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Sex worker collective organization: Between advocacy group and labour union?

Gregor Gall (University of Hertfordshire, Business School, Hatfield, UK)

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

ISSN: 2040-7149

Article publication date: 26 March 2010

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Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to examine contemporary sex worker labour unionism in a number of major western economies because it now faces an acute historical dilemma of being forced into acting as the antithesis of what it professes and aims to be, namely, elite pressure groups.

Design/methodology/approach

Interviews and structured e‐mail dialogues with sex worker union activists were supplemented with an array of secondary sources and documentation, the authors of which are sex workers union activists themselves.

Findings

This loss of initial momentum for sex worker unionization projects concerned paucity of human resources, the limited spread of a “sex work” consciousness among sex workers, and ambivalence from potential allies. Consequently, sex worker unions concentrated on engaging in political lobbying on public policy, projects of legal reform of sex work, and helping provide individualized assistance to sex workers inside and outside their worksites on health issues, criminal offences and business matters. Thus, nascent or weakened labour unions in the sex industry acted as pressure groups concerned with work issues in a way in which other pressure groups operate on non‐work issues, thereby forsaking a key characteristic of labour unionism, namely, the focus of collective self‐activity in and on the workplace and from a basis on having a tangible presence in the workplace through membership among workers.

Practical implications

This research is of value to researchers, practitioners and policy makers, for it shows how workers seek collective interest representation through collective means in an environment of “atypical” work and employment.

Originality/value

This paper contributes to a growing body of work studying sex work and sex workers from what can be termed conventional, sociological and organizational behavioural approaches. The result of this is to be able to understand the processes and outcomes of their activities and exchanges as economic and social transactions rather than deviancy.

Keywords

Citation

Gall, G. (2010), "Sex worker collective organization: Between advocacy group and labour union?", Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Vol. 29 No. 3, pp. 289-304. https://doi.org/10.1108/02610151011028877

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2010, Emerald Group Publishing Limited