The Socialist Alliance 10th
National Conference adopted changes to our policies on sex workers’ rights and women’s liberation to spell out further our opposition to all forms of criminalisation of sex work and underscore the importance of sex workers organising for their rights being recognised as a matter of industrial justice. [The policy as amended can be found here
While the changes themselves were relatively modest, the rationale that was put forward in the pre-conference discussion to argue for the changes was much more far-reaching.
This is unfortunate, because it muddies the waters as comrades understandably felt that in order to support or defend the changes, they would need to support all or most of the rationale used to argue for them.
This probably stems from procedural clumsiness: the comrades putting forward the proposals were responding to several issues and probably mistakenly bundled them together. I accept responsibility for that and hope to make a clarification of the issues we were responding to and put forward some ideas I see as solutions.
I think there are 3 separate issues:
- 1. How we make Socialist Alliance a political home for socialist sex workers who are struggling for their rights. We need to flesh out the newly adopted protocol on defending relations of solidarity in the party. One element of this is recognising that sex workers face stigma throughout society and that Socialist Alliance members can bring with us prejudice and assumptions, most likely based on ignorance rather than malice, but which nevertheless can lead to behaviour that is discriminatory or offensive or simply inappropriate. We need to identify this kind of behaviour, politically explain what it is and what is wrong with it. Comrades who are not sex workers need to take our lead from comrades who are, and to listen to what they say about their experiences of stigmatisation, what it is, its impacts and how to avoid it.
- 2. What Socialist Alliance can do to support sex workers in their struggles for decriminalisation, their rights at work and an end to stigmatisation. This is where we work out, informed and led by our members and collaborators who are sex workers, what positions we take, what tactics we argue for to push forward the fight for sex workers’ rights. This is where our policy discussion sits, as well as practical questions of how we can help sex workers organise, or where that is beyond us, how we can show our solidarity with actions sex workers are taking to defend their rights (attending protest actions and public meetings, supporting petition campaigns, building and reporting on campaign events and news through GLW, etc.).
- 3. An analysis of the relationship between sex work and women’s oppression. It is my contention that we have a lot of work to do here as a party, to develop a Marxist feminist analysis that adequately accounts for the lived experiences of sex workers and their clients while critiquing the manifestations of sexism within the sex industry and the ways in which the family system institutionalises the oppression of women, people of diverse sex, sexuality and gender and those who don’t conform to the norm of monogamy, including sex workers. The document put before comrades as a rationale for our policy proposals did contain a rationale for our policy change proposals, but it also went beyond that, and is better seen as an opening contribution to this effort to develop our analysis.
If comrades find this useful, I would advocate separating out these three things in our further discussion. Of course, the greater our theoretical agreement, the less our practical work and comradely solidarity are likely to be bogged down in contention, but just as we’ve always done in other areas, it’s both possible and necessary to proceed with all simultaneously.