Protests at Town Hall over Hackney plans to cut library staff

Diane Abbott, Matt Paul & fellow protestors outside the Town Hall. Pic: Melody Chan.

With a third of library staff warned that they face redundancy, supporters of Hackney libraries protested outside theTown Hall on Wednesday night to put pressure on councillors to readdress the cuts.

Around 2,500 people have signed a petition by UNISON to stop cuts to library staff; politicians, library campaigners and residents of Hackney attended the rally to support the campaign. 

Diane Abbott MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, told Eastlondonlines: “I think that public libraries are a really important service. I was brought up in a house with no books. But because my mother took me along to [the] public library and joined me up, I was a child and an adolescent who spent an enormous amount of time reading. And if I hadn’t had access to public libraries…I don’t think I’d have gone to university, and I probably wouldn’t be an MP today.” 

She also said: “I think it’s a really important service for working class areas like this [Hackney]. I know the council feels it has to make cuts, but I don’t think you save that much money making these cuts to the libraries. So, I’m prepared to defend the library service.” 

According to UNISON, 99 staff members from libraries in Hackney have received letters from the Strategic Director Polly Cziok notifying them that their jobs were “deleted”. UNISON puts the figure of cuts made by Hackney Council at £445,000, £195,000 more than initially proposed at the beginning of the year. As an MP, Abbott said she would consult with the councillors to not go forward with the cuts.  

She believed Hackney Council should negotiate with UNISON and “arrive at a solution which doesn’t involve people losing their jobs.” However, she told ELL: “If they [UNISON members] do go on strike and they have picket lines, the public should go up to them and… say that they support them. I think that will make people feel encouraged.”  

Matt Paul, secretary of the Hackney Unison branch, told ELL: “It’s going to decimate the service. It’s going to leave the libraries as more unsafe in case of any incidents that happen or health or safety issues. And it might lead to temporary and permanent site closures. So, it’s going to put the library service as a whole and its whole future at massive risk and that’s something that we can’t allow.” 

He also said: “Libraries are there to allow for community for inclusive spaces and events. We’re now going into the winter, we’re going to see them used as warm spaces and as warm banks. But you need the staff to run the service ultimately.” 

The union is balloting for strike action, however Paul and his UNISON members “hope it doesn’t end in strike action.” The Hackney Council is financially adept enough, Paul told ELL: “Hackney’s got £330 million in reserves in the bank. They should be able to use this money carefully to protect these vital services.” 

Isai Marijerla, a member of the Socialist Party based in Hackney said: “Hackney Council has got reserves which you can use…They got the power.”  

“There is a huge support because the cost-of-living crisis is hitting everyone, we are having the biggest or the longest pay stagnation ever. People are just not getting paid right while the rich [are] getting richer. So, there is a huge support for workers to fight against the cuts and also for pay rises.” 

Last month, Hackney Council said they have a four-year plan to introduce modern digital services and ensure the future of Hackney libraries. Including a £4.4 million investment into Stoke Newington Library to renovate the 130 year old building.

Eastlondonlines approached Hackney Council for comment but received no response at time of publication.

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