Wednesday, February 28, 2018

France - Militants, we denounce sexual violence and sexual violence in the UNEF

In an open letter in Le Monde November 28, 83 members denounce the "real control of women's bodies" imposed by several leaders of the student union for many years.

[Le Monde published this letter signed by eighty-three women, former unionists of the National Union of Students of France (UNEF), denouncing sexism and violent behaviour which they were subject to or had knowledge of within the movement. Ordinary activists, local and national leaders and executives of the organization, they are mostly from regions. They sign their first name, the initial of their family name and specify the length of time they have been active in the union. Le Monde was able to verify the identities and the commitment of each one. In parallel, we publish today an investigation revealing a "predatory system" that took place in the very heart of the UNEF.
The young women are speaking after Libération's revelations of harassment and sexual assault in the Young Socialist Movement (MJS) and the original article in Le Monde revealing the sexist behaviour of the student union. These investigations acted as an explosion in the union organization: for a fortnight, the testimonies mount. On November 16, a mailbox was even opened to receive them. Offensive, these former activists call for this release of speech affects all trade unions, political and associative.]

Tribune. For several weeks, the voices of thousands of women victims of harassment and sexual assault have risen. Generations of activists, feminists and progressives, committed to the UNEF at the local or national level since the early 2000s and members of different trends, we now also dare to denounce this violence and their systemic scale.

Many of us have been victims of violence within our organization. For a longtime, we felt alone and ostracized by the number and severity of the facts. We are now aware of the extent of this sexist and sexual violence. How have we been able to campaign with so much energy and self-sacrifice in an organization while letting women, ourselves, endure such violence?

Now united, we want it to stop at last. Some reminded us of the need to "protect the organization". This argument helped to silence the victims all these years. It allowed aggressors to act with impunity; protected them. This argument, we will not hear it anymore. Errors and deviations should now be able to be denounced, victims able to speak freely, accompanied by the exclusion of perpetrators to protect activists. In our view, this is the only way to really and effectively protect activists and therefore the organization.

A Chavinist Mentality
On a daily basis, the chauvinist mentality crushed the progressive values that we defended, notably through an exacerbated expression of physical and sexual domination. Many people praised the omnipotence they exercised over their partners, mocking degrading practices in order to shine in front of their peers and to accentuate a little more the discomfort of their female audience.

The springs of this triumphant masculinity were multiple: hunting charts, scary and systematic classification (physical attributes, sexual performances ...). In their intimacy, women were continually categorized, evaluated, controlled, and watched. Under the guise of sexual liberation, it was actually a real control of women's bodies.

The extremely hierarchical pyramidal functioning with ascension by cooptation, as well as the social dependence and the socio-economic isolation of women some of whom were only just independent for the first time, favoured the mechanisms of influence, allowing the amplification and systematization of sexist and sexual violence.

Silence was in order
We have often referred to our guilt. We had to keep quiet so as not to weaken the organization. And finally, was it so bad? Was it that? Did we have evidence of what we had seen and/or suffered? It was clear that to question the behaviour of some in the leadership would mean in turn to be accused of treason, of being unstable, jealous, bitter or of not having a sense of responsibility.

How many times have we been asked for the phone numbers of younger comrades? How many times have we refused? How often have these notorious predators obtained their contact information by other means? During the national meetings, some men made use of the weaknesses of the organization to develop particularly grave strategies: to approach their prey, sometimes very young, to make them drink, even to drug them, to do without their consent.

Those who resisted were stalked and harassed right in front of the door of their home. In case of pregnancy, silence was needed. The responsibility rested entirely on the shoulders of young women, who had to overcome this ordeal in the most complete isolation, even as cadres rose to the platform to defend women's rights to dispose of their bodies, access to abortion and to contraception.

Collective awareness
We already know a number of the attackers. We will not name them. But we will no longer avert our gaze, we will not be bowed again. We respect the victims, so we will not usurp their status and respect their word, like their silence. Because neither social networks nor forums are intended to replace the work of justice.

"United, we will help those who decide to file a complaint against their aggressors"
United, we will help those who decide to file a complaint against their attackers. We will support each other to help survivors overcome feelings of awareness, anger and multiple trauma.

To those who try to exploit this approach to throw discredit on the UNEF, we want to remember that it is also thanks to the progressive struggles and feminists discovered and begun during our commitment that this collective awareness is made possible. We also know the work undertaken by the current activists and activists, leaders and leaders of the UNEF, is also presided over by a woman for the first time in sixteen years.

Finally, we appeal to women from all union organisations, associations and politicians to take the floor in their turn. We know that we are not the only ones. One in two women in society is facing violence. To deny it is an additional violence inflicted on those who have already suffered it. Beyond our political opinions, our disagreements, our past sectarianism, what binds us is our condition as Women.

Alexia S., militante à l’UNEF de 2007 à 2010, Annaïg P., 2003-2010, Anaïs H., 2007-2009, Anne L., 2003-2008, Anne-Sophie A., 2004-2007, Anissa B.-F., 2007-2012, Anouch Z., 2007-2010, Amandine E., 2008-2014, Aude L., 2005-2009, Aude L., 2007-2011, Aurélie M., 2005-2008, Béatrice L., 2007-2010, Beril B., 2003-2008, Charlotte B.*, 2005-2008, Camille M., 2011-2013, Camille M., 2003-2009, Camille P., 2005-2012, Catarina V., 2006-2009, Catherine M., 2003-2007, Céline A., 2008-2011, Chloé D., 2010-2017, Claire F., 2010-2013, Claire J.*, 2009-2015, Coralie B., 2008-2009, Delphine B., 2006-2009, Elise G., 2009-2012, Elodie L., 2003-2009, Erell D., 2004-2007, Estelle D., 2011-2015, Eve R., 2006-2008, Gaëlle K., 2005-2008, Hayat L., 2008-2011, Hélène P., 2002-2009, Houda N., 2002-2007, Julia C.*, 2001-2015, Julia V., 2007-2011, Julie B., 2007-2011, Julie C.*, 2012-2013, Julie E.*, 2009-2016, Julie J., 2006-2009, Julie N., 2003-2009, Julie T.-F., 2007-2012, Julie T., 2008-2012, Juliette B., 2008-2011, Juliette G., 2005-2009, Katia B., 2010-2014, Lara B., 2012-2017, Lauranne W.-G., 2011-2015, Lauriane V., 2006-2010, Laurianne D., 2003-2007, Laurine B., 2004-2008, Léa D., 2011-2016, Léa D., 2007-2013, Lisa R., 2007-2014, Lorédana A.-B., 2012-2013, Louise B.*, 2007-2011, Lucie F., 2007-2009, Lucile J., 2005-2010, Lucile M., 2010-2016, Maëlle J., 2003-2008, Maeva B., 2007-2011, Manon A., 2007-2011, Margaud A.-F., 2008-2012, Margot P.-B., 2009-2014, Maria C., 2005-2011, Marianne M., 2002-2007, Marie-Anne B., 2004-2008, Marion O., 2005-2010, Marine B., 2008-2012, Marine F., 2007-2010, Maud J., 2003-2008, Mélanie V., 2011-2016, Mélodie G.-B., 2006-2009, Ophélie M., 2008-2011, Pauline G.-M., 2009-2011, Sahra A., 2006-2010, Salomé M., 2004-2010, Sandra C., 2007-2014, Sarah B., 2011-2016, Sayna S., 2007-2013, Sorayah M., 2008-2012, Virginie C., 2006-2009, Viviane B., 2007-2010 (* These first names have been modified).


