By a Lambeth library worker
A week ago I attended a protest which marked the first anniversary of the closure of Carnegie Library, and the first anniversary of the occupation of the beloved community building to prevent it being turned into a gym. I was reunited with two beautiful one year olds who was just newborn babies when they became Carnegie library’s youngest occupiers. Hundreds of local activists held hands making a ring around the library and agreed the day the bulldozers come in to start the transformation from library to gym, to be there to stop them.
I spoke to the crowd on behalf of my union, UNISON. I told them how privileged and proud I am to be a library worker and see how libraries can change people’s lives, but an even greater privilege is to be a library campaigner.
The creativity and passion in the waves of protest, strikes and occupation last year showed me the incredible potential we have in our workplaces and our community. There were several speakers at the anniversary event: occupiers, library users, teachers and writers. The speaker before me was a local Councillor for one Lambeth’s most deprived wards. Rachel Heywood was the only Councillor in Lambeth Labour who backed the campaign to save Lambeth Libraries and she was expelled from the Labour Group as a result.
The campaign to save our libraries was a crash course in the contradictions of the Labour Party for Lambeth. Labour Party activists were essential to the campaign to save our libraries. There were Labour Party members occupying Carnegie Library, there were Labour Party members on strike, there were Labour Party marchers, we had policy at ward and CLP level against the Council’s proposals.
But it is also a Labour Council closing our libraries. The attitude of Councillors, in Progress heartland of Lambeth has shocked many people, including Labour Party members. The Chief whip described libraries campaigners (of which there are thousands) as “trots with megaphones”, Cabinet members accused those occupying Carnegie of being the wine-quaffing middle classes who don’t care about Lambeth’s vulnerable, strike action by UNISON members has been branded a “disgrace” by one councillor and “not legitimate” and instead “a political campaign alongside libraries groups” by another, in a veiled reference to the Tory anti-union laws.
For many in Lambeth (and probably elsewhere) “Labour” has became a byword for petty narcissism, vindictiveness and misinformation and vitriol against the people they should be representing. Many of those demonised by the Progress councillors were Labour members and Momentum activists in Lambeth. They battled daily to convince people, new and veterans of the Party, not to drop out, not to leave for the Greens but to stay and fight inside Labour to change it. They battled within the Labour Party to try and get the Councillors to listen to the people who voted them in. We saved one library and are still fighting to reopen the others. If that happens, it will be in part thanks to those activists. I hope Labour will become a byword for passionate defence of workers and working-class communities.
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Dulwich and West Norwood CLP backed the Carnegie occupation and their banner hung outside it