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Sex Worker Section Manifesto

Published on Sep 05, 2022 Tag:
We, the sex workers of the FAU Berlin, have worked out a manifesto.

1. A Short History of the Sex Worker Section

The Sex Worker Section (SW-S) of FAU Berlin (Freie Arbeiter*innen Union) is a trade union organisation by and for sex workers. It is a self-organised section for all sex workers in Berlin, no matter if registered or illegalized, no matter what gender or origin, and no matter at which workplace or within which forms of erotic labour people work in. We are an autonomous section within FAU Berlin, an independent grassroots union.

In May 2021, sex workers founded the "Working Group Sex Work" (AG-SW) in FAU Berlin with the goal of creating a basis for unionization and a section for sex workers. Thanks to rapidly increasing membership and a lot of motivation and commitment from those involved as well as the support of FAU Berlin, this goal was achieved in October 2021, when the Sex Worker Section (SW-S) was founded.


2. The Need for Sex Worker Unionising

The concrete idea for unionising as berlin-based sex workers was born during the Covid19-pandemic. While sex workers have always needed the resources and shelter a workers union can offer, the pandemic exposed just how precarious we are on so many levels:

i) Legally

Opponents to our profession have become more outspoken in their demands for the illegalizaton of sex work in Germany (demanding criminalistion i.e. Nordic Model). The majority of sex workers in Germany already suffer under the current inadequate legal structure (legalisation) which provides scant workers rights to a priviledged few, criminalising others and illegalizing the rest. 

ii) Economically

Sex work was criminalized under hygiene regulations for consecutive months during the pandemic. Due to our semi-legal status, many of us were denied access to welfare support, forcing many of us into unemployment and financial desperation. While we use sex work to make a living and provide for ourselves and our family, our labour is prone to exploitation in this way due to lack of rights and abilitiy to organise with other workers.

iii) Socially

Narratives of sex workers as "superspreaders" were prominent in the news, increasing our already heavy burden of stigma and marginalisation. Most of us have to live double-lives in order to avoid harrassment, isolating us socially and making it difficult to find the communities we need.

iv) Politically

Sex workers lack own self-representation in public and government decision making and are often misrepresented in public discourse. Political decisions are made about us, without consulting industry workers and we are not being considered in political decision making that directly affects us.

v) Emotionally

The above mentioned issues further isolate us, increase stress levels and uncertainty, leading to steady and long term deterioration in our mental health as individuals. It is the contact to our colleagues that gives us the emotional support we need to thrive. Our isolation is experienced as strategic, by a working culture that does not value or respect our labour as labour. 

These dynamics during the pandemic amplified the already existing precarious conditions sex workers live and work in. Ergo, we turned towards what has historically always helped us in times of crisis: our own communities.

The discourse on sex work often centers questions of morality and (old fashioned) social values, rather than a conversation about the conditions under which we live and work and how to improve these. This is an unfortunate by-product of the absence of sex worker voices from discussions and cultural knowledge and an intentional exclusion of us from the rooms in which decisions about our lives and livelihoods are made.

The way we are portrayed socially and culturally usually centers on images of desperation, that we are incapable of thinking for ourselves, that we are victims. We are often framed as voiceless and unreachable for commentary on our own struggles. Many industires contain people who are desperate or underprivledged, the fact that our industry is singled out evidences that there is a moral issue with the type of labour we do. Rather than being treated as disenfranchised workers, we are treated as morally fragile individuals.

This anti-sex work stigma intersects with our further marginalised identities as people who are additionally affected by intersecting forms of oppression along markers of race, class, gender, migratory status etc, meaning that our participation in the labour rights conversation is either not valued or simply not sought.

