On Wednesday 18 November, ninety library workers across Lambeth in South London walked out of work to protest the Council’s refusal to listen to concerns over libraries closures, including controversial plans to turn three libraries into fee-charging gyms run by Greenwich Leisure Limited.
The strike was unofficial. No formal ballot or notification of strike had been held. Library workers in Lambeth have criticised their national union, Unison, for delaying their request for a ballot. However even without bureaucratic delays the hoops that unions are required to jump through to get legal strikes would have meant library workers being prevented from taking action at a crucial time when the consultation is being held and the council is making their decisions.
Library workers decided to take matters into their own hands, and organised the unofficial walk out. As library workers are already well organised they were able to quickly discuss plans, get the word round and mount pickets. On the day a notice was displayed on the locked doors of Lambeth’s Libraries saying; “The library will be closed today as staff have walked out to try and stop our libraries closing forever. We have been forced into this protest, as Council management are pushing through with proposals and refusing to look at alternatives despite questions and challenges from Lambeth’s Scrutiny Committee and the government’s Department for Culture Media and Sport.”
Pickets were organised at Brixton, Carnegie, south Lambeth, Upper Norwood, Waterloo, West Norwood and Streatham libraries. Workers report that only three members of staff went into work. Lambeth Full Council met in the evening to debate the library closures and the Council’s stance against the Trade Union Bill. Library workers joined community campaigners to lobby the meeting.
A library worker commented:
“These proposals are not driven by financial necessity; the money is there to keep all 10 Lambeth libraries open. The Council would like people to forget that they stated that they had £500k available in the Culture budget for preventative health work. It is scandalous that this money has been given to GLL to open up new private gyms, that people can ill afford, when it could have kept libraries open benefiting older peoples, visually impaired and dementia groups (to name but a few). Health prevention cannot be reduced to physical fitness – books, information and social interaction cannot be replaced by dumbbells.
"The Council do not want people to notice the lack of financial information provided in the hundreds of pages of appendices to the report. The Culture 2020 process has not been legally sound or financially prudent. The Cabinet papers contained no financial information, no plans, no details of the arrangements made with GLL. Despite Scrutiny Committee making a number of recommendations on equalities, looking at other options and on mitigating the damage; the Council Officers are pushing ahead. We are angry that the Council will not listen, and we will do everything in our power to save our service.”