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No answer from Labour over intimidation

On 23rd September 2019, we held an unofficial fringe meeting at Labour Party Conference in Brighton to discuss the demands in our manifesto. Due to intimidation by trans rights activists, including members of the Labour Party and affiliated groups, the venue had to be changed at the last moment. The meeting was subsequently subject to an aggressive and intimidating protest by over 100 people.

Despite a police presence, the protestors were allowed to congregate in close promixmity to the entrance, blocking the pavement as well as access to and exit from the venue. A splinter group of protestors went to the back of the building where they were permitted by the police to kick and bang on the windows of the meeting room for two hours.

The protest was publicised and supported by some Labour staff and delegates to Labour Party conference. Over 75% of the attendees present inside the meeting were members or delegates to the Conference. Also in attendance were Labour staff, one of whom tweeted about the protestors’ failure to adhere to Labour Party principles or rules.

Woman’s Place UK submitted the following complaint to the Labour Party on 1st October 2019 via both the General Secretary’s office and the on-line complaint form. Despite chasing we have only had responses that say they will get back to us.

As requested, we have been patient. But we think we have been patient enough.

Given the persistent onslaught on us by members of the Labour Party, including leading figures in the leadership campaign, we feel we have no choice but to make this complaint public.

We are neither confident that the complaint is being dealt with, or that the perpetrators of intimidation towards us and our campaign are being challenged. In fact, Labour representatives and activists are continuing to engage in intimidatory behaviour towards us.

We have redacted some names (although the comments they made are in the public domain which is why we made our complaint in the first place).

We call on the Labour Party to:

  • commit to ensuring that all voices are heard within its structures and in the formation of policy
  • insist its members abide by its values, aims and rules
  • speak up for women and to uphold our rights to self-organise and to free expression as set out in law

The Labour Party must condemn the attacks on us and Woman’s Place UK.

FORMAL COMPLAINT TO THE LABOUR PARTY

We are writing to you on behalf of Woman’s Place UK.

We are a campaign group run by women on a voluntary basis on top of our other responsibilities. We are from a range of backgrounds including trade unions, women’s organisations, academia and the NHS. We are united by our belief that women’s hard-won rights must be defended.

We are against all forms of discrimination. We believe in the right of everyone to live their lives free from discrimination and harassment. Women face both endemic structural and personal inequality. This is reflected, for example, in the high levels of sexual harassment and violence against women and girls; the gender pay gap; discrimination at work. This is why sex is a protected characteristic in the Equality Act (2010) which we believe must be defended.

Many of us are longstanding Labour members and active campaigners for equality and justice.

We believe that a Labour government would do many great things to advance the course of sex equality and to improve the living and working conditions of women in the UK. However, we also believe that many women who might be expected to vote for Labour have become angry and disillusioned at the way they are being treated by the Labour Party as well as the dismissal of their very real concerns around sex and gender. This includes an apparent unwillingness to protect women’s rights to freedom of expression and belief.

On Monday 23rd September we held a public meeting at a venue in Brighton city centre which was attended by over 100 people, the majority of whom were Labour members and/or delegates to Labour Party Conference.

This meeting was subject to a threatening and intimidatory protest which is now the subject of formal investigation by Sussex Police.

We wish to submit a formal complaint to the Labour Party about comments made by three delegates at Labour’s recent Conference in Brighton which went unchallenged by the Chair. We believe these comments to be both defamatory and in breach of Labour’s rules.

We also wish to complain about three social media posts made by official Labour Party groups/groups connected to the Labour Party which we believe are in breach of Labour’s rules. We believe two of the posts to be defamatory.

Speeches made from the podium at Conference

  1. Delegate A claimed in his speech:

“I note that yesterday evening one of the fringe events was held by a transphobic hate group. So we had leaflets put on conference chairs, we had leaflets distributed outside.”

Our meeting was clearly advertised as an unofficial fringe. Although we are not named, it is very clear which meeting Delegate A is referring to.

We are not a transphobic hate group. We believe this comment to be defamatory.

Furthermore, we consider the repeated use of terms such as “hate group” and “transphobic” to be a deliberate attempt to silence groups such as ours. By attempting to portray our language as in some way stirring up of hatred against protected groups, those who use these terms against us are trying to suggest there is a legal basis for our speech to be constrained. We have shared below the speeches and literature used by Woman’s Place UK, none of which has been deemed by either police or prosecutors to be breaking any laws related to incitement to hatred.

We are not anti-trans and we do not campaign against trans rights. We campaign for women’s rights as they exist under the law, and with an expectation that any proposed change to the law must take women’s rights into account. Given that sex and gender rights were themselves the basis of a public government consultation, preventing people from discussing this openly is a clear infringement of our rights to engage in public discourse and the democratic process.

