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Solidarity needed! Rally this Friday.

1 Mar

LU Rally March 6th_page_001

 

Here is a downloadable version, for printing and circulation;

March6th rally version 2

 

Birmingham Needs a Comprehensive and Efficient Library Service!

26 Feb
The LoB rally on February 7th

The LoB rally on February 7th

The Institute of Directors is moving into the Library of Birmingham on a permanent basis, and this symbolises the direction of the city regarding public services; huge cuts and a pro-business agenda.
As we approached the opening date of the new library in September 2013, there were fears about bringing big private interests into its ownership and control. But one response was that the corporate world would be able to bring in some much needed cash to bridge the funding gap. Well, that did not happen, the money did not materialise, and added to the miscalculations over the rates and running costs, and the huge cuts to the Birmingham budget by central government, the ruling Labour group has planned massive cuts to this 17 month old library, or ‘prestige project’ as one leading manager stated.
And let us not forget the financial attacks on the community libraries around the city either.
With even more cuts planned for next year, what future for a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ public library service, a specified under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act?
What is at stake here?
In the Shawshank Redemption, Andy DuFresne says;
“You know what the Mexicans say about the Pacific? They say it has no memory”.
But what might have been mystical, comforting and endearing in that context, does not apply to a comprehensive and efficient library service. The Czech-born writer Milan Kundera (who wrote The Unbearable Lightness of Being), said;
“The first step in liquidating a people is to erase its memory. Destroy its books, its culture, its history, Then have somebody write new books, manufacture a new culture, invent a new history. Before long the nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was. The world around it will forget even faster. …”
Well, at the huge rally organised by the Friends of Birmingham Archives and Heritage, back in January, it was pointed out that the archives constitute the memory of Birmingham, and without proper care, it could eventually be lost.
And furthermore, at the successful rally outside of the Library of Birmingham on February 7th, Carl Chinn pointed out the huge gain that a free library service had been to the working class of the city.
Libraries are a vital community asset, warm and welcoming places where people can meet, read, study, research and write, and where learning and cultural activities can be organised.  They are not just about the lending of books. The internet, bookshops and other resources can complement a free and efficient library service, but they are no substitute. So, there has to be a massive outcry from the citizens of this city at the vandalism that is going on.

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Protest at the Council Budget setting meeting on March 3rd, 1pm!

20 Feb
The following appeal has been issued by the Friends of the Library of Birmingham;
Save our Libraries; Carl Chinn and others

Save our Libraries; Carl Chinn and others

“In its summary of the responses to the consultation over its budget for 2015-16, the Council acknowledges that the total number of submissions over the Libraries, Museums, Arts and Heritage was the highest, comprising 50% of the total (followed by Adult Social Care on 29%). And within that high level of submissions, by far the highest level of opposition to the proposed cuts was registered (78%), when compared to other service areas.
The thousands of people who had signed up to the petition circulated by the Friends of the Library of Birmingham were also acknowledged. This petition called for opposition to the cuts to the Library of Birmingham, in particular the reduction of the opening hours from 73 to 40 and the sacking of 100 staff. It also opposed cuts to the Community Libraries.
However, once the consultation period was over, and the draft budget produced, it became clear that this overwhelming rejection of the plans of the ruling Labour Group had been ignored. The cuts to hours and staff were being pursued, and the reduction of the budget had only been reduced from £1.5 m to £1.3 m.
Several direct questions to the Council had been asked at its meetings, for example there was one regarding the question of charging for certain services, including music. The question was not answered by the cabinet member responsible, and it was then revealed that charges would indeed be made for music.
According the OECD, of which the UK was a founding member, public consultation is:
Notification (to publicise the matter to be consulted on), consultation (a two-way flow of information and opinion exchange) as well as participation (involving interest groups in the drafting of policy or legislation).
The latter point hardly applies in the Birmingham situation, so we are arguing that the consultation has been a sham, and that the views of those who have taken a lot of trouble to make their views felt have been ignored.
It could be countered that the consultation is about how to implement these massive cuts, rather than whether to or not. Indeed, that was the distinct impression at the consultation meetings and on the forms. There was never a “none of the above” alternative.
However, our reply is that this is all being proposed by a party that did not include in its election manifestos in 2012 or 2014 that it would countenance huge cuts to this brand new library or the 39 community libraries. (The same applies to the other two minority parties of course)
So, we think it is clear that the Council has no democratic mandate for these cuts to the library service.
We are therefore fully justified in protesting at this abuse of democracy and the attack on learning and culture at the Council Budget setting meeting on March 3rd. They lost the argument during the consultation, and have now lost all democratic legitimacy.
We appeal for all those opposed to this shameless vandalism to join us at 1 pm outside of the Council House.”
Since the appeal was agreed, UNISON have also decided to protest.

 

Let Greece breathe!

16 Feb
Five hundred people demonstrated in Trafalgar Square yesterday, in solidarity with the Syriza government in its struggle against the Troika and calling for the debt to be dropped (see the lower picture). We could not quite manage that in Birmingham, but Birmingham Left Unity and Podemos-Birmingham turned up to show their support (top picture)

Syriza Rally 005

Drop the Debt

Birmingham City Council plc

13 Feb

A people’s council?!

