MOTW: The Guardian, Kate Winslet, and Other Sex Work Hypocrites

The first in (what I hope will be) a regular moron-of-the-week feature.

History has just been made. The world’s leading human rights organisation, Amnesty International has finally, belatedly, accepted that sex workers are people with rights, and has called for their trade to be decriminalised.

For liberals, this kind of decision would once have been a no-brainer. But liberalism has become infested with puritanical, authoritarian ideas, and many liberals are highly illiberal when it comes to core issues of individual liberty – most of all, when sex is involved. Almost 4 years ago, I began to wake up to this, and wrote a piece about the Guardian’s sexual hang-ups. My observation that the secular left and the religious right had almost blurred into one entity was one of the catalysts that ended my Guardian subscription, and began my growing disenchantment with the increasingly conservative political left.

It was unsurprising then that the Guardian, so often a flag-waver for human rights, could not bear to apply its regular principles to the yucky issue of prostitution. In the run-up to Amnesty’s vote, a Guardian editorial implored the organisation to focus on other things. The piece was dishonest, suggesting that Amnesty was calling for some kind of global libertarian-inspired, unregulated free market in sex, which it most certainly was not.

The editorial almost reached self-parody, suggesting that Amnesty should pay heed – not to sex workers who were overwhelmingly in favour of the move – but to Hollywood celebs: “The letter signed by film actors who are normally reliable allies of Amnesty shows how damaging it is.” Don’t listen to the dirty hookers, listen to Kate Winslet!

The idea that actors know more about prostitution than prostitutes was widespread, and seemed to form a key part of the case against decriminalisation. But in this Internet era, sex workers can (for the first time) organise en-masse and speak for themselves. So we had the wonderfully named article Sex workers tell Lena Dunham, other celebs, to STFU about shit they don’t understand. And this was capped by an even more perfect tweet from the pornstar Stoya:

Stoya's tweet of the week!
Stoya’s tweet of the week!

Given that the workers themselves wanted to be decriminalised, and that the evidence overwhelmingly suggests that this would make life better and safer for them, the Guardian and other opponents were reduced to relying on the dubious link between trafficking and sex work, and the accompanying implication that sex workers are largely the powerless “trafficked” victims of global patriarchy. The left’s favourite nonsense-word-du-jour, neoliberalism, often appears in this false argument: IT’S THE NEOLIBERALS MAKING WOMEN DO TERRIBLE THINGS! Replace “the neoliberals” with “Satan” and you effortlessly switch between the “progressive” and the fundamentalist argument.

In fact, the trafficking argument against sex work is often a cover for anti-immigration attitudes (yes, they exist on the left too, just a little better hidden). When police raid brothels in the name of “saving trafficked women”, they often arrest those without valid papers and send them off for deportation. And thus, we have supposed progressives and feminists supporting anti-sex, anti-immigrant policing activities. Where do the liberals end and the far-right begin?

As if to underscore its own hypocrisy, the Guardian’s front page was yesterday dedicated to people who had truly been trafficked and exploited: Lithuanians who had been trafficked into the UK and exploited in the egg industry. There was no Guardian call for eggs to be banned. Illegal immigrants who take on low-paid agricultural work are allowed to have employment rights. Those who take on higher-paid sex work are not.

The decay is widespread: the trade union Unison has also vociferously opposed decriminalisation. And so we have, possibly for the first and only time in history, a trade union refusing to support workers in need of representation, and instead calling for the shut-down of an entire industry. Imagine if unions took this approach wherever they encountered workers being exploited: it is about as far from trade unionism as one can imagine (not all unions have followed this strange lead – the GMB for one has a branch for sex workers).

Amnesty’s decision is more than symbolic. It is a part of a tide that is slowly, finally, turning. It’s just a real shame that, rather than champion members of the world’s oldest profession, so many supposed liberals as well as supposed Christians have chosen to turn their backs on them.

Moron STUC Closes Door to Sex Workers

I received this release today from a sex worker advocate group: sorry, haven’t had time to work it into a post so I’ve copied and pasted. It looks like religious morality trumps worker rights in Scotland’s trade union movement – the once proud Scottish labour movement won’t give backing to workers who have sex for a living.

As I’ve written in a number of previous posts: the Labour movement has collapsed into social conservatism. A new progressive movement is needed.

PRESS RELEASE

Glasgow, 2nd April, 2013.

STUC Closes Its Door On Sex Workers.

With one week’s notice, STUC have pulled out of their agreement to host a formal discussion bringing together experts on sex work from all over the world.

Despite initial agreement that Sex Worker Open University (SWOU) could host one of its public events at STUC, the Trade Union Congress has made clear their opposition to sex workers’ self-organising.

The event was organised as part of a broader festival that aims to bring awareness on issues affecting sex workers and give voice to those most affected by these issues. The volunteer collective behind the festival is made of sex workers and former sex workers from all sectors of the industry.

The cancellation of the venue has directly impacted the organisation of the festival that is taking place over 5 days in several venues in Glasgow, including the Centre for Contemporary Art and Kinning Park Community Center. Flyers were printed and distributed with the address of STUC. Molly, a current indoor sex worker says: “It’s a slap in the face to have our small marginalised community collective treated this way by such a well-established and powerful organisation. The irony is that many of us are trade union members ourselves!”

Amy, a former street-based sex worker and member of SWOU says: “I am shocked and angry that STUC could pull out with such short notice. Working on the street, I am used to be harassed and pushed out. Being treated the same way by the trade union and women’s groups makes me sick to my stomach.”

Luca, male sex worker and co-founder of SWOU says: “As society is confronted with massive changes due to economic crisis, austerity measures and cuts in public services, trade unions need to support – not shut down – efforts from communities to organise for their rights. We thank Kinning Park Community Complex for offering us an alternative space to hold this event and we invite all those interested in the rights, health and safety of sex workers to attend and learn. This invitation extends to other workers, trade unionists and community members, as well as STUC, as we will continue to fight for our rights as workers.”

  • End –

If you would like to speak with the organisers or for us to arrange other interviews

Please phone us on 01 414 332 502 or email contact.swou@gmail.com and glasgow.swou@gmail.com

High resolution images at http://www.flickr.com/groups/sexworkeropenuniversity/

More info:

Sex Worker Open University (SWOU) website http://www.swou.org

SWOU Glasgow page and full programme: www.glasgowswou.wordpress.org

Full programme: http://glasgowswou.wordpress.com/programme/

Quotes from Organisers and Participants: http://glasgowswou.wordpress.com/quotes-from-organisers-and-participants/

SWOU Facebook Page – https://www.facebook.com/sexworkeropenuniversity

Main SWOU 2013 Facebook event –http://www.facebook.com/events/

347770968675060/

SWOU Twitter – https://twitter.com/SexWorkerOU; Hashtag #sexworkerOU

SWOU Flickr – http://www.flickr.com/groups/sexworkeropenuniversity/

Email – contact.swou@gmail.com

– Ends –

Fiona Patten of the Australian Sex Party

The Australian Sex Party is a recently-formed progressive political party, with a strong emphasis on civil liberties. Dismayed that none of the mainstream parties were prepared to stand up to lobbyists from the religious right, Fiona Patten and her colleagues founded the new party and stood for election against those who supported the introduction of strong Internet censorship in Australia. Fiona recently visited London, and I took the opportunity to interview her.

Australian Sex Party web site: sexparty.org.au and Twitter: @aussexparty

This podcast is available at http://moronwatch.net/category/moron-free-radio, and iTunes users can subscribe here: http://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/moron-free-radio/id492113818