England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

Workers’ threat to strike blocks anti-trans speaker

By Taylor Sandford

SNP MP and Chair of the Human Rights Committee, Joanna Cherry, was due to speak in the coming months at a comedy club called the Stand at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. 

Cherry has fought hard against the gender recognition reforms put forward in Scotland. She is friendly with other prominent members of the Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist movement, such as JK Rowling and Posie Parker, and has a history of publicly attacking the rights of trans people. 

Workers at the Stand, in response to Cherry’s planned speech, threatened an impromptu wildcat strike on the day. The Stand had to cancel the event, as it would have been unsafe to go ahead and they would not have made any money through drink sales.

This is a great, although small, example of workers’ power. Strike action, organised by the workers in solidarity with other workers, has the potential to stop the spread of harmful ideas and tackle issues of misogyny, LGBTQI+ phobia, and racism. 

Throughout history, we have seen similar actions take place for similar reasons, such as at the John Fisher School in South London last year, where NEU members went on strike about the school’s governance, LGBTQ+ rights, and education. Or as far back as 1976, when NALGO (now part of UNISON) members went on strike at Tower Hamlets Council when a LGBTQ+ employee was victimised by the employer. And only last month, students and staff at Edinburgh University joined trans rights activists to stop a showing of Adult Human Female, a film that tries to argue that women should only be defined by their biological sex.

Over the last year, workers in many different industries have taken strike action for higher pay, better working conditions, or against the use of fire and rehire. But, as is proven by this mere threat of strike action, strikes do not necessarily have to be limited to the fight for improved working conditions. They can take on a more ideological and political form. Strikes can be used to tackle ideas much larger than the finances of the company the workers are striking against.

The movement of strikes from economic, wherein the workers are challenging the pay structure at their company, to political, where the workers are not just challenging their company but instead the political institution that allows such unfair rates of pay to exist, is a necessary step on the path to socialist revolution. 

Joanna Cherry now claims that she has been cancelled, her voice silenced. She says, “Small groups of activists are now dictating who can speak and what can be discussed.” This could not be further from the truth and is an attitude we should be willing to combat.

Joanna Cherry was not silenced. The truth is that the workers, without whose labour the event could not go ahead, were unwilling to support the spread of hateful ideas by facilitating the event. No worker should have to support the spread of attitudes and ideas they disagree with, and yet, most workers almost every day, to some extent or another, will have to. The strike is not a form of cancellation, but instead the workers’ way of voicing their own attitude and ideas, and in this case, the ideas, resolve, and tactics of the workers won.

These are workers who, without a union presence or support, instinctively knew their power and their duty to fight for what is right. They have withheld their labour and in doing so, have challenged not only the transphobic ideas of Joanna Cherry but also the idea of who runs the comedy club. 

Cherry is now threatening to sue the comedy club. This is not surprising, but it reveals the difference in tactics between the ruling class and the rest of us. The state, including the law and police, will always fall on the side of the elite. Only through continued worker-led action can this power dynamic be truly challenged.

It is the role of all people, not just women and members of the LGBTQI+ community, to fight for women’s and trans liberation. Reactionary ideas must be challenged in the workplace, and the withholding of labour must be taken across all industries in the fight for a fairer society that recognises the rights of all people, regardless of gender, race, or sexuality. 

The workers’ movement  should apply the lessons of this action more widely and ‘take a Stand’ for the rights of all oppressed members of our class. Our unions should actively mobilise our economic power to defend those facing misogyny, racism and transphobia, not just reactively when bigots like Cherry pop up but proactively making our workplaces, schools and communities safe for all. 



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