Tuesday, February 27, 2018

France - Sexual assault allegations rock France's main student union

Content Warning: Descriptions of Rape, Assault, Rape Apologism
[This article originally appeared in the French left-wing daily Libération. It follows revelations in Le Monde in November of widespread sexual abuse within the National Union of Student of France - one of France's largest student organisations. It comes after 83 former women activists of UNEF published an open letter in Le Monde condemning sexual violence within UNEF. I'm reproducing these due to the similarities with how power has been abused in albeit much smaller left-wing Anglophone organisations].

Sexual abuse: the testimonies that overwhelm the UNEF
By Laure Bretton and Ismaël Halissat
February 19, 2018

Libération gathered the testimonies of sixteen women victims who have reported harassment, sexual assault and rape by leaders of the student organization between 2007 and 2015. Long inaudible, or silent, these former activists recount years of union sexism and its apparent laissez-faire attitude to sexual violence. 

When she settles down to sleep at the Fête de l'Humanité, in September 2014, Laurie* is exhausted. Having only recently become an activist of the Unef (National Union of Students of France), she just spent the day running the union stand with her friends. Like the end of every summer, this meeting of a substantial part of the left is the occasion for the organization to recruit new members. Despite the fatigue, Laurie is not going to sleep.

A member of the leadership of the union, and having joined UNEF in the mid-2000s, Grégoire T. insists on following her to her tent, pitched in the campground of La Courneuve. They have already had several sexual encounters but were not in an ongoing relationship. But tonight, Laurie does not want it. "I had planned to sleep with another activist but he invited himself, says the student. He hoped to be able to sleep with both of us. " Soon, the second young woman falls asleep. "He tells me he has the right to a blowjob in compensation, which I refuse," says Laurie. He begins to press my head. I refuse again. He is pressing more and more strongly. I beat him back again. He puts his hand in my pants and kisses me with force. And starts again for several minutes. " The activist cannot take it anymore. She wants it to stop: "I ended up letting myself go." For a long time, Laurie does not really realize what she's experienced. Today, she's talking about rape. Three years after the events, Grégoire T., who became a journalist, had another version of the evening, assuring that his partner was consenting for a blowjob and that everything went "without coercion".

A complaint of "rape"
Two years later, Laurie became a seasoned activist, she is "up" in the instances of UNEF and is now part of the National Office (NO), the body that supports the leadership. With Grégoire T., the exchange of text messages has continued since September 2014. They talk about trade union activities and sometimes invite each other to spend the night together without this ever happening. In June 2016, Laurie saw recently in a campus nearby local union in the XIXth arrondissement of Paris. That night, she drinks shots of alcohol with fellow comrades in the leadership. As she prepares to go home to sleep, Grégoire T. announces that he will accompany her home. Without asking her opinion."I told him," I do not want to, "and I left," recalls the young woman.

But when she arrives home, Grégoire T. is there and waiting for her. Laurie repeats that she does not want to spend the night with him. Then follow negotiations. Tired, the young woman finally accepts that he goes up while clearly stating that nothing will happen between them. But hardly the door of the open apartment, Gregory T. undresses completely and tells her to do the same. Laurie refuses. According to her, he forces her to lie on her bed. She drank too much, her head is spinning because of alcohol. "He's starting to undress me. I try to push him away, to tell him I do not want to, but I have no strength left. At that moment, I feel like a doll, lifeless. He rapes me. There are no other words, Laurie says coldly. The next morning, Grégoire T. will try to impose a sexual relationship again, but she will have the strength to push him away. She then locks herself in the shower and stays there for forty minutes hoping he leaves. But when she goes out, Grégoire T. is still there and retries one last time before leaving.

"I cried all day and then I forgot," says Laurie. When this story is told to him, his contests and assures that they had agreed to return together, that they had sexual intercourse without violence and that he did not insist the next day. In a relationship with Grégoire T. in the summer of 2014, Joséphine* also tells of being a victim of rape. One night in July, "I woke up because he was penetrating me," she says. I did not understand what was happening. I asked him at least to put on a condom. It stopped at that moment. " Asked about this scene, Grégoire T. explains that he was also asleep at that time.

In mid-January, Laurie decided to file a complaint of rape against Grégoire T, reveals Libération today. And Josephine, who has just surrounded herself with a lawyer, is about to do the same. The end of long years of silence in what was for a long time the premiere student union in France.

A direction where "men think, women organize"
An omnipotent leadership - "deified", in the words of a former leader - women removed from power and sexual abuse at least minimized: for several months, Libération investigated the top of UNEF. Its leaders for a few years given and expected everything from the union. Forty interviews to collect testimonies and stories of sixteen victims of declared harassment and, for some, sexual assault and rape. When the UNEF bends the Villepin government, forced to withdraw its first-time contract in spring 2006, the student union is at its peak. A year later, Nicolas Sarkozy is elected, the left is organized against the president and relies on its youth battalions. At the height of its power, the National Union of Students of France will have up to 30,000 members from just over 2.4 million students. A heterogeneous group in which it is - statistically - normal to come across cases of harassment and aggression."Not impervious to the ills of society".

After Bruno Julliard, it is Jean-Baptiste Prévost who takes the orders of the Unef in 2007. A student from Sciences-Po, this former parliamentary counsellor inherits a powerful organization where sexism and machismo have always had a free reign. In the leadership, "it was said: men think, women organize," says Marion Oderda. Former national leader, she will be one of the few to openly oppose the very personal management of the union by its president. "I will not be your pimp," she says slamming the door of UNEF in 2010, an expression reported by at least three activists interviewed by Libération. An incident and an early departure that Jean-Baptiste Prévost puts, down to a just being a result of an internal union dispute.

The Prévost presidency will, however, be marked by many excesses. Seen as legitimate by some, these practices seem to have given an implicit green light for many leaders. The UNEF then becomes a sexual hunting ground. On the other side, Prévost appears on television sets to defend the student cause and campaign against the power of the right. On the flip side, the man draws phone numbers from the union files to access multiple sexual partners. "The regional training weekends, it was the supermarket", recalls Elodie Le Moigne, ex-president of the Unef at the University Paris-XIII. "There was pressure from the local presidents and members of the national office to retrieve the numbers or addresses of activists. They were acting for themselves or on behalf of the National President". "Jean-Baptiste chose girls, it was a typical profile of girl", speaking of this side of him, Annaïg P., a former member of the national office. "They are often young, moreover provincial, isolated and beginners, so fragile. At the Unef, we say a "little girl"".

In 2009, one of them, Marine*, an activist in the provinces, thought to have kept secret the relationship she has with the President for a few months. One September night, she tries to escape discreetly at the end of a meeting to join him at his hotel. Some comrades wince but a friend of Prévost releases her with a wink, "It's the boss, when he demands something, we run." "I took it smiling at the time," says Marine. "Prévost took advantage of the organization. He did not need to be violent, he had his status as president". When an activist finally dares to complain about the actions of a member of the management, regardless of his rank, it is suggested to keep quiet. Because"Unef is not a people's court, " that "it is a valuable companion" or that one suspects always "a political machination". Pretexts to minimize. And, in fact, impose silence. "At each stroke, I was answered:" You have evidence of what you're saying? You cannot say that it's the president, " says Elodie Le Moigne. "Under the term "big rehearsal", there were many different things and nobody really wanted to see the reality that it covered", explains Sarah Aoudia, former president of UNEF Nîmes and member of the national office. "And in fact, the circle of the national leadership had a kind of invisible protection".

