Last November several members of parliament, university lecturers, journalists and thinkers such as Silvia Federici and Justa Montero published a manifesto demanding the removal of the litigation against the self-designated OTRAS “trade/labor union”. This sector of the feminist movement, making use of an alleged defence of the rights of the women who have been victims of the prostitution, has fuelled the campaign in favour of presenting sexual slavery like a work activity as respectable as any other.
The debate around the legalization of prostitution has also forced all the political actors to position themselves. It is no casualty that Ciudadanos and its “liberal feminism” campaign for the legalization of prostitution as part of their neoliberal program; nor the fact that PSOE officially maintains an abolitionist position, although they take no measures from the government, or any of the institutions they lead. The have taken no effective social or economic action to save the hundreds of thousands of women victims of human trafficking.
In this article we want to explain the position of a class, revolutionary and anticapitalist feminism when it comes to such a fundamental issue for women’s liberation.
To defend the rights of oppressed women or the interest of the pimps?
It is no accident that the debate around prostitution centers itself in an alleged defence of the labour rights of prostituted women. The objective of focusing the controversy on whether the prostitutes have the right to unionize or not is a way to cover the real economic and political interests behind this issue.
In order to offer a balanced and real view of what is at stake, we must be concrete. The legalization of the “trade union” OTRAS would mean to accept, from the back door, that the pimp mafia and brother owners would be juridically recognised as an employer’s association and that their criminal business would be a licit entrepreneurial activity. In essence, it would be a step further to “legitimate” prostitution in the legislation as an economic activity, providing social legitimacy to pimps and this so called trade union would turn into a body which would cover the relationship between women traffickers and the state apparatus. This strategy has been carried out by criminal networks from the sex business in various parts of the world.
The International Union of Sex Workers (IUSW), founded in the United Kingdom in 2000,barely has 150 members all over the world. The most active member of the IUSW is Douglas Fox, the owner of one of the biggest prostitution “agencies” in England. It is no accident that the IUSW has not presented any labour claim or dispute and that it demenanded the Home Office to take down a campaign against human trafficking.
In Germany the Berufsverbands Erotische und Sexuelle Dienstleistungen (BSD) claims to be a professional association which defends the collaboration of the “sex industry” with the prostitute’s trade unions. One of its founders, Holger Rettig, is the president of the brothels employer’s association, as well as Undine de Rivière and Tanja Sommer, two leaders of the organisation who also are brothels owners.
This is the strategy, conducted by the sex business and pimp lobby all across the world which explains that Concha Borrell and Joaquín P.Donaire, owners of Aprosex, a company-organisation dedicated to the recruitment and training of prostitutes, are also behind the so called prostitutes trade union. It’s a campaign promoted by the powerful sex business in order to create a positive climate for prostitution in a moment when many economic interests are at stake.
Women’s sexual abuse is neither progressive nor feminist
The Spanish State is already among the three main countries worldwide for sexual tourism, just after Thailand and Brasil. The Jonquera clubs have made the border with France the biggest European brothel. According to police sources there are more than 1700 singles clubs all over the country, moving five million euros every day and trapping from 400.000 to 600.000 women, mostly brought from Rumania, Bulgaria, Nigeria and the Dominican Republic.
How can a business like this, in theory illicit, go unnoticed by the Treasury, police and judges. The only reason for this can be found on who benefits from this economic structure: large companies with connections to national and international banking, and the highest spheres of politics, the judiciary and the police. Legalizing prostitution would be the necessary step for the expansion of the business of the pimp mafia, and for the laundering of its relationship with the sectors of political and economic power.
The open and legal offer of megabrothels as part of the low-cost sex tourism in the coasts of the Spanish State, where tens of thousands of women are offered in a display case or served à la carte as a product to be consumed for a small fee, brings to us the barbarism that already exists where prostitution is legalized, such as Germany or Nevada (USA). It is not possible to decontextualize the prostitution of this reality on which the lucrative business of sexual exploitation is built.
Clubs where women become a bargaining chip to close large businesses among the lords of power or the uncontrolled promotion of all kinds of sexual harassment as "services", following the example of the German model, are the only possible face of the prostitution. Contrary to what the advocates of regulation would have us think, prostitution is not a freely negotiated economic exchange of services, but an institution converted into a business that reproduces and maintains social relations of oppression and domination.
It is impossible to speak of freedom or consent when a relationship of extreme inequality is established between those who have the power to buy and those who must submit after selling. It is impossible to separate prostitution from poverty and social exclusion, and from the objectification of women because this are an integral part of the business: to make men believe that they have the right to dispose of any woman in exchange for a couple of coins. What is what is sought when paying for sex but to impose with money what has not been achieved with consent? Indeed, what the “johns” buy is the lack of freedom of the other side to decide.
