Douglas Fox gets it wrong again…..
Posted on May 21, 2009
…..in so many ways.
Here’s the piece I’m referring to.
So let’s start from the top:
The sex workers rights movement and the establishment of a GMB recognised sex workers union is a new radicalism neither the left nor the right truly understand.
Wrong. There’s nothing new about the sex workers rights movement. If Douglas knew his history he’d know that a UK prostitutes’ pressure group was formed as far back as 1975. Provisionally entitled TUP (Trade Union of Prostitutes) it later became known as ‘Prostitutes United for Social and Sexual Integration’ or PUSSI for short, and was affiliated to COYOTE in the US. As Jeremy Sandford details in his book ‘Prostitutes,’ the stated aims of the organisation included:
1. Changes in law surrounding prostitutes so as to give them a better deal in Britain.
2. Establishment of a professional code to ensure a fairer deal for clients.
3. Solidarity with those at the power end of the profession who suffer most at the hands of the exploiters and are vulnerable to harassment by law officers. (Sandford. Prostitutes. Abacus revised edition 1977)
In fact PUSSI wasn’t that much different from today’s IUSW. It had three types of membership “First it is for prostitutes themselves, both male and female.We hope also to attract as many associate members as possible…These people we hope will lend their relevant skills in the service of the campaign. Interested Parties, will be anyone who sympathises with the cause and would like to attend some of its meetings and social functions.” And it had as its ultimate goal the decriminalisation of prostitution.
PUSSI was later replaced by PLAN – ‘Prostitution Laws are Nonsense,’ and its leader Helen Buckingham, together with Selma James of the Wages for Housework Campaign, then went on to form the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP).
Fox goes on to say:
It is sex worker politics based on an awakening awareness of an injustice not based on class or gender or political allegiance
With its insistence on accepting into membership agency owners like Fox himself, punters, and anyone else with an interest in the sex industry such as academics and young kewl 3rd wave feminists, I think it’s safe to say there’s little if any politics involved: it’s simply a vested interest group intent on preserving the industry for its own ends.
One has to ask of the labour movement why the consensual labour of a worker should be subject to criminal law simply because that worker has chosen a form of labour which some are squeamish about. The recent TUC decision for example to support this Labour government’s proposals to criminalise the clients of sex workers although not unexpected from a TUC so traditionally supportive of the labour party and especially one presently in so much trouble is hardly indicative of worker solidarity. It does however illustrate the changing character of the once radical left when it has assumed the mantle of the establishment.
To the first part I’d direct Fox to the piece I wrote about the TUC Women’s Conference debate on prostitution, specifically to the text of motion 40, the motion that got passed:
Conference demands that campaigning begins to…
iii) criminalise men’s purchase of sex rather than its sale
One has to ask why Fox and other defenders of the sex industry persist time and time again in trotting out the lie that those of us who are opposed to prostitution a) want to see women in the industry criminalised, and b) that our opposition to sex work is based on some kind of squeamishness. Perhaps it’s just easier for them to dismiss their opponents by painting us as delicate Victorian prudes rather than thinking about what really motivates us, but it’s lazy stereotyping and ultimately does nothing to move the debate forward.
As for the part about the labour movement and worker solidarity: as sarahcl points out at Autonomous Radical Feminists, for the labour movement to embrace the IUSW and all the other sex industry front organisations, it would have to accept the control of others’ sexuality as ‘work like any other’, and it would have to embrace escort agency owners, brothel managers, lap dancing entrepreneurs and pimps as comrades. I doubt I’ll be speaking out of turn if I say it’ll be a cold day in hell before that happens. And of course there’s another long-standing trade union tradition that Fox appears to have overlooked, that of standing up for the exploited and the oppressed, and of standing against those who would exploit and oppress others: it’s in this tradition that the TUC Women’s Conference rejected calls to support decriminalisation, and it was absolutely right to do so.
And “assumed the mantle of the establishment” my arse! There’s nothing more establishment than a middle-aged man defending his right to buy, sell, use and abuse women’s bodies. I’d suggest Douglas looks a bit closer to home before he starts throwing that charge around at others.
The IUSW was established by enlightened individuals in the days when feminists truly fought for a woman’s right to express her sexuality as she chose
Prostitution has nothing to do with a woman expressing her sexuality, and everything to do with men assuming that they have some kind of god given right to control women’s sexuality. The monetary exchange removes any freedom of expression; it turns the act of sex into a commercial transaction and a woman’s body into a commodity. The prostitute doesn’t get to express her own sexual wishes or desires, it’s the buyer who’s in control and whose wants must be satisfied.
Now our duty is to re light that flame of liberalism which once changed our society by releasing men and women from the constraints enforced by a repressive patriarchy. We have to protect those hard won freedoms from being snatched away by the latest oppressor; the Labour movement itself.
