In the opening plenary of Workers’ Liberty “Ideas for Freedom” event (20-23 June) RMT Executive and TUC Disabled Workers’ Committee member Janine Booth argued for class-struggle liberation politics to be at the heart of the Marxist project.
On 23 June 2012, Steven Simpson, a gay autistic student, was verbally abused, stripped, and his body scrawled with homophobic slogans.
He was then doused in tanning oil and 20-year-old Jordan Sheard set fire to his crotch with a cigarette lighter. The flames engulfed his body, his attackers fleeing as neighbours tried desperately to extinguish the flames. Steven died the next day suffering 60% burns.
Steven was murdered because of his sexuality and disability. But on 21 March 2013 at Sheffield Crown Court, Judge Roger Keen dismissed the crime as “good-natured horseplay” that had “gone too far” and sentenced Sheard to only three-and-a-half years in prison. Sheard’s lawyer described Steven’s killing as a “stupid prank that went wrong in a bad way”.
Workers’ Liberty members and supporters, along with others, have organised protests demanding justice for Steven Simpson. The RMT is taking a resolution to TUC LGBT Conference on this issue, and we have won the unanimous support of TUC Disabled Workers’ Conference.
The conference also supported the work we have done on the issue of autism in the workplace. [That work] takes an emancipatory approach, fighting for society to recognise that humanity is neurologically diverse, similar to the way that what was then known as the gay liberation movement began the fight for society to recognise that it is sexually diverse.
The despicable murder of Steven Simpson tells us that despite formal near-equality, homophobia and prejudice against disabled people still exists. It tells us that the institutions of the state are still anti-gay and anti-disabled.
It tells us that formal equality is not enough: we need fundamental change in society. Capitalism is a system that announced its arrival with a claim for “liberté, égalité, fraternité”. But it did not deliver this. It relies so fundamentally on inequality and exploitation that it can not deliver its promise.
Full equality can only be achieved through the abolition of classes: through the achievement of socialism. Marx described the working class as “a class with radical chains … which can only redeem itself by a total redemption of humanity”.
Working-class struggle, solidarity is the terrain on which prejudices can be challenged and overcome.
But, we can not simply assume that workers and oppressed groups will unite. There is an alarming level of hostility to migrants from many British workers.
Part of the purpose of our socialist group, the AWL, is to be active within the working class arguing against bigotry and division — for workers to aim our anger not at other workers but at those who are really to blame for society’s problems: employers and their political servants.
Lenin also described socialism as a carnival of the oppressed.
But look at those movements whose job it is to create socialism — labour movement and the left. Do they look as though they could organise a carnival of the oppressed? Sadly, I think not. They are struggling even to deal properly with issues of discrimination within their own ranks.
Another part of the job of Workers’ Liberty is to make our movement fit to carry out its job. That means that we mobilise against racism and the far right, on the basis of working-class politics rather than ritual denunciation.
Instead of demonising feminism, we engage with it, and develop and champion a credible socialist feminism.
We also need to make it properly understand the oppression of sections of our class — of women, ethnic minorities, LGBT people, disabled people. To make it militant against that oppression, and fully accessible and hospitable to those members of our class.