Feminist Fightback

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Feminist Fightback is a feminist anti-capitalist activist collective[1][2] based in the UK which developed out of conferences in 2006[3] and 2007. The founders said:

"We’re inspired by the politics of a range of anti-capitalist feminist struggles, and believe that no single oppression can be challenged in isolation from all other forms of exploitation that intersect with it. We are also committed to fighting for a feminist perspective and awareness of gender issues everywhere in our movement – not marginalising ‘women’s rights’ as a separate issue."[4]

Feminist Fightback are part of what some call a "resurgence of feminist activism"[5][6][7] in the UK.[8][9][10] Dean, in particular, refers to a

“growing emergence of forms of activisms such as Reclaim the Night, Million Women Rise, Ladyfest, Feminist Fightback,[11] Feminist Activist Forum, Object and several others.”[12]

Whilst some argue that feminist activism has a relatively narrow appeal,[13] these activist groups and organisations represent the wide range of political perspectives and interpretations of "feminism". There are key fundamental differences in analysis, theory and approaches to activism.[14] In many ways, Feminist Fightback came into being, in reaction to perceived limitations in the liberal feminism and/or radical feminism that dominated pre-existing groupings.[15]

"In addition to existing feminist campaigns that had become largely institutionalized during the 1990s, new manifestations of feminism emerged to build the third wave, including public conferences (e.g. FEM conferences, Feminist Fightback, Feminism In London,[16] and Ladyfest festivals); national issue-based campaigns addressing topics such as street harassment, pornography, religion, sexual violence and media representation; local groups established in towns, cities, regions and universities; and internet activism that utilized blogs, webzines, Facebook groups, Twitter and YouTube."[17]

Linking back to the debates of the Women's Liberation Movement the collective rejects the notion that feminism is "about a group of ‘experts’ telling other women how to live; or about a handful of rich and powerful women getting to ‘the top’".[18] Sheila Rowbotham, Lynne Segal and Hilary Wainwright[19][20] are therefore particularly influential[21] on the collective's political direction:

"As a new generation of feminists on the revolutionary left, learning from the history of our movement is crucial. We need political mentors. Though some groups today trace their political lineage elsewhere, or perhaps dwell exclusively in the present, for me personally, and in Feminist Fightback, the impact the Women's Liberation Movement made on the British left is a foundational part of our own political heritage.'"[22]

Anti-Capitalist Intersectional Feminism[edit]

Originally describing themselves as "being inspired by the politics of socialist feminism", Feminist Fightback challenge "trends which grew out of the WLM ... that turned their back on working class women." Rather, as Davies argues, "it is clear from their actions that they are attempting to orient their work towards working class women, they are active in support of sex workers’ rights, working closely with the International Union of Sex Workers and the English Collective of Prostitutes."[23]

Feminist Fightback have a long standing particular interest in Sylvia Pankhurst and the East London Federation of Suffragettes because their feminism saw the struggle of women as part of, not separate from, class struggle. Robson argues that whilst "academia today is keen to theorise 'social movements' such as feminism as being in opposition to class politics, the history of the East London Federation of Suffragettes shows us that there has long been a strand of feminism which connected the fight for women’s rights with the struggle of the working class."[24]

Marxist feminists like, Clara Zetkin and Alexandra Kollontai, have, thus, been very influential on Feminist Fightback. The ideas surrounding the Wages for Housework Campaign (Selma James, Mariarosa Dalla Costa, & Silvia Federici) also have particular significance for the collective, in that they challenge capitalism’s gendered division of labour which disproportionately distributes the burdens of reproductive labour on to women - both waged and unwaged.

The collective began to use "intersectional"[21] and "anticapitalist feminism" in place of "socialist feminist" in about 2007- 2008.[25] Ideas of intersectionality had already been developed from the 1970s onwards by Black feminists such as Angela Davis,[26] Audre Lorde[27] and the Combahee River Collective - attempting to account for the intersecting oppressions that people face. One of the most well-known statement of interlocking oppressions is bell hooks’ description of our political system as an "imperialist, white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy."[28] Feminist Fightback's 2015 article "Is Intersectionality just another form of Identity poltiics?"[29] (republished] on Lib Com Sept 2015)[30] argues that there is no contradiction to between our commitment to intersectionality and the variety of Marxist and class-struggle anarchist currents that continue to influence the collective' s thinking.[31]

Feminist Fightback are a trans friendly collective and supports the transgender rights movement. Their planning meetings are open to all-self defining women and who involve all genders in wider activities.

History[edit]

The Beginning[edit]

Feminist Fightback developed out of a group of student activists involved in network called Education Not for Sale.

