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Liberation struggle is class struggle: the fight for Trans Equality
A response to an open letter in the Morning Star
On 3rd July the Morning Star published a letter about the Gender Recognition Act, signed, among others, by the general secretary of PCS, Mark Serwotka. Below is a response sent by three Socialist Party members on the PCS NEC to the Morning Star.
We are writing to respond to the letter published by the Morning Star on 3rd July headed “Improve the Climate of debate around the Gender Recognition Act”.
Our purpose in writing is two-fold:
Firstly, because we are extremely concerned that the letter seems to do precisely the opposite to that alluded to in its title.
On the surface, it appears to be an appeal for a calm debate on the question of changes to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) that would remove barriers for trans men and women to more quickly become recognised as men and women.
It is alarming to us and we are certain to many others, that a letter of this nature is silent on the violence and discrimination suffered by many transgender people.
We are in favour of calm debate on the GRA and completely oppose any intimidation, threats or violence towards anybody, regardless of the view they are putting forward on the issue. Nonetheless, we do not agree with the balance of the letter.
We welcome that the General Secretary of UNITE, Len McCluskey, whose name was included in the list of signatories, has clarified his position, stating that: "I oppose all hate crime including against trans people" and highlighting UNITE's executive statement that argues: "We oppose division between our Women's movement and our Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans movement, our campaigns to tackle discrimination are inclusive and member led."
Our second purpose in writing is to clarify the position of PCS. This issue has been the subject of debate at our last two Annual Conferences. Our union has a clear position of supporting trans rights and fighting for the maximum unity of all oppressed groups.
The motion carried unanimously at this year's conference agreed "that the reform of the GRA is essential to remove barriers to our trans and non-binary comrades" and instructed the NEC to "work with PCS Proud, trans groups and other allies to see that the review and the proposed reforms are adopted without further delay" and further to "use our (PCS) voice in support of our trans and non-binary comrades ... in the hope of breaking down some of the stigma and lies that are circulated there".
It is therefore with disappointment that we note that the General Secretary of our own trade union, Mark Serwotka, chose to sign the 3rd July letter.
The trade union movement has a critical role to play in uniting different sections of the working class in a powerful movement against all the various forms of oppression faced by different sections of society.
We must not make concessions to attempts to divide us into different interest groups competing for who is 'most oppressed'. We live in a capitalist society where wealth and power are concentrated in the hands of a tiny few; to change that requires a powerful united movement of all the oppressed; with the organised working class at its core.
The debates on these issues in our own and other unions show, in our view, that the workers' movement is more than capable of the calm and comradely debate which the Morning Star letter calls for.
It is via this kind of comradely discussion and debate together with building a united movement that ends austerity and defends all our public services, that ways forward can be found to allay the genuine concerns of different groups about, for example, access to specific services such as women's refuges.
Our party clearly campaigns for the resources for services to be available for all women so that all women fleeing violent partners can get access to support services and refuges.
The Morning Star letter however, will unfortunately not aid calm debate. By listing only a series of incidents without any attempt to balance them, it attempts to smear those favouring GRA reform as violent, while those who are opposed to the GRA are portrayed as interested only in rational debate.
At no point does the letter acknowledge that, when it comes to violent and threatening behaviour, the vast majority of trans people are unquestionably the victims, not the perpetrators of this kind of behaviour.
Of those in work, one in eight has faced physical violence from a colleague or customer within the past year. Two in five have faced hate crime in the last year because of their gender identity.
Life expectancy is lower amongst trans people and suicide is much higher. Almost half of trans school students in the UK have attempted suicide. This is directly related to the social stigma faced by trans people.
Unfortunately, the first signatories to the Morning Star letter, Judith Green and Ruth Serwotka, are among those who argue that GRA reform itself is an attack on women.
We do not believe it is. Defending women's rights - like rights for the LGBT+ community - are inseparable from our struggle to unite the working class in defence of its own interests, for the socialist transformation of society.
The last number of years has seen unprecedented attacks upon women at work, with more than a million stable, public sector jobs wiped out by austerity. Women make up a majority of the workforce in the public sector and therefore suffer a disproportionate burden when these jobs are cut.
The burden placed on women goes far beyond this. With massive cuts to adult social care and to childcare, women, who are still primary care givers, shoulder extra work.
Meanwhile those women who face domestic violence and rape rely on services that year by year are being whittled down, with refuges being unable to take new referrals in many areas and frequently facing closure.
We take seriously our duty as socialists to fight the exploitative and discriminatory system of capitalism and the burden it imposes on all of us, but which it disproportionately places on working class women.
No part of this duty requires us to accept the argument put forward by those opposed to GRA reform, that more quickly allowing trans women to be legally recognised as women will further oppress women who are not trans.
Such a view detracts from the struggle against the real enemy - capitalism and a society run by and for the 1% - and puts up barriers to the kind of united struggle that we need.
Look at what we have witnessed in the Republic of Ireland, where men fought shoulder to shoulder with women for abortion rights and together they defeated the 8th Amendment to the Irish constitution.
Hopefully we can now signal a comradely debate on these key issues across the movement.