Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Organising sex workers


Over the next few weeks the students of the MA that I run at Ruskin (international labour and trade union studies) will complete and submit their dissertations.

Although they need to be marked and externally examined I will take this opportunity to share with you the phenomenally impressive body of original research undertaken and highlight its contribution to the future of labour movements globally.

I shall start with the research focus of Jenny Webber. Jenny's focus is on the trade union experience of trade unions organising sex workers in the UK and France.

As an ex-GMB official Jenny's starting point is an analysis of the approach of the International Union of Sex Workers ( which is a branch of the GMB. Her research focuses on a comparative analysis of the experience of the IUSW and STRASS (The Union for Sex Workers) ( in France.

When Jenny originally proposed the research topic I shared her enthusiasm for exploring the range of economic, social, health and political issues of sex workers both in the UK and globally.

What I admittedly was not fully conscious of was the depth and complexity of the debate around sex workers from a feminist perspective.

Some of this became clearer when a representative of the IUSW, Catherine Stephens, spoke to the MA cohort, and it was here where I understood for example, the historical rejection by radical feminists of sex work as work, and thus as something which is legitimised, even if partly, when unionised.

There is a healthy body of literature/research/discussion on the topic (which includes Gregor Galls 2006 Sex Worker Union Organising

As an aspect of her research Jenny attended the Sex Worker Open University (SWOU) which was held in October 2011 in London. The clip of the activity within the SWOU gives a real insight to the atttitude of sex workers themselves to the issues of unionisation, and of their perspective of feminist and governmental attitude towards sex work.

From a personal perspective I share Jenny's primary conviction that sex workers are workers, and that their interests and concerns overlap with mainstream workers in several areas - not least in the form of protection from unfair employment practices. Whilst I acknowledge the need to debate the political and economic contexts of sex work, I feel uncomfortable denying a particular group of workers/people the opportunity for self-organisation and self-determinism.

Please take the time ot have a look at the clip and feedback on the issue raised. Jenny will hopefully be able to respond to those who post a response.

In solidarity


PS I should add that Jenny appears in this video. She is seen initially holding the placard 'There are no bad women, just bad laws'.

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