On 21 October 2006, ENS Women's Caucus initiated a feminist activist conference, Feminist Fightback, in central London, which was attended by around 220 people.[32][33][34] The founding statement stated that

"We want a feminism that fights. A women’s movement that is about activism, not just talk; about grassroots campaigning, not just lobbying; about politics, not just about lifestyle choices; and about liberation for all, not just equality for a privileged few."[35]

The conference gave rise to several activist initiatives,[36] including the Torch-Lit March for Abortion Rights (3 March 2007) which was attend by approximately three hundred people and featured speeches from various women’s rights activists, including Katy Clark, the former Labour MP for North Ayrshire and Arran.[37][38][39]

The second Feminist Fightback Conference, held at the University of East London in October 2007[40] was officially supported by a range of organisations - including the National Union of Students Women’s Campaign,[41] the RMT Women’s Committee[42] and the International Union of Sex Workers.[43] Representatives from groups like Central American Women's Network,[44] Women in Darfur,[45] Women's Environment Network,[46] Southall Black Sisters, MPs, student union representatives and trade union representatives (e.g. the Fremantle Care workers[47] in dispute at the time[48]) took part series of talks and debates throughout the one-day event. The conference attracted 300 activists, and led to the founding of Feminist Fightback[11] as an activist collective.[49]

Women's Work[edit]

London Underground Cleaners Dispute[edit]

In 2008, Feminist Fightback supported the London Underground cleaners who went on strike[50][51] over a living wage, sick pay, 28 days holiday, final salary pension, free travel and an end to third party sackings.[52][53] In July, the collective supported the RMT organised strike with guerrilla cleaning of the London underground offices[54] and staging a protest outside a Tube station near Westminster in support of the cleaners - which included symbolically dumping rubbish.[55][56][57][58]

LSE Cleaners[edit]

In 2017, Feminist Fightback supported the strike action by cleaners at the London School of Economics.[59]

Feminism Without Borders[edit]

Feminist Fightback are amongst a number of groups, organisations and activists in the UK (including Calais Migrant Solidarity, No One Is Illegal, London No Borders) campaigning for migrants rights, freedom of movement for all and against draconian immigration controls.[60] They advocate the building of alliances among workers, migrant workers and refugees - arguing that "as feminists, we must fight against these dividing lines, against racism and against borders, for the independence and safety of all."[61]

Cuts Are a Feminist Issue[edit]

Feminist Fightback is anti-austerity collective - consistently pointing out that public sector cuts have a disproportionate on women.[62][63][21]

"We have opened our newspapers each day to litanies of cuts to services - in health care; domestic violence services; universal child benefit; disability benefit; lone parent benefit; pensions; carer's allowance; housing benefit; education; free school meals; and early-years provision, to name only some."[64]

Their article "Cuts Are a Feminist Issue"[65] featured in Issue 49 of the journal Soundings (published online by the New Left Project).[66]

Welfare Reform[edit]

In 2009, Feminist Fightback was amongst a group of activists who dressed as bankers stage an occupation at the Department for Work and Pensions as a part of a week of action[67] against the Welfare Reform Act 2009.[68][69][70]

Women's Library Occupation[edit]

In 2013 Feminist Fightback, alongside Sisters Uncut, Occupy, UK Uncut, Solidarity Federation and Disabled People Against Cuts, participated in the occupation[71][72][73] of London’s historic Women’s Library on International Women's Day in a bid to stop the building's closure.[74][75][76][77]

"The occupation of the Women’s Library is also an example of an action where the importance of how we do politics was foregrounded from the start. Direct action can still be a pretty macho affair, and though the occupation involved people of all genders, the planning and the taking of the building was led by women. Meetings in the occupation were participatory, with decisions made by consensus. Working groups were formed to take on particular areas of work – and for once it wasn’t just women being responsible for food and cleaning."[78]

The Women's Library was subsequently moved to LSE. The occupation was part of a growing wave of feminist anger against the Government’s austerity regime.[79]

Social Housing NOT Social Cleansing[edit]

Feminist Fightback supports the Focus E15 Campaign[80] in campaigning against the housing crisis[81] and lack of affordable housing available in the UK. In particular, they participated in the 2015 occupation of a disused block of flats on the nearly empty Carpenters Estate in Stratford, East London.[82] Commenting on the housing crisis in UK, Kate Hardy, a member of Feminist Fightback, said:

“The strongest power they have against us is that they isolate us and try to make people feel alone. The more that you talk to each other, the more you realise other people are going through exactly the same thing that you are. The more you gather together and start organising and talking, the more you can build a consistent movement and fight back.”[83]

The collective have also been involved in working with parents and nursery workers in the East London opposing cuts to children’s services.[84] On 31 January 2015, Feminist Fightback, joined housing activists, unions and campaigners to march on Boris Johnson, the then Mayor of London, in City Hall and to demand better housing for London. The March for Homes[85] saw thousands of people protesting in the streets. Lydia Harris, a member of Feminist Fightback, was amongst those urging Boris Johnson to start "putting people before profit"s:

“Boris has got to start helping others but then he’s lied before about rape crisis centres when he promised us money that never came.”[86]

Reproductive Justice[edit]

Campaigning for reproductive justice has been central to Feminist Fightback's activism since its inception[87][36] and has organised (and participated in) a number of pro-choice workshops, actions, demonstrations & events.

