This is our truth, tell us yours
I first worked for an agent in 1994. The employer thought I was worth £10 an hour. The agent paid me £5 an hour. I wasn’t supposed to know the first number, but I can be persuasive. The marxist in me said ‘Yup’, that’s how it works bonny lad. The man in me felt ripped off. The adult in me put the money towards a trip to the States, and accepted that yes, even the DHSS used employment agencies to employ people to do the menial work they didn’t want to get involved in.
Previously, I’d had an agent work for me, in the 80s. He’d arrange my transport to events, and I’d paid him my agreed cut of the booking fee that I got from the promoter. That arrangement felt legitimate. If the agent didn’t deliver, there were others who would, and he knew it.
In the second case the agent was a guy called Maurice; in the first case it was a company who were traded on numerous stock exchanges and who boast they’re one of the biggest employment agencies in the world.
Pimp is one of the worst things you can call a man in conventional language. If you want to know how pejorative the word can be watch the magistrates as they deal with a case of living off immoral earnings; the pearl clutching nose averting body language says more than the sentence ever could. The language of the charge is revealing; apparently to receive money from a prostitute is to receive money that is itself tainted.
As a reader of this blog, you’re a grown up. We make assumptions about you. I’m not going to beat you round the head with a lecture about the morality of the arms trade or exploitative forms of employment. Show, don’t tell, as we say round here.
Is there anything morally justifiable in making people live and work that way?
The late Raphael Samuel wrote evocatively about miners, quarrymen and saltworkers. In part the story he told was the story of how the contractor / leaders of work groups in those industries were driven out by the logic of capitalism that would brook no alternative control of the work, and which resented the moral economy that underpinned the power of the ganger or butty, the tensions that revolved around ideas of natural justice. In agriculture now the traditional gangers have gone, to be replaced by gangmasters who appear impossible to regulate; the same people appear regularly on the periphery of the food processing industry,where consumers and retailers appear to care more about the lifestyle of the chicken than the chicken packer. Whether you’re concerned about the reality of the living conditions of vegetable pickers, or the miserable, horrifying, cruel deaths of the Morecambe Bay cockle pickers, there should be no place in a decent society for contractors who treat or disregard their workers in that way.
There are sex workers who are victimized by pimps. Often those sex workers are at the very margins of the industry, like those chicken packers at the margins of the food industry. Often they lack access to other services and support. Making all men who support sex workers or who are in a relationship with them into pimps doesn’t actually scare the pimps on the margins – they know they are outsiders already, and they start from the assumption that they will be criminalized for something, if not for being a pimp.
Sex work is a form of employment. There should be no form of employment in which it’s acceptable to exploit, or abuse, or mistreat. By making sex workers and pimps special cases we’re actually opening the door to the gangmasters and their ilk, because we’ve already said there is no general case that it is wrong to exploit, that we will make special laws to cover the abuses – just as governments have tried and failed with gangmasters. (Note to government – don’t pass laws prohibiting behaviour unless you also pass a law mandating who will enforce the prohibition and how that work will be funded.)
Want to make exploitative pimps a thing of the past? Start with the gangmasters and the employment agencies, and set rules about what is acceptable, about how you identify services of value to the worker that the agent should be paid for, and exploitation that consists of nothing more than the agent ripping off the worker to the greatest extent possible.