Sarah Sachs-Eldridge’s article Labour Party and trans rights: united working-class fight needed for rights and resources for all in The Socialist (February 19) is to be welcomed because it clearly rejects the demand for expulsions of Labour members who are active in, or support the views of, Woman’s Place UK (WPUK) and LGB Alliance.
Since WPUK was established we have been asking for a respectful debate inside the labour movement and wider society on the issues Sachs-Eldridge raises. For this we have faced a degree of harassment and abuse that is unprecedented in progressive politics. Venues have been pressurised into cancelling bookings, our meetings have frequently been the target of angry, hostile demonstrations and people who agree with us have been no-platformed, a tactic usually only applied against fascists.
However, we think that she gets many things wrong about the nature of WPUK.
WPUK opposes all forms of discrimination – and that includes discrimination against trans people. Our active members and supporters have long records as campaigners against all forms of prejudice.
It simply isn’t true that WPUK has nothing to say about class and austerity. Our recent conference was ignored by virtually the whole of the left, but it was attended by over 900 women who took part in discussions on sex and class, economics and feminism, racism, organising, violence against women and service provision.
A point on which we may differ with Sachs-Eldridge and comrades in the Socialist Party is that we believe it is essential for women to create their own spaces to discuss these issues. Women are disproportionately affected by austerity. It is women who are expected to provide the care that councils and central government withdraw and it is right that they are able to draw up their own programme in discussions they control, rather than be submerged in the demands that are too often written by male dominated groups and committees. So, while many of us are active in a range of local and national campaigns against austerity we make no apology for insisting that women’s voices are heard and our needs are met.
Anyone wanting a fuller understanding of what we are calling for should read our manifesto and make up their own minds. It clearly outlines concrete steps we believe need to be taken to address the political, economic, social and cultural oppression that women face. It’s unlikely to contain anything that supporters of the Socialist Party will disagree with.
Sachs-Eldridge says that we sow “illusions in the government’s ability to protect women’s spaces.” We think that it is entirely reasonable for campaigners to make demands on governments to offer legal protections to citizens. No one seriously believes that we shouldn’t demand that the government legislates to prevent racist violence. In fact, it is only the activity of the anti-racist and women’s movements over many decades that has given us the existing legal protections we enjoy. We consider these as victories to be defended and extended rather than sowing illusions.
Our ambition is for clear definitions of sex and gender which aren’t based on sexist and limiting stereotypes. Yes, we do think that a change to self-identification is a challenge to the rights of women and girls as well as other people who have protected characteristics under the Equalities Act, including trans people.
WPUK will be organising more events in the coming months. We would welcome any readers of The Socialist to come along with an open mind and take part in a comradely discussion.
Judith Green, Ruth Serwotka, Kiri Tunks
11th March 2020