What makes sex workers strike: A comparative analysis of France (1975) and the UK (1982)

Abstract

This paper aims to identify the reasons why sex workers strike/occupy churches comparing the sex workers strikes/church occupations in France (1975) and the UK (1982). In order to understand why “sex workers” strike, the paper briefly introduces the available literature on why workers strike. Noting the differences between workers’ and sex workers’ strikes, the former usually being unionised and the latter being nonunionised, and with the latter’s emphasis on non-material rather than material interests, the paper also explores theories on new social movements, collective action and contentious politics. With these theoretical discussions in mind, the events leading to the sex workers’ strikes/church occupations in France and the UK are briefly described. After this description, the paper presents a comparative analysis of the reasons underlying the two cases of strike/church occupation. The research question is answered in this paper. The basic argument is that despite the fact that France has a more closed, and the UK has a more open political input structure, the reasons underlying sex workers’ strikes/church occupations are similar and that sex workers’ strikes were part of the general strike wave in Europe. In both cases, the available repertoire of action was exhausted before going on strike. The basic actors in both cases were the police, the law, politicians, organised crime, pimps and sex workers themselves. In both cases, the choice of church occupation as a form of action was inherited from other social movements and was a strategic rather than a symbolic choice. The main difference between the two cases is that the sex workers that struck in the UK was more organised than their French counterparts. While the strikers in France had the Nid as their ally while those in the UK had Black Women for wages for housework and women against rape. The basic argument is that sex workers in these two cases struck due to an amalgamation of material and non-material interests. It calls for the amalgamation of Marxist, feminist, new social movements, social movements and collective action theories to set up an analytical framework to study sex workers’ strikes. In order to refrain from eclecticism while doing so, the paper suggests going to the field. In conclusion, the paper also touches upon the factors that should be taken into account before continuing strikes as a form of action for the state’s recognition of sex work as work, and the extension of social, economic and political rights to sex workers.

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