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]


Friday, November 10, 2017

Marriage equality: the fight is far from over

Lisbeth Latham

The results of the non-binding voluntary survey on same-sex marriage will be announced on November 15.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimated that by October 31, 12.3 million people (77% of the electorate) had returned their surveys – a much higher level of participation than initially expected.

This strong turnout has been viewed as favouring a Yes result in the survey. 

Irrespective of the outcome, we will need to continue to fight not only to achieve marriage equality but to combat the right's bigotry.

The survey was intended to eliminate marriage equality as a source of tension within the Coalition's party room and ensure that legislation was not put before parliament. The hope was that the survey would deliver a clear No vote.

The desire to avoid debating any legislation is reflected in the government's continued lack of clarity on what bill it will support in the event of a Yes majority.

The most likely bill – because it already has the support of Labor – is the private member's bill put forward by Western Australia Liberal senator Dean Smith in August.

The Smith bill expands significantly on existing religious exemptions in the Sex Discrimination Act. It would enable churches to refuse to marry gay and lesbian couples and civil marriage celebrants to register their objection to marrying same-sex couples.

It is objectionable that churches should be able to refuse to marry people on religious grounds. But to allow private citizens performing a secular marriage to do so sets a dangerous precedent in terms of legalising bigotry.

Smith has argued that his bill provides essential protection to "religious freedom". This refrain has been taken up by the Christian right in its campaign against marriage equality.

In late October, ultra-conservative Liberal MP Andrew Hastie called for the Smith bill to be dramatically modified. It is thought that Hastie will put forward more than 100 amendments to the proposed bill.

This is a cynical move, aimed at delaying the legislation and using marriage equality legislation to expand the ability of bigots to lawfully discriminate against LGBTI people.

 If successful, it would not only undermine marriage equality, but raise the level of discrimination and marginalisation experienced by LGBTI people.

The right's obsession with religious freedom is entirely cynical and divorced from the real historic struggles for religious freedom, which were about defending and protecting the rights of religious minorities from laws linked to state religions.

Organisations like the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), together with various far-right groups, have been at the centre of the right's campaign against marriage equality.

They have actively mobilised fear of polygamy as a reason for opposing marriage equality, despite there being no current push to legalise polygamy from those religious communities, including within Islam, where it is practiced.

These arguments are not just about saying that it is OK to discriminate against some religious beliefs; they actively seek to promote homophobia based on Islamophobic dog-whistle politics.

The right’s push to protect "religious freedom" is part of a broader assault to impose its conservative social attitudes via the state. It is a campaign that is anti-secular while seeking to violate the religious and social freedoms of those whose lives do not fit within the right's view of morality.

There are supporters of marriage equality who view these concessions as acceptable to achieve marriage equality. They argue that the amendments are irrelevant or that, once passed, the bill could be subsequently amended.

The reality is that these amendments will be used by bigots to marginalise and discriminate against LGBTI people. Moreover, once legislation is passed, it will be much harder to mobilise popular support to amend it.

The Christian right will not just rely on right-wing MPs and senators to stop or amend any marriage bill – it will broaden its campaign of vilifying the LGBTIQ community.

The ACL is likely to follow the approach of the US Christian right, from whom it borrowed its campaign against marriage equality, to push for the right to discriminate same-sex couples and amplify the marginalisation and vilification of the transgender community.

In the face of the right’s determination to roll back our rights, it is vital that we continue to mobilise in support of the LGBTIQ community.

Mobilising helps to build solidarity and reassert our right to exist and live our authentic lives.

Mobilising will also help create pressure to ensure that legislation is introduced quickly to parliament and help prevent a situation where Labor and other parties that support marriage equality accept amendments that expand the right of bigots to lawfully discriminate against the LGBTI community.


Lisbeth Latham is a member of the Socialist Alliance
[This article was originally published in Green Left Weekly #1161]


Friday, October 27, 2017

France: Unions debate how to fight Macron’s anti-worker reforms

Lisbeth Latham

One of France's largest union confederations, the General Confederation of Workers (CGT), held a strike on October 19 as part of the campaign against the anti-worker and anti-union ordinances adopted by the Emmanuel Macron government.

The mobilisations were far smaller than the previous three days of protests and have further fuelled discussion within the movement over how to overcome divisions and weaknesses and mobilise the widespread latent public opposition to the government's attacks.