We work with a number of trans people: trans women who support our campaign have spoken from the platform and trans people, as well as those who have ‘detransitioned’, have attended in the audience and spoken both from the platform and as part of Q&A sections of our meetings. You can see films of trans women who have spoken at our meetings here, here, here and here.

Supporters of Woman’s Place UK did hand out our manifesto to delegates on the public footpath as they entered Conference. In fact, hundreds of copies of our manifesto were handed out and were, by and large, positively received. We experienced a similar response to our manifesto at the Trades Union Congress the previous week.

The only other WPUK handed out was an advertising flyer for the meeting on Monday night:

69558145_10217033845613080_5188372119074897920_o

We have spoken to the women leafleting, as well as delegates, and they confirm they did not distribute any leaflets in the Conference hall. Our understanding is that Conference stewards and the Conference Arrangements Committee (CAC) are assiduous in preventing this practice. If leaflets were present inside the Conference hall, it can only have been due to individual delegates who brought them in.

To reiterate, there is nothing hateful or transphobic in either of these documents.

Delegate A went on to say:

“So I would like to ask the CAC what assurances they can give that next year this wonderful conference, the energy in this conference, will not be hijacked by groups with aims that are so inimical to our own.”

The suggestion that Labour Party Conference was ‘hijacked’ is ludicrous. Woman’s Place UK is made up of women from the Left and within the trade union and wider labour movement. We have every right to seek to influence debate at a Conference of a party which is seeking to become the next government

We would remind you of the wording of Clause V in Labour Party’s Constitutional Rules:

“At all levels the Party will ensure that members, elected representatives, affiliated organisations and, where practicable, the wider community are able to participate in the process of policy consideration and formulation (our emphases).”

Woman’s Place UK submitted three papers to the Labour Party National Policy Forum Review  and Woman’s Place is clearly referenced in the report that was presented at Labour Party Conference. These submissions were based on our manifesto and we are glad to see evidence that many of our demands form part of the proposals the Party intends to take forward.

It is entirely reasonable for us to disseminate our proposals at a labour Party Conference and we should have been supported to do so.

Delegate A continued:

“…There are people in this room who went to that event. Shame on you. You are hanging our trans comrades out to dry.”

This is an outrageous attack on Labour party members engaging with public discussion on issues entirely within the law. It makes a very serious allegation which maligns and slanders every person who attended our meeting and on us. It is unbelievable that he was not challenged in this attack by the Chair.

These comments are intended to intimidate and shame any supporter of Woman’s Place UK and any person who attended our meeting on Monday night resulting in a silencing of women.

  1. Delegate B claimed in her speech defending the protest:

“…what I want to point out is that it is not the duty of a discriminated minority to be polite to group who are discriminating against them…”

Woman’s Place UK is not discriminating against – or advocating discrimination against – a minority group. We are campaigning to uphold legally agreed sex-based exemptions which allow for legally authorised and reasonable discrimination to ensure the rights of women are upheld. This is very different from the way in which Delegate B is using the term ‘discriminating’ to imply we are treating an oppressed group unfairly.

The protest was not simply impolite. It was threatening, aggressive and intimidatory – behaviour which we believe to be in breach of Labour party rules and the law.

Delegate B went on:

“…just because you dress something up in the name of feminism it does not mean it is not discriminatory…”

Woman’s Place UK is not dressing anything up in the name of feminism. We are socialist feminists campaigning for women’s rights. The law allows for discrimination on the basis of sex if, by doing so, the rights of oppressed women are upheld.

  1. Delegate C:

“I have been horrified by some of the hateful material that has been spread by Labour members at Labour conference which deny the right of our trans siblings to be who they are.”

Although Woman’s Place UK is not named, it is clear from the context that Delegate C is referring to material produced by us. As we have already explained, the only material that our supporters distributed was our manifesto and the flyer for our public meeting . Neither of these documents is hateful. Neither of these documents ‘deny the right of our trans siblings to be who they are.’

Delegate C continued:

“There was a meeting held to discuss that these people, our comrades, are not who they say they are…”

Our public meeting was not held to ‘discuss that these people…are not who they say they are’. Our meeting was focussed on the sex-based rights of women and girls and concerns about the conflation of sex and gender.

You can read the text of two of the speeches here:

Films of all the speeches will be available on our YouTube channel soon [2].

Delegate C went on:

“…and when people protested that meeting, they had buckets of water thrown over them, that is simply not good enough.”

As already stated, the protest outside the meeting was threatening, aggressive and intimidatory with protestors allowed by the police to bang incessantly on the windows of the room we were in.