Unlike in most of the world, sex work has been legal in Germany since 2001. However, with legalisation comes regulation, and therefore the criminalisation of workers who don't fall within the government's restrictive definition of who is "allowed" to do sex work. For more information on the different legal models, and why full decriminalisation is the only model that ensures workers rights for all types of citizen, the union offers access to accredited resources.​​​​

Due to the current working culture and our restrctive legal status we lack (workers) rights and the abilitiy to organise with our colleagues, we are being harshly regulated and therefore a target for arbitrariness, violence or exploitation by bosses, state institutions or fellow citizens. We are workers who are currently not being afforded the protections of full worker's status.


3. Why choose a union?

Our struggle is a labour rights struggle.

Sex work is a form of work that people can consensually engage in.

We, as workers, are suffering because the current legal, political and social framework is repressive, unfairly regulative, excluding and stigmatising.​​​​​​​ Criminalisation increases sex worker suffering by denying us the access to any form of safe labour, pushing us into exploitative and illegal working conditions.

We conclude that in order to protect (sex) workers we must gain power by for example establishing basic worker's rights so that we may fight for and ensure our own safe working conditions.​​​​​​​

How do we demand and protect our labour rights?

We decriminalise Sex Work. And we organise as workers.


As a trade union, we can fight for labour rights and autonomy, collectively speak for ourselves, shift power to our benefits and build solidarity on our own terms. Sex work is not transient. It is a historical fact - and one which has shaped the history of places like Berlin. We demand that our labour be valued as such and that we be given the dignity we deserve.


4. Principles

We stand for a world in which the state doesn't have a claim over our bodies or our labor. We dream of a world in which all of us are equal, with equal acces to essential needs such as food, housing, and health care, regardless of race, ability, gender identity, migration status, or other marginalizations.


The fight for sex workers' rights has to include the fight for better working and living conditions and the fight for a better world has to include sex workers. **We regard these issues as inseparable because social and economical marginalization (e.g., racism, exclusionary migration policy, trans/misogyny) are factors that drive people into survival sex work.** We are an intersectional movement, and we demand that all of us must be treated with equity, so that we may thrive and not just survive.


These are our principles:


1. Sex work is work, without exception, and without hierarchy. There are many types of sexual labor, and we do not define any type of sex work or reason for doing sex work as "good" or "bad" or more legitimate than the other. We all deserve rights and a space in the sex worker movement, without exception.


2. Intersectional solidarity or bust. If we sell out or overlook people with different struggles than our own, we are not in solidarity with anyone. Sex workers' lived experiences are diverse and only combining different struggles in a respectful way will do this justice.


3. Antiracist. We stand against racism and xenophobia. We acknowledge that racism is structural and interpersonal: It affects how we interact within our community and also in broader society. We actively work against both. We educate, spread awareness, support and aim to redistribute power in the interest of dismantling white supremacy and racist structures.


4. Antifascist. As a community targeted by the Holocaust, we remember the terror of totalitarianism and fight for a world in which this can never again be allowed to happen. We believe that totalitarian authority is rooted deep within our societies and must be actively fought and prevented, for example through horizontal worker organisations.


5. Anticapitalist: Divest, Disarm, Decriminalise. We value people and the planet over profit. Wage labour can be considered as one of the most widespread forms of oppression as it requires the majority of us to work for the benefit of a minority in exchange for survival - at best.​​​​​​ In our ideal world, we would work without bosses and only in collectives, providing for each others needs; everyone would have equal access to the essentials of food, housing, and health care, regardless of their ability.


6. Anti-state. We oppose the state's current discriminatory regulation of our lives and do not consider it "protecting" us. The Covid-pandemic exposed the state's logic of putting profit over people's lives and health. We see similarities in the German economy wanting to profit from us by taxing our bodies and labour while not providing any rights or material support. We are therefore critical of the legalisation of sex work, as defining what is legal always includes control and criminalisation (of the most marginalised). We know that **only full decriminalisation of sex work will provide safety**. In contrast, we build powerful communities in which we organise and protect ourselves on eye-to-eye level.


