Reply to Jane Edbrooke – yes, trade unions should be political!

Ruth Cashman, striking library worker and joint Branch Secretary, replies to Cabinet member Jane Edbrooke who accuses Lambeth UNISON of being ” engaged in a political campaign alongside libraries groups”

Lambeth strike march 2016 solidarity fund

Young support and Lambeth library user, donates (her dad’s money!) to the strike fund.

Jane Edbrooke, Cabinet Member responsible for the library closures has, criticised our union for engaging in a “political campaign alongside libraries groups rather than simply an industrial dispute”. There is some truth in her statements. Our strike is part of a wider fight to save Lambeth’s libraries.  You can read a report of our strike here.

We [library workers] have the privilege to spend our days helping Lambeth people access ideas and information. On Monday I helped a man apply for a 60+ photocard, showed someone how to apply for the Life in The UK Test, signposted a young pregnant woman to services who help vulnerable families who need extra support and helped people find the books that they wanted to read. On Thursday I sang nursery rhymes and organised an Easter egg hunt. Of course we want to save Libraries that we’ve watched change lives.

We are passionate defenders of our services.

It is true that we don’t just take industrial action in isolation, we do it as part of a broad movement for the defence of library services in Lambeth and across the country. We stand with the Friends of Libraries Groups and others who use our libraries. We’ve had support from all kinds of people – Lambeth pensioners, disability campaigns, MPs, educationalists, writers, celebrities and Mumsnet. We also consider ourselves as part of a national campaign against cuts, Barnet and Lewisham library workers have visited our picket lines to show their solidarity. The broad and passionate campaign Barnet workers have fought taking industrial action alongside community action is a great source of inspiration for us.

Lambeth strike march 2016 Picket and rhyme

Wriggle and Rhyme becomes Picket and Rhyme as striking library staff still provide services that the council wants to cut

Anyone worried that Lambeth UNISON are walking into a trap around the anti-union laws, fear not. [Readers with no interest in the minutiae of the anti-union laws, should skip this paragraph]. Unions have the right pursue broader policies whilst taking action for goals limited to a trade dispute. The Court of Appeal in the case of UCLH NHS Trust v UNISON found that a union could have a policy of opposing PFI, and, concurrently, also have a more limited objective – that is alleviating the adverse consequences which might flow from that more general policy. On that basis, the Court of Appeal found that the proposed industrial action was potentially capable of being in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute rather than in consequence of some overall political objective which would itself be insufficient to qualify as a trade dispute.

We face a Tory government which has made massive cuts to services, privatised the NHS, cuts benefits for people who are already struggling and cuts tax for those who are already ridiculously rich. If we want to defeat them it will mean knitting together the unions and community campaigners in solidarity, in the greatest tradition of the labour movement. Lambeth UNISON is proud to be accused of standing with our communities and engaging in a political campaign against these cuts, we have had great support from Labour Party members in Lambeth as well as some Councillors, we hope Jane Edbrooke will follow them and will join us.

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