Nothing blows a hole in the well spun Tory propaganda like their decision to close libraries. The hollow promise to defend frontline services is shown to be an utter lie.

New Cross Library occupation

Gove attempted to say his ‘reforms’ in education would favour poorer working class families, but watches working class kids have their local library closed without a squeak of protest. There is little more sickening than watching well heeled public school and Oxbridge graduates like Cameron and Clegg, who had endless access to books and computers, telling workers that it is necessary to close libraries, while bankers and businessmen give themselves tax free bonuses after precipitating the crisis we are in.

On Saturday 5 February there was a national protest that showed how valued our libraries are. Up and down the country people flocked to their local libraries for read-ins to show how much we all love libraries. Many authors who write for children have supported the protests, alongside actors and other cultural celebrities. The campaign in Doncaster has gained the support of opera singer Lesley Garrett, actor Brian Blessed and a host of authors. Both originate from the town and have spoken passionately about how the library in Doncaster helped them achieve their career goals.

One of the most telling features of the campaign to save libraries is the number of intelligent and articulate people who are capable of beating the politicians into a cocked hat. At a rally outside Doncaster library last week people made the point that literacy and access to the internet is essential to democracy, and for people to get involved in the life of the community. It was pointed out that a key demand in the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt is the access to a free media. Cameron would rather see a dumbed-down working class fed on the lies of Murdoch and the yellow press, than face a well-informed electorate.

Joe, a Counterfire activist who teaches in a Doncaster secondary school, petitioned outside the library in Carcroft, a former mining village. He reports: ‘Protesters, who gathered outside the Library, received a warm reception from staff and service users where the importance of the library to the community was made clear. Students from the local secondary school complained that if the library closed there would be nowhere else to obtain books and for those without home computers and a quiet place to study it would be impossible to complete their homework. Angry parents and pensioners also pointed out that the local leisure centre is to be privatised and that if the library closed it would tear the heart out of the community’.

Many local councils closing libraries are doing so with the complicity of the Labour Party. Ed Miliband is a Doncaster MP and Labour Party leader who called the closure of libraries ‘cultural vandalism’ but he has not appeared at any Save Our Libraries event in Doncaster, nor has he sent a message of support. The majority of councillors in Doncaster are Labour, but again they have offered nothing. They know the cost of everything but the value of nothing. As the author Philip Pullman said from the threatened library at Botley in Oxfordshire, “What is happening is that the county council is destroying something it does not know the value of “. The author of His Dark Materials dismissed the idea that the internet could replace libraries, describing this as offering “a keyhole through which you could look at one book at a time”, rather than giving people access to a range of books. “You search for a book you need or find interesting and find another next to it that you didn’t know would interest you. We need a big room with lots of books in it.”

In the market town of Bawtry, to the south of Doncaster, a meeting took place last week that tells us everything we need to know about the library closure policy. Residents are furious that there is no other library in the vicinity and it would mean the end of all access to libraries if the town branch closed. They have got hundreds of signatures for their petitions and have been able to mobilise similar numbers for their Saturday protest. They asked the English Democrat mayor of Doncaster, Peter Davies, to attend a public meeting and explain his policy in the hope they could persuade him to change his mind. They were in for a disappointment.

Davies began by denying the right of a reporter to record the meeting and refused to answer questions from the Unison branch secretary Jim Board. As the questioning began his inability to argue made him angrier. He is notorious for making stupid comments. He once said he supported the Taliban for their ‘family values’ – he was trying to show he isn’t a racist. Davies boasts how proud he is to be English – not British – and so he says he wants people to understand English culture and values. But in his anger he let slip the connection between his right wing politics and his contempt for libraries. He proudly stated that he had never borrowed a book from a library in his life! As the laughter and derision reached a crescendo Davies grabbed his coat and left.

The campaign to keep libraries open has made a great start in fighting the cuts. It reveals the Con-Dems and the cutters in general as being philistines, contemptuous of working class communities and indifferent to the consequences for our kids. However, to really build an opposition to the library closures campaigners have to work alongside others fighting the cuts. We have to sign up as many people as possible to the March 26 TUC demo and link the campaign over libraries to broader campaigns over schools, jobs, pensions and pay.

More images of New Cross Library Occupation can be found on the full report on SE13URE blog

John Westmoreland

John is a history teacher and UCU rep. He is an active member of the People's Assembly and writes regularly for Counterfire.

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