Unionisation of Workers in the Sex Industry
Beginning in June 2018, sex workers active in the Women’s Strike Assembly begun a unionisation drive of workers across the UK sex industry with the grassroots union, United Voices of the World. We organise with both irregular migrants and workers with secure immigration status. Because of how current laws and policies criminalise many aspects of sex work, the unionisation campaign has begun with a focus on organising strippers and dancers in clubs and pubs. By working together, standing up for each other and making our voices heard we can improve our working conditions.
The union offer workers the ability to collectively negotiate about workplace rules and conditions – with both bosses and also the local councils.
The union is the only way that we will be able to get our bosses and clients to treat us with the dignity and respect that we deserve.
The union is also the only way we will be able to put a stop to things like extortionate high house fees, arbitrary changes to commission structures, fines for being late or having to cancel a shift, blacklisting and sexual harassment by managers or bouncers.
Even though the first phase of the unionisation campaign is focusing on organising workers in clubs and pubs, all workers in the sex industry (except those who have the ability to hire and fire sex workers) are encouraged and welcome to join the union.
Why? Because by beginning with the most visible and legal workers in the adult entertainment industry we will be able to gain the necessary experience, skills and strength in numbers to then move into organising workers who work in brothels, escort agencies, on the internet and in the street.
We want to unionise the sex industry because we want to build collective power. We are not interested in passing judgement on what type of work people do. We recognize that many women, men and trans people have a diverse range of experiences in the sex industry – good, bad and ugly. We respect people’s choices or circumstances about continuing to work in the sex industry or exiting the industry. The reason we want to unionise the sex industry comes directly from our experiences as workers.
The union will be worker-led not because we think that being a ‘stripper’ or a ‘sex worker’ is a fixed identity, but because those who have experienced the material conditions of the industry are in the best position to know how to change it.
The union provides a space for workers to negotiate with bosses, develop bargaining skills and increase our confidence to organise at work and change the industry in the interests of workers.
Decriminalising sex work and changing local council policies for sexual entertainment venues.
The current laws that regulate what workers can and can’t do with our bodies and the continued efforts to criminalise our workplaces make it difficult, at times nearly impossible, for workers to organise and unionise. One of the main reasons is that we are not considered to be workers. At best we are classified as self-employed (and as such have very few labour rights) but most of the time we are treated as victims in need of saving and rescue.
For the last decade, national governments and local authorities have used concerns about trafficking in the sex industry as a cover to create a hostile environment for migrants in the sex industry. Raids on premises, closure of clubs, arrests and deportations have done next to nothing to address instances of forced and coerced labour in the sex industry. Instead, bosses now have even more power and migrant workers have been forced further underground and into more dangerous and precarious sex work. It is important to remember that just like in other industries where migrants make up a large section of the workforce, when workers stand up together, refuse to be divided by ‘race’ and unionise, we are able to confront injustice and exploitation. However, because of the current criminalisation of the sex industry, unionisation will only get us so far.
At the same time as increasing our confidence and power at work (which is another way to explain what a union is), we also need campaign for the full decriminalisation of sex work and changes to the policies regarding sex entertainment venues.
We need a union at work and we need to change national legislation that affects our work.
What we want is the removal of all laws that criminalise the organising, selling or buying of sex for all sections and sectors of the industry and for any consensual sexual activity. What we don’t want are special or moral laws that zone sex work and contribute to stigmatising sex workers by singling out our work as inappropriate and make us more vulnerable to abuse by cops, immigration officials and members of the public by relegating it to peripheral areas.
The reason we need to do both at the same time is to ensure that decriminalisation is in the interest of workers and not just bosses. We need policies that will help us gain employment rights (sick pay, pensions, regulated hours) and focus on increasing our safety at work.
Decriminalisation without unionisation means that workers will bear the full force of the market.