Reconciling labor issues and individual freedom

Elizabeth's picture

A really interesting conversation about labor issues, collective interests and personal freedom started in the comments on Amber's post about how destigmatization could reduce profits for some sex workers.

I think it started with this passage from a comment of KerwinK's regarding a "labor speed up" of sorts in strip clubs in San Francisco: 

"What's the big deal? Prostitution with willing sex workers in private booths - shouldn't that be a right?" Yes, I'd agree it ought to be a right, but I'm more concerned with the rights of workers in the particular clubs, and put those above the rights of clients or even the rights of a minority who wished to do "more" than an overwhelming majority. These were management-imposed changes, and most (though not all) workers at the time opposed them. Over time, most of these workers left, so those that remained were generally OK with what was going on (eventually lap dancing became quite normalized, as did the sex, and indeed there was more money to be earned), but I think the most useful frame for thinking about these issues is through a labor lens (i.e. what do the majority of workers want), rather than through a "sexual rights" perspective.

Anthony K disagreed:

From what I am hearing from your comment, you believe that if the majority of an organized strip club are opposed to, as you say, "going further" sexually, their beliefs should prevail over those who have no problem with "going further".  Even if "going further" can be done safely and even if the majority of clients (who remember, are the ones that actually allow for all of the workers' existence to begin with) would have no problem with "going further"??? I would say to that that if the majority of dancers really felt that way, then they could simply insist explictly to their clients that they would not "go further" and that if their clients wanted that kind of behavior, then they were free to go to those who freely offered such.


I responded to Anthony's comment with one about balancing labor/collective rights against individual freedoms using an analogy from my own workplace and then tried to reframe the labor issue in strip clubs:

To take it back to the strip club, if I chose to work in a strip club precisely because there was no sexual contact being sold, and then the expectations of customers began to change because workers could essentially do whatever they wanted, and a group of workers felt absolutely fine with selling sexual contact, and I started seeing a dramatic reduction in my earnings, and had to look for other work or give in to the pressure of the customers, I would be put at a great disadvantage.
I don't think that discussing that dilemma and its impact on workers is a matter of making moral decisions or evidence of sex-negativity/sex-positivity, but simply a matter of talking labor strategy: how do workers manage to balance individual interests with collective interests?

Anthony agreed with some of my reframing and then asked:

But, can you see my point, Elizabeth, how exactly that situation you described, where the majority of workers use their collective majority powers in their union to block a minority from expanding their personal boundaries, implicitly works against the very principle of sex positivity??

And so we continue the discussion of balancing labor/collective interests and personal freedom (and cultural attitudes toward sex) in the comments below!