  • In March 2007, Feminist Fightback organised a Torch-Lit March for Abortion Rights.[88][36]
  • In October 2007, Feminist Fightback activists chained themselves to the Department of Health and obstructed access to the building to add to the public pressure for access to abortion to be extended to Northern Ireland. TIn January 2008, Feminist Fightback staged a demonstration outside the Christian Medical Fellowship offices, objecting to the Fellowship's support for reducing the time limit on abortions which has been highlighted by the debate the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act.[89]
  • In October 2007, Feminist Fightback activists chained themselves to the Department of Health and obstructed access to the building to add to the public pressure for access to abortion to be extended to Northern Ireland.[90]
  • In June 2009, Feminist Fightback activists picketed the constituency surgery of Harriet Harman, protesting at this role she allegedly played in blocking pro-choice amendments in Parliament.[91]
  • In October 2017, on the eve of the 50th Anniversary of the Abortion Act 1967 (UK),[92] activists from Feminist Fightback dressed as performed a special pre-flight safety announcement on the London Overground, to inform the public that at least two people a day travel from Northern Ireland to England and Wales to have an abortion and that many migrants are now also denied the right to free abortion and maternity services on the NHS.[93][94]

Harassment Outside Clinics[edit]

Feminist Fightback have moved away from the decision by certain feminist organisations to not engage in action outside abortions clinics in response to anti-choice vigils targeting service users.[95] Instead they work to try to prevent anti-abortion demonstrations directly outside clinics (particularly in East London and Buckhurst Hill in Essex) arguing that they often see protesters harassing women seeking the procedure - "getting in people’s faces and try to make them change their minds."[96][97][98][99][100][101]

“This is a problem that is on the rise in Britain. We want to stop women being harassed from accessing something that is a legal, human and a feminist right.”[102]

Abortion Rights for Northern Ireland[edit]

Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008[edit]

On 20 October 2007, Feminist Fightback activists chained themselves to the Department of Health and obstructed access to the building to add to the public pressure for access to abortion to be extended to Northern Ireland.[103] This was a part of action across the country to oppose any attempts to restrict choice[104][105][106] via the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 in Parliament (Report Stage and Third Reading 22 October 2008[107]). Feminist Fightback produced a briefing[108] for MPs calling on them to support the pro-choice amendments proposed by Diane Abbot MP,[109] Katy Clark MP and John McDonnell MP[110] - including NC30 Amendment of the Abortion Act 1967: Application to Northern Ireland.[111][112]

It was reported that the Labour Government at the time asked MPs not to table these pro-choice amendments (and at least until Third Reading) and then allegedly used parliamentary mechanisms in order to prevent a vote.[113] Harriet Harman, Minister for Women and Equalities, in particular, was reported to have blocked the series votes to liberalise Britain's abortion laws.[114][115][116][117]

On 30 June 2009, Feminist Fightback activists picketed the constituency surgery of Harriet Harman, protesting at this role she allegedly played in blocking pro-choice amendments in parliament - including NC30 calling for abortion rights in Northern Ireland[112] - and her support for the Welfare Reform Act 2009, which proposed to introduce "workfare" practices, potentially forcing mothers of young children into minimum wage jobs or risk losing their benefits.[118]

"We came with the message that we reject the ‘feminism’ of the Minister for Women and that that there is another type of feminism on offer. We don’t want a ‘feminism’ which is only focused on the interests of rich women."[119]

50th Anniversary of the Abortion Act 1967 (UK)[edit]

In May 2017, the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn's leadership made a historic commitment to extend the Abortion Act 1967 to Northern Ireland.[120][121] In June 2017, the UK Government revealed plans to provide some type of free abortion services in England for women from Northern Ireland in an attempt to head off a Tory rebellion in a vote on the Queen’s speech.[122]

On the eve of the 50th Anniversary of the Abortion Act 1967 (UK),[92] activists from Feminist Fightback dressed as performed a special pre-flight safety announcement on the London Overground, to inform the public that at least two people a day travel from Northern Ireland to England and Wales to have an abortion and that many migrants are now also denied the right to free abortion and maternity services on the NHS. Dressed as flight attendants, Feminist Fightback activists distributed a version of inflight safety cards and presented a special inflight safety announcement, advising passengers that "the exits…lead to an unsafe backstreet abortion and possible death…please assume the brace position for the duration of this Abortion Airlines flight”.[93][94]

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