For those of you who can’t make it on Saturday
Here’s a great idea from the blog of artist, writer and illustrator Jackie Morris for those of you who can’t make it to Saturdays 'Shhh!'-in…
In support of this I would like to ask all those who read this post to send to the library in Sheffield a short piece of writing about why it is that they love libraries, what the library meant to them when they were young, anything about the positive place of thelibrary in our society. A poem, haiku, sonnet, prose, anything. Just a few short lines, a silent, written protest piece in praise of the library, librarian. Send all writing to email@example.com
If you want to send a piece in on Saturday send it to firstname.lastname@example.org Sometimes words unspoken can shout very loud.
Guardian map of library protests
Go here to see the Guardians map of protests planned at libraries across the country.
‘Bard’ barred from Sheffield library?
Here’s a great article from Wednesdays Sheffield Star:
‘Bard’ barred from Sheffield library?
Sheffield library workers campaigning against feared budget cuts have been banned from holding a children’s creative writing workshop featuring ‘Bard of Barnsley’ Ian McMillan amid concerns over “political comments”.
Media coverage of ‘Shhh’-in and banned Ian McMillan event
Have a read of these pieces in the Guardian and the Sheffield Star covering the planned 'Shhh'-in and the banned Ian McMillan event.
Council ban children’s creative writing event
Sheffield City Council have informed Library Workers For A Brighter Future that a planned event at Upperthorpe Library, a children’s creative writing workshop to be run by poet, broadcaster & comedian, Ian McMillan, will not be allowed to go ahead due to concerns over possible ‘political comments’. The event, conceived as a fun and creative way of highlighting the value of public libraries, appears to have caused great concern for the council, with the decision over whether it should be allowed to go ahead passed all the way up to members of the senior management. We view this as a misguided and heavy-handed attempt to silence those of us who want to stand up for our library service and oppose the potentially devastating public sector cuts.
'Libraries are a vital and irreplaceable part of a cultured and civilised society, and one of the few public places left where you don't have to pay to get in…' Ian McMillan
In Sheffield it is being proposed that the present library budget of £8.5m should be cut by £2.5m by 2013/14, i.e. by £1.4m in 2011/12 and £550k in 2012/13 and 2013/14. There are no current plans to close libraries but cuts on this scale will inevitably have a major impact on the quality of the library service. As a campaigning organisation we are keen to work with the council wherever possible to highlight the good work that libraries do in our communities. This lack of cooperation on even such a simple thing as a children’s creative writing workshop leaves us with little option but to pursue other ideas…
'Shhh!'-in at Sheffield Central Lending Library 05/02/11
Saturday 5th of February is the national day of action for libraries and Library Workers For A Brighter Future would like to invite everybody to a mass ‘Shhhh!’-in at 11am in the Sheffield Central Lending Library on Surrey Street.
Finger to lips.
At 11am say ‘Shhhhh!’
Finish off with three cheers for the library!
Finally, borrow lots of books – lets empty those shelves. You’re allowed up to 15 out on your library card, so bring a big bag!
Our Facebook event page is here
Follow the build up on Twitter at the hashtag #shh4sheflib
And when the deficit is gone, what then?
At the moment we are an embattled country all fighting towards the same end- reducing the deficit. Time and time again the government justification for the current cuts is that the nation’s finances are in such dyer circumstances, that we are going to have to take some severe pain. According to David Cameron its not going to get any easier in 2011:
"The plans we have in place are tough, in fact incredibly difficult, but we are clear that the alternative — indecision and delay — would mean taking unacceptable risks with our economy, our country and our people."
But once the deficit has gone these services will be reinstated right?
Consider again the Kenneth Clarke quote from the previous post earlier this week, justifying the decision to cut £350 million from the legal aid budget:
"It cannot be right that the taxpayer is footing the bill for unnecessary court cases which would never have even reached the courtroom door, were it not for the fact that somebody else was paying."
From the scrapping of the EMA to encouraging NHS hospitals to make up more and more of their revenue from private patients-inevitably leading to the extension of waiting lists- these measures will not be reinstated when the deficit has gone.
Consider the phenomenon of ‘front-loading’. That is placing the overwhelming emphasis of the cuts on the first year. For example Sheffield Public libraries are expected to make cuts of 30% over just three years. Meaning; 15% in year 1 and 7.5% in year 2 and 3. So why so much in year one?
A cynic may say that if the majority of the cuts are placed in the first year the electorate will be less outraged and more accustomed to the reduced services by the time the next election comes around. But they would be missing a very important point. The government itself is very open about why they have this desire to front-load. According to Eric Pickles
"The amount of frontloading [sic] is very important to encourage local authorities to deal with this question of restructuring [of administration and services]."
