Growing fight to save Hackney libraries from Labour council cuts

by Brian Debus, Chair of Hackney Unison (personal capacity).

Hackney Labour council’s library restructure proposes just 34 fulltime frontline posts, a reduction of 20, to cover seven libraries open between 55 and 64 hours a week. At any time there could be as few as two staff on duty. This takes no account of holidays, sick leave, training or emergencies.

Hackney Library campaigners lobby the council
Hackney Library campaigners, including Brian Debus (left)
lobby the council. Photo: James Ivens

The unions and staff view this as a slippery slope to temporary closures, or even the permanent closure of a library. It will mean less ability to assist the public, especially the more vulnerable who most depend on the free services that we provide. The total cut planned has already increased to £445,000.

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 services.

We lobbied the council cabinet on 24 October, when the library strategy was presented. But the council had already started the restructure before it was even discussed in cabinet, denying us the opportunity to challenge it.

Most councillors are unaware of the consequences of these cuts. Unison has invited all councillors to take
part in a briefing to hear our views. 15 have taken part so far.

Our petition was already well on the way to 1,000 signatures in just the first ten days. 80% of local shops and small businesses have put up our posters.

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 on how to future-proof the service.
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 senior library management by 50,000 — to manage less staff!

Where are the Labour politicians prepared to fight with us? We face the fight of our lives. The most needy use the libraries, because they don’t have resources at home — books, internet, even a warm room.

A very weak Tory government has imposed cuts on public expenditure. If Hackney Labour council challenged the Tories’ cuts, along with other councils, it would be virtually impossible for this government to do anything about it.