Of Strikes & Humans

by John Urquhart

“The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” — Steven Biko

This story was originally published on the Rose Community Group blog. It is also found on Medium.

Strike action is often seen only at the very surface; in the media it is usually reported simply in the context of two sides snarlingly facing off against each other. Just a lot of demands, counter-demands, and arguments.

But this gladiatorial portrayal ignores a great deal that is important. Conflicts between co-workers, about who strikes, about who doesn’t, and about who has the privilege to be able to do so.

Whilst those going on strike are usually at least somewhat financially supported by their unions, not everyone is. This means not everyone can afford to support a strike by joining one, even if that strike is to their personal long-term benefit.

This does not always prevent people from participating, as they may borrow money, or have a strong social support network. But arguably the greatest long-term impact for everyone involved in a strike — especially the management — is psychosocial.

Strikers are, in effect, forced to stand “against” their colleagues (and maybe friends, or even relatives) who choose not to strike. Management must stand against people they may well later be expected to lead. Further, they may be expected to be physically responsible for those same “opponents” in the workplace, in terms of health and safety.

Yet management are not really even materially in control of the outcome of negotiations in many cases, as they are of course middle-persons for owners or investors — but from the perspective of those on strike action, rightly or wrongly, management are likely to be blamed for any breakdown in talks.

It’s easy to see how this can create significant toxicity in a workplace. It could damage friendships, or even significantly change career paths — or end them. And what’s more, just anticipation of workplace negativity can (as I’m sure we all know) be very stressful too. For some perhaps even more so than the actual event.

Some may ultimately strike because of peer pressure — some may fail to do so for the same reason. And some may have no choice because they simply can’t afford to make one. But plenty of people in and around the strike are not really making any choices, or are making choices from a real narrow selection.

They’re forced into those choices because of the underlying political or personal reasons for the strike action, because of financial concerns, or because of peer pressure.

These burdens are difficult for everyone. But they needn’t be.
As a community, as a society, we shouldn’t need to be in the same political tribes to be good to one another. I don’t need you to agree with me about any given issue of the day to hand you a plaster for that scrape on your knee; I’d hope you don’t need to agree with me to get me a glass of water should I be thirsty.

Likewise, I don’t feel it should really matter where we stand on a specific strike action — not when it comes being compassionate.

We can, whatever our tribes, still care for one another: by just turning up to be kind with words — or with deeds: perhaps by making nice treats or cooking up batches of soup, and heading down to the picket lines to make people feel that little bit easier and happier. Not because we necessarily agree, but because they’re human and we’re human, and no greater reason is needed to stand together.

The Toxicity Of Misgendering in the Trans Debate: Why It Has To Stop

by John Urquhart

“When we talk about war, we’re really talking about peace”

Originally published on Medium.

The argument brewing in the UK right now — one that has been fairly consistently thundering away across the Atlantic for quite some time — is based around just a few words.

Trans women are women.

This simple statement is meeting significant hostility from various elements; a range of people, in fact, from straight-up seemingly rather narrow-minded folk who see an opportunity to attack what they view as The Strange to those who believe they are shouting down the equivalent of Flat Earthers — but for sex.

However, only one side is “on the side of the angels” here, and it has nothing to do with facts for a change. Instead, what matters here is feelings. So I’m going to ignore the facts — even though I could quite easily lay out plenty to support TWAW.

Here’s the rub: this entire argument is actually rather irrelevant except to trans folk.

This also appears to be the case to the other side (IE that the argument is only of vital importance to women, because those women feel that they are “at risk”), but they are wrong.

I do not say this out of hostility — though in the interest of disclosure, I’m definitely hostile by now, as these people have repeatedly misgendered and insulted me in an effort to be Right— but instead out of compassion for those being harmed.

The very simple facts of the matter are this:

Trans people are being harmed today. Right now.

By this very conversation, in fact.

There will be young trans people who are seeing this discourse and will believe they are not allowed to exist at all; that society has no space for them; or, conversely, they will be lead to believe that they must bend themselves into shapes that do not work.

They will hear their parents arguing about people like Graham Linehan appearing on Newsnight and realise they can’t even feel safe in their own homes, because one or both of their parents don’t think they’re real.

This is deeply retrograde and, to be honest, horrifying. Please: take a step back.

Women are genuinely concerned about harm. Well, okay; I have sympathy for that. I too am a bit afraid of masculine-seeming things; that is closely tied up with my being non-binary. I don’t like when men are shouty, or overly in my space, or indulge in physical contact without warning or consent.

But what I don’t have sympathy for is prioritising a concern for harm in the future over actual ongoing harm right now.

Yes, some people lie. Yes, some people cannot be trusted. Yes, some people will go to any lengths to carry out the acts they desire, regardless of how those acts harm others. But, but, but —

Should we harm people just to stop other people from harming people? This is the same kind of strange logic George W Bush deployed when he said, “I just want you to know that, when we talk about war, we’re really talking about peace.”

The people who believe they are defending women — or themselves — are indeed defending women (or themselves), but in so doing they are waging a war on peace itself.

One solution to this is very simple, and it is quite akin to the solution that most Western society believes (incorrectly) that it has found with regards to racism — even though it hasn’t actually done so.

Surely it would not be difficult to say that trans women are women, in public, because that’s polite? If you want to believe they’re not, in private, then I guess fine — do that. Keep it to yourself. It’s your opinion, inside your own head, and it doesn’t directly harm anyone there. It could still harm people indirectly — but that’s up to you to moderate, it’s not ours or mine. I know and you know that you’re entitled to that — and nobody should be able to take it away. Indeed: nobody really can.

But if you take it out in public, know that it is an act of violence. Know that every act of violence could be someone’s last straw. Know you could kill someone with your urge to “be Right”.

You can still argue about how we square the fact that some people are terrified of anyone with a penis with the fact that some people with penises are also terrified of their penis — it is a very important subject. You can still, in fact, have any of the debates in question; about how we handle gender/sex and toilets, about how we handle sport, any of it. Just don’t misgender people. Don’t erase either trans people or intersex people. Don’t harm people in order to help yourself.

Finally: let’s out that big elephant in the room, shall we? Women’s bathrooms aren’t locked against all entry and there is no AI overwatch checking genitals at the doorways. Men can just walk in; they do not have to disguise themselves first. Fears are just that; fears. They are never more important than real living human people.