The October 19 strikes and mobilisations by the CGT were announced on October 9 – a day prior to a public sector workers’ strike – with the aim of driving forward the movement. However, the result was about 100,000 workers participating in the October 19 mobilisations – roughly half the size of the September 21 mobilisations and about a quarter of the size of the September 12 protests, the largest mobilisation of the campaign to date.

The call for the strike came after the first inter-union meeting involving all the union confederations was held on October 9, the first of its kind during the current campaign. It was widely known that the CGT would call the strike and that the militant trade union Solidaires would support, but there was no effort made at that meeting to draw the other confederations into the mobilisations.

Conservative unions

The failure to seek to draw other unions into the mobilisation reflects deep problems in the current campaign.

This includes the refusal by conservative unions, particularly the French Confederation of Democratic Workers (CFDT), to join the movement.

The potential of drawing them in seems even bleaker following the publication in Le Monde on October 23 of statements made by CFDT secretary general Laurent Berger at the confederation’s October 18-19 National Council meeting. Berger described the joint mobilisations as a “demonstration of weakness” and the CGT as “the Titanic, who wants to ride on the Titanic?”.

However, the left unions have also displayed an inability to engage and draw in more militant members of conservative unions.

While this objective is easier said than done, the CGT has been heavily focused on individual sections of its own confederation rather than trying to find ways to broaden the movement. While this has at times achieved some gains – such as truck drivers and wharf workers securing concessions that would limit the extent to which enterprise agreements can undermine sectoral agreements – the isolated strikes have had a tendency to leave the more militant sections of the movement on their own.

Where they have won concessions, those victories have undermined the capacity to mobilise these militant and strategically-located workers in support of the broader movement.

New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) militant Robert Pelletier, writing in the NPA's l'Anticapitaliste, argues that a major problem undermining mobilisations has been the determination of the leaders of the major confederations to participate in "dialogue" with the government.

The worst perpetrators have been the leaders of Workers Force (FO) and the CFDT, who despite anger from their rank-and-file and lower-level leaders, have accepted the attacks and argued that engagement with the government has served to limit the damage and helped to make progress in building "social dialogue".

However, this engagement has not been limited to the more conservative unions. CGT leaders have also engaged in dialogue and are seeking to participate in the next round, which will focus on the government's proposed attacks on vocational training, apprenticeships and unemployment insurance.

Pelletier argues that this engagement undermines the extent to which the government fears union threats of mobilisation. He argues that the focus should instead be on building upon the existing resistance by workers – particularly through the calling of indefinite strikes – while moving away from union-by-union and sector-by-sector strikes towards a united movement.

United convergence

Solidaires has continued to push for united mobilisations supported by all union confederations. It had been seeking to bring union leaders together for a discussion on a united response since May – that was only achieved on October 9.

In a statement following their leadership's October 17 meeting with the government to discuss the ordinances, Solidaires called for the rejection of the current ordinances, the repeal of the anti-worker 2016 El Khomri Law brought in by the previous Socialist Party government and rejection of the government’s prioritisation of "flexibility" over security for workers.

Solidaires is working to win agreement for a mid-November convergence of the struggles of workers, unemployed and retirees. It presented proposals for how to achieve this convergence to the inter-union meeting on October 24. Solidaires stated that "the constitution of a strong and determined social movement is urgently needed".

An agreement was reached at the October 24 meeting between the CGT, Solidaires and the FO for a joint mobilisation on November 16. Although opposed by the CDFT, the call has also been endorsed by UNEF, France’s main university student union, and two high school student unions. These student organisations played a critical role in the early stages of the 2016 protests against the El Khomri Law.

Another organisation pushing for a united mobilisation has been the Social Front (FS), which was established in late April by activists frustrated by the collapse of the 2016 movement.

FS has been building up its support with more than 130 union, social justice and political organisations from across France affiliating to the organisation.

It also successfully built a series of united mobilisations against Macron following the first round of the presidential elections in April. FS has called for a joint protest on November 18 against Macron’s policies. Activists from FS addressed the October 24 inter-union meeting seeking to win support for the mobilisation. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[This article was originally published inGreen Left Weekly #1159]


Hannah Mouncey and the limits of anti-discrimination law

Lisbeth Latham

While it is important that the AFL's decision is criticised and we should highlight the troubling logic of policing “womanhood”, it is also important that we look critically at the role played by anti-discrimination legislation in the AFL’s decision and how it highlights the broader weaknesses of this legislation when it comes to protecting the rights of trans and non-binary people, particularly trans women.

