The Morning Star (linked to the Communist Party of Britain) has been forced to apologise for printing a transphobic cartoon by Stella Perrett, published in the print edition of Tuesday 18 February.
The cartoon depicting a slavering, slithering crocodile ogling terrified and defenceless newts and invading their “safe space” with the excuse that the crocodile is “transitioning to a newt”. The cartoon is grossly offensive, showing trans people as predatory and deceitful and cis women as weak and in need of protection.
As the cartoon circulated online, trade union LGBT+ groups began to organise against the Star, calling for withdrawal of union funds. A petition was set up by PCS Rainbow Collective which attracted hundreds of signatures in a few hours. The Morning Star was called out on Twitter.
The cartoon was removed from the online version of the paper with an apology claiming it “had not been authorised for publication and its appearance in the print edition represents a failure to follow… procedures for approving submissions.” The apology doesn’t explain how the cartoon was commissioned and printed without the editor noticing. The apology also skirts around the fact that the cartoon was not an aberration, but a logical conclusion of a longstanding pattern of the Morning Star publishing transphobic articles. The moral panic around “protecting women’s spaces” from trans women stems from seeing trans women as innately dangerous and threatening to cis women.
Much of the Star’s transphobic output is less initially horrifying than the crocodile cartoon, more enveloped in obfuscation, but the underlying politics is the same. In 2018 a group of Morning Star readers wrote into the paper criticising it for publishing an anti-trans open letter.
This division between a group of mostly younger Star readers who see the need to fight transphobia, and the official line of the Communist Party and its paper, will probably have been one reason why the Morning Star felt under pressure to issue a mealy-mouthed apology.
The cartoon has shone a light on the official labour movement’s extensive funding and support for the Morning Star. According to the Star, Community, CWU, FBU, GMB, NUM, POA, RMT, and Unite are represented on its management committee.
It has yet to be seen if the apology is enough to dampen the calls for unions to distance themselves from the paper. I certainly hope not. The Morning Star should be made to account for its scapegoating of an oppressed minority, dividing workers against each other and propagating the myth that our rights run counter to each other.
Though our unions fund the paper, most of us do not regularly read it and would be shocked by the lies that flow readily from its pages. As well as transphobic cartoons, activists in Boycott the Morning Star have unearthed cartoons by Stella Perrett containing antisemitic caricatures which were published in 2016.
The paper repeats Chinese state lies to cover the persecution of the Uyghur people, one of the Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region. It celebrated the “liberation” of Aleppo by Assad. It repeated right wing lies about migrants driving down wages.
Reactionary, conservative politics dressed up as left-wing are the bread and butter of the Morning Star. It is about time our unions stopped paying for it.