Lap dancing and the benefits of bloggingOctober 19, 2008 at 9:06 pm | Posted in Feminisms | 1 Comment
There are too many know-it-alls in blogland and not enough know-nothings. Whilst it’s probably self-defeating to 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 personal experience, this comment by a dancer who’s involved in trying to organise this industry is the best of a really good bunch and deserves reprinting in full:
Speaking for the dancers – yes, in many venues we could do with better working conditions and rights. It would be great if venues had to give a concrete reason for sacking us, or if they couldn’t suddenly double the number of dancers or the house fee without some kind of justification or warning, or if they had to provide adequate changing facilities, security, a clean stage to dance on… However, dancers are difficult to unionise, for many reasons; and without the management agreeing to recognise union contracts or demands it’s all academic anyway.
Within London the majority of dancers are not originally from Britain and most do not plan to stay here long-term. They’re here for a few years to send as much money as possible home, then leave. UK nationals may be stripping part-time to fund university, or to tide them over between jobs. In all those scenarios they just want to keep their heads down, make money and leave; they’re probably not registered self-employed, are not paying tax, and don’t want to appear on the radar. Joining a union is therefore risky. Also they don’t really care what happens to the industry and working conditions etc. long term.
Those of us who do see the job as a career, are registered self-employed etc would in many ways love to see it all better regulated (thought it’s working conditions within the clubs which needs to be looked at, not the bigger licensing picture; current licensing regulations are fine). But when 80 per cent of the dancers around you aren’t interested, it’s hard to get anything going.
Getting dancers to join the IUSW is a challenge as most dancers do not identify themselves as sex workers therefore the name of the union is an instant turn-off. More of us are Equity members, and get good benefits from them. The membership fees are also an issue as we already pay out so much of our hard-earned cash: we pay striptease agency fees, high house fees to the venues, all our travel/costumes/make-up/cab costs, those of us registered pay tax and national insurance, accident insurance in case we fall off the pole… It adds up to hundreds of pounds a week. we need to see concrete proof that union membership will benefit us before we’re prepared to pay out even more.
If I were to say, “I’m not going to work at any venue where i have to pay fees to go work there, that does not provide me with a locker for my property and valuables, that does not increase fees and dancer numbers at random, that always provides clean facilities” – then there would be virtually NO-WHERE in London I could work (ironically the best place I do is underground and unlicensed). We’re forced to carry on putting up with bad conditions as the other option is to find a new career.
I imagine it may be easier to unionise dancers outside of London, this is something the GMB is currently looking at.
In a way, what is required is a big threat (the current proposed licensing changes could be that) to draw everyone – dancers, management, agencies – together against a common enemy. At the moment, despite the bad conditions, there are enough good points (and some truly fabulous points – I love my job) that most of us don’t want to rock the boat and potentially put ourselves out of work.