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Mainstream analyses of the budget announcements have noted, to varying degrees, the disproportionate blows Osborne’s axe has inflicted on women. The coverage is welcome. Yet the newly-in-opposition politicians making the issue front-page news, such as shadow work and pensions minister Yvette Cooper, appear to have forgotten their own previous stances in government. Real opposition comes from the bottom up.
For Cooper and co, it’s politics as usual, but there is a lot more at stake here than point scoring. These are not temporary measures. We cannot afford to overlook the ideology behind the cuts, as particular behaviours are rewarded when others are punished.
As Tim Hunt shows (see page 28), the UK’s two million single parents, 92 per cent of them women, will suffer terribly as a result of the cuts. And we don’t need to read between the lines for the message; David Cameron has been quite open about it. Last December he declared: ‘Commitment and relationships and marriage are good institutions. We shouldn’t be completely neutral about them as a society. I think the tax and benefits systems … need to think about what other long-term signals that we are sending out as a society.’ The implications of this budget go deeper than our wallets.
Social attitudes towards gender equality have evolved over recent decades. The mere acknowledgement that welfare and public service cuts will differentially and disproportionately affect women would not have made headlines 20 years ago. Then, unemployment was still largely a male issue. As the rhetoric of ‘necessary pain’ beds in, however, this progress faces reversal. The space for addressing pervasive inequalities that has been opened must be quickly seized.
Call to arms
In the last issue of Red Pepper (Jun/Jul 2010), Catherine Redfern and Laurie Penny debated contemporary currents in feminism. Penny concluded that, without groups coming together with shared goals of social justice for all and taking real action to achieve them, the number of women self-defining as feminists is largely irrelevant. The groups featured over the previous pages answer Penny’s call to arms.
At the Crossroads Women’s Centre in Hackney, space and resources are shared by groups including WinVisible and Single Mothers Self Defence, alongside the English Collective of Prostitutes, All African Women’s Group and Wages Due Lesbians, among others. In their activism, each notes degrees of social exclusion and political marginalisation including but not limited to gender, sexuality, class, race, nationality and disability. Here, equality is inclusive and no one should be oppressed. If the marginalised are to be empowered, take action and force change, we must recognise that we are in this together.
These groups are raising awareness through lobbying, petitioning, protesting and writing to local and national press. They are forming solidarity-led networks to share information and stand in allegiance. Their focus is on supporting those who need it.
Austerity measures announcements have been met by women-led campaigns elsewhere. On 8 March this year, the Greek Communist Party-affiliated union PAME held a peaceful protest coinciding with International Women’s Day, symbolically emphasising the gender-biased impact of cuts to civil servants’ salaries, pension freezes and increased general sales tax. In May, women public service workers rallied outside the Italian parliament in Rome, protesting against similar budget decisions. Just as European governments find justification for their actions in mirroring other states’ language and policy, campaign groups are being handed opportunities to form international bonds.
Inspiration can be drawn from the past as well as abroad. While comment and comparison with Thatcher era cuts have littered budget analyses, attention should also be turned to those who fought her policies on the streets, picket lines and through non-payment campaigns.
In histories of anti-poll tax campaigns, there is a sad yet predictable paucity of women’s voices, despite their undoubted presence. Unions and political parties were marked then by a disproportionate presence of male voices, a tendency that continues to this day. But where women are still unable to be heard institutionally, grass-roots organisations will emerge.
Theoretical disagreements occasionally blunted explicitly feminist movements during the 1980s, and these movements often overshadowed women-led movements reacting to more broadly felt social injustices. Women Against Pit Closures, for instance, creditable as the glue that held the miners’ strike together, deserves more attention. This grassroots, working-class movement put feminism into practice, empowering women to step into a male-dominated world and assert the importance of their opinions and roles in the community.
This time round, the marginalised voices speaking out against the cuts demand to be listened to, now.
These articles are part of our series on emerging political movements, made possible with the help of the Barry Amiel and Norman Melburn Trust
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi