The great IUSW con
Posted on January 9, 2009
In any discussion that takes place these days about prostitution and other forms of sex work it’s virtually guaranteed that at some point in the debate either the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) or the International Union of Sex Workers (IUSW), or indeed both, will be cited by someone as being the authentic voice of those working in the industry.
Whenever those of us who are opposed to legalisation or across the board decriminalisation air our views, we’re invariably shouted down and accused of not listening to what prostitutes themselves want: “Go and talk to the IUSW” we’re told: “they represent prostitutes: they know what they’re talking about.”
The IUSW in particular seems to be working hard just lately to raise its profile, and has managed to garner support from Feminist Fightback among others. But then, as the IUSW is a recognised branch of the GMB, one of Britain’s biggest trade unions, it’s not hard to see why a left-wing, rights-orientated group like Feminist Fightback would be drawn to them. After all, there’s no doubt that women working in prostitution suffer some of the worst abuses and are some of the most vulnerable women in society, so if there’s a trade union group out there that can offer them support and representation, then what could be wrong with that?
In theory of course there’s nothing wrong with it, but as this discussion over at the F Word showed recently, the reality is somewhat different. If, as feminists have been claiming for years, the IUSW are not the authentic voice of prostituted women, nor indeed the voice of those working in the industry, who exactly are they?
Let’s look at the evidence.
Douglas Fox, who posted comments on the F Word thread, and who signed himself off as “D Fox sex worker and IUSW activist” is the founder of and a business -partner in, one of the country’s biggest escort agencies, Christony Companions. The agency was set up by Fox in 1999 in the Newcastle Upon Tyne area, and has now apparently established itself as “the market leader in the North East.” Fox and his business partner John Dockerty also run agencies in Edinburgh, York and Carlisle, and have plans to expand into Leeds and West Yorkshire; they’ve also “franchised the name into Essex and Surrey with other areas coming soon.”
But while all this expansion and promotion of the company “brand” has been going on, Douglas Fox has also been busy setting himself up as a IUSW activist: he’s drawn up template letters for the pro-prostitution lobby to sign in opposition to the government’s latest prostitution proposals; he’s put his name about all over the net as a representative of sex workers and their rights, and he’s generally done whatever he can to ensure that he’s being recognised and cited as an authentic voice in the prostitution debate, and a spokesperson for disenfranchised prostituted men and women everywhere.
Are we seriously supposed to believe that a man who makes his living managing escorts is more interested in securing them their rights than he is in his own profit margins?
In a discussion forum on the Christony Companions website, Fox recently put out a plea for funding for a new, campaigning arm of the IUSW GMB branch:
“We need money to campaign however so if you do not want to join the union but can donate to the IUSW campaign then please do. I will keep everyone informed when the changes are finally agreed but if we can have some sugar daddies and mummies and agencies prepared to donate monthly funds then boy do we need them.”
That’s right, a plea for punters and other escort agencies to help fund a branch of the GMB that was set up to provide union representation for those employed in the sex trade.
And it gets worse. In another recent discussion forum, this time over at Punterlink International, a contributor named Elrond posted this suggestion when discussing threats to the sex industry:
“I would again suggest all write and complain to your MP. You all should either donate and join the IUSW as an escort or a friend if you are a punter.“
And it’s as simple as that.
If you look at the GMB IUSW membership application form it’s easy to see how anyone claiming to be an escort or claiming to work in any area of the sex industry can take up membership. Confidentiality is obviously at a premium when signing workers up from such a sensitive industry, but as the comment on Punterlink shows, this also means that membership of IUSW branch is open to abuse: anyone can join.
As indeed they have been doing.
The IUSW has lost any credibility it may have had in the prostitution debate, populated as it is with pimps, agency owners, and punters. Furthermore, no trade union can represent the interests of both workers and employers at the same time, and by appointing themselves as spokespeople for the women they employ, Douglas Fox and others like him are going against the basic principles of trade unionism itself.
To quote one of the comments on the F Word thread:
“A union that invites and accepts pimps and punters into its membership to inflate the figures, decide its direction, be its spokespeople, and then influence law and policy, that is a corrupt union and I dont give a shit what anyone else tries to sell it as – its time people recognised whats going on here.”
The GMB clearly needs to have a rethink about both the running of and the membership of its IUSW branch. And Feminist Fightback and others need to look more closely as those they have chosen to align themselves with.