Harlots Parlour

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I would like to ask a question. “Would the real sex worker please stand up”. The reason I ask is because both for the enemies of sex worker rights and some on the left with in sex work activism this taxing question apparently requires a definite answer.
The arguments primarily revolve around sex worker unionisation, in particular the UK example.
The British GMB Trade Union recognises and supports a London sex worker branch that welcomes all who work in the sex industry, including sex work managers and even clients.

Criticism of the GMB sex worker branch have concentrated on the this wide membership base. Critics claim that allowing managers and clients membership of a trades union established to represent sex workers weakens the voices of sex workers. Arguing from an historical, nineteenth century understanding of trade unionisation they claim that the purpose of a trades union is to represent workers in dispute with owners and managers. Allowing managers and business owners especially equal membership they argue compromises sex worker solidarity in any potential disputes. They argue that allowing managers to join the branch and to potentially hold offices within the branch weakens the branch as a trade union representing real sex workers.

The reality however is that sex work is not a traditional industry with traditional employee and employer relations. It is an industry of the self employed that often has complicated working relationships that do not reflect the simplistic nineteenth century mindset reflected within the criticism. In truth I doubt with few exceptions this understanding of trade unionisation has much relevance in a modern world where the majority of workers are transient and few work in the world of traditional industries that trade unions and the labour movement in general once reflected.

The criticism revolves primarily around prostitution although the branch accepts membership from anyone within the adult entertainment industry including porn and erotic dance etc. Within prostitution however so called managements, escorts agency owners and brothel owners are like those they represent self employed and are employed to do a specific job by other self employed sex workers. There are no legally enforceable contracts with the result that managers are often at the mercy of those they represent rather than having any real, enforceable authority over those who pay them to represent them. Being married to an agency owner I know and understand the demands put upon him by successful escorts who have a wide variety of work options open to them.
Sex workers are perhaps the most transient of workers, moving from place to place and working as and when it suits them. Sex work is a peculiar industry in that it is populated by workers who genuinely reflect, perhaps more than any other industry, our diverse society and its social/economic make up.
There are sex workers who work to meet a specific want ie a new hand bag and others who work to feed a drug habit. There are workers who work full time and others who work once or twice a year. Sex workers can be very high earners and jet set around the world or they can be subsistence workers living literally hand to mouth. From high class to courtesans to migrant street workers the sex worker branch of the GMB welcomes and does its best to represent them all.
Managers within sex work often work sexually with clients themselves as well as manage or have at some time in the past worked. Sex workers within brothels and agencies often employ their own drivers and maids or work from their own premises which they also rent at a profit to to other workers. Often sex workers work from brothels and through agencies and also do independent work. There are few if any direct comparisons with traditional worker experiences within sex work. Criticism of the branch for representing the diverse experiences within sex work is more political ideology than a true representation of sex workers working experiences.

Those who use their bodies directly within the sex industry and those they employed to manage aspects of their work are equally the victims of prejudice and stigmatisation because of their labour and because of this they share a unity of purpose that is decriminalisation and recognition of their labour rights regardless of the form that labour takes within sex work.
My personal response to critics of unionisation and of the GMB branch is that this is our industry and our branch and we as sex workers will decide who can or cannot be recognised as a sex workers and not you. There is no argument or any need for debate but instead a need for absolute unity and support of a trade union brave enough to recognise justice and to support those who are persecuted unjustly by all UK governments.

The GMB branch may not be perfect but it exists and with a wide and diverse membership through out the UK it stands proudly as a symbol of the future for all sex workers regardless of how they choose to work or the role that they play in our industry. Our challenge as sex workers is to realise our common ground and to negotiate ways to make our sex worker branch more reflective of the diverse nature of our industry. We may be workers but our industry is unique and our branch should reflect that uniqueness.

The term sex worker was adopted as a generic term by sex worker organisations and activists to legitimise claims that sex work be treated as real work. As a term it has been very successful with media and governments increasingly using the term sex worker rather than prostitute. I argue that we should not weaken that meaning or that use of the term to please either our enemies or for political ideological rhetoric but rather celebrate sex worker as an inclusive term for all who work and make money within the sex industry.

And so I ask again. “Would the real sex worker please stand up”. Who legitimately can claim to be a real sex worker? Someone who works once or twice a month offering a massage with a happy ending or an escort who works three days a week and then rents her rooms at a profit to other escorts or a manager who works a ninety hour week to generate work for sex workers? Who legitimately is more in need of union representation? Who is the real worker in the sex industry that legitimately needs union representation more than another?