7. Anti-prison, anti-carceral. As a partially criminalized community, we all know someone who has been harmed through interaction with law enforcement. Police are extremely threatening to our community. We stand behind funding for services that "protect us" to be removed from the police and given to professional experts who understand and are able to truly support marginalised communties like ours. Prisons and punishment are not providing safety, neither for indivuals nor for society as a whole. We advocate for a world in which laws and cops do not police our bodies and lives. Community care and equal access to ressources can make police and prisons obsolete and save lives.


8. Harm-reduction approach. We commit to prioritising the health and wellbeing of our community, offering non-judgemental spaces where we can seek and provide mutual aid. Sex workers know best what our community needs. Often, when we seek help from structures external to our community, we experience stigma and harm. We actively work to protect our community and reclaim our right to exist in safety, peace, and good health.


9. Feminist. We stand for gender equality and female empowerment. Despite sex workers worldwide having various genders, sex work is usually feminised (reproductive) labour and within patriarchy devalued as such. This framing is not just unfair to our realities, it is also used to capture us within victim narratives. Sex workers have been and always will be part of feminist movements. If your feminism does not support sex workers, it is not feminism.


10. Antisexist and trans inclusive. We do not define or discriminate someone based on their gender or sex. People of all genders are inextricable members of our community: trans women and non-binary / gender non-conforming individuals represent a big proportion of our sex worker communities and we commit to aligning our struggles. We do not tolerate sexism, trans/misogyny or anti-trans bigotry and consider an attack on one of us an attack against us all. We prioritise exposing the transphobia and sexism at the core of the current systems of white-cis-hetero-patriarchical power (JobCentre, Social Welfare Access, Family Law, Marriage and Family Planning, Pension Schemes etc.) and advocate for these systems to be re-worked with inclusive principles.


11. Pro-LGBTQIA+. Discrimination based on sexual orientation is unacceptable within our community. The representation of LGBTQIA+ in sex work is strong and we commemorate, appreciate and celebrate the historical and vivid exchange and intersection of our communities.


12. Politically independent. We are on the side of sex workers and fight for our interests. Beyond that, we are politically independent and do not align with any political party.


5. How We Organise

The Sex Worker Section is organized horizontally and not hierarchically. There is no board or bosses; instead, all tasks and responsibilities are accomplished by sex worker members who volunteer their time. Decisions are made together by consensus or--if necessary--by majority vote. Within the trade union FAU Berlin, we are an autonomous section through which we represent our interests as sex workers ourselves and network with other union members. We believe that empowerment, individual freedom, community collaboration, and collectivity need to be mirrored in the way we organise.


All new members must read and sign the FAU SW-S Code of Conduct.

SW-S Community Guidelines are the guidelines for responsible interaction both between the members of SW-S and other groups. We are committed to complying with this code of conduct and require that all future members also comply with it.


This document contains rules of conduct for the following interactions:


1. SW-S internal (between section members)

2. Supporters

3. Sex workers who are not SW-S members

4. FAU comrades


The document binds FAU SW-S members to a code of ethics that is self-reflexive, holds members accountable to themselves and each other, protects our privacy and identities when organising as workers and ensures we commit to regular awareness trainings, non-violent commincation styles and the prioritising our mental, emotional and physical health as union members.


6. Our Goals

 Our goals are (in no specific order):

- Social and institutional destigmatization and recognition of sex work as a profession through education, outreach and networking.

- Full decriminalization and abolition of repressive special regulations against sex workers.

- Improvement of the working and living conditions of sex workers.

- Rights for sex workers, written by sex workers.

- Building a diverse community of sex workers.

- Networking and inclusion of sex workers' struggles in other related movements (e.g., the struggles of migrants, BIPoCs, LGBTIAQ, feminists, workers, anti-fascists, the struggles for reproductive rights, and bodily autonomy).

- Establishing nationwide unionization of sex workers. To do so, we need the initiative of sex workers in other regions of Germany and support them in building structures.