To "follow" the faculties for which they are responsible, the members of the national office crisscross France. During these years, also sets up a funny game, to which the members of the leadership devote themselves: to get number and address of a militant whom they spotted before calling her down from her house in the middle of the night and insist on being lodged. Methods that Jean-Baptiste Prevost completely refutes, explaining that he "never searched or found a number in the files of the Unef" and that he never chose "himself" his accommodation in the provinces. These evenings sometimes end with sexual intercourse. Then the question of consent arises. Tacitly granted, forgotten, extorted?"They were playing on solidarity, compassion and their status as national leaders: we were in the middle of an abuse of unequal power" says Maria C., a member of the organization's leadership from 2006 to 2009, for whom "many cases at the UNEF do not fall under the law because it is inadequate".

What most of the women interviewed by Libération tell us seems at least to be harassed by Jean-Baptiste Prévost. But the rest, all the rest? We enter a grey area. Initially, most activists accepted the game of seduction and sexual intercourse. And since they said nothing at the time, they fear not to be believed or to be the target of pressure from their former comrades. "To survive the Unef, you have to be a strong woman, it's impossible to be perceived as a victim," says Sorayah M., member of the national office from 2008 to 2012. "We were taught to arm ourselves, strength was valued and allowed you to progress in the union, to speak would have been an admission of weakness, adds Florine Tillié, former president of Unef Champagne-Ardenne. But the psychological consequences of such a devaluing system for women are destructive, even years later. "

Single-sex meetings and vote on a "feminist motion"

The leadership screed cracked little by little. Single-sex meetings have been in place for a few years to allow women to speak freely. Thanks to the mobilization of some leaders and men more sensitive to the feminist cause - Julie Mandelbaum or William Martinet -, the union goes year in year out to continue its change. "To blame the organization is too easy: it is about individual behaviours, explains Lilâ Le Bas, the current president of Unef. A host of sexist schemes have been deconstructed by our tools, they now allow women to speak without fear of harming the image of the organization".

In 2013, at the Toulouse congress, the UNEF activists voted for a "feminist motion". From the back of the room rises the song of the MLF (Women's Liberation Movement): "We recognize, women. Let's talk, let's look at ourselves. Together, we are oppressed, women. Together, let's revolt. " Half of the room sings to heart and applauds wildly. At the podium, one of their comrades pushes the point: "Tonight the organization is saying goodbye to sexism. Good Djebara! " The pun, transparent, aimed at Azwaw Djebara, vice president of Unef on departure. He is very close to former President Prévost. Indirectly targeted, it reflects a large deep anger in the room, revolted treatment that is reserved for his friend. For him, a man of the direction, it is respected."When Prévost became president of Unef, he twisted, analyzes today a former general secretary of the union. His attitude has unlocked stuff in the heads of other guys in the national office. They felt allowed to mix everything up. "

No medical support or court report
Entered the UNEF in the mid-2000s, A., 30 years old today, illustrates for many the laissez-faire of the UNEF in the face of sexual violence. For several years, the reports about him will go up to the top of the pyramid, without anything move. The testimonies collected by Libération nevertheless seem to allow to trace at least half a dozen criminal facts wrong.

Sometimes, her victims have never spoken, as Laurence*, an activist in the Paris region. Before confiding in Libération, she had never even "said aloud" what happened to her one evening in December 2007, after a party with activists of the Unef in Paris. The hour of the last subway passed, Laurence has to sleep on the spot and settles in a room which one lends to her. A comrade arrives next to her on the mattress on the floor. It's A. "After a while, I felt something hard against my buttocks. I'm panicked: I did not want any relationship before marriage, recalls the former activist. I say no, I ask him to stop. And he says in my ear: "If you want to remain a virgin, you can suck me, or I take you from behind." " Far from stopping in the face of resistance from Laurence, the activist continues: "He touches my buttocks even more intimately with their fingers. " Terrified, she finds the strength to leave the bed, the bedroom and the apartment: " I preferred to be alone in the street at 2 in the morning rather than stay in this situation. " During his years at the UNEF, Laurence never slept with other comrades and will keep anger.

But often, the victims of A. have alerted. In 2008, Sophie*, a provincial activist, sympathizes with him. After an event at his college, he waits at home for his train to Paris. While they are discussing, the young man gets up, goes behind the militant and begins to massage her shoulders. "I went into a state of stupefaction, says Sophie. I remember then being on my bed, I think he carried me there. He acted like an animal, my head dissociated from my body. I see my naked breasts, my body was not responding. He said to me: "Come on, we'll do it quickly, we can do it in fifteen minutes, we both know how good it is."The activist's cell phone rings, interrupting what she now calls sexual assault. She lies, says that her sister arrives. But A. insists. "I just want him to leave, I'm scared. I smile, " recalls Sophie, who gets rid of the activist after a long negotiation. Quickly, she reports what happened to her to the leadership. They believe it but they do not act. "We'll have an eye on it," says Sophie. But no medical accompaniment or court report. Nothing. Perhaps because he is the archetype of a dedicated unionist, always available, able to stand up to other union forces. "A. was the complete activist," confirms a former executive.

Protecting Individuals
Today, A. does not dispute the facts, although he explains that he did not know at the time that this was under the criminal code. In the long written answer which he sent to Libération, the thirty-year-old teacher in Ile-de-France recounts his heavy family history. He does not give in - "the facts are true" - but he explains his background: a father who mistreats his children and ends up convicted for the rape of his two sisters and a young cousin, the family that explodes in flight, the union as a refuge. "When I arrived at university, the Unef seemed like an outlet for my family context," he explains.

After passing through several Parisian schools, he landed at the University Paris-I to finish his studies. The Sorbonne, the largest local UNEF, including several activists will speak of having been victims of sexual assault on his part in the year 2013. Like Diane*, who spent an evening at home with other members of Unef, in July. The last subway missed, she asks to sleep there. "He proposed to me to sleep in his bed telling me that he was going to sleep somewhere else," recalls the activist, who falls asleep before waking up with a start in the morning. "He had his hands on my breasts and in my panties. I tried to push him away, he insisted. I dropped from bed to escape and left without saying anything. "This time, A. argues the misunderstanding but again recognizes a sexual assault. After much hesitation, Diane talks about what happened to Marie D., the local president, who decides to conduct her investigation and accumulates several stories of aggression. At the start of the academic year, Diane worries: "I was afraid for new students who did not know him. We organized ourselves never to leave him alone in the room with the younger ones. " Individual protections. The actions of the militants are no longer described euphemized the local ranks. "Before, all these cases were below the waterline," says a former leader. "The water level is falling and issues are coming back to the surface. Little by little, thanks to UNEF's progress on these questions, A. was less and less protected".

But it will take more time for management to officially position itself on his case. Given the testimony that accumulates, many women will try to obtain a sanction from the board of control of Unef against A. What they are denied. The body is nevertheless responsible for deciding on the most serious cases and allows - normally - the official exclusion of activists. "In 2006, during the campaign against the CPE, members of a minority trend of Unef had punctured the tires of one of our trucks in the middle of a protest, they were expelled this commission," says a former leader. Nothing like that for sexual abuse. "We were told that it could not be about sexual violence, we were strolled", remembers Lauranne Witt, a former Unef executive, who hoped to put in place a valuable tool in case similar events happen again. "The way we managed this is very revealing, says Sebastien Chaillou, treasurer of the Unef at the time. It was not organized and it was about the will of a few people. We protected the union, but not its members."

