Hackney libraries: Labour council cuts ‘beggar belief’

Library workers in Hackney, East London, are continuing their strike action against huge cuts proposed by the Labour council, on 1 and 3 February. The action involves members of both Unison and Unite unions.

Hackney Unison says:

“This is a direct consequence of management’s failure to address any of our concerns over their proposed new library structure, which does away with 20 frontline staff, requires working one in seven Sundays, removes fixed tea breaks, and will create a very stressful environment.

Hackney library strike
Photo: Brian Debus

“The following comment from a frontline member of staff sums up the current situation: ‘The lack of understanding, by managers, about the daily routines and timetabling beggars belief really. Are they expecting us to be negotiating classes, events, shelving, cashing up, logging on, lunches, floor-walking, office time, displays and tea breaks between ourselves on a daily basis?’

“All our alternative proposals made over the last four months have either been ignored or brushed aside. Management, with all their resources, have failed to come forward with any new proposals.

“This is a Labour council which is rubber-stamping compulsory redundancies and imposing a poor work-life balance on library staff.

“Our last strike day demonstrated who is essential to run the library service. Hackney Central library was closed all day, despite them having five managers on site with combined salaries of close to £300,000!”

Hackney library strike shows who does the real work


by Chris Newby, Hackney Socialist Party

Striking Hackney library workers in Unison were again in a determined mood as they took part in their third day of strike action in their dispute with Hackney’s Labour council.

On 16 January, library management attempted to open three libraries. In the Central library, despite five managers going in, management could not get any library worker to cross the picket line. As a result, the library was not able to be opened, in spite of the fact that the minimum staffing level is three.

This really highlights who’s important to running the library — and it’s clearly not the managers!

There will be one more day of strike action on Friday 20 January, with further strike days being discussed. Library workers in Unite the Union will be striking in the week beginning 30 January.

The strikers are angry that the proposed huge job cuts are coming from a Labour council, with some of them calling for the setting up of a new party for the working class.

Hackney library workers strike to save jobs and the service


by 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.

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

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.