The Socialist 5 June 2019 |
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Sexual harassment of LGBT+ workers shows need for unions to fight
Members of retail union Usdaw marching for LGBT+ rights (Click to enlarge)
Maddy Steeds, Socialist Party LGBT+ group
68% of LGBT+ people have faced sexual harassment at work, finds a recent report from the Trade Union Congress. Of these, two in three did not report it to their employers. A quarter of those chose not to for fear of being outed.
The fear of being outed is not unwarranted. Some lesbian and bisexual women reported experiencing verbal harassment with threats of 'turning them straight'.
Bisexual people in the workplace have experienced their sexuality being used as a justification for harassment. One explained their manager "said I had 'brought it upon myself'" and that as a bisexual they "must like that thing."
The trade union movement needs to take a stand against discrimination of LGBT+ people, not only in the workplace but in wider society. Stigma against bisexual people is seen in society beyond the workplace. The trade unions must take a stand that this is unacceptable in all aspects of life.
Transgender people have also experienced sexual harassment. One third of trans women reported being sexually assaulted. One woman reported it was her manager who had assaulted her.
The report stated that not enough trans men responded to the survey, so more needs to be done to investigate the experiences of trans men at work.
The trade union movement needs to protect the rights of trans people in the workplace and beyond.
The TUC report, disappointingly, did not investigate the experiences of non-binary people. The unions need to recognise non-binary people and support the right to self-identification. This is part of making LGBT+ people more supported in the workplace.
The report recommends the government fund services for LGBT+ people who face sexual harassment, as well as funding organisations fighting harassment. However, in a time of capitalist austerity, the TUC needs to do more than politely ask for services in a report.
Action is what is needed. The TUC needs to organise the unions to fight for funding, including calling mass demonstrations and building towards strikes against austerity, to force a general election and get the Tories out.
The Socialist Party says no to all sexual harassment. Trade unionists have fought successfully for issues such as abortion, sexual harassment and domestic violence to become trade union issues in the past. This includes, for example, the Campaign Against Domestic Violence, led by Militant, forerunner of the Socialist Party.
This starts with a zero-tolerance approach, but also means campaigns and mass action in the workplaces, campuses and streets. Workers on the Woolwich ferry won action against sexual harassment by striking in 2017.
The unions should also fight to ban zero-hour contracts, which make workers more vulnerable, and guarantee employment and trade union rights from day one.
The report does call on unions to organise workplace campaigns to publicise the support they can offer. The best support would be leading a real fight for LGBT+ rights, as the unions have historically, and need to do again.