"A written record"

In February 2014, the National Council, which includes all Local Presidents, will end up voting on a resolution directly referring to A's behaviour. "It happened, is happening and will happen that women in the organization are victims of violence or harassment. It is important to be able to provide an answer that will build the union", reads the text, but A. was erased at the last minute. We still pray the activist not to come in the official meetings of the UNEF.

Far from the "militant cadres", A. continues however to frequent the friendly evenings and maintains his connections to the Unef. Having become a teacher, he takes his card at Snes and tries to recruit supervisors. In early summer 2015, he posted an ad on Facebook. Recently enrolled at the Unef, looking for a job, Charlotte*, a barely major activist, contacted him without worry. She finds A. in a bar in Paris: "He paid me glasses without asking my opinion. One, two, three, five ... Then we went to his place. I was drunk, I drank too much, " says Charlotte. A. undressed. "I was lying on the bed, he undressed me, tells the young woman.And then he was on me and penetrated me. I told him that I did not want and that I was tired, he tried to kiss me, I was totally stuck. "

Today, A. disputes this version of the facts: for him, this sexual intercourse was consensual. Charlotte will erase this moment from her memory for months. But in March 2016, she finally decides to file a complaint of "rape". Near the Halles, in the centre of Paris, a police officer at the police station reception asked her to tell him about her rape. Outside and without a written statement. "His reaction was between humiliation and the gritty joke, I left," says Charlotte. She then crosses the Seine and goes to another police station. There, listening to her story, a young police officer dismisses her. For him, "it was not a rape," and "it was enough to just say no".

On the advice of an officer and a police more responsive to Charlotte eventually came to the head of Paris's 3rd judicial police district. She remembers the brigadier who never asks her about the facts but about her reactions: "Why did you not fight?", "Why did not you scream?" ... It also makes Charlotte understand that with a complaint, she will face her attacker and that the procedure will be long and expensive. As a result, she is content with a diary entry. Consulted by Libération, the entry of March 17, 2016, ended with these words: "I just want a written record of these events to exist". A little paper evidence in the middle of the silence.

* names of individuals have been changed


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

France: We call for action and strike for women's rights on March 8th!

Feminist struggles have won rights and made progress towards equality between women and men. But this equality is far from effective. This is why the day of March 8th does not "celebrate" and is not the "day of the woman" but that of the fight for the rights of women! March 8 is an international day of convergence of all our struggles, those of women here and elsewhere.

Equality between women and men is unavoidable for us: it contributes to social progress. To allow inequality to continue, to exert violence against women and girls, is to bear the responsibility that retrograde ideas progress, patriarchy endures. And we will not stop repeating: the "cause of women" is neither secondary nor a communication operation. It is not limited to feminizing management positions by forgetting the majority of women glued to the sticky floor of part-time and precarious work. It requires not only political will at all times, but also significant human and financial resources to achieve it and sanctions against employers who do not respect professional equality. Our conclusion is irrevocable: the French government never put them in place. The employers put all their energy to fight any restrictive measure. And so in 2018, the urgency to achieve equality is still there.

Many women are mobilized. They denounce sexist and sexual violence at home, in public, and at work. They protest about persistent gender stereotypes in the media, at school, in public and private life. They condemn precariousness, poverty and unemployment. They refuse inequalities at work in terms of wages, access to employment, career, working time. And they recall the consequences of all these inequalities on the size of women's pensions. They denounce the consequences of the unequal distribution of domestic tasks on women's lives. They fight against the questioning of the right to abortion, to access contraception. They require the guarantee of public services for all, services to develop and balance across the territories, from early childhood to loss of autonomy. They fight lesbophobia and all the stereotypes relating to any other marginalised identity. They support migrant and refugee women. They do not admit to discrimination, such as against women with disabilities ...

This long list shows that there is a social system behind all these inequalities. This domination we reject and refuse. Until it stops. And for that we call to act throughout the territory, through strike actions, walkouts, rallies, demonstrations. Equality between women and men is a question of social justice and democracy. It is a lever to win the emancipation of all.

This is why we call on all our organizations to prepare the mobilizations of 8 March 2018 for the territories as a whole.

First Signatories: Collectif National pour les Droits des Femmes, Confédération Générale du Travail, Fédération Syndicale Unitaire, Union Syndicale Solidaires, Action Aid France Peuples Solidaires, Femmes Egalité, Union Nationale des Étudiants de France, Chiennes de garde, Encore féministes, Zeromacho, Réseau Féministe "Ruptures", Le Planning Familial, Mouvement National des Chômeurs et Précaires , ATTAC, Femmes Libres Radio Libertaire, Marche Mondiale des Femmes…


Friday, February 9, 2018

Fight Transphobia in Feminism and on the Left

Lisbeth Latham

Over the past decade, we have seen a significant growth in the visibility of trans people, particularly trans women. This growth in visibility and the associated push to promote and achieve full democratic rights and overturn transphobic legislation and policies. In response to the growth in visibility and demands of the trans rights movement, there has been a significant backlash from transphobic forces in society. While many would expect this backlash to come from the political and religious right, and much of it has come from these forces, it has also come from individuals who identify as part of the feminist and left-wing movements the most notable section of these are the trans exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs). The struggles between TERFs and trans women and their supporters have become increasingly visible and fraught. Part of the struggle, trans women have at times called on progressive forces and organisations that supposedly promote social inclusion – to not amplify or include transphobic voices - a call which is often resisted in the name of "free speech". A notable example of this has been the decision by the British left-wing paper to publish a large number of transphobic articles in response to the proposal by the Conservative government to review the 2004 Gender Recognition Act. These defenders of anti-trans voices within both feminism and the broader left rely heavily on misrepresentation and distortion of the character and impact of the anti-trans forces and who really has power in this debate.

While there are numerous examples of transphobes being given space within supposedly progressive institutions - the decision by the Morning Star newspaper, which is associated with the Communist Party of Britain, to publish a number of transphobic articles under the guise of "defending women’s rights" is particularly emblematic. These articles, the first of which was published have touched on a range of issues including:

There has been a range of critical responses to these articles, included a withdrawn motion at the Trade Union Congress’s LGBT conference calling for a boycott of the paper. These criticisms have sparked letters of support with the Morning Star's "stand for women" as well as articles, which while critical of the anti-trans articles defending the right of the Morning Star to publish the articles as part of a "debate". These arguments are fundamentally flawed because it isn’t a question of whether the Morning Star has the right to publish the articles, but whether they should publish them."