The AFL’s position had been “in development” since June when Mouncey was first approached by AFLW clubs to consider nominating for the draft. On October 17 the AFL made its position clear: Mouncey could not nominate on the basis “of analysis of transgender strength, stamina and physique, as well as the AFLW being in its infancy”. Based on this, the subcommittee believed Mouncey would have had “an unreasonable physical advantage over her opponents”.

The timing of the announcement, the evening prior to the draft, has been seen as deeply cynical as it prevented any action to challenge the legality of the decision.

While the AFL’s decision was supposedly based on an analysis of “transgender strength, stamina, and physique”, it is premised on erroneous assumptions about how men and women differ in general in these characteristics with a primary focus on Mouncey's height and weight — she is 190 centimetres’ tall and weighs 100 kilograms.

In asserting that Mouncey would have an advantage over other players, they ignore the diversity of physiques within humanity and assume that Mouncey’s size falls outside the realms of what a woman athlete could be. This is clearly not true, as, if Mouncey had been drafted, she would have been taller than the vast majority of players, but she would not have been the tallest player in the AFLW. That honor goes to 194 centimentres’ tall Erin Hoare, who is also a goal shooter with the New South Wales Swifts in the Super Netball competition.

As Mouncey's coach Chris Rourke pointed out, the arguments against her being eligible to play are based on assumptions that Mouncey is a physical threat to other players. This ignores the fact that women, such as 2016 Olympic shot put gold medalist Michelle Carter, who is 175 centremetres’ tall and weighs 118 kilograms, can be physically larger than Mouncey.

The AFL’s exclusion of Mouncey is an effort to police the boundaries of womanhood. It is not just bad for trans women, but for any woman who is substantially taller or more muscular than the “average”. Champion tennis players Serena and Venus Williams are regularly subjected to racist and transphobic slurs by fans and officials. The most infamous transphobic comments were from Russian tennis official Shamil Tarpischev.

While the concern over size in the ALFW has been premised on concern over player safety, as Richard Hinds pointed out on the ABC, no such concern is expressed over the size disparities in the AFL between 211 centimetres’ tall Aaron Sandilands and 173 centimetres’ tall Lewis Taylor or that Mouncey has been and will continue to play in a lower level women’s competition.

Some commentators have raised concerns that the AFL has failed to apply the International Olympic Committee’s rules regarding the participation of trans women in women’s sport. Under this rule, which Mouncey meets, a trans woman must undergo hormone therapy and demonstrate that the total level of testosterone in the blood has been below 10 nanomols per litre for at least a year before competing.

However, while the IOC rule is clearly better for trans women athletes than the approach adopted by the AFL, there are real problems with this rule. Limits on the level of testosterone for a woman to be able to compete are arbitrary and have been used to exclude women athletes such as South African middle distance runner Caster Semenya and Indian sprinter Dutee Chand. This exclusion was overturned when the Court of Arbitration in Sport suspended the International Association of Athletics Federation’s rule on the basis that it had failed to prove that women with naturally high levels of testosterone had a competitive edge.

While the AFL’s decision to exclude Mouncey from the draft is discriminatory, it is arguably consistent with the exemptions within the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Act (Vic), which the AFL relied on in reaching its decision. The law allows lawful discrimination against a person on the basis of their sex or gender identity if strength, stamina or physique is relevant. While this does not mean sporting organisations must discriminate against trans athletes, it means that they can, although the basis for doing so can be contested legally.

This reflects the reality that the law, which is supposed to provide protection from discrimination, enables transphobia in sport and other aspects of social life. Avoidance of discrimination is based on organisations going beyond the requirements of the law rather than complying with it. This reality is not limited to the Victorian law, but is a feature of aspects of anti-discrimination legislation in other Australian jurisdictions.

While we must call on the AFL to reverse its transphobic approach in excluding trans women from the AFLW, we should also call for state and federal governments to provide greater protection from transphobic discrimination in anti-discrimination legislation.


[This article was originally published inGreen Left Weekly #1159]

[Lisbeth Latham is a trans woman and a member of the Socialist Alliance.]


Saturday, October 14, 2017

France: Close to half a million workers join public sector strike

Lisbeth Latham

Hundreds of thousands of workers, retirees and students joined a third day of strikes and protests across France on October 10. The protests are part of ongoing efforts by unions, left parties and progressive organisations to defeat attacks on workers and the public service by President Emmanuel Macron.

