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Trade unions are fighting for trans rights

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The workers' movement has now established the Trade Unions for Trans Rights Network, a campaigning network that will organise for trans rights at work and in wider society - alongside LGBTQ+ charities and community organisations.

The Network, launched by the Trades Union Congress following on from supportive motions from my union, the University and College Union, and others, unequivocally commits the UK trade union movement to the cause of trans liberation. At a time when trans people are consistently used as collateral by right-wing media outlets and politicians, the formation of this network on the British Left is vital. 

The normalisation of hostility to trans people in the UK is shocking, from newspapers across the political spectrum to Netflix specials, with comedians using the platform to punch down and make trans people the butt of so-called jokes. It also spews from the heart of the governing party, with Tory deputy chair Lee Anderson MP openly admitting that fueling a culture war is key to the party winning the next general election.  

Attacks, however, do not stop at the level of political or cultural discourse. Not only have we seen an increase in hate crime and violence targeted at trans people, but shockingly in April the Equality and Human Rights Commission, a body created to challenge discrimination and safeguard human rights wrote to the government outlining ways in which the Equality Act could be revised to restrict the rights of trans people by amending the definition of sex. This advice, if followed, could result in trans women not being entitled to make equal pay claims, use appropriate toilets in the workplace, or make sex discrimination claims. It would remove the ability of trans people to gain legal recognition of their gender identity.   

Since Baroness Falkner (who is on the record expressing anti-trans views) was appointed Chair of the EHRC by the Tories in 2020 concerns have been raised about the extent to which EHRC have been embroiled in the Tories anti trans culture war agenda. Especially as this recent advice has undoubtedly handed political and professional legitimacy to the Tory’s quest to further harm trans people. Understandably, numerous senior staff from the EHRC’s legal and policy team  resigned after their advice was ignored.   

The truth is, whilst it's estimated that trans people represent just 0.5% of the population, their mere existence is treated as though it requires a constant public debate. As a progressive movement it is our duty to stand alongside trans workers and the trans community in the struggle for social justice.  

I am proud that as general secretary of UCU I was elected on an unequivocally pro trans platform. Our union, which represents education workers in prisons, colleges, and universities has a history of fighting for LGBT+ rights. Back in the 1970s rank and file gay members pushed our predecessor union NATFHE to adopt anti-discrimination policy for gay and lesbian lecturers. Our members have fought for LGBT+ equality in the workplace, and, together, trade unions eventually pushed the Labour governments of 1997-2010 to a position of almost full legal equality in the UK. Time after time – UCU members have returned strong policy on trans and non-binary inclusion and across the trade union movement, UCU is one of the most vocal supporters of the trans and non-binary community.  

As part of our effort to push for true trans equality and justice, we have asked our trans and non-binary members what their concerns are. They told us they want a life free from violence and to be treated with dignity and respect – at work, in the classroom, in virtual environments and in other areas of their lives. They highlighted the many issues they face including securing and staying in employment as well as access to opportunities to progress and gain promotion.  

These issues are clearly ones our union cannot and must not ignore, just as we must support trans and non-binary people’s access to health care and facilities many of us take for granted. As a union we are acting to eliminate the discrimination our trans and non-binary members – and their students - face in colleges and universities, and in society more broadly. We have now created clear guidance to follow that will help make workplaces safe for trans people.  

The struggle for trans rights is necessary to any struggle for social justice. History will judge everyone on this matter. So, while trans and non-binary people continue to experience violence at work, in public and at home, we will stand with them. We will continue to pursue positive change for our members – and all workers – in these areas, now and in the future. We will continue to stand up to bullies, whether they are in our workplaces, our communities, Westminster, or in the media.  

There are progressive people all around us who will fight alongside trans people for a safer world. Our Network will harness the energy of progressively minded people inside and outside the workplace, and fight back against transphobia wherever it resides. We have a saying in the trade union movement – that an injury to one is an injury to all. If it is to mean anything, then we must all recognise and fight for trans rights. The formation of Trade Unions for Trans Rights Network will be crucial in achieving that. 

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