Help challenge strip club bans in Edinburgh

Sex workers union United Sex Workers (USW) has launched a crowdfunding campaign to start a legal challenge against recent strip club bans pushed by the Edinburgh council. With similar bans being considered by a variety of local councils in the United Kingdom, and a variety of laws threatening the lives and livelihoods of online and offline, it’s essential we all get behind the fight for sex workers’ rights. Here’s what pole dancers can do to support the founders of our industry.

The campaign to challenge Edinburgh council’s ban

At the end of March 2022, Edinburgh City Council voted to impose a ‘nil cap’ on licences for sexual entertainment venues (SEVs). This decision will effectively shut down all strip clubs in the city by April 2023 and forbid any new ones from opening.

In practice, this means that strippers (alongside bar and security staff) will lose their jobs, with no alternative venues available for them to find work. Stripping is already a precarious job, and due to its stigmatised nature it can be hard for dancers to find other forms of employment. Annie F, a stripper in Edinburgh impacted by the ban and USW member, said:

“I am a single mother to a three-year-old. I have no family to help with childcare, and my daughter is only entitled to free childcare for six hours a day, four days a week. This prevents me from working in most jobs. If I cannot work as a stripper, I will be unable to pay my bills, and we will be pushed into poverty.”

Annie F
Edinburgh SEV nip cap Protest Jan 2022 – picture by © chao-ying rao

To challenge this decision, United Sex Workers, an anti-racist, member-led, direct action, campaigning trade union, needs to an initial £20,000 to help fund a judicial review against Edinburgh City Council. As part of the court proceedings, USW will argue these so-called ‘nil-caps’ are unlawful, as they discriminate against women, who make up the vast majority of strippers. To do so, USW is in touch with a Scottish legal firm, and is preparing to challenge the strip club ban’s compatibility with the Equality Act 2010.

USW have just reached their £20,000 goal, but you can continue supporting the campaign below or, even better, via CashApp / PayPal to help USW offset the GoFundMe fees:

The growing appetite for anti-sex work policies in the UK

USW’s campaign is incredibly important not just for the lives and livelihoods of workers in Edinburgh clubs, but for club workers all over the UK.

Sex workers’ jobs have been under attack in the UK for the large part of the past 20 years. Since reforms to strip club licensing laws in 2003 and since the Policing and Crime Act 2009, which allow councils to put a block on the granting of any new licenses to sexual entertainment venues, strippers have reported that their working conditions have progressively worsened.

Only in the past couple of years, Blackpool council announced a strip club ban to make the city more “family friendly,” and the local council in Bristol has also been trying to ban strip clubs, through an “open consultation” pushed by women’s rights groups that don’t seem to take into account sex workers’ rights. Although most Bristolians seem to not mind strip clubs, campaigners have made them the ultimate scapegoats in the fight against violence against women… despite the absence of any evidence proving that strip clubs do increase gender-based violence. This consultation has been going on for over a year, putting Bristol strippers’ lives on hold.

Audrey, an organiser for USW, said:

“Nil-cap policies succeed at nothing other than putting sex workers’ lives at risk. By removing workers’ livelihoods during an unprecedented cost of living crisis, local council’s are forcing us to make the unenviable choice between poverty or more dangerous, underground sex work. Strip club workers deserve safety, to access the same rights and protections as any other worker – and the success of this challenge could create a legal precedent for that. It’s why it is so vital we raise this money, it’s not to just save over a hundred worker’s jobs, but to ensure thousands of workers’  rights.”

Audrey

As if these local cases weren’t enough, national proposals to regulate the profession offline and online show that sex work is under attack in the UK. Bills that would implement the Nordic Model to regulate sex work, which criminalises clients, dries sex workers’ customer pool and pushes the profession underground, keep resurfacing, although sex workers have often argued this increases violence against them. And with new additions to the already disastrous UK Online Safety Bill being proposed to ban online ads for sexual services despite the fact that workers themselves have found working online safer, even online sex workers and sexy content creators might find themselves out of a job soon.

During a cost of living crisis and in the immediate aftermath of a global pandemic, these decisions are an outright attack on workers’ rights and safety. USW said: “Strip club bans violate workers’ rights at a time of severe economic crisis. They form part of a wider attempt by the state to oppress precarious workers and dictate what women and other minorities can do with their bodies.”

Why the Edinburgh campaign matters

Looking at the changes above, it’s clear that sex workers’ lives is being affected left, right and centre – which is why, if USW are able to raise enough funds to challenge Edinburgh council’s decision and to win, they would set an important precedent for sex workers’ rights all over the UK.

Edinburgh SEV nip cap Protest Jan 2022 – picture by © chao-ying rao

The union argue that if the judicial review is successful, councils all over Britain currently considering setting a nil-cap would have to admit that this is unlawful, bringing an end to the practice. A successful judicial review could mean an end to strip club bans across England, Scotland and Wales and give strippers a chance to collectively organise without worrying about their workplaces being shut down. They write that: “There is huge potential for this campaign to move forward sex workers’ rights, and to demonstrate that strippers—and other sex workers—are workers, who deserve the right to work safety.”

Danielle Worden, legal caseworker for United Voices of the World, said:

“The success of this legal challenge is not only essential to save the jobs of hundreds of workers in Edinburgh, but also to send a clear message to other councils that ‘nil-caps’ are unlawful. Otherwise, the existence of the stripping industry is at stake, threatening the livelihoods of thousands of workers. This challenge is not just about sex workers rights – it’s also about bodily autonomy and fighting the state’s broader aim to oppress precarious workers to force them into the minimum wage jobs which the capitalist system depends on.”

Danielle Worden

Why pole dancers should join in on the fight for sex workers’ rights and how we can help

Because of all the above, it’s essential that we support USW’s crowdfunding campaign, which if you haven’t clicked it yet can be found here. Although the union have just reached their £20,000 goal, it’d be great if they could even go beyond it, to help further with any legal or campaigning expense during such a landmark moment.

It’s particularly important for us pole dancers to join in on the fight, share and donate to this campaign. It’s not just that pole dancing as a hobby, art and sport wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for strippers. It’s also that, as recreational pole dancers, we get to enjoy the sexy, fun aspects of stripping without living through the stigma, taboos and precarity that are connected with sex work. Stripping is part of our history, so we need to use the privilege associated with pole fitness / pole art to raise awareness of sex workers’ fight and campaign for their rights instead of trying to distance ourselves from them.

Under a Tory government, in the aftermath of Covid, during a cost of living crisis, closing workers’ workplace with no alternative puts their lives at risk. We’re all feeling the squeeze, but if we can pay £20 for a pole class we can spare even just £5 for those that have historically made our pole classes possible.

When strippers’ bodily autonomy and freedom is under threat, we are all under threat. If states can regulate strippers’ bodies and work because they cause unspecified risks to cities, you never know what could be next. So it’s time we join in on the fight.

Find out more about this issue

Here are a few helpful links to get more info about the regulation of sexual entertainment venues in the UK and sex workers’ rights in general:

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