Rotten establishment must go
Hannah Sell, Socialist Party deputy general secretary
Westminster continues to be buffeted by new waves of the sexual harassment scandal. One Tory minister – Michael Fallon – has been forced out, with others barely clinging on.
The collapse of this extremely weak Tory government could still be triggered by these events. As we predicted, however, it has not only been the Tories that have been affected, but all the major parties.
This is no surprise. The majority of MPs in parliament have spent their entire careers acting in the interests of a tiny minority – the capitalist elite – and inflicting misery on the rest of us. Among the hundreds of MPs who have voted for benefit cuts, the savaging of public services, wage restraint and war there were bound to be some who have also used their power and status to sexually abuse or harass women and men with less power than them.
That is not to suggest that it is only right-wing, pro-capitalist MPs who can be guilty of harassment. The oppression of women remains deeply rooted in the structure of society, despite the steps forward that have been won through struggle in recent decades. It pervades all parts of society and must be fought wherever it is found.
It is particularly important it is combated in the workers’ movement. As long as we live in a capitalist society where wealth, power and the ownership of industry is concentrated in the hands of a tiny few, it will be impossible to even begin to eliminate sexism, racism and prejudice.
A socialist society, based on democratic public ownership so that society’s resources can be harnessed to meet the needs of all, is a prerequisite for overcoming all kinds of oppression, creating the basis for new non-exploitative human relations.
The fight for such a society requires a united struggle of working class people, but that will only be achieved if the workers’ movement takes seriously the fight against all forms of oppression, including sexual assault and harassment by individuals, especially those – like MPs – with power and status.
A number of right-wing Labour MPs have argued that the only way to investigate the allegations that have been made against Labour MPs and senior figures is to appoint some outside ‘independent’ body. But we reject the idea that the labour movement is incapable of properly investigating claims of assault and harassment in a thoroughgoing and sensitive manner supportive to victims.
Of course, it is vital that anyone making an allegation is given support and backing if they wish to take it to the police.
And within parliament it is absolutely correct that Labour argues for the establishment of procedures that would allow staff to report misbehaviour by MPs, who are often their employers. A crucial element of that should be campaigning for all staff in parliament to join a trade union, and for the trade unions to have negotiating rights on behalf of all staff.
At the same time the campaign against sexual harassment should be one part of a campaign by the Labour left to completely transform the structures of the Labour Party.
An essential part of that would be to make every MP democratically accountable to their local constituency by introducing mandatory reselection contests.
If this would be done it would make it possible for the hundreds of thousands of people who have joined the Labour Party in support of Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-austerity programme to insist that their MP is also anti-austerity, removing the pro-austerity Blairites.
This is crucial to building a Labour Party which defends women’s rights. Doing so does not only means opposing sexual harassment, but also fighting for decent public services including women’s refuges, mass council house building, a living wage and all the other measures that are necessary to truly empower working class women.