A number of authors who have been critical of the campaigns by trans activists and their allies against transphobic feminists have argued that the transphobia within feminism and the left is fundamentally different from the transphobia. In a 2016 article criticising the campaign calling on Cardiff University to withdraw it's invitation to Germaine Greer to give the University's annual lecture, Australian socialist activist Louise O'Shea wrote in Red Flag "Greer’s comments about the legitimacy or otherwise of trans women’s claim to the label "woman" are indefensible and utterly disrespectful … but it is also wrong to equate such ideas with outright bigotry and demand they not be heard". In the January 2017 issue of Socialist Review, TKS argues "There is a massive difference between Germaine Greer and the bigots shown in the recent documentary on Channel 4’s 'My Trans American Road Trip', which explored the reality of toilet bans in the states. The documentary showed right-wingers who insisted that gender was god-given, rather than a social construct. This is a far cry from Greer’s longstanding rejection of the passive acceptance of gender roles". In making these arguments, both TKS and O'Shea assert that a greater space exists between both the views of transphobic feminism and right-wing transphobes than exists in reality. Whilst there are differences in their argumentation and the expressed intention of their aggressive defence of an immutable binary demarcation based on biological sex and both groups are sex existentialists. As a result, both groups rely at times on the each other's arguments. Right-wing US psychiatrist Paul McHugh, who has relied upon heavily by the Christian Right to buttress their arguments, in turn, relies on the work of Australian trans exclusionary radical feminist Sheila Jeffreys.

Importantly both groups have frequently joined forces to help each other to defeat legislation advancing the rights of the trans community and to defend and extend existing transphobic legislation. Last year in the US the Women's Liberation Front launched an amicus brief in support the legal case by evangelical Christian groups Focus on the Family and the Family Policy Alliance against the Department of Educations interpretation of Title IX Legislation against sex discrimination in education as providing protection based on gender identity and requiring schools and universities in receipt of federal funds respect the affirmed gender identity of trans students. During the debate on British Gender Recognition Act 2004 (which removed requirement for transgender people seeking gender recognition to undergo surgery but retained medical gatekeeping and requires transgender people to live as their affirmed gender for at least two years), prominent Australian anti-trans feminist academic Sheila Jeffreys said that in opposing the legislation the people she agreed with the most was the radical right, particularly Norman Tebbit, former chair of the Conservative party.

In arguing that the transphobia of anti-trans feminists and leftists is fundamentally different to that of the political and religious right, the defenders of the place anti-trans forces within feminism and the left are that efforts to exclude these forces from platforms, venues, and publications particularly those controlled by feminists and the left is a violation of freedom of speech. These arguments make some fundamental errors about both the amount of power that trans women context of free speech. The struggle for free speech is a struggle against the intervention of the state to criminalise or punish people for the idea they articulate – or potentially against employer actions against their employees for articulating unpopular ideas – but the trans community does not have this power – moreover the calls of the community have been for transphobic forces to not be given a platform either in the media or by invited to speak on campus – whilst these calls can be seen as a violation of freedom of speech – indeed O'Shea argued it is a reflection of an authoritarian outlook within the trans community – however as both Sam Hope and myself have pointed out – no one has a right to have a university sponsored public meeting, or for that matter have an article published in publication – indeed publications have editors precisely to determine what will or won't be published and the Morning Star has refused to publish articles by activists which accuse anti-trans feminists of transphobia on the basis that such claims are potentially defamatory. Result of this position is that the defenders of "free speech" on transgender experiences take a position of actively silencing trans women and their allies who seek to call out transphobia – and these circumstances they have a much greater power to enforce this decision.

Part of the argument to justify the defence of transphobes "free speech" and inclusion in the movement are not articulating "hate-filled bile". There a number of problems with this argument, the major one is that is primarily being made by defenders of the place of transphobes in progressive movements. Challenging the identities of the trans community and opposing basic democratic rights for the community is a violence, it wears people down and it is part of the broader transphobic discourse in our society and aimed at both blocking the advancement of rights and winding back existing rights. Beyond the arguments about whether specific articles constitute violence – the authors are part of networks of transphobic feminists which engage in the harassment and vilification of the trans community, particularly of trans women. Even if these articles being published by anti-trans feminists are less hostile in their language than that of other transphobes – the questioning of the validity of the identities of the trans community and challenging their right is a violence which has the potential to wear down the mental health of the trans community – just as the homophobia and transphobia – some of which was politely worded - which was unleashed during the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey in late 2017 which resulted in a 40% increase in the demand on mental health service by young LGBTIQ people. Moreover the claims of a lack of violence rely heavily on a sleight of hand where concerns about the consequences of self-identification is framed in terms of concern for the rights of "women and girls" against "men seeking to take advantage the system to gain access to women's spaces" which might seem reasonable and not targeting trans women, except that these anti-trans feminists see all trans women as men. By contesting the presence of trans women in women-only spaces on the basis of both a rejection of their womanhood and by posing all trans women as potential rapists - writers such as Jo Bartosch are not just being transphobic, but are contributing to atmosphere where trans women, and cis women for that matter, are at risk of violence for not only accessing women spaces but when moving through society generally

Justifying the publication of transphobic articles and the welcoming of transphobic people in the movement just ends up being a form of gaslighting of the trans community where their experiences of abuse, harassment, and trauma are trivialized and explained away. Given the concern about labelling transphobes for what they are - this questioning of transphobia as a form of violence leads to a situation where the defenders of anti-trans feminists become obsessed with the "violence" of the language directed by trans women towards transphobes. The consequence of arguments defending the place of transphobes in the movement is that these arguments not only enable transphobic discourse and behaviour but that it posits the cause of "problems" in the movement between trans people and transphobes are trans people (and their allies) who object to transphobia. This can not only lead to threats of their exclusion from the movement but also makes claims of support for the trans community conditional at best and only focused on the open and naked transphobia of the right.

Of course, things don’t have to be this way. The last year has seen a number of important demonstrations of support for trans rights from the British Labour Party, sections of the British union movement along with Irish feminists which all provide examples of seriously tackling transphobia.

Since the announcement of the Review of the Gender Recognition Act in July, which followed calls by Jeremy Corbyn, the National Union of Teachers LGBT+ caucusinitiated a statement in support of the right of transgender people to self-identify and have that identity legally recognised – the statement was formally adopted by National Union of Teachers at its national conference as basis for lobbying MPs in support of adopting self-identification. When transphobic feminists and their allies in the right-wing press attacked Lily Madigan’s election as a Constituent Labour Party Women’s Officer - leading party members defended her right to stand and be elected and to participate in the Labour Party's women's leadership program. When, Venice Allan, one of the transphobic feminists who had been targeting Lily, and a regular transphobic troll on social media, turned up to a Labour Women’s Network with the intention of harassing Lily - she was asked to stop, then asked to leave and was excluded from the event. The leading party members including Jeremy Corbyn and Stella Creasy have spoken out to defend the rights of trans women and confirmed the reality that trans women are women - this has included a National Executive Committee statement, in the face of a threatened legal challenge, that confirmed the Party’s view that trans women have a right to stand for and be included on All Women Shortlists, which aimed at improving the representation of women in parliament. The party has also reportedly initiated disciplinary action against members who have engaged in transphobic online harassment and vilification - with at least one member suspended pending investigation of their harassment of trans women.

In January, British anti-trans feminists announced a "We Need to Talk Tour" of Ireland to promote opposition to the Gender Recognition Act in Britain - in response Irish feminists issued a statement, 11 organisations and 1168 individuals, making it clear that the tour is unwanted colonialist intrusion by the anti-trans feminists. The statement says in part:

"Trans women and men in Ireland have the legal right to self-declare their gender. Trans people and particularly trans women are an inextricable part of our feminist community. The needs of trans people are part of our campaigns. There is no difference between ‘feminists’ spreading transphobic and transmisogynist ideas or spreading racism or homophobia. We want no part of it, and we don’t want it here. So yes, we do need to talk.
"We can see from your social media posts about your tour and its contents, that your opposition to the GRA is based on the idea that feminist organising and women’s rights will somehow be harmed through trans inclusivity and organising with our trans sisters. We know this is not true. We, the signatories of this letter, organise hand in hand with our trans sisters. Together, cis and trans, we are Irish feminism. Trans women are our sisters; their struggles are ours, our struggles theirs. They were our sisters before any state-issued certification said so and will always be no matter what any legislation says, either now or in the future".

