Understandably, it’s pretty difficult to start a union when parts of your industry have been criminalized by the state. But that hasn’t stopped British sex workers from unionizing in order to fight for their labor rights—even with the web of contradictory laws around sex work in the UK.

In England, it’s legal to exchange sex for money, but street-based workers are often criminalized through loitering and soliciting laws. Brothels are illegal, but an overly generous legal definition of a ‘brothel’ means that sex workers can be raided and persecuted for sharing premises—even if they’re doing so for their own protection. Campaign groups and collectives like Decrim Now and SWARMare calling for full decriminalization, but in the meantime strippers—whose work is entirely legal—are unionizing in the hopes of sparking industry-wide change.

The idea for a strippers’ union came at last year’s Women’s Strike, in which sex workers played an instrumental role. “It literally just started with a conversation,” Shiri Shalmy, a representative of trade union United Voices of the World (UVW), recalls. “We soon found that strippers are often misclassified as self-employed, but in reality they’re expected to be on time, to follow a shift pattern and to be told what they can earn—or, in some cases, lose.” She’s referring to the house fees that are commonplace in strip clubs. Dancers can also be fined for not showing up to shifts, and Shalmy says anecdotally that she knows of dancers who have been fired for trying to unionize.

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Sex Work is Work – and its laborers are officially unionizing by Jake Hall

April 17th, 2019