Newcastle-born Lee Hall – writer of ‘Billy Elliot’ and the hugely successful play ‘The Pitmen Painters – is set to speak at a major public meeting in Newcastle on 9 January. The Save Newcastle Libraries event will be potentially one of the biggest and most important public meetings in Newcastle for some years.
The threat to our libraries is tremendously important in itself. The scale of the closures – with 10 of the 18 local libraries to close altogether, and a further two severely cut back - has caused widespread outrage in the city. It has galvanised a dynamic, broad-based campaign. But the libraries issue is also proving to be a lightning rod for a whole set of threatened cuts, from the slashing of vital youth services to an astonishing 100% cut in the city’s culture budget.
The ‘scorched Newcastle’ policy has its roots in devastating cuts imposed by a Tory-led central government, which seems determined to suffocate local government everywhere. North East councils are more severely hit than many councils in more affluent parts of the country.
The impact in Newcastle will be enormous, with whole areas of public funding (like the arts) eradicated and others suffering unprecedented cutbacks. 1300 local government workers in the city are set to lose their jobs. Destroyed services are unlikely to ever be restored.
Coalition of Resistance activists initiated the launch meeting of Save Newcastle Libraries, attended by well over 100 people at short notice, and are now working with a wide range of groups and individuals to build a mass popular campaign. There has already been a march and lobby of the City Council, and an action targeting Starbucks as part of the UK Uncut day of protests. A 38 Degrees petition is rapidly gathering support, while a number of community-based campaigns – such as in Walker in the east end – are developing under the Save Newcastle Libraries umbrella.
The 9 January meeting is backed by Newcastle Unison and will be addressed by the branch secretary, Paul Gilroy, alongside Lee Hall, crime novelist Ann Cleeves and local playwright Peter Mortimer. It can take the campaign to the next level and provide a springboard for building high-profile actions on National Libraries Day (9 February).
The other challenge for local Coalition of Resistance supporters is building a general anti-cuts movement that connects libraries to other aspects of austerity, at local and national levels. The immediate priority here is a 'Stop the Cuts - Save Our Services' march and rally in Newcastle. The aim is to link all the local campaigns together and contribute to a bigger national and international movement to stop the cuts. It will take place on 16 February, shortly before Newcastle Council sets its budget.