Article published: Saturday, February 9th 2013
R.I.P. public services? A mass “die in” and march blocked Levenshulme’s roads today as local families fresh from the occupation of their threatened library refused to take the cuts lying down.
Children lay down outside the neighbourhood’s threatened baths and library to symbolically mark the death of local services.
And up to 250 protestors marched down Stockport Road to protest the £80 million cuts planned by Manchester City Council in response to the Coalition government slashing its funding.
The closure was announced two years after a hard fought battle to keep Levenshulme swimming pool open. The council says it will replace the leisure centre and library – but not for two years.
Only the night before 50 people including local Labour councillor Aftab Ahmed had occupied their treasured local library to call attention to its impending closure.
Manchester City Council dismissed the sit-in as a “stunt”, but a section 68 notice of aggravated trespass was hastily issued and the police threatened to evict those inside.
But the Mums and Dads occupying the library held firm for seven hours, and ended the occupation with a collective walk out at one minute past midnight to cheers from onlookers and well-wishers.
“The strength of feeling in the community is so massive that we needed to do something”, said campaigner Charlotte Smith.
“What was brilliant about last night was the scale of it. It was 50 people who have not occupied before, it wasn’t a small group who have done it before.”
She added that after two years of austerity people in Levenshulme “know what the cuts actually mean. It’s not an abstract idea anymore it’s a real reality.”
On the night of the occupation the council’s deputy chief executive Vicky Rosin told the press that protesters had the opportunity to voice their views through official channels.
“There is a consultation going on about the library proposals as part of the democratic process and this is how people who want to have their say about the proposals can get their voices heard”, she said.
“This stunt is not the way.”
Smith strongly disagreed. “The council are going to make a decision on the 8th of March [but the consultation] ends on the 17th of April”, she pointed out. “The consultation is a stunt.”
She argued that residents felt they had forced the council to take notice. “The mood within the campaign at the moment is actually very positive. I think people feel good because we’re actually doing something.
“And what was really good about last night is when we decided to come out collectively there was a big crowd of people waiting for us to come out with a big cheer. That was the best part.”
The council’s Labour leadership say they have no choice but to reduce Manchester’s services and argue setting an illegal budget would lead to even worse cuts imposed by Tory local government minister Eric Pickles.
Smith argued that things may not be so straightforward. “There is absolutely no guarantee that they would send an administrator in because it would cause a political storm”, she said.
“If one city – and Liverpool’s in the same situation, Sheffield’s in the same situation – actually stood up to the cuts you could bring down the government. This is a weak coalition government.
“The city stood up against Thatcher in the 1980s and that was against a strong government.”
And she called on other parts of Manchester to take action against the removal of their local services. “Join us”, she said. “If everyone in Manchester does this united we can stop the cuts.”