About Douglas Fox


  1. bob greene
    18 March, 2011

    “WOULD THE REAL SEX WORKER PLEASE STAND UP” made me think and chuckle – Thanks! Well written. In answer to your question – Who legitimately can claim to be a real sex worker? Anyone working in a brothel could be classified as a sex worker. Take a look here at Sheri’s Ranch Brothel and browse all the brothel http://www.sherisranch.com/browseladies.aspx lady workers.

  2. elrond
    19 March, 2011

    I would like to add the GMB rules allow managers to join the union and the same branch of the union as the employees.

    So the argument is also why should the sex workers branch be different from any other branch of the GMB union.

  3. Douglas Fox
    19 March, 2011

    I agree that the sex worker branch should not be given preferential treatment. I fear that if a small minority were allowed to end the inclusive nature of our branch for political reasons then we could loose something very important in our shared struggle for rights.

    In my view we need a broader national membership and real democracy that will then reflect national views and not just London minority opinions.

    This is the real battle.

  4. luca
    22 March, 2011

    I completely agree. Someone who take phone calls and bookings should share the same work description than someone who suck cocks and do anal sex. It is exactly the same thing, and both should be called sex workers. This is so obvious i wonder why you need to write a blog about it.

  5. John
    22 March, 2011

    Oh Luca babes. Where have you been, I’ve missed having someone to play with. I know you’ve admitted yourself that you have problems with the English Language but at least the natives don’t use such vulgar terms. I do hope you don’t use such obscene terms on your all expenses paid conference trips abroad my sweetie.

    It’s really unnecessary

  6. GouineMum
    22 March, 2011

    The term “sex worker” should apply only to people who get paid for a truly sexual activity, be it real (having physical sex) or virtual (sex over the phone, webcam…). But not to people helping them organize their sexual activity (e.g. agents, landlords, chauffeurs…). And workers’ unions should be made of and by workers only, no bosses or clients. Else they’re too easy to attack by prohibitionists.

    • Douglas Fox
      22 March, 2011

      Well I would argue that the present GMB branch is run under the GMB rules that govern every branch. The GMB as one of the biggest union in the country was established to offer union organisation and recognition especially to workers who are stigmatised or who would not find it easy to organise or to be recognised within other trade unions.
      Sex workers regardless of the role they play within in a mostly criminalised industry certainly fit this bill. As I said in the article mostly we are self employed with contracts that are not enforcible by law. So this argument over managements etc is as I pointed out pointless and more about political ideology than a reflection of how sex work actually is for the vast majority.

      Also I think it is ridiculously naive to believe that anti sex work lobbyists care a jot about the membership of the branch or will suddenly love whores if the branch decides to start excluding present and future ( legitimate) members. They will always object to the idea of sex worker organisation and will continue to find issues about the branch or what ever other form of organisation that exists to give sex workers a voice.

      I fear this argument is more about a tiny minority of politicised activists wanting to control what they see as another useful vehicle to promote their ideology. It has nothing to do with representing sex workers or bringing unionisation to UK sex workers.

      • GouineMum
        22 March, 2011

        Go to France, Douglas, and you will learn very soon what hysterical prohibitionists are capable of. Especially with regard to sex workers’ unions.

  7. luca
    22 March, 2011

    john, sorry that words like “cum” “cock” “assholes” sound obscene to you. That s what sex workers talk about daily.
    Each comment you post show how disconnected you are from the lives of sex workers and how patronising you are. Keep digging, boss !

    • Douglas Fox
      22 March, 2011

      Luca, John is more of a sex worker than you with all your posturing will ever be.

      Stop being offencive I am sure you have a conference to attend where you can talk to your friends and represent all the poor sex workers of the world, or is it only sex workers in your image that get a mention ?

      You certainly do not represent me thats for sure.


    • John
      22 March, 2011

      Lol Luca

      You do make me laugh. I hope your just as witty when speaking at your sex worker conferences paid by others. Who does pay for them (we know it’s not you) do capitalists pay for your trips or are you cashing in on charities my dear !!!

      Most sex workers fight their cause out of their own pocket, not by sponsorship

  8. Douglas Fox
    22 March, 2011

    This is not France it is the UK.

  9. Omur faruk
    20 June, 2011

    I completely agree. Someone who take phone calls and bookings should share the same work description than someone who suck cocks and do anal sex. It is exactly the same thing, and both should be called sex workers. This is so obvious i wonder why you need to write a blog about it.contact me my mail farukrobin.sylhet@gmail.com or call me my cell phone +8801712328912

  10. Douglas Fox
    20 June, 2011

    So glad that you agree Omur…everyone who makes money from selling sex and is equally stigmatised and criminalised is a sex worker and should be treated with equal respect within the movement and be allowed membership of a union of entrepreneurial self employed whores. Capitalism rocks 🙂

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This entry was posted on 18 March, 2011 by in Uncategorized.
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