Link to this page: https://secure.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/1166/33728
Does the fight for Trans rights conflict with women's rights?
Michael Johnson's article, 'Stonewall attacked by the establishment' (the Socialist, 15 December 2021), refers to "some in the women's and labour movement", he asserts, are jointly campaigning with right-wing journalists and politicians "to present trans and non-binary people's rights as conflicting with women's rights".
For those who follow this discussion, that will be understood as a reference to Woman's Place UK (WPUK). Anyone familiar with our organisation knows that all our main activists are longstanding feminists. Many are actively involved in their unions; others work with women and girls affected by male violence and sexual abuse and several of us are proud of the solidarity work we've done with the people of Palestine. This may be why MI5 have never bragged about us naming them as employer of the year, an honour awarded to them by Stonewall.
We are a grassroots activist organisation which relies entirely on the voluntary, unpaid labour of women who hold down full-time jobs on top of our family and caring commitments. We don't get money from big business and the HR departments of major employers.
As comrade Johnson could have found out by looking at our Mythbusters, WPUK opposes all unlawful discrimination against trans people, and we believe that the right to gender non-conformity including in dress codes and behavioural expectations should be upheld in law, for men and for women. We work closely with trans people who share our views, and we have provided a platform for transsexual people who also believe that a woman's biological sex is something that she is born with.
Our principal concern is that women have a say in the decisions that affect our lives. What we find shocking is how little support women who speak out get from the left. Our meetings are routinely harassed by aggressive protestors, and women like Dr Kathleen Stock are forced out of their jobs. This harassment appears to have the tacit support of a left which appears to be more troubled by women asking legitimate questions about a major, well-funded, corporate NGO, than it is by the harassment of women.
We look forward to the left engaging properly with the concerns being raised by many women, and request that you publish this letter as response to the article.
Kiri Tunks and Judith Green, co-founders, WPUK
United struggle for LGBTQ+ and women's rights is integral to the wider struggle to change society
Michael Johnson replies
We welcome the opportunity to further address these important issues - with the view of sharpening our understanding and the programme for which we fight. As this and our previous exchanges illustrate, the anti-democratic approach that Woman's Place UK (WPUK) accuses 'the left' of cannot be levelled at the Socialist Party.
Obviously, the Socialist Party agrees that women should have a say in decisions that affect their lives - but for us that starts with a fight against the austerity that denies women and all working-class people the opportunity to genuinely make decisions.
The 2020 Women's Aid report on services for people escaping domestic abuse showed that 64% of those seeking access were turned away due to lack of funding. Across the country domestic violence and rape crisis services have been slashed by the government and local councils, including Labour councils, who have dutifully passed on the cuts.
Attacks on benefits, lack of council housing, closures of sexual health services, and other cuts also make it harder to escape violence and abuse, and make life 'decisions'. Cuts to street-lighting and bus routes contribute to women workers' vulnerability to violence.
The Socialist Party has a proud record of fighting austerity attacks on services women need. We are currently doing this by fighting for the biggest possible no-cuts challenge in the local government elections on 5 May. We appeal to trade unionists of all genders to stand in order to give a voice to the working class by putting forward an alternative to all these attacks.
We also have a proud record of fighting for LGBTQ+ rights, including opposing the corporatisation of the campaign for LGBTQ+ equality.
It is, however, not enough to limit ourselves to opposing the discrimination that the capitalist class, the main authors of the laws, consider 'unlawful'.
If that was the case we would not have been able to oppose rape within marriage until 1991! Trade unionism has never limited itself to working within laws set by the boss class.
These struggles against sexism and LGBTQ+phobia, and the struggles of the wider working class, are intrinsically linked to the fight for a change in society.
Our approach, fighting for the maximum unity of the working class in struggle around a programme for the liberation of all from the oppression and exploitation of capitalism, makes us effective.
It meant we could defeat Thatcher both in Liverpool city council and the poll tax, win rights for women in the Campaign Against Domestic Violence, stop evictions, and more. This is why the Socialist Party not only doesn't have MI5 bragging about us, but was infiltrated by 'spy cops'.
Unfortunately, WPUK has taken a different tactic. While in our initial article we didn't specifically reference WPUK, it is correct that we oppose divisive politics that threaten the working class's ability to fight back.
WPUK present the idea that sections of the working class, in this case trans people, are a threat to women's services. This is the lie the bosses would love us to swallow: blame each other, not their class society - with the sexism inherent to it, and their cuts.
The argument that there are limited resources and rights in society can lead to the idea that if one group benefits, another will lose out. This means that the working class must fight over crumbs.
Unfortunately, WPUK is not alone in this approach. Where workers have been pitted against each other or struggle quashed because "some cuts have to be made", too often right-wing trade union leaders have gone along with this.
The Socialist Party completely rejects this strategy for the blind alley it is. Democratically planning the running of society would allow us to meet everyone's needs instead of lining the pockets of the rich.
And if we are going to get those resources to where they need to be, it will take more than women, trans people or other sections of the working class fighting, but us all coming together as a class with a banner of fighting for rights and resources for all.
- Go to socialistparty.org.uk to find more on this debate:
- You can find the article by Socialist Party LGBTQ+ group convenor Michael Johnson - 'Stonewall attacked by the establishment - The fight for LGBTQ+ equality must be part of the struggle to liberate society from capitalism',
and 'Women's rights, trans rights and the Labour movement' - a previous debate between the Socialist Party and Women's Place UK in the pages of the Socialist
In The Socialist 9 February 2022:
What we think