22706
Bristol library assistants strike against unviable shift patterns
Robin Clapp, Bristol Socialist Party
When Bristol council's Cabinet of all the talentless advocated a city-wide library consultation in 2014, it was obvious that cuts and closures were on the cards. Smooth words, glossy questionnaires and carefully orchestrated presentations to the public cut little ice with angry Bristolians.
Seeing through sham statements about 'building libraries for the 21st century', local campaigns sprang up in every area. Six of the seven libraries subsequently earmarked for closure after the consultation, were saved, albeit with reductions in opening hours, with the Socialist Party playing a significant role in the campaigning.
Now the vengeful mayor and the cabinet are trying to claw back 'savings' by introducing draconian changes to library assistants' working conditions, prompting a strike on 28 April which closed every library across the city.
Outside Bedminster library, the 20 Unison pickets were joined by members of the public. A continual cacophony of car and lorry horns saluted the enthusiastic strikers, some of whom expressed disappointment that their action had not been able to coincide with that of the doctors.
The council has imposed new contracts on library assistants which oblige them to work their shifts over more days for fewer hours at a time. These shift systems are unsustainable and have impacted hugely on the largely female workforce, many of whom are also carers and thus need stable hours.
Paid just above the minimum wage, some workers have second jobs, which will have to be sacrificed to comply with the new shift patterns. The contracts have already led to some staff having to leave much-loved jobs. But management, egged on by their political bosses who are still licking their wounds from the defeat of their 2014 closure plan, have been totally unresponsive to the union's attempts to talk.
These women feel devalued and angry. They want to provide the best service possible, but understand that the real intent behind this spiteful action is to lay the ground for a further assault on Bristol's library provision in the future.
However, councillors had better think again. The strikers included experienced workers who had never been on a picket line before, but action like this can quickly change consciousness and bring ever greater numbers into the struggle to defend jobs, conditions and services.
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 28 April 2016 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.