The actions by trans allies in the unions, the British Labour Party, and within Irish feminism demonstrates clearly ways in which it is possible for left organisations can stand with the trans community, particularly trans women, but it means not just criticising the transphobia of the right, but taking a clear stand against transphobia from within feminism and the broader left.


Friday, January 12, 2018

France: "Pigs and their allies are right to worry": Caroline De Haas and feminist activists respond to the column in "Le Monde"

Originally published by Franceinfo

Some thirty personalities and members of associations react, Wednesday, January 10, on Franceinfo, to the arguments of the text of 100 women defending the "freedom to pester" of men after the movements "#balancetonporc" (#exposeyourpig) and "#Metoo".

A paper that does not pass. 
Tuesday, January 9, 100 women have signed a forum published in Le Monde where they defend the "freedom to importuner", after what they call a "campaign of denunciation" targeting men accused of sexual harassment in the wake of the Weinstein case. A text written by several renowned authors, including Catherine Millet and Catherine Robbe-Grillet, and signed by figures such as actress Catherine Deneuve and journalist Elisabeth Lévy, who defend, among other things, the "freedom to pester" scoundrels face "public denunciations and impeachment of individuals (...) placing them exactly on the same level as sexual assailants".

The text drew a response from feminist activist Caroline De Haas who wrote one, in turn, co-signed by thirty activists and feminist activists, to denounce what she considers a "#Metoo, it was good, but ... ". Whenever women's rights progress, consciences awaken, resistances appear. In general, they take the form of "it is true, of course, but ...". This January 9, we had a "#Metoo, it was good, but ...". Not really new in the arguments used. We find the same arguments in the text published in Le Monde as we see at work around the coffee machine or in family meals. The letter is a little like the embarrassing colleague or boring uncle who does not understand what is happening.

"We could go too far." 
As soon as the equality advances, even half a millimetre, good souls immediately alert us to the fact that it risks falling into excess. Excess, we are right in it. It is the world in which we live. In France, every day, hundreds of thousands of women are victims of harassment. Tens of thousands of sexual assaults. And hundreds of rapes. Every day. This is a caricature.

"We can not say anything anymore." 
As if the fact that our society tolerates sexist remarks - a little - less than before, such as racist or homophobic remarks, is a problem. "Well, it was frankly better when we could treat the women as quiet sluts, huh?" No. It was less good. Language has an influence on human behaviour: accepting insults against women means allowing violence. The mastery of our language is a sign that our society is progressing.

"It's Puritanism." 
Portraying feminists as stuck up, or even badly fucked: the originality of the signatories of the letter is ... disconcerting. Violence affects women. All women. It weighs on our minds, our bodies, our pleasures and our sexualities. How can one imagine for a moment a liberated society in which women freely and fully dispose of their bodies and their sexuality when more than half of them claim to have already experienced sexual violence?

"We can not flirt anymore."
The signatories of the letter deliberately conflate a relationship of seduction, based on respect and pleasure, with violence. To conflate everything is very practical. This puts everything in the same bag. Basically, if the harassment or aggression is "repeated pestering" it is that it is not so serious. The signatories are wrong. This is not a difference in degree between dragging and harassing but a difference in nature. Violence is not "increased seduction". On one side, we consider the other as his equal, respecting his desires, whoever they are. On the other, as an object available, without taking into consideration her own wishes or her consent.

"It's women's responsibility." 
The signatories of the letter talk about the education to be given to little girls so that they do not let themselves be intimidated. Women are therefore designated as responsible for not being assaulted. When will we ask the question of the responsibility of men not to rape or assault? What about boys' education?

Women are human beings. Like the others. We are entitled to respect. We have the fundamental right not to be insulted, whistled at, assaulted, raped. We have the fundamental right to live our lives in safety. In France, the United States, Senegal, Thailand or Brazil: this is not the case today. Nowhere.

The signatories of the letter in Le Monde are in the majority of the recidivists in the matter of defence of paedophiles or as apologists for rape. They are once again using their media visibility to trivialize sexual violence. They despise the millions of women who suffer or have suffered the violence.

Many of them are often quick to denounce sexism when it comes from men in working-class neighbourhoods. But the hand in the ass, when it is exercised by men in their midst, according to them is the "right to pester". This strange ambivalence allows them to proclaim their attachment to the feminism of which they claim for themselves.

With this letter, they try to close the lead lid that we started to lift. They will not succeed. We are victims of violence. We are not ashamed. We are standing. Strong. Enthusiastic. Determined. We will end sexist and sexual violence.

Pigs and their allies are worried? It's normal. Their old world is disappearing. Very slowly - too slowly - but inexorably. Some dusty reminiscences will not change anything, even published in Le Monde.

Signatories to the statement:
Adama Bah, Afro-feminist and anti-racist activist; Marie-Noëlle Bas, President of the  Chiennes de garde; Lauren Bastide, Journalist, Fatima Benomar, Co-spokesperson of the Effronté.es; Anaïs Bourdet, Founder of Paye ta Shnek, feminist activist; Sophie Busson, feminist activist; Marie Cervetti, director of FIT and feminist activist; Pauline Chabbert, feminist activist; Madeline Da Silva, feminist activist; Caroline De Haas, feminist activist; Basma Fadhloun, journalist; Clara Gonzales, feminist activist, Leila H., Check your privileges; Clémence Helfter, feminist activist and unionist; Carole Henrion, feminist activist; Anne-Charlotte Jelty, feminist activist; Andréa Lecat, feminist activist; Claire Ludwig, communication officer and feminist activist; Maeril, illustrator and feminist activist; Chloé Marty, social worker and feminist; Angela Muller, feminist activist; Selma Muzet Herrström, feminist activist; Michel Paques, feminist activist; Ndella Paye, afro-feminist and anti-racist activist; Chloé Ponce-Voiron, feminist activist, director, producer, and actress; Claire Poursin, co-president of Effronté.es; Sophie Rambert, feminist activist; Noémie Renard, host of and feminist activist; Rose de Saint-Jean, feminist activist; Laure Salmona, co-founder of Feminists Against Cyberbullying and feminist activist; Muriel Salmona, psychiatrist, president of Traumatic memory and victimology and feminist activist; Nicole Stefan, feminist activist; Mélanie Suhas, feminist activist; Monique Taureau, feminist activist; Clémentine Vagne, feminist activist;  l’association En Avant Toute(s), l’association Stop harcèlement de rue, the association to Stop street harassment.


Sunday, November 26, 2017

Olivier Besancenot: "Emancipation rather than rebellion"

By Bénito Perez
Originally published in Le Courrier
26 November 2017

The face of the radical left in France during the 2000s, the anti-capitalist activist took a step back but keeps a sharp eye on the political and social field.

