Why disrupt a picket line?

A white woman wearing a black puffy jacket with orange trimmings, with her finger pointing in the direction of the cameraFootage has emerged of a group of trans activists, all women, one of them perhaps trans, protesting at a Bectu union picket line outside a cinema in Brixton (where there is a long-running pay dispute) on the grounds that one of the women on the picket line is a TERF (trans exclusionary radical feminist) who attended the same meeting I went to last month organised by Woman’s Place UK. The women chanted “TERF, TERF” and shouted that she was not there in solidarity with anyone. The incident took place on International Women’s Day (8th March) and the focus of the protest has been named in the Morning Star as Paula Lamont, an elected member of the union’s Sector Executive Committee (SEC) who was visiting as an elected official. The accusation that she was “not in solidarity with anyone” is curious; she was there in solidarity with workers who were striking for a living wage, an issue not directly connected to the matter they were protesting about. (Note: ‘sector’ refers to BECTU itself, a media and entertainment workers’ union, within the wider Prospect union.)

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I am against people on the Left who are opposed to the proposed reforms of the Gender Recognition Act colluding with Tories (by approaching the Tory press with stories about disputes about gender within trade unions and the like, for example) and blaming Jeremy Corbyn for something which has support on both wings of the Labour Party and in other parties as well, and things which are ongoing practices in the NHS and social care at a time when the Labour Party is not in power. Some of those I have seen agitating on this basis are people with a long-standing animus towards Corbyn, people who blame him for anti-Semitism, weakness on Brexit and other issues and once Corbyn is out of the way, the Tory press support will likely evaporate.

However, to disrupt a picket line where people are striking for a living wage is not helping ordinary, struggling people either: workers need to be able to organise without the threat of disruption from people with no connection to their issue. People can believe two things at the same time and it’s possible that a third party will share one of these beliefs but not another: someone can be an enthusiastic advocate for workers’ rights and the living wage but have a conservative stance on transgenderism or be resistant to the demands for accepting self-identification, for example. I often enough agree with the stances of people like Nick Cohen on civil liberties, libel law and alternative medicine while being nauseated with his pro-war stance and his sneeringly arrogant attitude to religion and religious people. These activists did not like Paula Lamont appearing on that picket line, but are they members of that union, or any union? Perhaps the members of BECTU find her an effective enough campaigner that they can overlook these things. It’s their union, not yours.

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