By Sarah Wrack, Socialist Alternative London
Many of us will be joining – or organising – protests against gender violence on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Gender Violence. We will be calling for an end to the Tories’ disgusting culture war attacks on trans people, which are legitimising anti-trans stigmatisation, abuse, and violence. We will be standing in solidarity with our siblings all over the world protesting against femicides and intimate partner abuse.
Violence against women and LGBTQ+ people is abhorrent to many working class and young people. That sentiment has provoked protest movements in Britain and internationally, time and again over the last decade. And it is not going anywhere over the next decade either! Just look at the obvious potential for a new MeToo movement sparked by some of the latest celebrity abuse scandals – from Russell Brand, to Danny Masterson, to Luis Rubiales.
But how do we move beyond protesting against political attacks, against the horrendous murders which just keep coming, met with temporary waves of indignation and discourse; and into a movement that can fight for the type of change needed to put an end to gender oppression once and for all? In other words, what do we do on 26 November and beyond? Socialist Feminist Alternative (SFA) is calling for all those who stand against misogyny, transphobia and abuse to begin to build a democratic, fighting, feminist movement, within which we think the ideas and strategy of socialist feminism would be essential.
Build the movement
Imagine how much stronger our response to the next transphobic attack could be, for example, if it were not starting again from zero. If instead there were local and national democratically organised groups ready to spring into action. And more than that – what if those groups had already been active in consistently fighting for things that could make a real impact for survivors and even on the prevalence of abuse? Campaigns for trans-inclusive healthcare, LGBTQ-inclusive and consent-focused sex and relationships education in all schools, and the reopening of all refuges and other services for survivors of abuse, could, and should, all be part of the movement we need.
Organising in this type of consistent way, rather than only in response to attacks or revelations, is the best way to maximise the numbers who get involved in fighting back. It is also the best way to maximise the numbers who not only attend events (though of course this is very important) but also help organise and publicise what the movement is doing. And it is the best way to maximise the numbers who are thinking about and discussing the best way forward – about what ideas, tactics and strategies are needed. More democratic involvement in those discussions will strengthen our movements.
Maximum involvement also requires that the movement we are building be inclusive. That means it must explicitly and proactively take up the specific impacts of oppression on trans and non-binary people, those with disabilities, and people of colour. Ultimately, a feminist movement which is based in communities, workplaces, schools, and universities will be the strongest way to bring the weight of the multi-gendered, multiracial working class into the fight.
In our view an important component of this should be placing demands on the trade unions, which organise six million workers in Britain alone, to throw their resources and potential strength behind the movement. Trade unions have a responsibility to fight with all their might in the interests of their members, not just in the workplace, but on all issues that affect working class lives. Time and again through history trade union action and support has been essential in winning advances for women’s rights, like the right to vote and the legal right to equal pay, for example.
SFA argues for bold and radical actions. That means, wherever possible, turning individual into collective action. The single most effective type of collective action is strike action. Globally, there have been several recent examples of ‘strikes’ being looked to as one tactic that the feminist movement can use – for example in Poland during the struggle against the instigation of a total ban on abortion in the country in 2020/1, in Mexico against gender based violence in 2020, and in Iceland just last month over the gender pay gap. The use of this tactic represents an important leap forward in the understanding of the potential power that we hold as working-class people. This can and must be built on further to build action that can utilise this power in the most effective way.
Polite discussions with politicians who represent the establishment, or lobbying companies or institutions to do better will have little effect. Neither will increasing female representation alone (just look at the disgusting role played by Suella Braverman!). The role of such bodies in perpetuating misogyny and LGBTQphobia is not caused by ‘bad’ ideas that exist within them (although it is no coincidence that the super-rich bosses and their representatives in parliament often do hold very reactionary ideas).
Instead the role they play is inherently bound up with their place within the capitalist system. Capitalist politicians’ main role is to defend the interests of that system. That means maintaining the oppression of women, including the most violent outcomes of it – regardless of whether individual Tories are morally offended by such actions or not. We therefore cannot persuade them, or teach them the error of their ways.
Capitalism is a system that relies on the exploitation of the whole working class. Within that, the exploitation of women and gender non-conforming people plays a particular role in holding up the system. Women are relied on for free labour within the home. We are also often some of the most exploited within the workplace – not least because of our disproportionate concentration in some of the lowest paid sectors including childcare, care work, health, cleaning and catering. Both of these types of exploitation – unpaid in the home and underpaid at work – rely on sexist ideas about women’s ‘natural’ roles being perpetuated. Those ideas then feed into all other elements of gender oppression, from gender violence to attacks on trans rights.
It is no coincidence that women and gender nonconforming workers were at the forefront of some of the biggest battles of the strike wave over the last year – teachers, nurses, junior doctors all forced to struggle against the cost of living crisis. It’s this type of strike action that holds the greatest power of all: united action of workers of all genders to hit the system where it hurts, in the pocket. When we down tools, everything stops.
Taking part in such united action also plays an important role in challenging backward ideas that some workers may hold and raising the consciousness of all in relation to oppression. Put simply, through taking strike action, workers see that there is much, much more that unites us with each other than with the bosses. So a conscious turn of the feminist movement towards the wider workers’ movement is also important.
Through this type of movement – one that is working class, radical, active, and genuinely inclusive – we can win big change. Think of how far the position of women and gender non-conforming people has come over the history of capitalism. Just in the last 100 years we have seen major advances in terms of reproductive rights, changes to the law on intimate partner violence, the right to maternity leave, and much more. None of those changes would have just been granted if it weren’t for movements, with women workers often at their forefront, getting organised for them.
But it is also true that despite all those heroic struggles, devastating oppression still remains. And some things that were won have been taken back, or new rounds of reactionary attacks have been made as is the case with the current assault on trans rights. This is because capitalism still exists and, as explained above, it will always need and breed gender oppression alongside the class oppression that leads the richest 1% in Britain to own more wealth than the poorest 70% combined.
That is why the final element of what we believe is needed in the feminist movement we must build is socialist ideas – the aim, imbued into everything we do and every demand we raise, of a fundamental change in the nature of society. We can see the crying need for this type of change in the role played by the capitalist state in maintaining gender oppression. For example, the capitalist judicial system will never be capable of offering real justice to victims of abuse. When we turned out in south London after the murder of Sarah Everard (by a serving police officer!) the Met Police physically attacked and arrested protesters, with full support from the government.
We need socialist change. A socialist society, based on the working class collectively owning and democratically controlling the world’s resources to meet need, rather than profit, would offer a different future. In place of exploitation we could have solidarity. In place of poverty, plenty. In place of oppression, the possibility of genuine equality.
After the revolution in Russia in 1917, huge advances were made in a very short time: the right to divorce on demand, abolishing the ‘illegitimacy’ of children, communal kitchens and laundries, paid maternity leave, legalising abortion, and much more. The Bolsheviks established a Women’s Bureau, the Zhenotdel, which began a campaign to proactively tackle reactionary ideas that still existed too. Most of these advances were undone by the degeneration of the revolution under Stalin, but they show a glimpse of what can be possible once the economic necessity for oppression is removed.
We call on everyone who is getting active for 25N or any other element of feminist organising to discuss the ideas in this article and work with us to build a socialist feminist movement capable of ending all oppression once and for all.