Fighting Sexual Harassment at Work

A Broad Left Shop Stewards Guide


  1. Posters and leaflets should be regularly circulated making it clear that sexual harassment is a trade union issues, to give confidence to members to raise it.
  2. If a member comes to the union, s/he should be advised to ask the harasser to stop, explaining that the attention is unwanted. If the member feels unable to do this a union steward/officer should do so on their behalf.
  3. The member should be asked to write an account of incidents they can remember, and if the harassment continues to keep a dairy.
  4. The union steward should, with the agreement of the member concerned, collect supporting evidence from other branch members.
  5. The member should keep a record of all their work and comments made, in order that any management attempts to counter their complaints by victimisation can be minimised.
  6. The union should take out a grievance with the management, with a view to disciplinary action being taken against the offender.
  7. If the management do not treat the case seriously or take action, then an industrial tribunal and/or industrial action needs to be discussed. An industrial tribunal must be applied for within three monthss of the incident.
  8. At every stage of the proceedings the member needs to feel that they have the backing of the union, and not left to feel guilty or isolated. A regular meeting with the union steward can be vital.

Its important that the union branch conducts a general campaign otherwise even after a victory there will always be a few who say it was overreacting to a “harmless bit of fun”. A manager in particular will be able to use his authority to put these ideas about, and result in the member suffering further.

NUPE Broad Left pamphlet, July 1990

 Uniting women and men against opression?

Socialists have long fought against sexual harassment in the workplace. Its typical dynamic is an older man with power of the women due to his more senior position in the organisation, and its effects can be devastating for those at the receiving end.

The Left found this a relatively easy “anti-sexism” issue to mobilise around, partly because it often had an anti-employer dynamic, and therefore was something that all workers, men and women, could unite around. Presumably, other issues like rape within marriage were “divisive” as some male workers might support rape, or at least this is what Cliffs implies in his book on Women’s Liberation

Tragically it has been a lot harder to unite people when the issue is sexual harassment and sexual violence within the Left. And tragically, many have failed to see how imbalances in power obvious within a workplace can have strong echoes within the organised left too.

Sectarianism and Sexual Harassment

A further part of this story is how this pamphlet was killed by the left.

It was produced by NUPE Broad Left, dominated by “Militant” (now the Socialist Party), and refers to Militant at least twice, and tells the story of a Miltant NUPE steward who took on and won a sexual harassment case. Despite that, its still a valuable pamphlet for all trade unionists.

When NUPE and NALGO merged to form Unison, the Broad Lefts of each union merged – which meant the greater number of SWP members in NALGO were able to outvote a smaller number of Militant supporters from NUPE. (I suspect most independent left activists had given up in despair as will be familiar to many now)

There was no way the SWP waas going to accept a pamphlet with quotes from Militant. So we (I was part of this) voted that Unison Left (whatever it was called) wouldn’t reproduce this pamphlet. Instead it would produce its own, better one. I believe the reasons owe far more to left sectarianism than any problem with fightin sexual harassment.

As with the supposed bringing Womens Voice discussions into the SWP as a whole after WV was closed, so it was with this pamphlet.

I know that since then SWP and SP members have continued to actively resist sexual harassment at work. But what a tragedy/disgrace that its taken until 2013 for the SWP, through its rewriting of its Disputes committee rules, to openly deal with harassment within its own ranks. As for the Socialist Party, there is nothing on line about how they deal with sexual harassers and abusers with the party. They did good campaigning around Sara Thornton years ago, were involved in the “Business As Usual” film (starring Glenda Jackson about sexual harassment at work) and even set up the Campaign Against Domestic Violence. But I remember decades ago a Miltant supporter on the railways who physically abused his partner remaining a member, seemingly because of his importance to the group. Maybe they, like the SWP, are finally beginning to catch up with history. Or maybe its too late for both parties…….


One thought on “Fighting Sexual Harassment at Work

  1. At the risk of being pedantic, the SWP can’t be held to account for what was done by the left organisation in UNISON in the 90s (the Campaign for a Fighting and Democratic UNISON – CFDU) because they weren’t part of it. UNISON United Left didn’t come into existence until this century (and briefly brought the SP and SWP together until the SP left it in 2004).

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