Dozens of women have come forward accusing the famous Hollywood producer, Harvey Weinstein, of sexual harassment, assault and rape, with some cases dating back to the 1980s. Many women detail how he would corner them asking for sexual favours with the clear implication that he could make or break their careers. Mainstream media, celebrities, and even politicians are condemning the actions of Weinstein and sending messages of solidarity to the survivors of Weinstein’s assaults.
And now the hashtag #Metoo is trending, where women from all over the world share their stories of sexual harassment and assault. While bringing survivors together, these events have demonstrated the prevalence and acceptance of gender-based abuse and bullying globally. But none of this is surprising, particularly that most of the assaults in the Weinstein case occurred in a work setting.
A study in 2016 found that 52% of women in the UK had experienced sexual harassment at work, with one in eight women reporting unwanted touching of their breast, buttocks or genitals. Despite these high numbers, four in five women said they did not report the incidents, mainly citing the fear that they wouldn’t be taken seriously. We should remember that one reason the McDonald’s workers went on strike last September was over workplace sexual harassment, particularly from the bosses. This is not to compare the work of McDonald’s workers to Hollywood actors, but rather to highlight that sexual harassment is a significant issue regardless of industry or work being done. No doubt the precarious nature of jobs like those at McDonald’s make reporting and finding support even harder. If you are on a zero hours contract, standing up to your boss could mean you aren’t offered any more hours.
Many trade unions have good policies on sexual harassment, but rarely organise around the issue. The labour movement needs to use this horrific case as a moment to step forward. Just as we organise around pay and conditions we need to organise around respect and safety at work for the most oppressed groups in our society. We can’t wait for our bosses and well meaning liberals to change the conditions for women; it is up to us in the labour movement to define our grievances and organise to fight them.