Is it because Olivier Besancenot had never come to Lausanne? A large crowd on the night waiting to hear the spokesman of the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (New Anti-Capitalist Party - NPA) on Monday, November 13 for a fruitful evening exchange at Espace Dickens. The 200 people clustered in the small room Lausanne contrasts with the alienation experienced on the other side of the border, by the movement that succeeded the Revolutionary Communist League. It must be said that the former postman of Neuilly, twice a candidate for the French presidency in 2002 and 2007 (with more than 4% of the vote each time), now moved behind the counter at the Post Office, and in the shadow Philippe Poutou of the NPA, has lost none of his verve and his way with words. For two hours, he captivated his audience, plumping the shaky morals, deflating illusions of no future. Good grace, he even lent the little provocation guests: phosphorous on the success of France Rebellious (France Insoumise - FI) (where the NPA had failed), in the gathering of much of the left behind the single plume of Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Echos.

Being rebellious in France today?
"Being rebellious is to refuse to obey the economic oligarchy and the political and cultural class that impose an unsustainable situation that is France and wider Europe. It is denied that the public coffers are empty to benefit the rich and businesses and then justify the sacrifices imposed on the vast majority of the population. For thirty years, this policy allows capital to take even more work. This will not stop itself. After attacking taxation and public services, they now weaken labour law and social security, tomorrow they will denounce too many paid holidays. They always have something to undermine at work to give the capital".

Where is Emmanuel Macron? 
"Emmanuel Macron and his men know perfectly the fragility of their political legitimacy. They know they have benefited from simultaneous attacks from the right and the left. That is why they are acting by ordinances. And quickly. Macron has understood that social and security issues are linked. The inclusion of the state of emergency law and the adoption at a run of the labour code reform are two sides of the same coin. When conducting an unpopular social policy, we know that there will be trouble and they are preparing repression. 

"Macron and social forces he represents have decided to pursue the second. For them, the time of cyclical market reforms has passed, it is now to tackle the structures. The crisis of capitalism, which we saw explode in 2008 but which persists, requires urgent deep "reforms". We have always seen a crisis of overproduction and over-accumulation. Their solution, which of course is not one, through the optimization of the power of capital over labour. Since Sarkozy, all presidents have made this political contradiction: 'France is on the brink. It is urgent to move ahead '! 

"Obviously, they realize that their promises do not come true, that the productivity gains that liberal reforms would bring are not benefits to workers. But they have their explanation: it is the fault of "zombie capital", this small charming name they give to non-performing economic sectors considered. Where reforms have not yet tendered their benefits, unlike other sectors. Hence the need to continue privatization, etc., etc. " 

The Front National risk 

"The vast majority of French are unhappy with the policy. But the default alternative for lack of better alternative, their anger is not expressed, it steeps. Or when they speak, they speak badly. The country where I come from is going through a terrible political, social and moral period, which is extremely tense. The leadership crisis within the FN does not eliminate the risk of the extreme right, because its ideas, is deeply rooted as the default alternative. Despite a bad campaign, the FN received 11 and a half million votes! 

"In this context, insubordination also means daring to fight against this nauseating atmosphere. Being clear on our values. Showing our support for the mass naturalisation of undocumented workers, and explain why. At the risk of losing votes at first. " 

Crisis of the Left 

"The weakening of the left and of the social movement, it's a collective trust issue more than collective consciousness. Part of the radical left think the exploited did not understand their situation and need to have it explained to them. For me, it's the opposite. They do not have professors red or pink, green or black: they are better placed than anyone to see that the system is crazy, unequal and based on the exploitation and discrimination. The problem is whether to have the conviction that anything else is possible. In France, we have not had a victorious major social struggle since 2006 and the contract of first employment. It was millions in the streets, attempted strikes renewable, but we lost! All over. 

"Still, the crisis goes well beyond France, everywhere the labour movement is disintegrating, everywhere the power relations deteriorate and populist movements and far-right are progressing. To the left, Greece was the big missed opportunity. We need to take stock. Why for example, when Syriza had moderated its claims, has it been crushed? " 

Towards unity of action 

"Rebellion cannot be imagined without emancipation. We are not up against a power in order to submit to a leader. The only form of authority that we should recognize is collective and pluralistic. We tried to convey this to the leadership of FI. There are signs that it begins to perceive it. Given the situation of the social movement, the urgency for organizations of the radical left, the movement which spans from Benoît Hamon [former socialist presidential candidate, ed] to Mélenchon, the Communist Party to Workers Struggle must convene soon and formalize our united agreement for the withdrawal of the Labor law and ordinances. 

The FI has a special responsibility because it has 19% [in the presidential elections], and gathered huge crowds, including a lot of militants ready to fight. A new radical social movement is now emerging. You see it in ecology movement, in the struggles of migrants, anti-nuclear, even in the labour movement. But the FI can not represent them all. Impossible. I never could. Sing the Marseillaise? You must not ask me, I could not! But that's okay, we can still do great things together!". 


"In part, the stigma of the Muslim community in France is not surprising. This country has been unable to do its work addressing its colonial history and the Algerian Revolution. On the other hand, it must be noted that part of the left is in the process of falling into stigmatising the community. It says something about the degree of regression of the public debate in France! 

"That said, the debate is not simple: how to reconcile the defence of secularism, women's rights and the fight against Islamophobia? The discussion runs through the left and even the NPA. " 

Wanting to govern 

"Although we have been describing it for years, we have not quite believed in the depth of the crisis of the system. If an alternative is needed, then we need to presume to govern. And think seriously about the policy we could take against our two enemies: the state and capital equipment. Take the latter: we must not tell stories, it will not be stripped so that we can finance the beautiful social program on which we would be elected. If we do not ask the question of the property accumulated by capital, we will never bend them. And it is not enough to create a public bank which remains subject to private competition: it will never argue in public service. This implies indeed an expropriation of the banks and the creation of a monopoly. 

"The state apparatus, too, will not just give up. That's why we put on the table the idea of de-professionalization of politics (limitation and revocation of mandates, revenue cap). Change does not happen just by changing the heads on top of the state. It will do that by involving everyone. 

"If you do not want the bureaucratic body separated from the rest of society, one must be aware of his total character, rooted in deep phenomena as the division of labour, the separation of manual and intellectual tasks or as professionalisation of power. Most people have internalized the idea that they could not represent themselves. That intermediaries are needed. That politics is a matter for serious people. When we introduce a postman or an autoworker for president, they say it's great ... but not credible. We must break this straitjacket. Speaking today, is the first act of resistance. Refusing to let others take it for us, this is the first act of emancipation. " 


The NPA is the direct heir of the famous Communist League, which will be banned in the wake of May 68 and the Revolutionary Communist League. The formation founded by Alain Krivine and Daniel Bensaïd, member of the Fourth International (Trotskyist), had known, after the ebb of the 1980s, a certain success since the mid-1990s, driven by the emergence of the alternative globalisation movement and large strike movements (1995-2006) in France against the social security reforms or the First Employment Contract. 


After the success in 2005 of the unitary campaign of the left against the European Constitutional Treaty and both candidates rather successful Olivier Besancenot presidential (2002 and 2007), the LCR nevertheless chose to scuttle to give birth in February 2009, a New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA), meant to break organizational barriers between the various traditions of the radical left. But after a promising start, the LCR / NPA from 4000 to 10 000 members, the young party ebbs quickly. 

"We made the mistake of believing that alone we could collect all the left of the French left. But it is far too diverse and committed to its banner to gather in this way, "admits Besancenot today. 

Divided on strategic issues but also on political issues such as secularism, the new formation seen swathes leave, especially to the Left Front, where defectors formed the organisation "Ensemble!" 

