Why can’t we unionise lap dancers?

October 14, 2008 at 7:57 pm | Posted in British Politics, Feminisms | 3 Comments

Personally, I’ve no use for strip joints, lap dancing emporiums, ‘gentleman’s clubs’ or any other euphemism you want to use for young ladies dancing around without much clothing. If I’m going for a drink I want a steady supply of cider, enjoyable conversation and a jukebox that’s as obscure as my music taste. What I don’t want to endure is the awkward, toe-curling, avert-your-eyes embarrassment of having women I’ve never met wriggle around for me (and yes, I realise it’s probably far more awkward for the women themselves than it would be for me).

But it’s obvious that a significant section of the male population doen’t share my squeamishness, and the industry has thrived in recent years. As others have explained better than I could, the government’s 2003 Licensing Act created a pretty huge loophole which left lap dancing barely regulated (excuse the pun), and the number of clubs has consequently doubled.

Now, I’m not going to get into the pros, cons, whys or wherefores of lapdancing; ‘the Google’ will lead you to plenty of well-intentioned, well-argued debate by people on all sides of the issue, and this is exactly the kind of area where I risk coming across as a complete dilettante. But there is one thing that I just don’t understand and have never found a decent answer for: why can’t we unionise lap dancers?

At the moment, Object is running a campaign to have the government classify these clubs as the ‘Sex Encounter Establishments’ they are, thereby giving local councils the power to decide whether they want them popping up all over the place, and also allowing for greater regulation. Sure enough, this is a very necessary goal, but whilst it would certainly curtail their expansion and shut down clubs that’re egregiously exploitative, would it lead to any significant improvement in the working conditions of the average dancer?

It seems to me that some of the biggest workplace concerns for dancers would be job insecurity, pay disputes, sexual harrassment, lousy working conditions (shift length etc) and the threat of violence. Surely having dancers represented by a trade union could, in time, lead to more widely agreed-upon wage settlements, better working conditions and protection against exploitation, harassment & unlawful termination? It certainly works in most other professions, but to my knowledge there’s only one organisation which even tries to representment them, they’ve only been in operation since 2000 and, whilst I don’t know their numbers, I think it’s fair to assume that they’re small in size.

Much as I hate to end a post with a question, this leads us to ask why dancers aren’t as widely-unionised as they should be. Is it because of the stigma attached to working in this industry? Because women’s groups differ in their opinion of the sex industry? Because of the potential hostility of club bosses? Or is it just impractical to begin a large, nationwide drive to encourage them to join or (if one is needed) form a union?

I don’t know. But I do think it’s an oversight that’s well worth remedying.

Image by Flickr user inkyhack (Creative Commons)



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  1. I have had several debates on this issue and not everyone agrees with my views, no surprise there then! I have no need of these clubs and I cannot understand the attraction, at least not for me. However, I know many people that do go and enjoy it, they do no harm, they don’t start any trouble and these clubs create employment. Therefore I see no harm.

    The only point I would make, is that perhaps, they should consider taking them off the high street and putting them on industrial estates, that should deal with the “nimby’s”

  2. Thanks for your comments, and in terms of actual reportable harm, you’re absolutely correct; the British police doesn’t find anywhere near the kind of trouble outside these places as you might find outside of a Wetherspoons, for example. I also happen to think that the unrelenting spread of betting establishments is worse than the spread of lap dancing clubs. So I suppose the only matter that remains is how we regulate them in a way that benefits both the communities they’re situated in and the women working in them.

  3. […] position myself in the latter character, I was genuinely delighted by the responses to the question “why can’t we unionise lap dancers?” when it found its way over to Liberal Conspiracy. Since it has the benefit of speaking from […]

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