EXCLUSIVE: Direct action to save library under way on IWD

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By John Millington

Feminist activists occupied the Women’s Library in Tower Hamlets today in a bid to prevent it’s closure.

Marking International Women’s day, over 100 activists from a wide variety of groups peacefully “set up camp” in the library declaring opposition to plans by London Metropolitan University management to shut the library and relocate it outside of East London, under the auspices of the London School of Economics.

As this story goes to press, it is understood, occupiers have successfully resisted an eviction by police and Security personnel with activists taking to Twitter to declare the occupation will continue “for a least tonight.”

Earlier both female and male occupiers had pledged to stay the weekend, showcasing open workshops and political discussion on the effects of austerity and the cuts on women in Britain.

The occupation organisers say is part of a growing wave of feminist anger against the government’s austerity regime.

Banners hung from the occupied building to highlight the effect the cuts are having on women, such as the nearly 30,000 women turned away from refuges last year due to lack of space.

Speaking as the peaceful protest began, Press spokesperson Josie Foreman declared the library “a precious feminist space for East London.”

“London Met don’t want the library and have sold it off.”

“So it is going to LSE which is a very corporate institution.

“It will be tucked on the 4th floor of a building out of the way and London Met want to sell it off because the building is prime real-estate.”

Ms Foreman went on to say that the action was also a general expression of dissent against the “genered nature of the cuts”

“Mumsnet did a survey of 2000 members which found 1 in 5 mums are skipping meals to save money on other essentials.” she said

Evoking the history of International Women’s Day and campaigning for equal rights, Ms Foreman added:

“We stand today in the tradition of the Suffragettes; action by deeds not words.”

The Women’s Library was originally established in 1926, as the Library of the London Society for Women’s Service, the successor of the London women’s suffrage organisation led by Millicant Fawcett.

Other activists were keen to speak about the occupation which they were hoping would last the whole weekend.

One campaigner named only as “Alice” said regardless of how long it lasts, the occupation had “done something” to highlight the importance of the library and its unique material on the history of women’s participation in society.

“It is time for action, this is why we have done this on International Women’s day.”

“We have to take direct action to stop the cuts.”

The library faces an uncertain future but is expected to close in May and be relocated.

According to the Library website: “Custodianship of The Women’s Library passed to LSE at the end of December 2012 and LSE is currently running the Library from the Aldgate site. The Library is now in a transitional period while the planning and implementation of the LSE transfer is underway.”

Reacting to the occupation, a London Met University spokeswoman said: “We can confirm that supporters of The Women’s Library have gathered in the Old Castle Street building to coincide with International Women’s Day.”

“We appreciate that many people feel strongly about the future of The Women’s Library, and we would like to take this opportunity to reassure them that the library is not ‘closing for good.’ It will re-open at its new home at the London School of Economics, where the collections will have more space to develop and grow.”

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