*** Guest post by Ian McNee***
Women’s Liberation, Identity Politics & Socialism
On Saturday 4th February the feminist campaigning organisation Woman’s Place UK are co-hosting their second national conference on women’s liberation with the UCL Women’s Liberation SIG at the Institute for Education, UCL and on the theme: “Education for Women’s Liberation.”
This follows their first hugely successful conference “Women’s Liberation 2020” held at the same venue a few weeks before the first COVID lockdowns – an event for which all tickets sold out weeks in advance with over 900 attendees from across the UK, across the political spectrum and from a wide variety of organisations and disciplines.
As socialists we should welcome wholeheartedly this re-emergence of a radical women’s liberation movement with its broad base of support, and leadership rooted in socialist feminism that has the practical aims of defending women and girls’ limited and hard-won rights, spaces and social provision, and entrenching and extending those gains where possible.
Broadly, the left and labour movement in Britain has been historically weak in its support for women’s liberation and the emergence of a radical women’s movement rooted in the working class is the best guarantee of turning this situation around. There is no question that it is desperately needed. The pay gap between the sexes is growing; neoliberal austerity doubly impacts women – on the one hand they are more likely to work in lower-paid public sector roles and on the other, public services are being cut, services that would otherwise mitigate the burden of domestic and caring labour that unequally falls on women; the state is abjectly failing to deal with endemic male violence and abuse directed at women and girls; the trafficking of women and girls for sexual exploitation goes largely unaddressed; a generation of boys and young men have been raised on ubiquitous pornography that depicts the brutal exploitation and humiliation of women, and so on and so on. Our sisters are rightly saying: “Enough is enough!”
However, anyone who has paid more than passing attention to politics in the UK recently will be aware that women who publicly stand up for the rights of women and girls, as Woman’s Place UK have done, have faced vitriolic accusations from some on the left and in civil society. They are accused of being anti-trans, on the “wrong side of history”, and hateful bigots, escalating to ludicrous claims that they are in league with the Christian right, are inciting genocide against trans people and are in fact fascists! Bizarre as these claims are, that they come from prominent figures on the left like Owen Jones and Ash Sarkar gives them purchase in the wider left beyond their credibility – undoubtedly aided by that same weakness of women’s liberation politics on the left.
It is therefore necessary for the health and unity of the left that male socialists robustly support and defend our sisters as they lead this struggle.
At a time when the whole working class is under brutal assault from the ruling elite, it is vital that we forge a political unity in struggle, respecting the differing ways in which patriarchal capitalist oppression and exploitation affects different sections of our class.
Though as males we will not face the same level of abuse for this that our sisters do, we will get our share. We will be accused of white knighting, of being obsessed with trans people, of being misogynists and of course of being transphobic bigots. A small price to pay for the goals of women’s liberation and the struggle against patriarchal oppression – struggles that ultimately will benefit not only women and girls but also trans people, all gender non-conforming people and the working class as a whole.
I hope to see you at #Ed4WomensLib!
Ian is a Labour Party member and the ex-Chair of Wolverhampton South West CLP. He has been an active socialist since the early ‘80s and originally joined Labour in 1987. He was a founding member of Wolverhampton Stop The War Coalition and resigned from the Labour Party over the Iraq War in 2003. He rejoined the same day that Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader in 2015.
During his working life he was an active member of UNISON and is a supporter of Stop The War Coalition, Stand Up To Racism, Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Friends of Socialist China – as well as Woman’s Place UK of course!
Photos: “Ford machinist workers on strike in Dagenham, 1968. Photo: Dermot Feenan” and Ian McNee with RMT pickets at Wolverhampton Station, June 2022