Paul Nowak: ‘Unions will stand up for trans workers’

'Everyone should be safe to be themselves at work'

Trans rights

Paul Nowak is the General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress

Lockers vandalised. Excluded from conversations. Inappropriate questioning and offensive insinuations. The subject of gossip and speculation. Deliberate use of the wrong name and pronouns. Verbal abuse. Assault. All these are some of the experiences at work that trans workers have told us about. And it’s time it stopped.

Everyone should be safe to be themselves at work.

That’s why, last month, the TUC launched our new Trade Unions for Trans Rights network. We’re bringing together the trade union movement to organise and bargain for trans rights in the workplace – and beyond.

We know that union reps are often the first person workers turn to about bullying, harassment and discrimination.

We are proud of the decades of experience that reps have in supporting and representing women workers, Black workers, disabled workers and LGBT+ workers.

We want to make sure every rep knows the ways that transphobia plays out at work – and are ready to step up and support their trans and non-binary members and colleagues too.  

The network will back our reps to support our trans members. It will support trans workers to have a voice in our movement. And it will help reps, trans workers and allies bargain for the workplace policies that build inclusive cultures and stop transphobic harassment and discrimination before it starts.

We are proud to stand against transphobia at work – as unions have stood for decades against the racism, sexism, ablism and homophobia that holds working people down.

At work and in wider society, there are too many voices weaponising the experiences of the 0.2% of the population who are trans or non-binary in pursuit of an agenda that seeks to undermine everyone’s rights.

And make no mistake: that is what it is. A far-right culture war playbook, imported from the US, that may start with transphobia, but for sure won’t end there.  

That’s why we in the trade union movement are opposed to this government making changes to the Equality Act. It was one of the proudest achievements of the last Labour government, fought for by unions, and used by unions every day since to protect our members’ rights at work. We don’t trust any Tory meddling with the vital legislation. And we worry deeply that the advice set out by the EHRC in a letter to ministers – at the Government’s request – will result in trans workers having fewer rights at work in practice.

Ministers and newspapers think that working people will vote for hate – that they can divide the working class with culture war lies. But the truth is that most working people believe in live and let live. They think everyone has a right to dignity and safety. And the vast majority support more rights and protections at work – not fewer.

That’s why we will fight for a new deal for ALL working people. For an end to the insecure work that disproportionately hits Black workers, women workers, LGBT workers and other marginalised workers. For real protections at work that make employers act to keep their staff safe from sexual harassment and all kinds of abuse by customers and clients – including transphobia. For a real payrise – and an end to the cost-of-living crisis. And for a properly funded well-staffed NHS, able to care for everyone that needs it.

When I became general secretary, I said my number one priority was to build a stronger, more diverse trade union movement. Representing, supporting and standing up for trans and non-binary workers is part of that.

I reject any argument that says that standing up for trans workers means we are not standing up for women workers. We can do both – and we do both.

Every worker belongs in their union. The Tories, the culture warriors and the far-right may seek to divide us for their own purposes. But we will resist. We will win dignity, safety and freedom together, or not at all.

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