The Bedroom Tax demonstrations across the UK yesterday were great, and you can see some footage of the Glasgow demo here. More reports on the Bedroom Tax will be heading your way soon from A Thousand Flowers.
But something happened at the Glasgow Anti Bedroom Tax demo yesterday, and it needs to be talked about. It happened because a rape apologist was invited to speak on the platform. Dave Sherry was invited to speak in his capacity as UNITE Scottish Federation of Housing Associations branch secretary, but one of his other roles is as a member of the Disputes Committee of the SWP which it has emerged has delivered a “not proved” verdict in the case of senior party member Martin Smith raping a teenage member of the party. It has also taken it upon itself to “rule” on several other rape cases. That Disputes Committee, and all in the SWP who have lined up to support it and silence internal dissent against its decision to even entertain holding its own rape trial, let alone come to the decision that they “didn’t think that Comrade Delta [Martin Smith] raped W” (Candy U, Disputes Committee member, from leaked transcript of an SWP conference), is a Committee of rape apologists. The ins and outs of that case and the other rape cases the SWP Disputes Committee have tried to cover up, and the droves of activists who have left the SWP as a result, have been discussed extensively elsewhere. (There is a round up of almost every article written about the current SWP crisis here if you’re so inclined)
When Dave Sherry took to the megaphone to speak to the crowd, a group of activists (from a variety of backgrounds and affiliations, or none) booed him. We shouted “rape apologist”, because that’s what he is. We disrupted his speech because he does not have a right to speak for any progressive movement. His uninterrupted presence would have been an indication that we condone the things he has done, and we don’t, and we shouldn’t. We started when he spoke and we finished when he finished.
Here’s a short video of some of what happened next:
Abusive behaviour came from stewards on the demo, mostly SWP members. Keir McKechnie and Graham Campbell are easily identifiable in the video and photographs. If anyone knows who the steward with curly black hair (UPDATE: it’s John Park of Solidarity) and the steward with a grey ponytail are let us know because they were the worst for it. Plus some bystanders, mostly Solidarity members – if you don’t know anything about Solidarity, it was Tommy Sheridan’s breakaway group from the Scottish Socialist Party following his high profile defamation case against the News of the World (more here)
They were shouting at us to “shut the fuck up”, to leave the Bedroom Tax demo and “go back to our rape demo”, telling us we would be arrested for telling the truth about Dave Sherry’s involvement in a rape conspiracy. We were called “middle class” for you know, thinking rape is a problem that shouldn’t be swept under the carpet. Josh Brown (Glasgow SWP Organiser) was repeatedly giving us the fingers from the middle of the speakers platform – while Sherry spoke next to him, while wearing a stewards’s bib, and while most of the crowd probably had no idea what was going on – but they say we were the ones making a mockery of the demo?? Funny that.
The stewards decided to appoint themselves as law enforcement and started physically trying to throw us off the demo. They effectively kettled us, and we were shoved together very tightly, it was the sort of behaviour you would expect from Strathclyde police, not other lefties. Male stewards started to grab young women and tried to forcefully shove us out of the crowd, they were going for some people repeatedly. We told them to stop touching us, and eventually they had to give up on trying to physically remove us like some kind of Keep Rape A Secret private security service. There was a clear gender divide in how they treated us – anyone that they read as a woman was put in a situation of clear danger, with people screaming and touching them. Male activists involved report having “keep your women in check” chat directed at them. Racist comments were directed at one activist for “not even sounding Scottish”.
One unknown young woman stewarding was threatening various women protesting Sherry with ripping their throats out/kicking their cunts in/stabbing them. I very much doubt she was SWP and to be honest it was more upsetting to see older people who should have been diffusing that situation for both her own safety and ours actually egging her on – it seemed to be a pretty clear example of them using a working class woman as their disposable attack dog while they stood comfortably behind her. Bystanders who definitely knew exactly what we were protesting against had a duty not to allow the situation to escalate to threats of violence.
One Solidarity activist, Joyce Drummond, was telling the steward making the threats that it was good on her and pointing out ex-SSP members she saw in the crowd as “grasses”. Drummond was formerly best known for being Tommy Sheridan’s most virulent supporter, and for being caught out in Sheridan’s perjury trial as one of the group behind a motion calling for the minutes of a Scottish Socialist Party meeting (where Sheridan admitted that he had done the things which he later denied in court) to be “destroyed” – but now she’s best known to those who have seen the above video as “that awful woman”.
I can absolutely guarantee you that had police officers been present anywhere in that crowd, they would have been demanding our arrest, and detailing a list of our supposed crimes – all the while screaming about “SSP grasses” and “ISG fuckin misfits”. Which is pretty ridiculous given their supposed opposition to the “bourgeois” legal system. “Assist women to take rape cases to the police? Nah we’ll deal with it ourselves and call the women liars. Think it’s wrong for Tommy Sheridan to take a false case to court based on cross-examining women he’s slept with and calling them liars? Nah, support him to the hilt, it’s not lying if you lie in a bourgeois court. Anti-rape campaigners heckling a rape apologist? ARREST THEM!”