I’m sure the irony of reading a male escort agency owner making pronouncements about the iniquities of repressive patriarchy escapes no one. It would be funny if it wasn’t so bloody woeful.
Sex work is a reflection of our society
Sadly I’m forced to agree. But do you know what would be truly radical, nay revolutionary, Douglas? Working to change that society, so that sex work, trafficking, and all other forms of exploitation are no longer considered a reflection of society but an aberration.
The IUSW/GMB branch accepts and promotes membership to all who make a living in the sex industry. Managements, prostitutes, maids, drivers, photographers, web site designers, the list is endless; we are all too varying degrees persecuted and criminalised and therefore all are equally dependent on each other. The union could not call itself a sex worker union if it denied entry to anyone who is persecuted or stigmatised for working in our industry.
As I said at the beginning of the piece, this is completely ridiculous, and sums up for many precisely why and how the IUSW has no place in the labour movement. A union cannot claim to represent workers if it has managers and industry owners not only in membership but occupying senior union posts. And as has been asked before in these debates, how on earth can workers expect improved pay and conditions when the people negotiating on their behalf are their bosses? It makes a travesty of the whole thing, and the GMB should be ashamed of itself for allowing this nonsense to continue.
Abolitionists present sex workers in tragic terms of oppressed victims labouring under the tyranny of abusive managements as though sex workers were toiling in a recreation of some Dickensian mill where women and children are forced into servitude by evil bosses, not realising that they have become the tyrannical ones with their oppressive unjust legislation. The reality is that often in sex work it is hard to tell who the worker is and who the employer
Tell that to the women in your employ Douglas, the ones who complained to the press when you and your partner John Docherty decided to give them away for free as monthly competition prizes. I suspect they got the message loud and clear then as to who were the workers and who were the employers.
Escort agents are employed by escorts to do a particular job, Brothel owners are paid by brothel workers to provide a comfortable and safe environment in which to work. Independents employ maids and drivers and all in the industry employ a variety of people to provide support roles that make the work possible and safe.
It’s like one big happy family. Sweet.
Our duty in the IUSW is in the face of this adversity to mobilise our diverse and transient constituency and give sex workers a voice that is strong, effective and more importantly reflective of the real needs and concerns of an industry that today strives against injustice for the recognition it deserves.
The sex industry is a multi-billion pound industry with ties to organised crime both at home and abroad. The needs and concerns of that industry are in direct conflict with the needs and concerns of exploited, vulnerable, prostituted women. It is those women who are most in need of a union; unfortunately, the IUSW by virtue of its broad-based approach to membership reflects the needs and concerns of the industry, not the women working in it.
The recent opening of a new bank account and the creation of a new constitution is an exciting development that allows greater participation in the sex worker human rights campaign by a larger constituency. It can attract donations and participation from everyone including members of the public who are concerned about the abuses directed toward sex workers by an increasingly hostile government.
And it can also attract donations from the sex industry itself. As Douglas said himself on the CT Escorts forum: “Just think what we could have done with more money in our coffers to campaign as effectively as we should. If only our industry would only give us the money to do so.”
Only those who work in the industry truly understand how debilitating the stigma associated with sex work can be. Is this attitude surprising however when our enemies focus on the minority (even the government figures accept this) of trafficked women. The media profile is fixated with street girls who are a tiny proportion of sex workers but whose image prevails.
Because the harms done to those women far outweigh any benefits the industry gives to you and your ilk Douglas. I’m sure you’d be a lot more comfortable about the work you do if they could just be ignored and treated like they don’t exist, but unfortunately for you that’s not going to happen. Unfortunately for you and your industry, those of us who oppose you will keep shining a light in the dark places, where the drug addictions, the violence, and and the degradations continue, and we’ll keep exposing you every time you try to cover it up. And shame on you Douglas for dismissing the most vulnerable, and the most in need of your support, in such a callous way. Those two sentences alone tell us all we need to know about your so-called human rights concerns.
As we grow in numbers the IUSW has not only to embrace and nourish its association with the union movement but it also has to broaden its objectives and appeal to the natural sense of injustice instinctive in the British psyche. This is our new challenge and ultimately it is vital for the future success of our campaign. We have to walk a path that is non political but based solidly in the human rights tradition.
As long as those human rights don’t include the rights of trafficked women and street prostitutes obviously.
Our legacy is to be judged as a union of the disenfranchised who achieved justice. This is why the IUSW is so important.
No, the legacy of the IUSW, if we allow it, is to be judged as the union that brought the trade union movement into disrepute by enabling abusers and exploiters to appropriate the voices of the already dispossessed. That’s why exposing the IUSW for what it is is so important.
(Incidentally, it was good to see Douglas Fox and the role of escort agency owners in the IUSW getting a mention in Private Eye magazine a couple of issues ago. Unfortunately I inadvertently threw my copy in the recycling, and the article isn’t available in the online version, so I’m unable to reproduce it here.)