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Lambeth SOS: after J30, support the library strike!

Strikers in Lambeth on 30 June

Strikers in Lambeth on 30 June

Lambeth Save Our Services is planning to follow up the tremendous 30 June strike with a joint union reps meeting, campaign to stop call centre privatisation and solidarity with librarians’ strike. Jeremy Dewar reports from an action-packed meeting

We enjoyed a good strike on 30 June with the biggest picket line ever at Lambeth College, 80% of schools closed and solid action at local Job Centres. Two hundred strikers marched through Brixton and held a rally before heading into town for the main demo.

Although the Alternative Adventure Playground in Windrush Sq was a bit of a flop, this was entirely because strikers and supporters wanted to be where the action was: central London. This shows that anticuts groups need to see their struggle as entwined with that of the unions. They need to develop into action committees, with community activists and rank and file union militants planning and carrying out action in unison. If we are to stop union leaders from dividing our strikes or sabotaging struggles, we need to strengthen ties at the grassroots.

Lambeth SOS is taking a step in this direction by holding a joint union workplace reps’ meeting at 7.30 on 14 July at the Stockwell Community Resource Centre, Studley Rd. The Trades Council is backing the initiative, as are Unision, Unite, UCU and the GMB. Hopefully here we can draw in other unions: the RMT, FBU, NUT, CWU and PCS, in particular, but also private sector workers.

Many thousands of workers saw on 30 July another glimpse of trade union power, a harder, more confrontational version than on 26 March, but one for all that with even greater numbers in support: 750,000 nationally.

It is crucial that we do not sit back and wait for the union leaders to name the next day – as if one more day would be enough to win anyway. For one thing, the government may well try and buy off one of the unions, Unison for example, in order to isolate the more militant ones. So joint strike committees, or reps committees are essential locally and regionally to keep up the pressure on the union leaders, make it more difficult for them to break the united front, and coordinate action without them if necessary.


‘Rise Like Libarians!’

In Lambeth we have an opportunity to put this strategy to the test straight away. The Labour council has given 90 days notice to make all its librarians redundant. Its plan is to sack the lot, then ask local communities if they would like to run the libraries themselves with volunteer, free labour or, er, well, let the council sell them off. Labour calls this the ‘Co-operative Council’, though Tories could sue them since it is simply David Cameron’s Big Society rebranded.

As Unison steward Ruth Cashman told the Lambeth People’s Assembly in May, “We shall rise like lions – or should I say, Librarians? – from our slumbers!” A magnificent vote for strike action will be triggered unless the council concede by Monday, and all librarians are expected out on strike on Monday 22 July, initially for one day, but maybe longer if serious concessions are not made.

Stalls will be held outside every library, with support from the Friends of Libraries campaign and a mass picket will be held outside Brixton Library in Windrush Sq. SOS activists are contacting Michael Rosen, former children’s laureate and socialist activists, and Linton Kwesi Johnson to see if they will come down and support us on the day. This is a great example of workers being prepared to “walk and talk”, striking while negotiations are still ongoing.

We are also going to start a campaign for a union levy of around £5 a week of other union members, so that we can encourage and support the librarians should they decide to escalate their strike to a week long period or, preferably, all-out indefinite. It would be great to surprise and embarrass the council leaders – and give an example to other groups of workers that all-out action is possible and winnable. Unison branch committee will now discuss the idea.

In a separate development, we also heard that Lambeth council’s call centre has been privatised to Capita and all jobs are to be relocated to Southampton. Staff have been told they will be deemed to have made themselves redundant if they refuse to relocate! At a hastily convened union meeting, staff voted by 9 to 1 to strike.

This is an amazing turnaround from a situation where half the workforce were not even in a union and most were resigned to their fate. But the union has recruited and morale recovered. Southampton Unison members working for Capita have sent their support and will visit the workers in a great show of solidarity. Rebel Labour councillor Kingsley Abrams has demanded the sell-off be put to the council’s scrutiny panel, which we will lobby from 6pm on 21 July.

Finally, the SOS heard that the nearby university, LSBU, has torn up lecturers’ national pay and conditions, prompting a two-day walk out at the end of last month. We are supporting the UCU’s lobby of the Board of Governors from 3pm on Thursday 14July at the Technopark on London Rd.


Organise in the summer

Clearly the attacks will not cease just because summer is round the corner, nor will they run to the timetable set by the TUC and bureaucrats like unison’s Dave Prentis. Lambeth SOS will be back on the streets this week and will have a stall at the union village at Lambeth Country Fair on 16-17 July.

If your anticuts group is preparing for action, write in to office@workerspower.co.uk and tell us about it.


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