Protests were held in 140 cities and towns and drew 400,000 people into the streets.

At the centre of the day was a strike called by the nine union confederations active in France's public sector. The strike was aimed at stopping the planned 120,000 job cuts in the sector.

The General Confederation of Workers (CGT) estimated participation of 30-50% across the public sector.

While the mobilised numbers sound impressive, the movement is struggling to build momentum. The mobilisations on October 10 were slightly smaller than those on September 12, although larger than the September 21 mobilisations.

More importantly, the current movement is small compared to recent mass labour mobilisations in France.

Last year's movement against the El Khomri labour laws peaked with two national mobilisations of more than one million people. The movements in 2009 and 2010 saw multiple united mobilisations that drew more than three million people into the streets.

There are several reasons for the smaller mobilisations.

One of these has been the government's use of France's undemocratic constitution to rush through emergency ordinances without a parliamentary vote. This has reduced the extent to which people see attempts to defeat the attacks as realistic. (There will be a vote on Macron’s anti-worker laws in late November, more than two months after the ordinances came into effect)

The trade union Solidaires argued in a statement on October 12 that the present mobilisations demonstrate a widespread willingness to mobilise against the laws. However, the ability to fully engage that willingness has been undermined by divisions within the union movement as to what parts of the laws should be opposed and how they should be opposed.

The leaderships of reformist union confederations such as the French Confederation of Democratic Workers (CFDT) have been broadly supportive of sections of the legislation.

Rather than call on members to join mobilisations, they have sought to engage in dialogue with the government regarding the text of the ordinances. They have expressed concern that mobilisations against the ordinances would undermine future negotiations with the government.

The more militant unions have instead pushed a line of rejecting the changes and mobilising workers in the streets. However, they have done so inconsistently and in ways that have not taken full advantage of breaks in the CFDT's approach.

For example, when CFDT's rail federation, along with Solidaires' rail federation, called for a strike on October 10 in support of the public sector strike, the CGT's rail federation – the largest union in the railways – refused to join the strike. Instead, it encouraged members to join the protests, meaning the strike had minimal impact on rail services.

Divisions within the movement are not just a symptom of differing assessments of the attacks and how best to fight them. They also reflect a jockeying for positions by the confederations in anticipation of union representation elections next year.

The CFDT has historically been France's second confederation behind the CGT. Today it is either the principle confederation, or at least challenging for that position in the majority of industries.

CFDT officials pointed out at mass meetings of tens of thousands of activists and officials on October 3 that they believe the current moderate approach will strengthen the CFDT’s hand in the elections.
However, the New Anti-Capitalist Party reported on October 6 that CFDT’s leaders had to spend much of those meetings defending their conservative line from criticisms from the ranks.

One positive development has been that leaders from France’s union confederations held a joint meeting on October 9. This is the first such meeting to be held during the current campaign, despite calls by Solidaires for a joint meeting since May.

Unfortunately, the meeting did not issue a joint call for united mobilisation, although Solidaires suggested that in addition to themselves, the CGT and the United Union Federation, which have all been actively pushing for joint mobilisation, there is also support for such a call from Workers Force and the French Confederation of Management – General Confederation of Executives.

The meeting did support a call for a further meeting of union leaderships on October 24, which will take stock of the full range of social attacks coming from the government. Solidaires leaders have expressed hope that the meeting will call a joint mobilisation for early November.

On October 9, the CGT called a confederation-wide strike for October 19. CGT national secretary Fabrice Angei said in a statement: “Our citizens are increasingly challenging the orders, 65% of them reject them and 57% approve of the mobilisations against the government project … the government is conducting a comprehensive deconstruction of the French social model.

“We will mobilise on October 19 against this social destruction, and for a 32-hour week, salary increases and retirement for all via mutualisation”.

Solidaires issued a statement on October 12 in support of the October 19 mobilisation, arguing that it is an opportunity to build public awareness and unify and strengthen the unions’ bases of support in the public and private sector in order to better challenge the government.


[Originally published in Green Left Weekly #1157]


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Revitalising Labour attempts to reflect on efforts to rebuild the labour movement internationally, emphasising the role that left-wing political currents can play in this process. It welcomes contributions on union struggles, internal renewal processes within the labour movement and the struggle against capitalism and imperialism.

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