February 16, 2022 - 5:30pm

“I just don’t understand why we can’t get women to meetings,” complained the beery-breathed, dandruff-flecked secretary of the UNISON branch. As he told me this, I recalled that his own partner, a woman with an avid interest in politics, was at home looking after the couple’s children. So began my disenchantment with trade unions.­­

The comments of this “union man” popped back into my mind today when the National Education Union (NEU) announced they would be undertaking “a review” following complaints about a webinar. Educational professionals who attended a session run by Elly Barnes, chief executive of the LGBT+ training provider Educate and Celebrate, were advised to ask students for their pronouns and that the words “boys” and “girls” could be replaced. Some union members were angry. One told the Times:

Teachers will take what this woman says as fact because the training was organised by the NEU and they’re not going to question their union.
- The Times

The NEU spokesperson claimed that the training had been organised locally, “but the NEU does not believe that schools can or should adopt gender-neutral language across the board”.

This limp response doesn’t hold-up. In fact, the NEU has form in beating the trans activist drum; in its guidance the union states that policies and practices must be amended to “ensure they are trans inclusive and remove gendered language where unnecessary”. With regard to toilets, NEU advises that facilities should be made available on the basis of gender identity, not biological sex, even arguing for “gender neutral” options for those who identify as “non-binary”.

The NEU stance is clear — legal and social divisions based on sex should be replaced with self-declared “gender identity”. The needs of the one in five females who are victims of male sexual violence do not feature as a concern in members’ guidance.

This is because there’s a paradox at the heart of unions; on the one hand they exist to protect the interests of the majority in workplaces, but on the other, there is a default view that all minorities are discriminated against and in need of protection.

To the mainstream Left, those who identify as trans are considered a persecuted group, despite the fact that this broad definition brackets together everyone from cross-dressers to those who have undergone surgery. Conversely women are neither recognised as a class deserving of rights nor as a vulnerable, marginal group.

In response to such slights, a grassroots and rightfully aggrieved feminist movement has sprung-up. So-called “gender critical” feminists know that sex matters and that it can’t be changed. Lawyer Allison Bailey, academic Jo Phoenix and tax consultant Maya Forstater are just a handful of women to have taken on their employers in the courts following alleged discrimination on the basis of their gender critical views. And yet, none have been able to rely on unions for support.

Had unions listened to members or taken a stand against the elitist hyper-liberal ideology which has spread through institutions, they might have stayed relevant to ordinary women. As it is, trade unions have made themselves redundant; few feminists will mourn their passing.

Josephine Bartosch is a freelance writer and assistant editor at The Critic.