This statement from the rs21 steering group reports on developments in our campaign since the Working Class Movement Library gave in to transphobic arguments used in an attack on an rs21 pamphlet.

At the recent Tory conference, ministers facing electoral disaster lined up to try to blame the disasters they have created on migrants, people too sick to work – and, of course, trans people. Last month, rs21 faced a transphobic attack from the right – but we then saw those arguments accepted by a well-established institution of the left, the Working Class Movement Library in Salford.

The story began when the Library recommended rs21’s pamphlet Fighting Transphobia in their newsletter. Several transphobic activists then went on the attack on Twitter/X, including sharing a photo of one of our trans members, identifying her and misgendering her. Following this transphobic pressure, the Library circulated a further message to its mailing list. They claimed that the pamphlet was promoted in error, expressed ‘sincere regret’ and apologised for ‘confusion, offence or upset that may have been caused.’

We were appalled that the Library not only made concessions to transphobia, but seemed to regard it as legitimate – so much so as to apologise for the ‘offence or upset’ which might have been caused to transphobes who had seen the recommendation of a pamphlet supporting trans liberation. We launched a petition, which gained several hundred signatures, including a number of organisations and people with trade union positions. We are also aware that at least one organisation cancelled an event booking at the Library in response to their mailing.

The Library then produced a second statement, saying that they oppose transphobia and aim to be trans inclusive. We would like to think this is a step forward. But the statement also contains some suspect formulations. What does it mean to say, in this context, that ‘the WCML recognises that the working class movement is very broadly based and reflects many different and diverse experiences and opinions on all economic, social and political issues’? Far from underlining support for trans people, this only seems to muddy the waters.

The Library also claimed that the reason for their initial statement was not transphobia, but because they shouldn’t have linked to the website of a particular political group (in this case, the rs21 website where the pamphlet could be ordered). However, their website includes a link to the Communist Party of Britain website in an article about a talk by its chair.

It seems clear that the Library’s staff and trustees included both transphobes and trans-supportive people. The statement reads like a compromise, a fudge, agreed between the two groups – at one point, the consistently trans-friendly staff distance themselves from a group of transphobic trustees. Quite significantly, the statement reads, ‘The trustees would also like to apologise to our staff and volunteers for the stress that this situation has put them under and wish to make clear that staff did not endorse the statement sent out on 11.09.2023’.

The petition and other campaigning has put the transphobes on the back foot. But so far this has been a war of words – do they or do they not ‘support’ trans people, do they or do they not recommend our Fighting Transphobia pamphlet, and so on. In this ping-pong of statements, it’s quite easy to fudge the issue and go forward with nothing much changing, just another blip in the record. More needs to be done to rebuild trust than an ambiguous and inaccurate statement. The Library needs to make a positive effort to reach out to LGBTQ people, and especially to LGBTQ structures in trade unions. We encourage trade union branches and groups, LGBTQ groups and others who support trans people to write to them along those lines.

We don’t want to be spending our time in conflict with groups and institutions who should be our comrades in this struggle. We want a working class movement and a left that can focus on fighting exploitation and oppression with more unity of purpose and action. But that does require a layer of the left, many of whom are in positions of power and influence in unions, to step up and take transphobia and other oppressions seriously.

The trade union movement’s stance – one of complete solidarity with our trans siblings – is clear, and was strongly reaffirmed by the TUC LGBT conference this summer. As a valued part of the left, the Working Class Movement Library needs to quickly correct its mistake and demonstrate in practice that it stands together with the trade union movement and with trans people.

Greater Manchester rs21 is hosting a public online meeting on resisting transphobia on the left on Thursday 19 October. Register here to take part in this important discussion.

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