This is a general heads up. After the fantastic 2,500 strong National Demonstration for Libraries, Museums and Galleries, we are now planning a series of regional marches starting in Warrington which faces drastic library cuts. The local campaigners are looking at dates, depending on when the council plans to press forward with its plans. Please be prepared to pull out all the stops to support this initiative. We want all public sector campaigns to rally around this issue.
On Saturday, November 5th, the National March for Libraries, Museums and Galleries drew a good crowd, estimated between two thousand and two thousand five hundred people in press reports.
Initiated by local trade union branches representing public sector workers in the cultural services and library campaigners, the march drew library staff, members of the public, workers in museums, galleries, archives and the arts, trade unionists, authors and illustrators. It surpassed the organisers’ expectations.
On a bright, crisp autumn morning, supporters including campaigners from Warrington, Swindon, Coventry, Merseyside, the North East, Wales and elsewhere gathered near the British Library to hear speeches from Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell, Warrington, Swindon and Coventry campaigners, authors Philip Ardagh and Alan Gibbons and others.
A lively march weaved its way through central London to Trafalgar Square where speakers included the legendary Ralph, eleven-year-old Barnet campaigner, poet Steve Tasane, Clara Paillard, President of the PCS Culture Sector, Kathleen Smith from Bromley Unite, Barnet Unison members striking to save local libraries, poet and broadcaster Michael Rosen, Douniazed Zaouche from the French trade union, the CGT, Paula Peters from the disabled campaign group DPAC, Zita Holbourne from Black Activists Rising Against Cuts, Sara Wayid from the Museums Association, Sarah Kasab of Unite, a representative of the Durham Teaching Assistants, Bob and Roberta Smith, Cathy Cassidy, Sian Berry of the Green Party, Corinne Sweet of the Writers’ Guild and Megan Dobney from the South East Region of the TUC .
For years the Department of Culture Media and Sport has hidden behind the funding arrangement for the cultural sector which leaves councils in charge, but operating within nationally determined funding and strategic planning. This allows central government to step back and say, mischievously: “Not down to us, people. It is all the responsibility of those wicked councils.”
Added to this, cuts have fallen disproportionately on the shoulders of the large metropolitan councils, most likely to be run by the Labour Party. Saturday’s demonstration, while not absolving councils of responsibility, reminded the public that it is the government which sets overall funding and which has failed consistently to provide leadership. Ireland and New Zealand face the same severe economic conditions, but have made far fewer cuts, partly because, particularly in the case of libraries they have national plans.
Campaigners are now seeking meetings with the Culture Ministers and are actively discussing a series of regional demonstrations to further raise consciousness among the public of the havoc wrought by the failed ‘austerity agenda.’
The North West region is taking responsibility for staging the first such march and is scheduled for Warrington in the New Year. As speaker after speaker insisted, this was a qualitative gear shift in campaigning.
The campaign has only just begun.
This film gives a sense of the march: