This is our truth, tell us yours
The debate about sex work, and the safety of sex workers, continues to intrigue me. Work is a dangerous place for some people, and the dangers of work are part of my nightmares. Work is simply the performance of labour; it can be subsistence work, to directly produce the things we need to survive, or it can be money labour, to obtain the money with which we buy the things we need to survive. It is not a moral thing. although it’s arguable that to be able to obtain the things you need to survive without working, or by merely directing the labour of others is immoral. In such a model sex work is just a subset of work, like factory work or agricultural work.
In my experience, banning or proscribing certain types of work makes it more dangerous. Snowy Malone comes to mind. In Alan Bleasdale’s ‘The Boys From The Blackstuff’ Snowy is the radical son of George Malone, an old school trade unionist who finds himself, like the rest of his tarmac gang (‘the black stuff’) banned informally from their trade, and working illegally for a shoddy building contractor who only employs cash in hand labour. Knowing that they may be raided by government inspectors seeking out untaxed workers (cash in hand labour) Snowy ties a rope to a bannister so he can escape through a window. The bannister is shoddy work, and Snowy falls to his death. For Snowy, working outside the law is fatal, because of the things he has to do to avoid the law.
Snowy haunts me, not because he is a metaphor deployed by Bleasdale to describe the decline of secure work, but because I kept seeing him on building sites where health and safety was a rumour, not a practice. On too many sites where I worked for cash, no questions asked, Snowy seemed to hide in corners telling me my future. I couldn’t shake him off even when I worked in other environments; anywhere corners were cut or red tape evaded, Snowy was there. Banning cash in hand work did not save him, and could not save him – it actually made it more dangerous.
I mentioned Simon Jones on Twitter today. He follows me to work some days too. Simon was working for an agency, whose representative was not on site, and was killed by corners that were cut, by red tape that was avoided. All the health and safety legislation in the world couldn’t save Simon; a contractor wanted a job done cheaply, and jobs done cheaply are rarely done safely. Of course, more of the cost of doing the job could have been spent on health and safety if the agency, the middle men, the work avoiding profit takers, had not required their share of the price.
Jem and I have a recurring conversation about the journey for sex workers from independence to working for agencies or huge, quasi respectable companies like Spearmint Rhino, from being strippers in pubs passing the pint glass round to see how far they’ll go, to paying to be a lap dancer in a club and hoping the tips make it worthwhile.
Regulation that makes people work outside the law, or intermediaries who push workers into bad choices making profits for large, anonymous companies are two sides of the same dangerous coin. Decriminalizing sex work, and allowing sex workers to be independents who can make their own choices is the safest option, not because sex work is a special case, but because it’s true for all work.