Eric Pickles, the local government secretary, or rather the destroyer of local government, has waded into the conflict over the Library of Birmingham.

http://www.birminghampost.co.uk/news/regional-affairs/pickles-city-councils-old-fashioned-8631977

His demand, as is Kerslake’s, is that the city is not moving fast enough to embrace the market, the business sector and private concerns, in this instance focusing on the Library of Birmingham. This is what you might expect from a high Tory, and has upset the local Labour leadership.
However, it is worth remembering that Labour’s record on all this is hardly spotless. In the 1980s there was a fierce debate over the construction of the ICC within the District Labour Party. This was a time when there was a degree of democracy within the party. The administration, led by Dick Knowles, bulldozed the project through, with the support of the soft left, using money taken from the education and housing accounts to help the project. This led to perfectly predictable effects on these essential services for years afterwards.
The theme of city centre prestige projects has been followed ever since, always putting the needs of local communities in second place. There then followed the NIA, now the Barclaycard Arena, which, like the ICC, became part of the NEC group.
Then remember that the Birmingham Airport was transferred into a private company in 1993 and now the NEC, ICC and Barclaycard Arena have been been flogged off to the private sector as well.
With the call by Kerslake for Birmingham citizens to be only allowed to vote every four years, is clear what is going on; the legalised theft of public resources, the handing over of the Council to private profiteers and the shutting out of the citizens of Birmingham.
If you thought Capita, Veolia, Amey, G4S, National Express and the rest were bad enough, just remember, there is no bottom line when it comes to the greed of the fat cats and their politicians such as Pickles.
But the question is, if Labour has proved itself so inept at standing up to them (and let us not forget the pro-active attempt of Birmingham Labour to dispose of all its council housing stock in 2002, which was fortunately stopped by the superb Defend Council Housing campaign), who else will step up to the mark?
Anyway, after this brief introduction, have a look at an in-depth account of what the Kerslake review has in store by us, written by Richard Hatcher. 

The Kerslake Review is a recipe for a neoliberal business-led council

The Kerslake Review is a recipe for a neoliberal business-led council 

‘Council in Crisis – Damning report reveals major failings across the board’. That was the Birmingham Mail’s front page on December 10 when the Kerslake Review of the city council was published. Sir Bob Kerslake is Permanent Secretary at the Department for Communities and Local Government, but he is no neutral civil servant. In April 2013 he wrote in the Daily Telegraph in praise of Margaret Thatcher and her pioneering privatisation programme. Now government minister Eric Pickles has dispatched him to Birmingham as his enforcer to drive forward the neoliberalisation of the city.

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Rally for the Libraries of Birmingham

7 Feb
About 200 people attended today’s rally, and despite the cold, listened to speeches, poetry, greetings and stories outside of the Library of Birmingham. After an hour or so, we all went to “hug” the library, while chanting “Save the Library”, before marching down to the Council House for a further rally, and to hand over the 6000+ strong petition to cabinet member Penny Holbrook. There was then more chanting, to let the Labour Councillors meeting inside know that we wanted no cuts to the library service, and that they should vote against any such moves.
Carl Chinn introduces

Carl Chinn introduces

Serena Arthur - Birmingham poet laureate 2014-15

Serena Arthur – Birmingham poet laureate 2014-15

Carl Chinn and others

Carl Chinn and others

Left Unity activists were involved in building the rally

Left Unity activists were involved in building the rally

Ann Gallagher as MC, fresh from her TV performance

Ann Gallagher as MC, fresh from her TV performance

The growing crowd hears from another poet laureate

The growing crowd hears from another poet laureate

Hugging the library

Hugging the library

Rallying outside of the Council House

Rallying outside of the Council House

“The first step in liquidating a people is to erase its memory. Destroy its books, its culture, its history, Then have somebody write new books, manufacture a new culture, invent a new history. Before long the nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was. The world around it will forget even faster. …”
Milan Kundera (The Czech born author of the Unbearable Lightness of Being)
Food for thought for our city Councillors?

We Can

5 Feb
Podemos2
It was very inspiring to hear about the huge pro-Podemos (“We can”) rally in Madrid last Saturday, and it was even better to witness a Podemos rally in Birmingham itself at the same time. That spirit of “another world is possible” or, “another city is possible!” is so very much needed over here.
The breakthrough of Podemos is Spain, to the extent that it could form a new government in Spain later this year and align itself with the Syriza government in Greece, has been made possible by the huge indignados movement throughout the country; occupying public squares on a scale that dwarfs the mobilisations seen in this county so far and building local circles in every part of Spain (and now in Birmingham!)
That is not to say that nothing has happened in this country or this city of course, it is just it has been limited to the more serious trade unions, such as the FBU and the NUT, and to the anti-cuts activists; UK Uncut, the students, those struggling against the Bedroom tax, the various anti-cuts groups  and others.
At present, the main anti-austerity struggle going on in Birmingham is around the vicious attacks on the 17-month-old Library of Birmingham and the wider community libraries. Once again, a group of activists have gotten together and said “We Can”, and have set about building an impressive campaign, leading to the rally planned outside the LoB at 12 noon this Saturday.
The problem is, of course, that since May 2012, every action against austerity against Council cuts in Birmingham has been met with a dogged refusal of the ruling Labour group to do anything serious in terms of resisting the neo-liberal onslaught on this city. Their mantra is “We Can’t”. They are very good at telling us what they cannot do, but no good at telling us what they can.
For those of us who reject austerity, who know that is not only hugely unjust but is not even working in its own terms of reducing the deficit (it is only working in the sense that it is transferring public assets and vast amounts of our money to the 1%), we have to look to Syriza and Podemos to show the possibilities. On a much smaller scale, Communities against the Cuts and others have shown what can be done in Birmingham, but it would be good if we could take heart from our international friends and lift our sights over here as well.
To digress, and look further afield for a moment, when he came to office Obama’s slogan was “Yes we can”, but after six years the verdict is more like “Well, no he didn’t”.
Let us look to the struggle of Podemos instead and prove we can create something like it.

Bob Whitehead

 

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