The IUSW was founded by a migrant sex worker, working with a group of colleagues, academics and allies. The first public event was a march through Soho on International Women’s Day, March 8 2000, when a Brazilian samba band, sex workers and supporters swung and shimmied through the streets.
We know that the primary difficulty we face is not our work itself but the conditions in which we work. This includes both conditions in the workplace, and in society as a whole – the stigma and social exclusion many of us experience. We see how legal status and social stigma combine to increase our vulnerability and enable abuse and exploitation within our industry. Such wrongs are often then blamed on the nature of our work, sometimes by those who themselves perpetuate them.
A group of workers organising to improve the conditions of their work is a union, and so the International Union of Sex Workers was the obvious title for our organisation. “International” both because there are many migrants involved in the organisation, and also because we are proud to be a part of the global movement for sex workers’ rights, that spans every continent (except Antarctica!).
In March 2002, the GMB (LINK) struck a great blow for human rights by recognising our right to self organise and fight for better working conditions and to join a trades union, and a branch for people in the sex industry was established. This established one major basic labour right to all sex workers in the UK – the right to join and be represented by an officially recognised trade union, and the IUSW is recognised by the TUC (LINK). CHECK – IS IUSW RECOGNISED OR GMB BRANCH?
Our work today includes responding to proposed changes in the law and policy around the sex industry, supporting individuals experiencing problems at work or (more frequently) due to attitudes of others to their work, member meetings, social events, fundraisers and media work.
Sex workers are part of the solution, not part of the problem. Real solutions to problems associated with the sex industry cannot be found while we go unheeded. The only way to create policies that effectively address the very real abuses which take place within the sex industry is to base them in reality, rather than on the ideology, assumption and stereotypes which often hold sway. There is no more valid group of stakeholders in this debate than sex workers themselves.