Just a few months ago, detailed allegations of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment first broke into the mainstream media. Courageous actresses took a stand against a powerful figure within a multi-billion dollar industry that normalises sexism and further headlines were made by the legal fund created by actresses under the “Time’s Up” banner. This has sparked a new phase of a growing women’s movement in the USA which began with the explosive reaction to Trump’s election but has also had international repercussions. It was also quickly followed by accusations of similar harassment in Westminster.
Even while #MeToo remains a primarily internet-driven mass discussion, its power has rocked the globe. A whole series of men in media and politics have been exposed, and many forced to resign. The Washington Post reports that the last time this many congressmen were driven from office in the USA was during the Civil War. Even before the anti-Trump protests that kicked off 2017, there has been a steady flow of resistance from women to their abuse under capitalism. The Slutwalks, Carry That Weight, and #YesAllWomen all showed that young women are ready to fight back against sexism and abuse. These movements are part of an international revolt by women from Latin America to Eastern Europe. Already the impact has been felt, bringing front and centre the need to stop sexual harassment in the workplace.
But what about the tens of millions of women whose bosses and harassers are not famous people? These issues are chronically under-reported. Taking legal action means looking to a court system that has systematically failed women. In fact, a study from the University of Cincinnati reported that only 4% of workplace discrimination lawsuits in the US, which includes sexual harassment, result in awarding damages to the victim.
To successfully challenge sexism, we need to go beyond expressing opposition and disgust. We can take inspiration from the struggles of working women in the past. In the 1830s in Lowell, Massachusetts, teenage girls working in textile mills, faced with pay cuts as well as sexual harassment and assault on the job, went on strike. This was the first female-led labour struggle in American history, long before women even had the right to vote. These are the kind of steps we should look to today in the USA, across Europe and internationally. They speak to the urgent need for a re-built labour movement that stands unabashedly on the side of all workers.
By Kelly Bellin, Socialist Alternative USA