Let’s be clear: Dave Sherry wasn’t even heckled just because he was a MEMBER of the SWP. Sure, it’s desperately clear by now that all with an ounce of integrity within the SWP have now resigned their membership – and it’s reasonable to direct ire at those who have quite deliberately chosen to stay in an organisation that condones the cover up of rapes within its ranks. But there was another SWP speaker on the bill at this rally (speaking as an ‘anti Trident campaigner’) who no one heckled or made any attempt to disrupt. Dave Sherry alone was heckled because he is DIRECTLY culpable for the cover up of these rapes and the ensuing vilification of the women who had been harmed.
We really need to think of yesterday’s excellent Anti Bedroom Tax demo and what happened within the five or so minutes of Dave Sherry’s speech as separate issues, because they are – although unfortunately the involvement of the SWP in any issue now means that the SWP problem will have to be dealt with at every turn. It’s sad for the genuine, non-front, people’s movements that the SWP latch on to that they will have to deal with the structural problems of misogyny in a cult they have nothing to do with, but if we don’t deal with it they will bring us all down, and we will not be safe in our own spaces. And in Glasgow, we have the additional problem that the SWP have political allies who are prepared to not only back them up but get aggressive with us if we are critical of SWP members like Dave Sherry.
The fact of the matter is, the SWP, the CWI (another small sect) and Tommy Sheridan’s Solidarity all HATE each other. But the SWP and Solidarity are brought back together time and time again for two reasons. The first is that they each fulfil a need the other has – the SWP dedicate themselves to building fronts and meetings, Tommy Sheridan brings the punters in with his rhetoric, the SWP get to farm new recruits and Sheridan gains publicity and profile. The second is that they are dedicated misogynists who back each other up to promote the idea that sexism is a natural and acceptable aspect of the left and that all who criticise them are middle class feminazi woofters. Solidarity members have nothing to do with the inner workings of the Socialist Workers Party, and there is no legitimate reason for them not to join with the majority on the left and condemn the SWP’s attempted cover up of rapes within its ranks. But it suits them to join in the silencing of women speaking out against the actions of Sherry and co because it furthers their worn out lines about women’s safety being a middle class diversion from the “real struggle” and also they can’t afford not to back up their own decisions to silence anyone who dared to question their own infallible misogynist hero, Tommy Sheridan.
Of course it’s not just Sheridan who Solidarity have a history of defending, nor does the buck stop at plain old rape apologists like Dave Sherry. In the past, Solidarity members helped organise a campaign to defend convicted rapist, Chris Wiles. The thankfully now defunct Democratic Green Socialist website became a platform for their horrendous outbursts. The initial piece in which they called a teenage rape victim a drunken liar with a STI and asserted that the Scottish justice system is so desperate to convict rapists they just send anyone down has now disappeared – though an archived version is still available here (massive trigger warning). Rape Crisis Scotland (who don’t comment on individual cases) commented on the campaign. Solidarity members responded by organising a birthday party for their rapist friend. Steve Arnott, a Solidarity member who can currently be found leaving daft comments on the above youtube video of yesterday’s events, might want to learn when to pipe down given the Democratic Green Socialist website was run by him.
Rape apologists in our movements need to know that everywhere they go in political life this will happen to them. A loud roar should follow Dave Sherry, and the rest of his rape enabling cronies, until they can no longer functionally hold positions in any movement. As long as they are allowed to continue as normal, movements they are involved in are not safe for women. When you make or laugh at a rape joke, you are enabling rapists to continue by sending the message that what they do to people won’t be taken seriously. The same applies to allowing those who attempt rape cover-ups to exist unchallenged within our movements. What happened at the hands of SWP and Solidarity members yesterday was at the extreme end of complicity in allowing rapes to occur. But there are many steps on that ladder and those who attempt to downplay what happens to women in all of society but on the left in particular, those who attempt to silence those who speak out about it, are every bit as complicit as those who assault anti-rape campaigners, or sit on rape-excusing Disputes Committees.
Dave Sherry should never have been asked to speak at such an event, which is far too important to be used as a vehicle to re-establish the credibility of deeply uncredible and frankly dangerous people and organisations. We need to keep this up, and provide no platform to the SWP (but in particular actual Disputes Committee members such as Sherry). It’s appalling to see supposed “socialists” assaulting and screaming at young women speaking out against a rape cover-up, but in a way at least they are ready and willing to show their true colours – it should become clear to all who needs to be avoided for the safety of activists and the health of our movements.
The silver lining to the appalling behaviour exhibited by defenders of Sherry yesterday was an incredibly funny comment spat at one of our number by a couple of Sheridanistas, but which is better directed towards Sherry and the Sycophants:
“Get it up ye”
“RIGHT up ye”