It is about imposing an irreversible restructuring of services. Very similar to the process described in Naomi Klein’s best-selling book the Shock Doctrine. The goal is to impose the restructuring in the immediate aftermath of the economic crisis. Using the despicable rhetoric of of ‘deficit denial' to castigate critics, and after all who in the mainstream media denies the pressing need to reduce the deficit? The hope is that by cutting everything at once, campaigners will be overwhelmed.
The government have never really been able to explain how reducing the deficit in this way will benefit us. When questioned about why his government was scrapping the EMA Universities Minister David Willetts explained that the government was attempting to reduce the deficit in order to build a healthy economy thereby ensuring that there will be jobs available for these young people when they leave further education. This was an odd statement for Willetts to make considering his government had scrapped the future jobs fund. And the truth is, this has never been about increasing employment opportunities, how can it be when the government are preparing to make 500,000 people redundant? In years gone by the whole aim of economic policy was ‘full-employment’. Now, however, the curious phrase ‘Jobless Recovery' is becoming more familiar as both the FTSE 100 and the Dow Jones experienced a reversal in their fortunes in 2010 while the unemployment rate both here and in the US continued to grow.
Although there is one group that clearly benefit from cutting the deficit, hard and fast.
Cut One and We All Bleed
Library closures are politically unpopular in any area as the general public tend to see such measures as hugely regressive step. Any Sheffield Councillors who were any doubt of the strength of feeling against library closures will no doubt have been convinced after the public reaction to the proposed closure of the children’s library at Hillsborough. Its also hard to make such cuts on the quiet as people tend to notice if the the local library has been closed. Other attacks, however, such as the proposed £350m cuts to the legal aid bill announced by Kenneth Clarke can sneak in under the radar. According to Clarke
"It cannot be right that the taxpayer is footing the bill for unnecessary court cases which would never have even reached the courtroom door, were it not for the fact that somebody else was paying.”
In particular the Conservatives have focused upon costly divorce proceedings that could have been resolved by other, presumably much less costly, means. Yet in the same article it is revealed that legal aid will not continue for Employment, Welfare and Immigration cases, a fact less likely to be trumpeted by the Justice Secretary.
Even as Manchester City Council announced that it was to loose 17% of its workforce, the government attempted to maintain the illusion that the cuts were ‘firm but fair.’ Yet the very same government spokesperson revealed their contempt for public sector workers by helpfully hinting how they thought the cuts could be enforced.
“If councils share back-office services, join forces to procure, cut out the non-jobs and root out the over-spends, then they can protect frontline services.”
While it’s heartening in one respect that the government feels the need to hide the true nature of their ‘firm but fair’ cuts behind half truths and ‘non-job’ myths for fear of public opinion, it’s important that library campaigners are not fooled by such rhetorical nonsense and recognise that public sector cuts affect us all.
Just this week the PCS union has announced that many of its members working for Jobcentre Plus in Sheffield will be out on strike to protest against the fact they have progressively seen their contact with job-seekers limited to phone and internet interactions as they have been moved to call centres in the name of cost effectiveness. Again the most vulnerable will see a very real reduction in the quality of their service. And while the press attempt to characterise this as a dispute over ‘working conditions’ anyone who works in libraries will have come across job-seekers who have been failed by the current system, desperately seeking assistance as they attempt to fathom this brave new world of internet only application forms.
What we are faced with is a debate on a national level against a small but powerful group of free-market fundamentalists who are seeking to privatise and dismantle the entire welfare state. So whilst we should of course be focusing our attention on our local library services, we must not loose sight of the wider context of public sector cuts. We must join up with other library and public sector campaigns across the country in order to win this argument.
Pay freeze - “Happy New Year” from Sheffield Council
This week many council staff will have received a letter from their employer asking them to agree to a freeze on incremental pay increases over the next two years. After failing to reach a collective agreement with the trade unions, the council has decided to seek individual agreement from its employees. It claims that the sole reason for this action is ‘to safeguard the employment of as many individuals as possible’. The implication here is that if you disagree with taking what amounts to a pay cut over the next two years (taking inflation into account), you’re basically being selfish and threatening the jobs of your fellow workers.
This misses an important point - why we’re having to save money at all. The driving force behind these measures are the cuts announced by the current government. Responsibility for the effects of the spending review is being passed to public sector workers from the people who created the mess that apparently made these cuts “necessary” (which of course they aren’t). These are the very same people who will be receiving billions of pounds in bonuses yet again this year as the government demonstrates its unwillingness to take on the banks.
We should not sign these letters. To do so is to implicitly accept responsibility for a mess that isn’t of our making and a solution that is unjust and unnecessary. We must oppose cuts whatever form they take, however they are sold to us.
Very useful map featuring information on proposed closures of public libraries in the UK.