Standing up to transphobia in the workplace

“Divide and conquer” has long been the watchword of the ruling class. Capitalism forces workers into competition with each other – local versus foreign-born, skilled versus unskilled etc – exploiting every opportunity to keep workers divided.

While unions are the first line of defence against attempts to divide us, to attack our conditions, not everyone is in a unionised workplace.

That’s the case for Angela Domingos. “I grew up with the belief that working people from all walks of life need to join a union in order to obtain a voice at work”, but she is the only union member among hundreds of other workers.

However, that didn’t stop her standing up for what was right. “I couldn’t ignore attempts made by my employer to divide and bully us, the workers. I couldn’t wait for a union body to represent us, simply because there is none on the job!”

Deciding she couldn’t close her eyes or shut her ears to the unjust treatment of a transgender colleague, she decided to get her workplace together to talk about what was happening. Without union protection, it was a risky move to discuss workplace issues with a group of fellow workers.

So, under the guise of a special morning tea, Angela took up the question of transphobia. Challenging others to “walk a mile” in their co-worker’s shoes, she asked them how they’d feel if people mistreated them because they came from Italy or had red hair, were left-handed, Catholic or Muslim and so on.

“Not everyone was supportive. I didn’t expect such a ‘utopian’ result.” But it certainly helped change attitudes. “What is important is that we achieved the right for a transgender employee to dress as they chose providing they followed the company dress code.

“In addition, we were able to secure the right for our fellow worker to be addressed by their preferred name and without any need for gender references. Then we were able to negotiate the abolition of gender identification requirements on forms.

“This was further validated by an announcement received by employees from the CEO stating that the company stands for ‘gender equality’.”

The CEO tried to implement longer working hours (without pay) outside the current signed work agreement. So at another morning tea, “Workers in my section agreed to take action, to walk out at the stated time with a copy of the signed agreement in hand.”

However, “Management was not just going to take this on the chin without retaliation. So they have taken away the ‘lunch room’, but we have now reclaimed the very public space of the foyer for our get-togethers – much to management’s displeasure!”

As Angela says, “Not all workers find themselves in workplaces with high union membership, a delegate structure and so on, but this shows that it need not be a barrier to beginning to raise workplace issues with co-workers and to start to build a presence as a union activist.

Indeed, taking even small steps of organising regular opportunities to talk to colleagues about whatever issue you can find to relate to is an important step in laying the basis for future recruitment to the union.” And even finding an audience for Red Flag.