All in it together ?

Are all people with disabilities oppressed equally? Are all non-disabled people our oppressors? Should we unite with bosses and aristocrats, even Royals, who have disabilities in order to fight for the rights of people with disabilities? Should we fight with other oppressed groups in their struggle against discrimination?

For the first question, the answer is no. For a start, there are many people whose disabilities are not obvious or less obvious. Some people with less obvious disabilities may be barred from a minority of jobs and may suffer persecution from those who know about their disability. But they are less likely to be picked on by people in the street, refused a job at the first interview, or barred from leisure facilities. Obviously, this depends on the individual case - any discrimination is not acceptable, but some do suffer worse than others.
     Then there is the "class gap". Rich and (to a lesser extent) middle-class people with disabilities are not oppressed to the same extent as working-class people with disabilities. They do not have the same problems with finding work (although some may still be under-employed). They have money to travel to places and to leisure facilities which are more tolerant to people with disabilities than their local area or facilities may be. They can afford to employ people to do things for them which they cannot do themselves. And they can afford private healthcare, and not be reliant on the - increasingly under-funded - NHS.

Secondly, not all nondisabled people are our oppressors. Many non-disabled people have prejudices against people with disabilities, due to propaganda by the Establishment. In the words of Karl Marx, "the ideas of the ruling class are the dominant ideas in society".
     Even so, not all non-people with disabilities think people with disabilities should be oppressed. In fact, discrimination against people with disabilities is abhorrent to many working class non-people with disabilities. Besides, many non-disabled people have disabled relatives.
     Even one disabled-ist person is one too many. But we most get things in perspective.

The third question is more complicated. In some cases, it is possible to join a "united front" with non-working class people or groups, to fight against discrimination against people with disabilities. (This is especially true for the fight against fascism).
     But, as previously explained, rich people with disabilities are not oppressed in the same way as working-class people with disabilities. Besides, rich people - even rich people with disabilities - have a financial and material interest in defending the system, even while it is oppressing them.
     So, while it is possible to join with rich and powerful people with disabilities in some instances, we must do so while keeping our political independence - and be ready to attack them, as we would attack non-disabled oppressors - the moment they start to attack or oppress us !

Finally, we should join the fight against all forms of oppression - even when this spills into the arena of disability politics. We must fight racism, and for fair treatment of black and Asian people; for example, I am against donated organs being specified as being for white people only. The organs should go to anyone whose life they could save, regardless of colour.
     I am for womens' rights, and support abortion - even the abortion of a foetus with a disability. Every woman should have control over her body, and every child must be a wanted child; unwanted children are more at risk of neglect or even abuse, so banning abortions may lead to kids being born who would not otherwise be, but once born they may end up with a piss-poor quality of life (not necessarily because of their disability!)
     I am against homophobia, and believe that people who get HIV or AIDS through gay sex should not be treated differently from those who catch the disease through heterosexual sex or through blood transfusions.

The issue of the rights of young people is the one where there has occasionally been a direct clash with the rights of people with disabilities. For example, some deaf rights groups have argued that people under 18 should not have operations (such as Cochlear implants) which may restore their hearing. The reason being that they should learn to identify with deaf culture, and learn sign language.
    Deaf people should be treated more fairly, and there is a case for teaching sign language in schools (if nothing else, learning sign language would make communication easier in a noisy place such as a disco !) But this is not a case for not allowing people treatment which may allow them to enjoy music or other sounds !
     There has rightly been uproar over cases where kids with diabetes have died, because their parents' religion has led to them being denied life-saving insulin injections. Yet the banning of operations on young deaf people is only a less extreme version of that attitude ...

We should also join with people with other disabilities, against disabled-ism. A number of groups of people with disabilities are encouraged to think of themselves as not really part of the disability struggle (eg, back in the 1990s, for a time, the British Diabetic Association - now Diabetes UK - encouraged people with diabetes not to think of diabetes as a disability). At the other extreme, people in wheelchairs or with other obvious disabilities are sometimes likely to think of people with mild or less obvious disabilities as "not really disabled" - even though the latter group are still often the subject of discrimination, and may end up feeling rejected by both people with disabilities and non-disabled people. At the end of the day, both viewpoints are wrong, counter-productive and potentially dangerous !

But, to really change society and permanently eliminate discrimination and oppression of people with disabilities, we need to overthrow capitalism. To do so, all working-class people with disabilities must unite with non-disabled working class people, of whatever age, sex or colour.

This requires a political party which moves beyond the single-issue politics of disability rights movements.

It requires a party which fights not just against oppression, but also against poverty and exploitation.

It requires a party which is based across the whole spectrum of the working class.

The Socialist Workers Party is that party !

Back to Political Articles