The murder of Sarah Everard has exposed the day-to-day dangers still facing women under capitalism. Across the country, people have begun to protest against this oppression, and the institutions that enforce it.
Birmingham is no different, as students began to mobilise in response to reports of attempted kidnappings, sexual assault and harassment around the University of Birmingham campus.
Organised in only two days by students under the name ‘Reclaim Campus UoB’, on Wednesday 17th March hundreds of students attended a socially-distanced vigil on campus in solidarity against the negligence of the university. Many students bravely spoke of their personal experiences, as well as the failures of the university, police and government in keeping women safe.
Comrades of the MSF in Birmingham attended the vigil in solidarity with these protesters. We saw notes of increasing radicalism within the movement as criticism was directed towards the institutions of capital. Two Marxist students took the opportunity to intervene, energetically putting forwards our demands to the largely receptive crowd.
As Marxists we see this as more than just a moral wrong, but a political question to support all struggles against oppression. However, we aim to link these struggles up with the wider class struggle. This is the only way to achieve true emancipation for all.
It is not a coincidence that the fight against women’s oppression has gained traction in conjunction with the fight against the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. Sarah Everard’s alleged murderer was a serving police officer, who was still working for the Met at the time of his arrest, despite being accused of indecently exposing himself in public three days before. On Saturday 13th March, the police, after intimidating organisers into cancelling the event, shamefully attacked protesters at a peaceful vigil for Everard. The police will always protect their own before the public.
So heavy-handed was the police’s response to the vigil that even a handful of Tory MPs came out in criticism of the Met. However, this is pure performance given the Tories’ relentless assaults on women’s rights and safety, slashing domestic shelters and other services. Their Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill attacks our democratic right to peacefully protest against this. On top of this, Kier Starmer instructed Labour MPs to abstain on the Spy Cops Bill which allows police spies to commit crimes including rape and harassment against political activists. Once again, this shows how out of touch Starmer’s leadership is with the radical mood in society
Birmingham’s Reclaim Campus protest cannot simply be seen as a standalone instance of political activism against isolated incidents of assault, but part of the wider worldwide resistance against the oppression of women and the systems that enshrine it. Working-class women are bearing the brunt of the capitalist crisis, with female unemployment spiking worldwide and reproductive rights being rolled back as healthcare systems collapse, with no escape from the downwards slump in sight. This has sparked protests in the UK, Mexico, Chile, Pakistan, Poland and all across the world.
This is a natural result of a capitalist system which places profit over people. The oppression of women is not a fact of nature or biology, but a product of class society. It is class society which creates the sexist material conditions for the oppression of women, positioning women as a cheap labour force to be objectified for profits and flung in and out of markets at the will of the capitalists, who profit off of our exploitation.
The emancipation of women, and all people, cannot be achieved under the capitalist system which holds both women and men in subjugation, ruthlessly exploited by a privileged few. The institutions of capital therefore cannot be trusted to keep us safe – they will always protect their own interests, the interests of the ruling class.
We must unite the struggle against women’s oppression with the wider class struggle against capitalism. Only under socialism can the material basis for all oppression be abolished. End women’s oppression! End capitalism!
Megan Lee – Birmingham Marxists