On 18 April 2012, a public talk was organised in Tower Hamlets by the GMB London Entertainment branch and the Equity Thames Variety branch. The meeting was supported by SERTUC LGBT network and chaired by Linda Keitz from GLATUC and member of the SERTUC women rights committee.
John McDonnell Labour MP was invited to speak and expressed solidarity to the workers. He highlighted the double standard and the double morality between the pressure to close the adult venues because of nudity and all the companies who make immoral profit over people’s health and safety. He pointed out how the Olympics are used to cleanse East London of sex establishments while no word is said against the immoral practices of multinational companies who are using the Olympics to expand their profit and exploit workers.
Edie Lamort from Equity talked about her experience working in office jobs before becoming a dancer and the contradiction she sees in having to justify herself as a stripper while she was suffering worse exploitation as an office worker but nobody cared for her at that time about her working conditions. She explained that her job allowed her to study and support herself while expressing herself in an artistic way as a performer.
Vera Rodriguez from GMB said: “Nobody should tell us how to make a living. We want to save our job. It’s a real job that brings us an income in a time of recession.” She added: “We’re part of the community. We need to be united to improve our working conditions and stop having to justify ourselves. I’m not here for pity or compassion. I’m here to demand rights as a worker.”
Clare Roderick talked about the different jobs she did and the different clubs she worked in Tower Hamlets and Hackney. She opposed the fees and the commission the workers have to pay to work and expressed the need for communities to co-exist with each other.
Montana, a dancer in Tower Hamlets opposed the concept of objectification, explaining that while working “this is the time when I decide to be beautiful and sexy”. She argued that most violence against women happens in marriage but that nobody tries to ban marriage like strip clubs. She questions also how religions can be perceived as offensive to women and again nobody tries to ban freedom of religion. She opposed the ban on strip clubs saying: “the ban will force us to work in unsafe environment”. She added: “What is the difference if I use my body working as an actress in a theatre, on stage or in a strip club? In capitalism we all have to work and sell ourselves. I want to fight capitalism for all work, but meanwhile I need to work.”
Keith Henderson, GMB organiser, said that he was very proud to organise sex workers and that GMB is ready to make a legal challenge in Parliament to change the law.
Many interventions came from the audience about how to improve the working conditions, and what type of actions and organising could take place to oppose the ban and improve workers’ lives. The public talk appeared as a good start to better organise in the borough to oppose the prohibitionist measures. Many workers left their contact to the trade union organisers who promised to have a new meeting soon to decide the next actions and strategy.
Overall, it was a successful event, well attended, with the hope and energy to change things for the better.