Intersectionality and the niqab
Following Sally Campbell's article on intersectionality (Socialist Review, October 2013) I wanted to give an example of the SWP's approach to a group of women at the sharp end of racism and sexism - women who wear the niqab.
We've seen many recent attempts to focus public attention on these women. There was a short-lived ban at Birmingham Metropolitan College, a call by the health minister for an inquiry into problems caused by the niqab in the NHS (without any statement as to whether any problem actually exists) and a Private Members' Bill seeking to ban it.
The attitude of feminists towards the niqab is not uniform. In some instances, it has not been one of straightforward support for a woman's right to choose.
Some (but not all) feminists have viewed the niqab as a symbol of women's oppression and have therefore failed to oppose mounting Islamophobic hysteria. This ignores the fact that the way women dress is affected by the way women's oppression impinges on our lives, whether we feel we have resisted that oppression or not.
The SWP has approached this question from an understanding of the way racism is used to divide the working class. It is based on a Marxist understanding of oppression which says it is caused by relations of class exploitation.
Because of this, we argue that the role of socialists is to convince working class people to defend the right to wear their own choice of religious dress, be that a turban or a niqab.
We also understand people's wish to visibly demonstrate their religion at a time when their community is so under attack. We are not alone in taking this approach.
An approach that starts from seeing class as central, far from reducing oppression to class, has allowed the SWP and others to act quickly in solidarity with some of the most isolated women in our community.
We have defended their right to education at Birmingham Metropolitan College.
The speed and scale of the campaign, which involved students at the college and elsewhere, as well as the NUS Black Students' Campaign, led to a reversal of the ban and the subsequent resignation of the principal.
Helen Salmon, Birmingham
Owen Jones and others are wrong to dismiss those who pointed to the possibility of alternatives at Grangemouth (Socialist Review, November 2013).
It is understandable faced with choice of the dole or worse pay and conditions - that workers would vote to keep their jobs. But "radical voices" are right to raise the issue of occupation, the possibility of nationalisation, the mounting of solidarity action and mass campaigning in order to confront the bullying bosses.
Len McCluskey has himself supported the idea of civil disobedience, coordinated strikes and other forms of militant action. He has argued that Tory anti-solidarity laws will have to be challenged.
We were also right to point to the famous work-in at the Upper Clyde Shipyards in 1971.
The then Tory government had refused to support the yards and 6,000 jobs were under threat. Following a popular campaign, the Heath government backed down and the yards were saved.
In many respects the situation is different. But, crucially, the threat to shut down UCS was met with resistance. There was a union leadership prepared to lead it. Jimmy Reid never suggested the workers accept the dictats of the bosses and the priorities of the Tory government. He never suggested accepting the closure deal "warts and all" or that we should wait for Labour.
The irony is that McCluskey had made a speech in which he hailed Reid as "a giant of our movement who led industrial disputes with ingenuity and courage" only a few weeks before.
McCluskey rightly championed the cause of the UCS work-in as an inspiring challenge to the bosses. He said that "Reid's fighting-back spirit lives on as an inspiration for taking forward our agenda in the modern world".
In 1971 Reid had said, "We are taking over the yards because we refuse to accept that faceless men can make these decisions." The same "faceless men" (and women) are still in charge and will have to be taken on. For that we will need stronger unions built from below and the sort of union leaders who are prepared to turn fighting talk into real action.
Simon Hall, Tyneside
Two years ago my biography of Tony Cliff was published. A number of comrades have pointed out errors or sent me additional information.
I have now set up a website with a section devoted to the Cliff biography.
I should be pleased to hear from anyone who has additional information about Cliff, or who can correct any inaccuracies in the book. I can be contacted through the website.
Ian Birchall, London