This reality cannot be embellished. Where are the rights and the supposed dignification of prostitutes with the regularization of their "activity"? To argue that legalization would be a protection for prostituted women is to make up the very nature of extreme violence and the usurpation of rights that prostitution entails for women by reducing them to an object of use and abuse. In the world of prostitution, the only rights that always prevail are those of the pimps to traffic with women and that of the “johns” to consume them.
The idea that the defenders of this business are trying to impose, defending that trafficking and prostitution are not the same, is a demagogic alibi that denies reality. Both are two sides of the same coin. It is not possible to maintain the demand required by the volume of profits of this multimillion-dollar business without the networks of traffickers who, through economic coercion and in the face of a galloping increase of the feminization of poverty, export and import women in bulk from impoverished countries as if it were any other raw material. The legalization turns trafficking networks into transnational employment placement corporations, and in some places like Australia some of them are already quoted on the stock exchange.
Regulationism or abolitionism: reform or revolution
The bourgeoisie defends that sexual relations are one more field for depredation and obtaining benefits, as it matches with their vision of the world. For the ruling class, most of humanity deserves no consideration other than raw material from which to extract profits. Proof of this is that Ciudadanos defends the legalization of prostitution and the surrogacies in its decalogue of "liberal feminism". They appeal to the respect for “individual freedom" as an ideological screen to make this demand socially acceptable.
The cynicism of these individuals has no limits but it is also no surprise. As good apologists for capitalism they propagandize the supposed "truths" that capital disseminates to maintain its oppression. But low wages or mass unemployment do not implicate a free choice. Just as we are not exercising our freedom when we sign a trash contract to be able to make ends meet, neither do we so to sell our body.
However, when these same arguments find a spokesperson from certain sectors of "feminism" and the "left", we are faced with one of the most degrading expressions of their ideological defeat against the logic of the system. This is what happens when one of the most outstanding representatives of petty-bourgeois feminism, Silvia Federici, points out that "we face the same exploitation when selling our bodies as we do when we sell our brains" or "that it is not up to feminism to establish hierarchies between exploitation that we can or cannot accept" . Surely from the office of the university you can theorize from a more comfortable "perspective" than from a road club or a dark roundabout.
Of course there are hierarchies in salaried exploitation in this society. Just as living as a professor in the university and giving international conferences is not the same as cleaning stairs for 400 euros, selling your labor force to cover your basic needs is not the same as annulling your sexual will by giving your body daily to a group of strangers to be penetrated orally, vaginally and anally as many times as they want.
To defend, as Federici does, that because we live under capitalism it is not up to us to set limits on the type of exploitation that is acceptable or not, it is just another rhetorical abstraction emptied of class content. We are resigned to accept a system which does as it pleases with our lives. Then we also have to accept the exploitation of children or the sale of organs? How is it possible to defend the emancipation of society if a normal status is given to one of its most oppressive institutions? Because deep down, the recognition of "sex work", trying to humanize a scourge like prostitution, is just one of the expressions of having accepted the idea that there is no other possible society to which the capitalist system offers us.
We struggle to emancipate ourselves from all oppression and exploitation
As revolutionary Marxists who aspire to transform this class, sexist and racist society we fight consistently to free ourselves from all forms of oppression. That's why we fight the scourge of prostitution.
Those of us who hold a class and revolutionary abolitionist position, not hypocritical and posh as social democracy does, are the most consistent fighters for the rights of women forced into prostitution. We do not only demand the immediate withdrawal of all municipal ordinances that persecute and marginalize prostituted women, we propose that it is the State and the public authorities that guarantee the rescue of the victims. This, in particular, supposes that prostituted women have a decent job or indefinite unemployment subsidy, universal and free access to health and education, to public housing and, of course, the derogation of the Immigration Law and the end of deportations so that all migrant women have their rights of citizenship and family reunification recognized. It is also to fight for the persecution, the exemplary punishment and the expropriation of the patrimony of the pimps to put it at the service of the victims and their families. It means to be relentless against those who do business with the traffic and the suffering of human beings and their accomplices in police apparatuses, courts and governments.
We are perfectly aware that any measure in defence of prostituted women requires changing the social conditions from which prostitution arises. The persistence of this modern form of slavery is not an accident nor only a product of the rotten morality of isolated individuals, but the inevitable fruit of the capitalist system and the oppression of class and gender that it entails.
Abolitionism is not an idealistic or abstract demand, it is an inseparable part of the genuine independence and freedom of women. Of course, defending this alternative requires a confrontation with the capitalist system as a whole, because the fight against barbarism and the oppression generated by the business and the mega-industry of sexual slavery is an inseparable part of the struggle for the socialist transformation of society.