Defend women’s rights! Protect right to presumption of innocence!
BY EMMA JOHNSON
Widespread and disturbing revelations about sexual attacks and abuse, starting with Hollywood and reaching into the halls of Congress, have come out over recent weeks. Something that has been widely known but talked about only behind closed doors has suddenly exploded into the open. To anyone who’s worked under a boss determined to get his own way and has control over hiring, firing, job assignments, pay raises and conditions at work, all this has a familiar ring.
But the situation is nowhere close to what it was half a century ago, before the modern movement for women’s rights emerged. “Women continue to be integrated into the workforce, and barriers to women and men working alongside each other as equals, performing the same jobs, are progressively being breached in both imperialist and semicolonial countries,” the Socialist Workers Party explained in its 2005 resolution, “Their Transformation and Ours.”
I traveled to Bangladesh a couple years ago to talk to garment workers, and this was really brought home to me. Millions of women had left their villages and started working together in a fast-growing garment industry. For the first time, they were part of a collective workforce, fighting together. In addition to safer workplaces, higher wages and shorter hours, they stressed the important gains they were making against the bosses’ sexual harassment and threats. This was a central demand of their unions and labor federations.
The same thing happened in the U.S. earlier. As barriers to women’s employment in one job and industry after another were battered down, so too were sexist behavior and abuse beaten back.
This political fight for women’s rights and dignity needs to be on the banner of the unions, an issue for all working people.
Anyone who says they’ve faced such abuse must have their charges seriously considered. If convicted, the perpetrators should go to jail.
But just because the acts are so despicable, it’s important not to throw out the window political rights and protections the working class has won over decades of battle. What’s involved are key questions for the working class.
Today the “politically correct” liberal media act self-righteously as prosecutor, judge and executioner all at the same time. Actors have been fired, dropped from future productions and publicly pilloried without any chance to defend themselves. None of the accusations have so far led to charges, let alone indictments.
This liberal hysteria has totally thrown out any presumption of innocence.
“The presumption of innocence has taken hundreds of years for working people to win,” SWP National Secretary Jack Barnes told a September 1988 meeting in Des Moines, Iowa, on the eve of the opening of the frame-up trial of party member and packinghouse unionist Mark Curtis on charges of rape. It is “one of the most important milestones on the march to human solidarity.”
While the courts are not an arena where working people find justice, the presumption of innocence is one elementary protection from being railroaded to prison or executed at the whim of the ruling class and their anti-labor press.
“It’s not that you’re innocent until proven guilty. You are innocent. Innocent,” Barnes said. “This is a country where everything is the opposite. It’s the presumption of guilt that dominates in the ‘democratic’ United States.”
In addition to the presumption of innocence, other indispensable rights workers have won include the right to face and confront your accuser, not to be tried twice on the same charge and laws covering statutes of limitation.
Whenever the rulers want to frame up and victimize someone, they whip up a campaign in the media and move to undercut our rights. It helps them a lot if they’ve chipped away at those rights beforehand, using particularly vile incidents to do so.
When inroads are made into these protections, it comes down hardest on the working class, especially the most vulnerable among us. We will find no justice in the rulers’ “justice system” — their cops, prosecutors and courts, their crooked grand juries and “plea bargain” system. We shoot ourselves in the foot if we allow ourselves to be convinced to throw out the presumption of innocence in the name of fighting abuse.
Today workers face blows from the boss class’s drive to make us pay for the crisis of their capitalist system. We can expect bigger battles ahead over our rights and more frame-ups promoted by the employers and their government!
Defend women’s rights! Protect the hard-fought political rights we’ve won and need!