The launch of UK Feminista – a new feminist organisation seeking to link up grassroots feminist activists with larger campaigning bodies - sees sex workers take another quiet but harsh blow.
In the run up to the launch last Saturday, Kat Banyard, the brains (albeit brains without much logic) behind the campaign spoke at an event launching her new book The Equality Illusion: The Truth About Women and Men Today along with Anna van Heeswijk of Object, an organisation devoted to combating the objectification of women. No guesses as to what was top of their agenda: the condemnation of sex work and lap dancing clubs!
It seems that hostility to sex work will be UK Feminista’s main target area. This is something we have to prepare to counter as socialist feminists.
Banyard emphasised the fact that, between 2004 and 2008, the number of lap dancing clubs has doubled; she showed no interest in the growing pool of women workers working in these clubs. Van Heeswijk talked about Object’s ‘Stripping the Illusion’ campaigns, which calls for changes in licensing laws to bring about lap dancing clubs’ demise. From 6 April, it will be much easier for local authorities to prevent clubs from opening.
For those concerned with women’s liberation, this is simply counterproductive. Whatever we may think of lap dancing, this will simply make it even harder, at a time of recession, for some of capitalist society’s most vulnerable women – the impoverished, single parents, migrant workers etc, pushed into the industry by their precarious position – to find work
According to TUC figures for 2008, female redundancy rates are double that for men at 2.5%. For a feminist organisation to want to push more women out of work, rather than helping them organise to win safer working environments, better conditions and against sexism through unionisation, is bizarre.
There was much to criticise in the speakers’ diatribes. For instance, Kat Banyard referred to the “80,000 women in sex work in the UK”. In fact it is not only women who work in sex work and make up this number. I also cringed at the notion, obviously fetishised by the organisers, that a woman engaged in sex work “sells her body to a man”. As Marxists we know that a consenting sex worker sells her labour power to provide a sexual service – she does not sell her person. The client does not own him or her after the work has been performed. As Marx put it: “Prostitution is only a specific expression of the general prostitution of the labourer”. The question of whether other types of work are fundamentally different on a moral level was brought up by an AWL comrade, who referred but to super-exploited female migrant cleaners in London, but to no avail.
Anna Van Heeswijk rejoiced in the “feat” achieved by Object’s “Demand Change” campaign. From 1 April, under the 2009 Policing and Crime Act, it will be illegal to pay for sex from somebody who has been ‘exploited’ – this umbrella concept includes those who are pimped, trafficked, forced into prostitution, coerced, threatened and those whose vulnerability has been violated. Fundamentally, it gives the police a new channel through which to prosecute speedily.
What this will serve to do is create an even more precarious working environment for women, pushing the sex industry ever more underground. We must do everything in our power to repeal this law as part of the fight for unionisation.