"The NPA was on the verge put the key under the door, " says Besancenot. Especially since the party in vogue in the 2000s was sidelined in the presidential elections in 2012 and 2017, where its worker candidate Philippe Poutou harvest only a small percent of the vote, while the rebellious Jean-Luc Mélenchon flirts with second round. 

A new start 

Still, the relatively successful campaign of the Ford worker has e given new impetus to the movement. "I am proud to have campaigned Philip," said the former candidate. "I had a great time when he made the big candidates sweat on the television set, we were the only ones who can tell them what people dreamed of sending them across because we are not professional politicians. For that alone, the NPA must continue to exist! " 

And after the country has strengthened this conviction. "France Unbowed is trying to achieve in turn it is unable to unify the left. Moreover, its very directive behaviour on the social movement has been catastrophic. The NPA, we refuse to prioritize political and social over one another, we aspire to a merger of these themes but with respect for freedom of association ", defends the NPA spokesman. 

The future of the left of the left 

But the postman from the eighteenth arrondissement of Paris insists the future of the left of the left exceed the scope of its movement. "We must find a common area of action, combining democracy and maintaining our autonomy, our identities. Neither France Unbowed nor the NPA cannot do this, we have to invent something else", concludes Besancenot. 



Friday, November 17, 2017

Still no easy pathway to marriage equality

Lisbeth Latham

Thousands of people gathered around Australia on November 15 to hear the results of the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey.

While the survey delivered the result that was hoped for by these crowds, there has been a growing awareness that a majority Yes response in the survey does not necessarily deliver an easy pathway to the legislation that would deliver marriage equality. Instead, a new battle is looming, to win not just the legislation that a clear majority of Australians support, but to defend anti-discrimination protections for LGBTI people.

The past four months have been difficult for the LGBTI community. As expected, right-wing homophobic organisations have used every opportunity to mobilise every tangential homophobic, transphobic and misogynist argument they can think of to support their campaign against equal marriage. At the same time as they constructed an increasingly violent and hostile atmosphere, they sought, with the aid of the mainstream media, to paint themselves as the real victims in the debate.

Despite this effort by the right, participation in the survey at 79.5% was far higher than anyone expected and it helped to deliver a very strong Yes response in the survey, with 7,817,247 people, or 61.6% of respondents saying Yes. This has created an understandable desire for parliament to deliver quickly and pass an amendment to the Marriage Act so that it provides for marriage equality.

This was reflected in the thunderous cheer at the Melbourne Marriage Survey Announcement rally to Opposition Leader Bill Shorten's call: "Today we celebrate, tomorrow we legislate". Indeed, parliament has moved quickly, with the Senate agreeing on November 15 to begin the debate on WA Liberal Senator Dean Smith’s private members bill to amend the Marriage Act. Based on the current schedule, it could be passed before Christmas.

Dean Smith’s bill

The Smith bill is seen as the consensus cross-party bill. On October 16, Labor’s parliamentary caucus endorsed the bill, arguing it “strikes an acceptable compromise” between marriage equality and religious freedoms. The Greens, who have historically opposed the inclusion of religious exemptions in the Marriage Act, have also endorsed the Smith bill. Greens leader Richard Di Natale was reported by The Guardian as saying the Greens would push for cross party changes to the bill, but would “not do anything to jeopardise” the bill if those changes were not supported.

However, the Smith bill is flawed, as it maintains the existing exemptions for religious organisations from the Sex Discrimination Act. These allow religious ministers to refuse to marry two people of the same sex or gender, if that is consistent with the beliefs of their church, and allows religious organisations to refuse to hire their venues. Also, as Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart told Fairfax Media on August 20, it would allow the Catholic Church and any other religious organisation to sack any of their employees who marries a partner of the same gender.

It would also extend an exemption to civil marriage celebrants via the creation of a new category of "religious marriage celebrants". Celebrants would be able to register as religious marriage celebrants and be able to lawfully refuse to perform marriage ceremonies on the basis of people's sexuality.

The problem with these exemptions is that they elevate the right of churches and religious individuals to hold their views above the right of LGBTI people to live their lives openly and exercise rights that the rest of the community takes for granted.

As bad as this legislation is, it could get worse as a consequence of efforts to further amend it. It has been very clear that opponents of marriage equality were not going accept the results of the survey if it did not go their way. It was always a cynical manoeuvre. Throughout the survey, the Australian Christian Lobby and other right-wing groups have sought to paint themselves as the real victims in the campaign and as the people in need of protection. The religious exemptions in the Smith bill are not seen as going far enough by more conservative forces both inside and outside of parliament, who have been threatening to move more than 100 amendments to the bill.

James Paterson’s bill

A glimpse of the types of amendments that could be moved was provided by Victorian Liberal Senator and former deputy executive director of the Institute of Public Affairs James Paterson. On November 13, Paterson announced his own bill to amend the Marriage Act – a bill that was described by Anna Brown from the Human Rights Law Centre as "a Trojan Horse, which would allow unprecedented discrimination".

Paterson's bill went much further than the Smith bill in creating "religious exemptions". It also created two categories of marriage — "traditional marriage" between a "man and a woman" and "marriage" between "two people".

The protections proposed by Paterson would have extended the right to refuse goods and services relating to marriage to any person holding a "religious belief" or "conscientious" belief not just about the nature of marriage, but about having children out of wedlock or the existence of trans or intersex people.

The bill would also have provided wide protections against discrimination for people advocating and holding views regarding the character of "traditional marriage" and provided binding directives to schools regarding the delivery of the Safe Schools or similar programs.

While the Patterson bill was seen as having no prospect of success, it was designed, as Brown put it, as "a blatant attempt to punch holes in discrimination law and introduce special privileges for religious conservatives".

On November 15, Paterson announced he would be withdrawing his bill, saying: “It is clear the majority of Senators believe my colleague Senator Dean Smith's bill is where we should start. I will now work constructively with my parliamentary colleagues over the coming weeks on amendments to ensure that the strongest possible protections for the freedoms of all Australians are enshrined in the final legislation.”


Attorney General George Brandis indicated on November 15 he would introduce an amendment to extend the right to conscientious objection to performing a marriage to all civil celebrants.

The Australian reported on November 16 that Treasurer Scott Morrison is leading efforts to incorporate into the Smith Bill Paterson's proposed protections for advocates of "traditional marriage" and for guaranteed "parental protections". These would require schools to inform parents of any discussions that might be expected to occur in class, "which parents might reasonably object to", about marriage, sexuality and gender, and enshrine the right for parents to withdraw their children from these classes.

While there are clearly the numbers in parliament to pass the Smith bill as it is, it seems odd, after a 13-year campaign to end discrimination in marriage and a survey that showed the majority of Australian voters support doing so, that the campaign would settle for legislation that not only accepts existing religious exemptions to anti-discrimination laws but goes further — without an attempt to push for a reduction in these exemptions.

More importantly, failing to maintain the pressure allows the most conservative forces inside and outside the Liberal Party to push for amendments that will dramatically expand the right of religious bigots to discriminate against the LGBTI community. They are using the threat of blowing up the party, a threat that contributed to the survey being held in the first place, to help build the numbers to pass these amendments.

Conservatives will also rely heavily on arguments that they are seeking to protect the rights of the 40% of the population who opposed any change to the Marriage Act. It is important that we continue to be in the streets to remind parliament that the overwhelming majority of Australians support real marriage equality.

Lisbeth Latham is a member of the Socialist Alliance
[This article was originally published in Green Left Weekly #1162]


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