Last week students and activists twice occupied the Library of Birmingham to protest the shortening of its hours from 73 per week to just 40 and the closure of community libraries across the city. At two well attended, peaceful sits ins protesting students continued their work; refusing to leave after the new closing time of 5pm, despite a strong presence of police and security.
Especially inspiring is that these protests are being led by the young people and library users themselves. With a small presence of Socialist Party and NCAFC activists to help with support, over 50 people occupied the library on Monday and 30 on Friday in what could become a regular occurrence should the Library continue to ignore the needs of their own community.
In March Birmingham City Council voted through over £100m of further spending cuts as part of the labour dominated council’s plans to cut overall spending by over £800m, a huge reduction of over 60% of the councils managed expenditure in real terms. The £3.1m savings to the library can be found within the page after page of cuts detailing the council’s 2015 plan, and as socialists we fully support the fight against these cuts and closures to library services but also draw attention to the vastly wider scope of this labour councils plans to fully implement these Tory cuts.
In this document can be found other cuts such as the slashing of the Protecting People’s Fund, saving £3.7m; this fund was designed to keep vulnerable people independent in their own homes, and the Council’s website lists frail elderly people, the mentally ill, people with physical and sensory disabilities, teenage mothers, women escaping domestic abuse, people with HIV/AIDs, and others as the former beneficiaries of this fund. 1600 people will now go without these services. The library campaigns across Birmingham and other cities across the UK have been an inspiration, and a powerful reminder that young people will engage with politics and won’t accept cut backs while those earning over £150,000 a year get tax cuts, while bankers spend £80bn of the Bank of England’s quantitative easing on their own bonuses, while the government commits to £100bn on nuclear weapons systems. But what would any victory in these library campaigns be if they leave frail elderly citizens to die in their homes? If they leave single mothers without child care advice? If sufferers of domestic violence go without support? Because make no mistake, any council that adjusts spending plans because of a concerted campaign in one area will make compensating cuts elsewhere.
The fight for library services, and the fight for free education, must be a fight against the structures of inequality in our society and a fight for socialism or else we risk the result of our own endeavours being that those with the least voice suffer most, especially in a local authority context. The Socialist Party continues this broader fight through the political process in supporting the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), but must also continue such good work, alongside other activists, in their communities where these ever deepening cuts move an awakening of political consciousness, and we must follow and link together these voices where we can.
By Jamie Brackley