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The drive to expel feminists from Labour is creating a hostile environment for women

Leaders, and prospective leaders, must take a firm stand in support of open and respectful discussion regarding sex and gender, writes MARK SERWOTKA

THE majority of Labour leadership candidates have signed the Labour Campaign for Trans Rights pledges which among other things label Woman’s Place UK and the LGB Alliance as “hate groups” and then call for their members to be expelled from the party.

These pledges add to a toxic atmosphere of intolerance that is creating a hostile environment for feminists. 

This is the ugly face of a debate that has got out of hand. How did we get here? 

I’m writing this as a Labour Party member. Solidarity with trans people, their right to be treated with dignity and respect at work and in wider society, is a principle that I, and I’m sure all Labour members, hold to and take seriously. 

Labour must campaign for trans people’s right to equality, to freedom from violence and discrimination, and access to decent public services. 

Sadly, the pledges on trans rights supported by some of the Labour leadership contenders have weaponised solidarity with trans people and targeted feminist groups. This is the antithesis of the socialist tradition of solidarity and of respecting different viewpoints within our movement. 

It should go without saying that there is still a need for a strong feminist movement.

A recent report has found that one woman or girl is killed every 36 hours by male domestic violence, the highest rate in 14 years.

And despite the Equal Pay Act of 1977, pay disparity remains, particularly for working class and BAME women. 

In the last few years we’ve seen the rise of new and vibrant women’s movements, including the powerful solidarity displayed by the #metoo movement. 

As with women’s movements in the past, there is an angry, anti-feminist backlash occurring around the world.

We are seeing a rise in violence against women, sexist hate speech and online abuse. But, at a time when socialist feminists need unwavering solidarity, some on the left are retreating from sex-based rights, including the commitments in Labour’s 2019 manifesto. 

There have been attacks on gatherings of women, such as at the last Labour Party conference where Woman’s Place UK had to call the police in the face of aggression by some Labour activists. 

People on the left have warned of a backlash against “woke” politics, how we must not let the forces of reaction put progressives on the defensive. 

Yet some of these very same people have supported the McCarthyite demand for the expulsion of feminist women in Labour who dare to call for debate about sex-based rights. It’s breathtaking hypocrisy.

We have to face the fact that misogyny does exist on the left. Bullying is presented as a moral crusade, using the language of equality and inclusion while promoting the harassment of women.  

I believe many who have signed this document have not thought through the consequences for our movement and our party. It is a dire miscalculation for Labour leadership candidates to have fallen in line with it. 

The drive to expel feminists is timed immediately after the defeat of a left-led radical Labour Party at the 2019 general election. If successful it would further entrench a move to the right in British politics.

It is appalling that there has been a deafening silence from the leadership candidates over the case of Selina Todd, a feminist campaigner and academic, who has to be escorted to her lectures by security guards because of threats of violence made against her.

If this was 10 years ago the reaction on the left and trade union movement to threats of violence against a feminist woman would have been one of shock and collective revulsion.
 
But Todd has been labelled transphobic by some for her view that sex-based protections must be upheld. 

Rather than impose false divisions within Labour, we must stand up for the rights of trans people and support the right for women to hold feminist views on keeping the sex-based protections contained within the Equality Act. 

As socialists and democrats, our discussion about issues that matter to different groups of people must be held in a mutually respectful environment. How else do we move forward, build unity and bring a critical mass into our movement that can ultimately change society for the better? 

Those in Labour who forget these things have lost sight of our socialist politics. You don’t attack your own side. We are fighting a common enemy. Labour people who attack and support the expulsion of feminists are doing the Tories’ dirty work for them. 

We must fight discrimination and we must fight intolerance, wherever it comes from. Labour leaders, and prospective leaders, must take a firm stand in support of open and respectful discussion, and provide a framework within the party for the resolution of disagreement.

If the new leader of the Labour Party attempts to expel feminist women from the party, my pledge is that I will be first to volunteer in any campaign to defend them.

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