The long-running ‘battle of the books’ in Greenwich opens a new chapter tomorrow (Tuesday July 5) when library workers strike for 48 hours to save the borough’s mobile library service from closure.
Unite has called for its 84 library members to strike from 00.01 tomorrow as Greenwich councillors plough ahead with plans to close the mobile service which delivers 33,000 books a year to children – an increase from the 22,000 books lent last year.
The union said that what is at stake is children’s literacy – the gateway to future employment – which is being jeopardised for a comparatively small annual saving of £126,000; although the council has £320m stashed away in reserves.
“Literacy is a fundamental human right and anything that erodes that life chance should be strongly opposed,” said Onay Kasab, Unite regional officer.
“Good reading skills are the key to decent employment in adulthood – so the blinkered actions of the council need to be condemned.”
Unite maintains that councillors have ignored the result of their own consultation exercise and have ignored the 1,000-strong petition handed into the council.
“They appear to believe that they know better than the experts and have failed to listen to people with decades of experience in this field,” added Kasab. “They will be depriving the inquiring minds of children of 33,000 books.”
Unite library members have already staged four days of strike action earlier this year – and have a legal mandate for more industrial action.
“The council’s claim that all the borough’s schools are in walking distance of one of Greenwich’s 12 static libraries is unrealistic, given the busy school day and demands on teachers.”
The mobile library visits schools, nurseries and children’s centres for those who are unable to visit static libraries. Access for the frail and those with mobility difficulties could also be impacted, as it may isolate them and take their independence away.
The libraries are run by Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL) as a so-called social enterprise set up by Greenwich council to run its leisure services.
Unite said that 75 per cent of GLL’s staff are on zero hours’ contracts and it refuses to pay the London ‘living wage’ of £9.40 per hour to staff who work in the leisure side of the business.
“If the mobile service is closed, other libraries will follow – that is what is at stake. That’s why we are fighting this ‘battle of the books’ with such passion,” said Kasab.