Eight months ago, workers from Bromley’s library service balloted to take indefinite strike action. This was in response to the awful treatment they were receiving at the hands of the private employer now running the service - Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL).
To add to the bullying, poor management, and cost-cutting, GLL had also announced their intention to cut around 40 jobs from the existing staff pool. As a result, the initial ballot in favour of strike action achieved 97% support.
This solid response to the call for strike action therefore came as no surprise. Such a mass redundancy would have certainly destroyed the library service as it currently exists. And it would most likely have been used to bring in the same volunteer-based model of staffing that exists in Lewisham and other areas where similar attacks have been successful.
In the words of one striking library worker, such a scenario would have reduced Bromley’s libraries to “glorified charity shops”, with little union presence.
The workers were not prepared to lie down and let this happen. In one of the longest strikes of recent times, they stood firm and fought back.
When the strike began, there was talk amongst GLL’s upper management of “breaking the union”. This no doubt contributed to the remarkable length of the strike. But in the end, the workers’ militancy paid off.
Seeing the strikers re-ballot successfully - with 100% in favour of continuing their indefinite strike for another six months if need be - GLL have finally conceded defeat. There will be no redundancies whatsoever. And Unite the Union reps have argued for measures to raise the pay of newer staff to match the terms of their longer-term colleagues.
Of course, the situation has not totally changed. GLL is still being allowed to run the service, despite their shoddy behaviour and cost-cutting. That a company like this can remain in place after such a shambolic treatment of their workforce says much about the priorities of Tory-controlled Bromley Council, who saw an opportunity to offload a service and reduce costs when GLL first approached them.
This state of affairs will continue so long as the Tories are in power in the borough. Their priorities have been made perfectly clear - and bringing the libraries back into public ownership so that they can be run properly is not one of them.
Socialist Appeal supporters have been visiting the picket lines and raising money for this strike since it began. What was remarkable was the consistently positive mood of the workers. From the very start, they have been cheerful, upbeat and utterly determined to see this strike through.
This mood of determination was present even at the end, with the strikers and their supporters singing songs and standing shoulder-to-shoulder together throughout the cold winter months. Their refusal to buckle - even in the face of repeated ham-fisted provocations by the bosses - is an example to the rest of the labour movement.
No doubt GLL will try further provocations in the future, as they are still tied to a contract that they cannot profit from easily. In addition to their financial woes, their executives have been humiliated by the outcome of the strike. They will therefore be determined to take revenge for this loss at some point down the line.
In waging this struggle, however, the library workers have demonstrated that they can stand up to even the most ruthless attacks - so long as they stand together.
Their victory demonstrates the need for such vital services to be brought back in-house, under public ownership and workers’ control. After all, who better to look after the libraries than the staff who have fought such a long and hard battle to save them?