• Posted on: 31/03/2021
  • 2 minutes to read
  • Tagged with: Local Government Wellington City Council

The PSA has helped defeat a proposal to partially-privatise Wellington library and slash its budget.

Our union strongly opposed this attack on our libraries, which was initially pushed through in a vote by Wellington City Council in February.

We held multiple meetings with council delegates, and library staff concerns were raised in the media by national secretary Erin Polaczuk and anonymous workers.

One library worker, speaking to Te Mahinga Ora before the campaign was won, said she and her colleagues were worried.

"We're quite dissatisfied. It's interesting that at this point libraries are being treated as a 'nice to have',” she said.

"Plenty of members of the public think we are vital. The library is a place you're a citizen, not just a consumer."

PUBLIC SOLIDARITY

Despite the stress caused by threats of budget cuts, the library worker said she was overwhelmed by the wave of public solidarity.

“We’ve had members of the public coming in to tell us how much they love their branch. Some have even brought us gifts,” she said.

“It’s been amazing to read open letters and comments all over social media where people lay out the public good and value of libraries. I’ve shared these privately with some fellow librarians, I get a bit sentimental and almost cried reading them.”

Union pressure and the public outcry led several councillors to change their position, and the proposals were voted down at a council meeting in early March.

VALUE OUR LIBRARIES

Shortly before Council voted down the cuts, PSA organiser Maddy Drew spoke directly to councillors at a public meeting and urged them to do the right thing.

She noted library staff are not highly paid, and that library assistants are currently campaigning for a pay equity claim.

“Library staff do this work because they genuinely care about it. Libraries are community centres, places for children, the elderly, migrants, those without much money and those who have nowhere else to go,” she said.

“Privatisation belongs in the 90s. Let’s learn from mistakes instead of repeating them. And let’s invest in valuable council services like the library collections budget, rather than taking an axe to it.”

CHRISTCHURCH CUTS PROPOSED 

The fight was won in Wellington, but similar campaigns may need to be organised elsewhere. Christchurch City Council is currently discussing its Long Term Plan, and proposals have been made to significantly cut library opening hours.

With some branches set to close one hour early and other services cut from seven to five days a week, Christchurch PSA members should keep their eyes and ears open – particularly as bargaining for a new collective agreement begins.

 Main Photo Caption: PSA organiser Maddy Drew at Wellington council meeting