Sexism and the Labour Movement - Put Our Own House in Order
LET’S TALK ABOUT MARX - Eleanor Marx. Marx was in her own right a leading figure on the left, and had a formative role to play in the political development of figures such as Will Thorne. Yet she hardly ever receives the recognition she deserves, in contrast to those men around her who she hugely influenced. Today, just as then, you need to be an exceptional woman to be regarded in the same light as an average man.
Scottish Labour Conference 2016 passed a motion on Trident, but we failed to pass the one calling on Labour-run councils to finally settle the issue of equal pay, which would have ended a decade long saga that saw thousands of low paid workers discriminated against - largely under Labour-run council administrations.
Now that Kezia Dugdale has stepped down, there isn’t a single woman holding a leadership position at any level in the UK Labour Party. Let that sink in. How many Scottish secretaries of trade unions are women? How many CLPs have a gender balance? Women are 50% of the population, so where are they?
It’s not just about having women there for the sake of it, as many socialist feminists were at pains to point out to Hillary Clinton supporters during the Democratic primaries in the US.
Tokenism does little to advance the cause, in the same way that Thatcher did little to advance women. That is because the oppression faced by women is systematic, widespread, and deep-rooted - much like capitalism.
Therefore, our responses to change this need to be systematic, widespread, and deep-rooted. In the same way that those who benefit from capitalism need to relinquish control over the economy, men who have long benefited from patriarchy need to relinquish control over society. So here is some advice for men on the left:
- If you react to hundreds of women telling you that something you’ve done is sexist by looking for a women to back you up - rather than educate yourself as to why you’ve offended so many women - you’re part of the problem.
- If women speakers are the last to be invited to your event - you’re part of the problem.
- If you get up in a meeting, and all you do is reiterate a point made by a woman before you - you’re part of the problem.
- If you constantly interrupt women when they speak - you’re part of the problem.
- If you only invite two women to a meeting, and neither turn up (when you’ve invited a dozen men) - you’re part of the problem.
- If the key decision-makers in your campaign team are all men - you’re part of the problem.
- If you call yourself a feminist, but don’t carry that into your personal life - you’re part of the problem.
Almost 120 years after Eleanor Marx died, women are still being sidelined by men on the left. How much longer do you expect us to wait?
There is no socialism without feminism, not because feminism is an equally valid political goal, but because you won't be able to actually achieve socialism without the support and empowerment of the other half of the population. Feminism is necessary, not desirable, in the realisation of socialism. From Harvey Weinstein to Toby Young, sexism can assume many forms. Only a concerted effort by the UK labour movement can sweep it into the dustbin of history. First, we have to put our own house in order.
» Hazel Nolan is a regional organiser for the GMB, and was instrumental in the recent successful dispute involving workers at the BiFab yards in Fife.