Be careful of your neighbours...

Submitted by AWL on 6 June, 2008 - 11:28 Author: Gemma Short

Gemma Short replies to “Innuendo in the contract”, Solidarity 3, 132.

We recently faced a dilemma in Sheffield, around how to respond to the possible opening of a restaurant like Hooters. The article in the last Solidarity characterises all the things we might object to in such a work-place, however we must think carefully how we respond — especially given the existing campaign set up by the Sheffield Fems.

The fact that the campaign was already in existence complicated the issue. How do you respond both to the exploitation at Hooters and the anti-working class nature of a parallel campaign, against the same workplace? The fact that the Sheffield Fems campaign was so anti-working class is the key issue here. Being on the SUSU Women’s Committee I, unfortunately, was treated to a classic example of the Sheffield Fem’s brand of anti-Hooters campaigning. On introducing the issue to the committee very briefly, one member of Sheffield Fems declared that it was great that city councillors were getting on board with the campaign because “Hooters will attract the wrong sort of clientele — stag nights and such — which don’t suit the area”. Not only were Sheffield Fems prepared to work alongside people who were fighting Hooters purely on those grounds, but they took up that argument — declaring that it is this sort of clientele that perpetuates the oppression of women. As far as they were concerned Hooters exists due to sexism from these men, not as part of a wider system of oppression.

Our normal response would be, quite rightly, to intervene in these campaigns at an early stage and put our ideas across — ensuring they fight on the right grounds. This was not possible in this case because, excluding the fact that many of these views were already entrenched in the Sheffield Fems group, the campaign was already in full swing by the time we heard about it.

So we discussed running a parallel campaign. Even if we had the time and resources, would this really have been an effective tactic? Running round giving leaflets out that criticise both Hooters and Sheffield Fems seems ineffectual to me. It also risks our message being mixed up with the general anti-Hooters furore, rendering the whole exercise pointless. All ideals aside, time and resources do unfortunately matter in the work we do and would have constrained us in this case.

I worry about the call to stop a workplace opening. Some of us took the stance that campaigning for a workplace not to open can be equated to campaigning for it to close. And in this situation I feel that stance is correct. If we look at the Sheffield Fems campaign, if Hooters were to open they would merely shift their focus to ensuring it shut down — without any reassessment of the situation. Not only is that a lesson about aligning ourselves with such a campaign but it also affects any campaign we could have run. No matter if Hooters was open or not the issues and principles still apply, we don’t just change tack when it opens because the situation has been realised — we draw attention to the issues workers would face at every point in our campaign.

The previous article in Solidarity suggests that our arguments regarding sex work as labour don’t apply here, and that in fact Hooters is more like contractual sexual harassment. There may be differences but I think our response of promoting unionisation would still stand. The article states it was a shame we could not run a politically sound campaign against Hooters, one which got involved in local campaigns and steered them towards engaging working class people in the struggle.

However as I have argued here, I don’t think this was the situation in Sheffield when there was already a large campaign against Hooters — one that definitely would not have welcomed our arguments. Hooters seems to have been prevented from getting planning permission by this group’s work — however I doubt Hooters has gone forever, more likely it will move on to some more working class part of town to avoid the councillors’ objections — in which case it seems dangerous to say “good riddance”. Perhaps then we might have an opportunity to intervene in a campaign and steer it in the right direction.

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