The protest was sustained for two hours beneath a block of residential flats. If any bucket of water was thrown from a balcony it certainly did not come from Woman’s Place UK or any of our ticket holders. We had no access to any floor beyond the ground floor and basement.

Two of our ticket holders did have water thrown at them by protestors. Others complained of being ‘manhandled’.

Ticket holders had to walk through a narrow corridor with protestors screaming, ‘SCUM! SCUM! SCUM!’ ‘TERF! TERF! TERF!’ and ‘SHAME ON YOU’.

Sexual and domestic violence survivors were traumatised by having to walk through this mob. One had a panic attack once inside the building.

We agree with Delegate C on one thing: it is simply not good enough.

The policing of the event was very poor and we believe facilitated the intimidation and threat we were subjected to. We are submitting a formal complaint to Sussex Police.

We know that many of those at the protest were Labour Party members and delegates as they were wearing their Conference passes. Some individuals have been identified on social media.

All party members are bound by the Member’s Pledge which requires adherence in conduct to both the spirit and the rules of the Party:

I pledge to act within the spirit and rules of the Labour Party in my conduct both on and offline, with members and non-members and I stand against all forms of abuse. I understand that if found to be in breach of the Labour Party policy on online and offline abuse, I will be subject to the rules and procedures of the Labour Party.”

All members are bound by the code of conducts, including the code on sexual harassment, which represents the minimum level of conduct expected.

The Labour Party’s codes of conduct (applicable to all members) include a requirement to refrain from removing entitlement of other members to feel safe from harm:

“Every person is entitled to feel safe from harm and prejudice, which the Labour Party’s codes of conduct enforce.”

The stated aims and values of the Labour Party are clearly outlined in Clause IV:

“The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few, where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe, and where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect.

The behaviour of some of the Labour Party delegates is clearly in breach of these aims and values.

Their behaviour and the Labour Party’s failure to condemn it brings the party into disrepute.

Social media posts

We are also aware of social media. posts shared by three groups associated with or affiliated to the Labour Party

  1. LGBT+ Labour Wales Tweet

Screen Shot 2019-09-27 at 18.29.46This has been tweeted from an official Labour party group and is encouraging people to attend a protest against a self-organised meeting on women’ s rights. The implication is that we are anti-trans. This is not true.

  1. London Young Labour Group
    Screen Shot 2019-09-27 at 19.32.37

These comments have been tweeted from an account clearly identified as an official Labour Party group.

Woman’s Place UK is not an organisation dedicated to ‘transphobic bigotry’. Our manifesto is not ‘vile propaganda’.

We believe these comments to be defamatory.

  1. The World Transformed

Screen Shot 2019-09-26 at 09.26.07

This has been tweeted from the official @TWT_Now account which is partnered by Momentum, a campaign group clearly associated with Labour. WPUK’s campaign is not ‘transphobic bigotry’.

We believe this comment to be defamatory.

In the past two years, we have met with several senior figures in the Labour Party and raised our concerns (see here and here). We were assured that the Party could see there were issues and would do what it could to find a way forward. This has not been forthcoming.

We now call on you to:

  • Write to the three delegates who made these comments and advise them that such comments are both unsubstantiated and will be challenged if they are made again
  • Write to London Young Labour, LGBT Labour Wales and The World Transformed and advise them that the comments in these tweets are unsubstantiated and will be challenged if they are made again
  • Issue a statement (to be published on your website and sent to all CLPs) that:
    • condemns the threatening and intimidatory protest at our meeting on Monday
    • disassociates the party from any defamatory comments made during Conference or by members or staff of the Labour Party
    • contains a reminder of the rules, aims and values of the Labour Party
  • Commit the Party to open and respectful discussion of women’s rights and encourage CLPs to set up member fora to enable people to come together to carry such discussion out
  • Agree to a meeting between representatives of Woman’s Place UK and senior members of the Labour Party and relevant parliamentary political representatives

We hope that we can resolve this amicably but we reserve the right to seek legal advice and take further action should we feel it is necessary.

We have copied this complaint to the Chair of the NEC Equality Committee.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

 

Judith Green, Ruth Serwotka, Kiri Tunks

Co-founders of Woman’s Place UK

Notes & Links

[1] The third speaker was Onjali Rauf – read her speech The audacity of our existence

[2] Here are links to the films:

Press coverage and blogs

Our statement on events at #WPUKLab19

Women’s Meeting besieged by raging Crowd, Morning Star

Hundreds of protestors picket women’s rights meeting for hours, Brighton Argus

Activist says protest was not peaceful at WPUK meeting Brighton Argus

Our rebuttal of P*nk News report, P*nk ‘News’ allegedly in Brighton

 

 

 

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