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The death of Baroness Thatcher has apparently polarised opinion in the UK. There are those who believe that she was a national heroine and those who take a very different view. In one sense this is a sign of a great leader. Only a great leader can stir such emotions. What has been a shock however has been the vitriol of those who oppose her political views. This vitriol has gone beyond disagreement on a political level to often quite shameful and misogynistic insults. I noticed some leftist sex worker rights activists, some who probably where not even alive during her eleven and a half years of premiership, were especially vile. Terms like Tory scum were used and even worse insults directed at the dead Baroness and those who shared if not all then some of her political values and beliefs.
I wondered if these people ever thought that some of their fellow sex workers and sex worker activists may be Tory or were they inferring that to be a sex worker or at least a sex worker activists then you have to at the very least publically adhere to a leftist vocabulary. I also wonder if these people ever stop to think about the real industry they speak for, the industry outside the cosy little world of organised activism.
I have been involved in the sex industry for over fifteen years and in activism for probably over ten. During that time I have enjoyed the best the industry has to offer but I have been arrested twice and almost had my life destroyed. Despite that I love the industry. My ten years of activism however has on occasion been an ordeal. It would have been easier and certainly would have favoured my activism career to have adopted a leftist vocabulary, to have spoken of working on the streets, to identify with migrant sex workers, to have pretended an identity (and many do) with some imagined working class militancy. I did not. It would have been dishonest not only to my self but to the people I work with and the industry I work in. This has nothing to do with politics, the fact I am a Tory (actually more libertarian) is irrelevant but what is relevant is that I work within an industry that encapsulates entrepreneurialism, capitalism, free enterprise, self interest. All those things that the left says it is against.
I do not live in some gilded cage, some privileged world. I live in the North east of England, labour party territory. I meet with, socialise with and work with sex workers from every social class. From students to trainee doctors to single parents on benefits to migrants who hardly speak a work of English. They probably share all types of religious and political affiliations and allegiances. The one thing they all have in common is the shared desire to get on in life. They all turn to sex work as a means to an end or perhaps as a career. All of them, every single one of them wants to better themselves and to help their families. It does not matter if they want to sell sex to put food on the table or buy designer hand bags, the shared common denominator, the shared truth and reality is they want to make their lives better, easier. Sex work provides that means to an end.
The truth is that I know lots of people whom the left tells us they care about. I know single mothers who sell sex and do so not because they think their benefits are too low but because they do not want to be trapped by benefits. They want to work but they realise that their situation does not make “regular work” easy. They want to work hours that accommodates their family situation. Sex work provides that flexibility and pays comparatively well. Migrant sex workers, another group of workers that the left exploit on both sides of the sex work debate, only turn to sex work because sex work provides them with income, cash in hand, sex work allows them to realise their desire for a better life for them and for their families. They are not victims of sex work but rather exploiters who manipulate a social need for their own benefit. When Lucca for example (chosen for no particular reason) who heads the SWOU project proclaims in an “interview” his migrant and street work credentials he is telling the world what? That he is some sort of victim? That he shares some working class solidarity and his sex work is a reflection of his oppression? That may be the political message he chooses but in reality, like so many others he took an opportunity when it was presented and chose to exploit his abilities and his clients needs for his own benefit, in other words capitalism. This is sex work, this is our industry and we should be proud of what we are and who we are and what our industry stands for which is opportunity in a society where so many restrictions smother the entrepreneurial spirit that allows individuals, especially those from less privileged back grounds to succeed.
On the left the language is one of worker solidarity and against exploitation and they talk of unionisation as though it were the answer to every problem. They lament that so few sex workers are involved in “their” class struggle and point to India and South America where sex worker unions and groups have memberships of thousands. Those countries however have a very different cultural heritage. In the west, ever since the enlightenment, society has recognised and applauded individualism and sex work in the west represents that individualism. Individualism, self motivation is something activism neglects to praise, almost as though it is ashamed of the most important force that drives our industry, makes it survive and makes it succeed.
Those who have vilified Baroness Thatcher and all Tories, including sex worker Tories as scum forget that Baroness Thatcher, most certainly with out knowing, exemplified the individualism inherent within sex work. Sex workers share a strong Raison d’être with working class families who bought their council homes and sold them for a profit, who bought their first shares and sold them for a profit and who created their little business that grew into big businesses. These people are the cultural allies with whom every sex worker shares a common heritage and they are the people who, if engaged, will give us the support we need to achieve our goal of decriminalisation.
Historically, politically and morally the left has proven that it cannot help sex workers. State collectivism, state imposed morality and ideals of societal behaviour that expects collective rather than individual responses cannot easily find common cause with sex work no matter how much any individual may want it. Sex work is too much an expression of self both in the act and in the desire.
Personal politics are just that. Those on the left may think they are morally superior and have a stronger desire for civil liberties but the desire for freedom which is the root of civil liberty, the root of freedom is equally strong on the right, perhaps even more so. Thatcher did many things wrong, she introduced clause 28, she introduced the poll tax and I could go on but she also created a society unafraid of and supportive of enterprise. As a nation we had lost that. Anyone who remembers the 70s will have little affection for what trade unionism did to this country.
I understand how it must gall the left that the greatest advocates of sex worker rights and civil liberties such as gay marriage comes from the libertarian right. Personally I don’t understand why that is any surprise. If you have read the history of socialism in the UK especially you will understand the orthodox Christian roots of socialism.
In conclusion can we have less talk of Tory scum and more celebration of our industry? Can we discuss what we want from decriminalisation? Can we discuss how we want our industry to evolve? Can we have less discrimination and more creative thinking? Can we celebrate our shared heritage within sex work? There is much we can agree on if we put our minds to better use than name calling.