Emily, NEU member
How can LGBT+ educators fight for our union to offer a lead in the struggle for LGBTQ+ liberation from oppression – and win on pay, funding, workload, and the future of education?
On 3-4 February, the National Education Union (NEU) held its annual LGBT+ conference, which I attended as a delegate. Throughout the workshops and discussions, the lack of support from both the Tory government and Keir Starmer’s Labour Party was reflected. The need for an alternative in order to secure the future of education was clear.
Comparisons were drawn between the proposed harmful Tory guidance on trans and non-binary children and the suffering caused by Section 28 in the 1980s and 90s. One delegate highlighted the importance of collective organisation, referring to the solidarity between the LGBT+ community and miners in the 1984-85 miners’ strike, and the relevance to the class struggle today.
Many delegates were angry about pay, funding and workload. Socialist Party members leafleted and put forward a fighting strategy to help arm them with a way to fight on those issues and for LGBTQ+ liberation.
As the Tories head towards electoral annihilation, they attempt to whip up hatred and division in the desperate hope that some people might still vote for them. This is the context of their consultation on guidance for schools on gender-questioning children. It threatens the rights and safety of a tiny minority of young people and will escalate the crisis in schools. It will contribute to the instances of transphobic attacks and LGBTQ+ phobia in general, and we must oppose it.
Given the civil war between the wings of the Tories, it is not guaranteed they will get this through. A commitment from Labour leader Keir Starmer that the guidance will be immediately scrapped by a Labour government would kill off this divisive policy now. Our union should demand this, and fight against the guidance and all the Tory measures that will accelerate the crisis in our schools.
The Blair New Labour government, which Starmer sees as a model, did not repeal Margaret Thatcher’s murderous Section 28 for six years, and did not implement measures that could undo the damage. Without clear demands and pressure from the unions, we cannot just hope Starmer will act. But the strikes last year showed that taking collective action can push governments to act even when they don’t want to.
NEU needs a clear fighting programme
The Equality Act, like all positive legislation, is a by-product of campaigns that have been waged by ordinary people and their organisations, including the trade unions. Without our union developing a clear programme of what we’re fighting for and how we fight for it, we cannot defend our rights and improve them.
In recent years, issues around discrimination, particularly transphobia, have been on the rise. This is not just as a result of the Tories and their policies, but the failure of the trade union and labour movement leaders, and the absence of a mass workers’ party, to answer Tory lies and build a mass movement to fight cuts and division, with mass action and a socialist programme.
Tory propaganda, which Starmer doesn’t oppose, attempts to scapegoat trans people – like they do migrants and asylum seekers – for oppression and the lack of services, housing and jobs. Keeping us divided is in the interests of the bosses; it weakens our ability to fight back.
The Socialist Party fights for the right of trans and non-binary people to self-identify – but also for the rights, resources and public services we all need. We also fight for democratic control of our public services, and that includes in education.
For example, ending academisation could lay the basis for genuine democratic control of schools through elected representatives of the local community, parents, staff and their trade unions, and school students’ unions. Those kinds of committees would provide the forum for discussing and arriving at decisions on areas of controversy, feeding into national policy. That would need to include policies on relationships, sex and health education, as well as provision for students and staff of all faiths.
It is essential that the trade unions link the fight against all forms of oppression, including racism, sexism, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, to the fight against class exploitation and capitalism.
Under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour stood for an end to academies. Starmer has committed to “make multi-academy trusts subject to Ofsted inspections”! It is necessary to build a new workers’ party with a socialist programme of fighting for jobs, homes, services and rights. In such a party, different struggles can come together in solidarity.
Elect a determined and inclusive campaigner as NEU vice-president: Vote Sheila Caffrey #1
From the start of her time on the NEC in 2021, Socialist Party member Sheila Caffrey has been a supporter of motions brought by the LGBT+ executive member on behalf of marginalised members. She has listened to equality groups and striven to be a voice for all members – teachers, support staff, supply, early years, post-16. Sheila has consistently argued for national action on pay and workload. She campaigns for the union to lead a national fight for a new national contract that sets an overall limit on hours worked.
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