As libraries, galleries and museums face cuts across the board, Jonathan Maunders reports from the fight-back on the streets
On Saturday over a thousand protesters boisterously marched from the British Library to the National Gallery demanding an end to the government’s attacks on the country’s libraries, museums and galleries.
As the crowd gathered outside the British Library, brandishing a range of creative and colourful placards, they were greeted by a number of passionate speeches to set them on their way. While John McDonnell was unable to join the march, children’s laureate Chris Riddell and former children’s laureate Michael Rosen took part in the march to Trafalgar Square.
Library services have been continually hit by Tory cuts over the past 6 years with 1 in 8 council-run libraries closing or leaving the public sector during the period. Further, council spending on libraries fell by a fifth in the last parliament, ensuring that communities are being left bereft of the lynchpins that libraries used to be. In the past month, Walsall council has announced plans to scrap 15 of its 16 libraries, leaving thousands without access to books and information.
Meanwhile, one in five regional museums have become partially closed and opening hours have been slashed across the country. Moreover, income generation has become the key priority for nearly 80% of the country’s museums, putting profit ahead of staff, communities and learning.
The protest gained a notable supporter in the leader of the Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn stressed the damage that Tory cuts have done to public services in communities, promising that his government would restore public and local council services and expand access to leisure and the arts.
Many I spoke to at the demonstration’s prelude were distressed by the government’s concerted effort to undermine and decay public services but were unflinching in the commitment to fight such acts of damage, a commitment evident in the raucous nature of the march. As the crowd loudly made their way towards the National Gallery, it became clear that there is enormous support for such opposition and coordinated movement could be successful in putting a stop to the government’s policies.
This demonstration, organised by Unite, the Public and Commercial Services Union and the Barnet branch of Unison, was essential in delivering a resounding and raucous opposition to the Conservative Party’s deplorable attempts to erode this country’s public libraries, museums and galleries. However, if we are to save these vital services for future generations, this demonstration must form part of a wider programme of action, with the left rallying behind the cultural centres of our communities.