- Stopping exclusion and disposition (i.e. gentrification) in urban landscapes which is damaging our workplaces and living areas and deteriorating working conditions - on the street and in establishments. This process also increases the cost of living and ultimately demands more labour from us in order to survive. In line with this we aim for securing housing for all sex workers who want them and an end to stigma-based housing discrimination.

- Digital rights for online and in-person workers; online content property rights; online censorship; data security. We advocate for worker autonomy and rights with the online platforms we use in the same way we seek accountabilty from bosses at physical workplaces. With our lives and labour relying more and more on online spaces, the exclusion of sex workers from the internet becomes a material threat. Our goal is to make sure that sex workers have a seat at the table in future discussions about digital rights.

- To stop banking discrimination and policies that exclude sex workers from most payment platforms, thereby banning our participation in and access to vital resources within capitalist structures.

- Ending the appropriation of sex worker expertise and culture.

- To demand that the advocacy work of the sex worker community be recognised and valued. We must be hired to positions that interact with us; our expertise must be paid for; we are finished being talked about and talked down to by social workers, doctors, health "experts," etc.


7. Strategies

In order to achieve these goals we need to develop, establish, experiment with and reflect on our strategies.


1. We endorse the existing FAU strategies:


Putting pressure in the right spot

We call for "direct action" to protect and further our interests. The methods range from a collective threat to a strike or boycott. We thereby exercise the power inherent in labour and purchasing power. The union can perpetuate this power and bring the direct action to its logical end: The democratic reorganization of the means of production and distribution of goods.


A reliable formula

Direct action has two characteristics: On the one hand, it can be used to defend and improve social conditions. On the other, it embodies the solidarity required for a new society. This syndicalist (or union) method is not only useful in purely economic matters, but can also be used in other social fields (housing, ecology, anti-militarism, etc.).


Economics are political

In this way, the FAU follows a social revolutionary strategy. We aim for a revolution of society "from below". After all, the balance of power is determined by labour and social relations. We want to influece this sphere directly and fundamentally, without taking a detour through the State, even if indirect methods (protests, lawsuits, etc.) can sometimes be tactically useful.


Building Majorities in our places of work using "AEIOU" Method

(A)gitation at the place of work, pointing out problems; self-(E)ducation means we are committed to looking for the origins of the problems and learning about our rights; (I)nocculation by engaging at first in minor workplace conflicts, rallying up the coworkers, small challenges; (O)rganising by starting to build structures, building campaigns, collecting signatures on open letters and so on. Importantly, this includes lobby work and being organised on a political level, (U)nionising comes at the end, when all the structures are in place, when people are behind us.


2. Creating collectivity

We organise with our colleagues and create own channels of communication and community. This gives us the chance to plan and discuss methods of confronting our problems together and learn from another. We can collectively bargain and establish standards for the benefit of all sex workers.


3. Networking

We build bridges with other sex worker organisations or groups that deal with sex work-related issues and actively collaborate. To overcome isolation, we seek to make sex workers' interests part of other movements but also to be inclusive in our own struggle. We aim to establish solidarity across different labour sectors and social movements both within FAU and the broader political landscape.


8. Conclusion

The Sex Worker Section of FAU-Berlin is a groundbreaking effort. We aim to create a model for sex worker members from other FAU chapters to follow; and ideally, a model of sex worker unionization and labour organizing for the rest of the global community to benefit from. With awareness of the importance of our work, we have created this manifesto to guide us so that, as we grow and progress, we don't forget our deeply held principles of justice and equality and the upstart, pioneering spirit with which this undertaking began.

In the struggles to come, we trust in the organizational wisdom of FAU and the wisdom held within the sex worker community, and we build on the efforts of the generations that have come before us to make a better world for the whores who follow in our footsteps. We dream of a brighter future of self-determination for all of us.

Stronger together

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